[The following should be understood as risk management advice and NOT legal advice or counsel. If you have legal questions or concerns, contact your local legal professional.]
Can we talk about this?
Anyone who has taught for any length of time has almost certainly discovered that something happened in a yoga class you taught where a student had an unpleasant outcome physically.
Let’s stop right there.
Check in on your thoughts and emotions right now before proceeding. Just listen to the internal chatter in response to that stimulus. Agreement? Denial? Acknowledgement? Offense? … there’s probably a spectrum of responses that if you will watch a bit longer may invite closer consideration of what I have to write this morning.
Consider this…what if one of these lands on my work surface with YOUR NAME in:
Stop… listen again for protests, gasps, incredulity, silence, etc. What emerges for you? What are these responses based on? What do you think about me the author? What do you think about the legal system? How about the plaintiff (person claiming to have been harmed)?
Recently much has been written about yoga injuries. So why bring this up again?
The reason I bring this up is because despite a good deal of discussion as to whether yoga injuries are a real problem, who’s responsibility they are, and should the industry be regulated, the actual practice of risk management in settings where yoga is taught has gone down rather than improved. Studios spring open, mass discounts to get bodies on mats are promoted, and teachers with 200 hour certifications are advertising they understand and can teach neuroplastic change to cure whatever might ail the public.
The schools that are cranking out this influx of yoga teachers do not teach fundamental risk management and safety training. If there’s anything taught about studio management or business development, the material focuses on getting people in the door.
What became of the first yama? [ahimsa: non-harming]…. No ahimsa, no yoga, right?
Since coming into yoga in 1996 as a orthopedic/sports medicine physical therapist I’ve been curious from day one regarding injury prevention and safety. Those were the safety-minded lens I looked through the world then and still do now.
My first teacher was from the Iyengar tradition and would sometimes drive students nuts because he was so meticulous about using props correctly and offering multiple ways to experience what he was sharing. He took time with new students to inquiry about their health history and mobility limitations. After we got to know one another better he then would frequently consult with me in the middle of class, “Matt, is this going to be ok with Stacey’s shoulder?” He was embodying ahimsa and I didn’t yet realize how rare that was in the industry.
I was fortunate to be “sheltered” in this environment my first 6 months as we were geographically isolated and there was no other yoga within driving distance. Imagine the surprise when I started attending workshops and dropping in during travel to other studios!
Fast forward I published this article on yoga safety in 2004, which means I wrote it in 2003. I later presented a plenary session on yoga safety at the first Symposium of Yoga Therapy and Research in 2007. People would nod agreement and say what a great article that was, but I just haven’t seen behavioral change as a result. During that same period as the only person at the time to have published on yoga safety, I began to get inquiries into offering expert legal testimony in the few legal cases that have come forward. Those cases have reinforced for me that even more needs to be done.
This brings us to today’s post on this SMART, SAFE YOGA site. (The site’s name suggests that something less than either safe or smart might be going on out in the world.) This post is the first of a series on this critical topic.
What do you do now?
Besides, “Listen to your body and only do what feels safe”, what ahimsa management practices do you employ in your practice or studio? The above guideline “to listen” by the way is of little value to the student and will not give you a single shred of defense in court if you are asked to demonstrate how you provide non-harming to the students.
And how about that waiver of liability form? Hah! First, pause and consider, is that a practice of non-harming or just “protecting” (sic) you by declining your responsibility for maintaining a non-harming learning environment? Secondly, what additional forms do your student’s then complete to protect them?….because this is supposed to be all about non-harming the student, isn’t it?
Pause, reflect on your answers and why that is your standard. I’m sorry if this uncomfortable “asana”, but it gets to the heart of my concern. Let me know below in the comments section what else you are doing would you please?
Back to my original question in the title, someone has been injured in your class. What now?
Here’s a list of action steps.
We’ll deal with each of these action steps in depth in upcoming blogs, so be sure to subscribe for updates in the right hand margin. In those follow-on blogs we’ll cover the why, how, and how is this action yoga. So if any of these aren’t familiar, be patient. I’d like to hear what provokes the strongest response for you.
The student has just said “I hurt [name the part] in class and I’m not sure what to do.”:
- Institute any safety procedures your practice has if this appears to be a medical emergency (gross deformity, inability to move, debilitating pain, etc.).
- Complete an Unusual Occurrence Report with the student, each of you completing it to the fullest level of detail.
- Encourage the student to seek their preferred medical care professional’s evaluation and treatment prescription about their injury. Unless your a physician, now is the wrong time to start practicing medicine by diagnosing and prescribing treatment.
- Be sure you have the student’s contact information.
- Get a copy of the class sign in sheet, keep a copy, and review it to be sure it was complete, making notes if anyone else was there.
- Notify the management if you aren’t the owner.
- Notify your liability insurance carrier if the situation is severe (an apparent dislocation, fracture other serious debilitating condition).
- Contact the student the next day and then a few days later to inquire into how they are recovering.
- Based on your and the management’s conclusions after reviewing the Unusual Occurrence Report, make the appropriate changes in policy and practice to prevent a future occurrence. Inform the other staff and update all procedural manuals, as well as completing the after action portion of the Unusual Occurrence form. If any training is required, schedule that training and record who participates and when, and how learning was assessed.
What else would you do?
What else have you done that was effective?
Let me know below and we’ll build out a resource for teachers to expand their ahimsa practice and actively self-regulate our beloved practices of yoga and yoga therapy.