Someone Gets Injured in Your Yoga Class: What now?

yoga injury deposition

[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:

 

deposition for yoga injury file

Actual Yoga Injury Deposition File Received Nov 3, 2015.

 

 

 

JANE DOE

Plaintiff

vs.

YOUR NAME

Defendant

 

 

 

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.”:

  1. Institute any safety procedures your practice has if this appears to be a medical emergency (gross deformity, inability to move, debilitating pain, etc.).
  2. Complete an Unusual Occurrence Report with the student, each of you completing it to the fullest level of detail.
  3. 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.
  4. Be sure you have the student’s contact information.
  5. 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.
  6. Notify the management if you aren’t the owner.
  7. Notify your liability insurance carrier if the situation is severe (an apparent dislocation, fracture other serious debilitating condition).
  8. Contact the student the next day and then a few days later to inquire into how they are recovering.
  9. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Matthew Taylor
matthew@matthewjtaylor.com

Dr. Taylor is the founder of Smart Safe Yoga and creates resources for safe practices for the global yoga community. For the last 35 years, he’s combined his graduate degree in physical therapy, advanced yoga therapy studies and his doctorate in the study of chronic pain to find solutions for a multitude of health challenges.

8 Comments
  • Emily T.
    Posted at 09:09h, 08 November Reply

    Hopefully you have insurance, and so you probably also need/want to notify your insurance carrier – read the fine print of your policy.

    And, maybe your lawyer? Hopefully you had a professional help you set up your business so there is some liability protection. They also probably have some advice about what you should and should not do now that there is a potential claim.

    And, maybe you do these two things towards the top of the list so you make sure you don’t add to the injured’s claim by saying and doing things that might further increase their claim post-injury.

    • Dr. Matthew J Taylor
      Posted at 07:27h, 09 November Reply

      Thanks for posting Emily. I added the “notify liability insurance company” with the qualification of severe situations (rare, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.) I’ll go into more detail on these points in the follow-up posts, but the research demonstrates that if people are treated with respect and experience a sense of caring and support vs abandonment, the majority of these situations never get to the legal level. Now, if the teacher did something not-SMART (i.e., have a sweaty vinyasa class do crow pose off the mat on a wood floor comes to mind as an actual case) then yes, seek counsel immediately.

  • Rebecca Odgers
    Posted at 20:01h, 09 November Reply

    How about never teaching something that you don’t fully understand and aren’t practising yourself on a regular basis. It is only through the deeply personal experience of our own yoga practice that we can begin to understand it’s power and teach it in a safe way.

    • Dr. Matthew J Taylor
      Posted at 06:38h, 10 November Reply

      Thanks for posting your comment Rebecca. Unfortunately people experience pain/injury for a whole host of reasons beyond teacher capability of performing their own practice. Often this out of the control of the teacher. They can trip on a prop, have irritated their shoulder washing windows before class, or have been distracted during the class ruminating on an existing problem with the inattention causing inordinate soft tissue forces. None of those are dependent on the teacher’s personal practice nor the fault of the teacher.

  • Melissa
    Posted at 15:04h, 16 November Reply

    Can you share an example of an Unusual Occurrence Report? What it consists of and should a lawyer review it before use?

    • Dr. Matthew J Taylor
      Posted at 15:28h, 16 November Reply

      Thanks for writing Melissa. In the follow up blogs I’ll be addressing each item in it’s own blog. That will include the opportunity to download a sample form. As with any risk management part of your business, you should invest in your local legal opinion as this is NOT legal advice and only your attorney can provide that for you. Keeping your students safe is worth the investment and means you are practicing ahimsa. Be sure to sign up for the notices in the margin so you don’t miss it. ~ matt

  • Brian
    Posted at 19:56h, 27 November Reply

    Thank you for this, I’m looking forward to following the development. Brian

    • Dr. Matthew J Taylor
      Posted at 05:25h, 28 November Reply

      Thanks for commenting Brian. I’m curious what part of the post has your interest and why? I also enjoyed visiting your website as creativity is my other passion http://www.healthcarecreativity.com. It’s very exciting the research on neuroplastics and cross-overs with what primes us for creativity…and of course how the technologies of yoga support that emergence. ~ matt

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