By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Yoga is not a sport and not typically associated with severe injury. In fact, therapeutic forms of Yoga fit more neatly into the category of rehabilitation. However, injuries can and do occur while practicing Yoga. It could be that the muscles are not properly warmed-up, a pre-existing condition is irritated, or a beginner tries to push him or herself too far. Student safety in classes is primarily the responsibility of the Yoga instructor. Yoga teachers must ensure they are giving all the correct cues and precautions for each pose, they must know their students’ levels and limitations, and they must constantly monitor the students throughout the class session.
Create a Safe Environment
Perhaps the primary element of Yoga student safety is creating a safe environment. A safe environment is one where students feel comfortable to ask questions, try techniques, and adjust according to personal needs. A safe environment includes a knowledgeable Yoga instructor who repeats safety cues for each technique during a class. The Yoga teacher should never assume that the students already know the information. All Yoga instructors must consider how to create this type of environment for their students during each Yoga session.
Know Medical Histories
It is imperative for instructors to know the medical and injury histories of their students. Then they must make sure to speak with each student about specific poses they should avoid, or modifications they should perform regularly. While teaching Yoga class, instructors must remind students about potential injuries for each pose. Before class begins, instructors should always review the medical concerns for each student to refresh their memories and make sure any issues are addressed.
Observe Students Carefully
Instructors need to know their students. Through careful observation, they will begin to know the skill level, abilities, and limitations of each student. When teaching class, good instructors will demonstrate the pose first, then circulate about the room to provide support, advice, and encouragement to the students. Instructors need to remember that the class is all about the students – it is not time for the teacher to practice. Instructors can grow in their personal Yoga practices during personal time, not class time.
Another important element in creating a safe Yoga environment includes seeking the help of more experienced teachers. Yoga teachers should never feel like they have to know it all, or portray themselves to students as if they know it all. Teaching of any type is an evolution of knowledge and skills. Good Yoga teachers are always learning new ways to perfect their teaching methods. Young Yoga instructors should have a mentor to consult with on a regular basis.
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