Yoga Ouch! Whose fault is it?

posted by ebean

Sarah Miller of Elephant Journal recently began the discussion about “whose fault is it?” when a student is injured in a yoga class.  A reader comments:

“I was injured after a well-meaning teacher decided to push my sacrum when I was in downward dog – took me three painful weeks to recover – my advice to any teacher is to always ask before touching or physically correcting and to always request students to listen to their bodies and to create space within themselves, especially when pushing the envelope.”

The Elephantbeans response:

It is impossible to avoid injury because guess what?  We are mortal.  We can break, tear, bleed, fall, die, etc.   Miraculously, we get up everyday and face a scary world that could mortally wound us at any given second.  Nothing is truly safe.  Reading a book?  You could get a paper cut that gets infected and then you die.  Eating a peanut butter sandwich?  You could get e. coli poisoning and die.  You get the picture.  We manage to forget the danger in the world around us as we unconsciously navigate day to day situations.  However, instead of hiding under our beds (that might crush us!), over time we realize that certain actions minimize injury and that the risk of injury in most things is not as prominent as the benefit of the thing.

So when it comes to yoga, as in everything else, there is a bit of risk.  As with any situation, first you must decide if the risk of injury is worth doing the action.  If it is, then you must minimize the risk involved.

1.  It is the student’s responsibility to do the research and find a teacher that really knows what they are doing in general and with your body in particular.
-Speak to the teacher before every class about any injuries or bodily concerns.
-Commit to one or two teachers.  They will know your body and how to handle it.  A huge part of being in a yoga class is being able to let go and trust.  Doing the research and committing to those individuals will allow you to be present in class rather than in fear of injury.

2. It is the teacher’s responsibility to pursue ongoing training to ensure that they will have the smallest possible chance of hurting someone.
-Figure out what you are teaching.
-Be honest with yourself about your motivations.
-Know your limitations.

3.  A teacher asking students each time before making physical adjustments is silly.  While this request makes sense out of context, in the classroom it is not practical for the following reasons:
-It disturbs other students.
-It disturbs the flow of the class.
-It assumes that the student actually has a command of human anatomy and the teaching of yoga.

We are human and accidents happen.  This is just the risk you take.

8 responses to “Yoga Ouch! Whose fault is it?

  1. Actually, I prefer if instructors ask very quietly- never has disrupted the flow of a class before. Usually they ask while doing an adjustment that is a bit more personal space esque.

  2. thanks for the post. i appreciate your thoughts and ideas. blessings.

  3. Most classes I attend, before teachers begin any hands-on, they ask when students are in down dog (so it’s fairly private, as others don’t have a clear view of the whole room) if anyone doesn’t want hands-on that day, to lift a leg. This is important, as there are days I’m just not in the mood, though most days I am. It’s also important to speak up if a spot is too much.

    What I dislike is when teachers ask if anyone has injuries in front of the entire class. I really don’t want to announce any physical issues with an entire room of strangers (“oh, right, the chick with the foot issue again. that hasn’t cleared up yet?”). There should be space to tell the teacher this before the class privately.

  4. I think there are several arguements to be made for an injury not being a yoga instructors fault, but in this case I can’t agree that it is parellel to eating e coli contaminated peanut butter. A yoga instructor is placing their hands on another person and applying pressure in a way that leads to injury.
    I think instructors need to be very gentle. there is a way to coax a student’s body into position without pushing it too far. And instructors need to stay on the side of caution whenever they touch a student. A student can always improve tomorrow if you do not correct them too aggresively, while an injured student needs time to heal, and could understandably have second thoughts returning to the same class.
    Basically, it’s not all about the pose. A student’s health is top priority.

  5. I’m relatively new to teaching. When I don’t know a student I might avoid adjustments below the waist until we’ve established a rapport – one thing I noticed during training, for instance, was how deep some of the ‘stuff’ we hold in the body really is! Sometimes a very intense adjustment – for instance the forward bend assist one often gets with the teacher laying on top of a student – can be a little too intimate. Of course some are so intuitive and magical with bodies but we are living in certain times in a certain society, so we have to shall we say keep it sattvic. Still it’s wide open in the end because like anything else with the most refined technique and intentions you could still have an injured, weirded-out student!

  6. Pingback: Yoga Workshop Handed Lawsuit for Improper Adjustment Injury, Are All Studios Doomed for Sue-dom?

  7. my husband suffered a similar incident a couple of months ago at a nyc studio – we’ve been doing yoga for a long time and had hundreds of teachers adjusting us but none led to a single injury or discomfort. in this case, however, and especially because i was in the classroom and know firsthand how intense the adjustments were, i can tell you that the teacher was going above and beyond what might be comfortable, even for a seasoned yogi. while we could have cried out saying we don’t want the adjustments everyone knows how hard it is to do this when you are in the classroom and you really have no idea how bad an injury the adjustment can cause until after you are done with the class. i am not a believer in frivolous lawsuits but when i realize how the same teacher can cause hurt to hundreds of others in the future, i can’t help but think of what can be done to prevent the same thing from happening again and wonder how we can ever be compensated for months of grueling pain, doctor bills, and physical inactivity.

  8. There has to be a step before a lawsuit… perhaps a discussion with said teacher?

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