By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
As a Yoga teacher, improving student safety is of paramount importance. Ensuring Yoga student safety, while still offering your students a challenging and thorough workout, can be challenging, to say the least. This is particularly true if you are teaching a mixed-level class or a class to a group of students who drop into your class sporadically. If you are teaching Yoga at a gym, health club or community center, you may frequently have students attending your class who do not have an established, regular Yoga practice at home.
If you find that many of your students take your class only occasionally, or that they do not have a regular Yoga practice, paying close attention to your students’ fitness levels, individual abilities and needs will help to improve their safety during your Yoga classes. Even if you are teaching classes to a dedicated group of students in a professional Yoga studio, you may find that many of your students will encounter a variety of physical challenges through the years. For instance, a very dedicated and fit student, whom you may have been teaching for several years, may fall skiing and partially tear several ligaments in his or her knee.
Although this student may be very adept at a strong intermediate series of asanas, your student may need some extra attention and a variety of modifications, in order to continue to practice Yoga during his or her recovery process. In the same vein, one of your students may be going through a difficult divorce or a family situation that is causing him or her a great deal of emotional distress. In this case, you may be well advised to offer this student some restorative forwarding bending postures at the end of class, in order to soothe and balance the student’s mind and body.
A very important skill to develop as a Yoga teacher is to honor your students’ current needs and ability levels, by honoring their boundaries. It is not uncommon for Yoga teachers to dismiss a student’s personal boundary when, for example, the student is very quiet and polite and the teacher is trying to lead a relatively large group of students through a brisk 45 minute Yoga class, during their lunch hour! Understandably so, but it is critically important to listen when your students tell you that they are experiencing pain in a certain part of their body.
For example, several years ago I fell skiing and partially tore several ligaments and the meniscus in my right knee. I was advised to have immediate surgery by a prominent orthopedic surgeon in my area, but I declined.
I believed that with time, patience and physical therapy, I would be able to rehabilitate my knee without such an invasive procedure. Five years later, my knee is at 95%. During the time when I was recovering from this injury, I was still participating in Yoga classes. In order to protect my knee, I would place a folded blanket on my mat underneath my knees. On more than one occasion, even after I explained the situation to the Yoga teacher, the teacher would absolutely insist that I remove the blanket! If I had removed the blanket and continued on with the class, I would have further strained my torn meniscus and partially torn ligaments.
This is a very clear example of not honoring a Yoga student’s boundaries. Although it may feel irritating to slow down enough to accommodate an individual student’s needs, it is critically important if you are working on improving student safety in your classes. By keeping the lines of communication open with your students, you will know if and when your students need some specialized instruction. In this way, you will be able to wisely guide them in their practice by choosing asequence of asanas that best suits their individual needs, and by incorporating the strategic use of props and modified Yoga poses when necessary.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.