yoga teacherBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Student safety is obviously the number one priority in our classes.  If accidents happen, the question of legal responsibility can make our heads spin. For this reason, let’s go over some common precautions to consider.

Do you cover a prenatal warning before the start of a Yoga class? Every Yoga instructor should thoroughly go over it when adult female students come to your classes. You would be surprised how many students will not tell you before class.

Also, you may want to add a prenatal warning to your initial handout, waiver, or questionnaire, for new students. Prenatal Yoga classes are specifically designed for the safety of pregnant students. From a legal viewpoint it is unwise to teach pregnant students without prenatal and postnatal Yoga teacher training.

Forward Bend: For students who are in good health and who are not pregnant; the fold should be guided by the breath, while elongating the spine. Then the waistline will gently draw in to a point, while the heart draws toward the toes. This is easier said than done, but will help guide your students.

Neck Rolls, with the head tilted back, can grind the cervical vertebrae against each other, causing premature wear. This is not suggested for students of any age, especially middle age and up. Your Yoga students might do this warm- up exercise slowly – and that is much better than doing it fast, but it is still not acceptable.

Also related to neck movement – linear movement, and the front part of the neck circle, are fine – if done very slowly, but this still may not be a good idea for your older students. There is also a very cautious school of thought that believes any neck movements should be performed in classes, only after gentle isometric exercises for the neck. You should combine pranayama with these isometric exercises for maximum benefits.

Lunge posture in Sun Salutations: The knee should be right above the ankle during this posture. When the knee is more forward than the ankle, this can cause premature wear of soft tissue within the knee joint.

The only exception to this is when the back knee is on the floor, as this takes pressure off the forward knee. However, if a student has an existing knee ailment, or is prone to knee problems, the knee should stay directly above the ankle and not beyond it. This may be considered very cautious by some teachers, but Hatha Yoga teachers are supposed to teach restraint and safety during asana practice, at all times.

As a Yoga instructor, your form might be very good, but you will still need to correct all student alignment problems when they arise. In Warrior II, some of your students will need to be reminded to keep the back arm level. It feels normal to them when the back arm is lower.

Tree Pose: Are some of your students are pressing the foot against the side of the knee on the balancing leg? The knee is not designed to take pressure from the side. This could cause premature wear over time. The foot should always be above, or below, the side of the knee – and never to the side.

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