improving yoga student safety - side angle poseBy: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Are you interested in methods for improving Yoga student safety? The safety of students can be improved by encouraging open and forthright communication, between a Yoga teacher and his or her students. Whether or not a student is new to your class, encouraging open lines of communication is of paramount importance when you are guiding a student through a series of physical postures and pranayama exercises. Over the course of weeks, months, or years, a student’s physical and emotional health may shift and change with various experiences in life. By encouraging open communication, you will be able to guide your students in their practice through your professional feedback and recommendations.


Doctor’s Approval

For instance, if one of your students has just found out that she is pregnant, you may want to recommend that she attend a prenatal yoga class, rather than continuing with her Ashtanga Yoga practice for the duration of her pregnancy. Similarly, if one of your students has recently undergone a surgical procedure, returning is a safety issue. You will need to know more information about your student’s current recovery process. Insist that your student obtain authorization from his or her doctor. You are trying to keep your student safe. Discuss this with studio management before allowing a student to continue training in Yoga classes. These are awkward matters, but management and teachers need to work together to improve class safety standards.

Healing Pranayama

On an emotional level, if one of your students is under a great deal of stress or has recently suffered a painful incident or traumatic loss, recommending that he or she practice soothing pranayama exercises may be much more healing than stimulating breathing exercises, such as Bhastrika Pranayama. A fiery and stimulating breathing exercise may only agitate your student further and can create more anxiety and distress, rather than support his or her ability to rest and recover. Similarly, if one of your students has recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, he or she is feeling very psychologically fragile. Offering a soothing and calming pranayama exercise, such as the Relaxation Breath, will facilitate a restful state of healing, overall balance, and well-being.

Health Conditions

These are only a few of the personal health conditions that can affect the appropriateness of a specific Yoga posture or class for any individual student. However, each student with whom you work is, of course, a unique individual. By encouraging open and frequent communication with your students, you will be able to find out if they need a modified sequence of Yoga postures, different pranayama exercises, or a different type of Yoga class altogether. The idea of establishing a time to speak with each one of your students on an individual basis may seem overwhelming at first, but with a few designated time periods in place to speak with you about any health concerns regarding their Yoga practice, your students will feel more comfortable approaching you on a regular basis.


Precautions for Teachers

A great time to speak with your students individually is fifteen to thirty minutes before the start of your class. In order to open the space and prepare for students without feeling rushed, many teachers arrive at their studio early. This gives you a chance to turn the lights and heat on or to set up the Yoga props. At the same time, announcing to your students that they are more than welcome to come to class a few minutes early is valuable to some students. During their time to speak with you individually, you will be providing them with a time when they can let you know about any health concerns. Additionally, this time will help their Yoga practice as they ask for your recommendations.

Teacher Availability

In the same way, by announcing at the end of your Yoga class that you will be available for ten or fifteen minutes after class ends to address your students’ individual concerns, you will be establishing a quiet time when your students may speak with you privately about any specific physical and emotional health concerns that may be affecting their practice. This time period will also provide you, as an instructor, the opportunity to communicate directly.  This is a special time to recommend certain modified postures, breathing exercises, or even a different style of Yoga. To individual students who are experiencing any number of health challenges, this is an opportunity for tips. Ultimately, improving Yoga student safety is “job one” in classes today and communication is where it starts.

About the Author

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.

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