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Yoga Teaching Safety Guidelines

Patanjali, founder of the system of yoga and author of the Yoga Sutras, once wrote in Sanskrit: Anityasuciduhkhanatmasu nityasucisukhatmakhyatiravidya" (What at one time feels good or appears to be of help can turn out to be a problem; what we consider to be useful may in time prove to be harmful.)

Safe Teaching of Hatha Yoga

Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, 100 million-plus yoga practitioners worldwide  are enjoying its health benefits. Yoga has fast become popular among those who are looking to tone their bodies, improve flexibility, boost endurance, or simply maintain good health.

Yoga is associated with promoting strength, flexibility, and overall personal development. Yoga is indeed a very beneficial activity. It can be done at home, or in a class with other practitioners. It is also easy and safe enough to be performed by people of all ages, children and expecting mothers. However, Yoga can do much more harm than good if not done properly.

The following gives some general guidance on safety, including contraindications. It is not intended to be exhaustive as there are too many variations to consider. When in doubt, students should be advised to consult their doctor concerning the suitability or otherwise of particular postures or movements.

The following gives some general guidance on yoga teaching safety. It is not intended to be exhaustive as there are too many variations to consider.

Yoga is generally taught in a group setting where students can vary considerably in terms of fitness and general health levels, age and flexibility. For teachers, this presents a challenge, which should be addressed by building awareness of common areas for concern.

Always remember that whilst under your care the safety of your clients is your ultimate responsibility. Therefore as a teacher, you must ensure you have taken into account all the aspects of safety relevant to teaching Yoga.

The main safety factors you need to consider are: participant screening and the environment where yoga sessions are held.

Safe teaching also involves advising students to take responsibility for their wellbeing by heeding such signs as chest pains, cardiac irregularity and faintness, all of which are indications that the body is under strain. When in doubt, students should be advised to consult their doctor concerning the suitability or otherwise of particular postures or movements.
Some Yoga poses can be more harmful than helpful

The tearing of the Achilles tendon or hamstrings, injuring the lower back, neck or ankle, dislocating the shoulder, sound like type of injuries you'd expect after a contact sport or strenuous exercise activities. In actual fact, these injuries have also been associated with that most seemingly gentle of physical activities: Yoga.

Participant Screening

When starting with a new client it is vital that a Yoga Instructor takes the time to do a proper Health History Screening. If done in a studio, this will most likely be done when the member signs-up. For most individuals exercise is a safe endeavour. However, for some, exercise can involve few risk. It is to both the client’s and the instructor’s benefit that a proper screening is completed. The client will gain the confidence that their trainer is professional and aware of any health concerns the client/s might have The trainer will not only be better prepared to conduct class but will also have the comfort of knowing that they have taken the legally responsible steps to help protect themselves from potential lawsuits.

It is not only good practice but often a prerequisite that the instructor establishes the medical history of participants, alongside any relevant physical attributes that may make the practice of Yoga unsuitable for the participant.

PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire)

If you teach Yoga in health and fitness clubs it is important to note that most health and fitness clubs will have completed medical questionnaires (known as Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire or PAR-Q) when the members join the club. But it is also the instructor's responsibility to still do a verbal screening prior to start a session. As an instructor you need to ask your client/s if they have any current injuries or any other reason why they should not take part on Yoga session.

The PAR-Q was originally developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and was later adopted by the American Heart Association as well as the American College of Sport Medicine. It is considered the minimal standard for entry into a moderate-intensity exercise program.

To download a sample of PARQ Form (Courtesy of the Canadian Society Exercise Physiology) that can be used to screen new clients and expecting mothers please see below:

  1. Standard Form: PARQ Age 16 to 68

  2. Special Population: PARQ Pregnancy


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