Accidents happen. Plain and simple.

And unfortunately yoga accidents and injuries are more common than you might think.

In fact, there has been a huge amount of discussion over the years, largely sparked by this article in the New York Times a few years back, concerning whether yoga can do more harm than good.

But I digress. What steps can YOU take, as a yoga professional, to ensure that you and your students stay as safe as possible?

We are here to help you navigate this potential minefield and come out the other end with you and your students’ ‘mind, body and spirit’ intact.

As yoga teachers — freelance or studio owner — we do what we can to caution students and clients against the potential dangers of the practice, and to create as safe a space as possible. But fundamentally we cannot control their actions.

It’s for this reason that yoga insurance is so important, and requiring clients to sign a yoga liability waiver.

While we do our very best to prevent yoga injuries, a possible string of events that leads to an accident or mishap is always a risk. An incident in your yoga class could cost you in the absolute worst way – both financially and emotionally.

Frankly, it’s every yoga teacher’s worst nightmare.

But don’t worry, particularly if you are a new teacher just starting your yoga career (and you don’t want it to be over before it’s even begun right?) as we have put together an info packed article on this anxiety inducing topic.

I’m pretty sure you’ll want to know:

Are you ready? This is the slightly less glamourous and fun part of being a yoga teacher, but trust me, its ESSENTIAL reading.

How to communicate with students about pre-existing injuries

“Now, does anyone have anything going on in their body that may affect their practice?”

We’ve said this time and time again, starting off each class by asking students about any injuries or physical limitations is a must. It’s incredibly important to touch base with each individual student before starting a session so you can keep an eye out for any potential poses that could cause injury, or anything odd going on with a student’s practice.

Anyone who wants to get involved with a physical practice, whether it be yoga or hitting up CrossFit should be able aware of any prior personal injuries. This includes but is not limited to back trouble, knee weaknesses, shoulder injuries, surgery or any other physical issue that could impede their mobility and ability to get physical on the mat.

So yes, always ask the question – it’s professional and good practice to do so.

However, this is only one half of the equation. If you ask the question, you must be prepared for the answer and I have seen too many teachers avoid asking because they don’t know how to handle what comes next.

Here’s are a few things to bear in mind:

  • If you ask, mean it, and be prepare to speak to the student discretely. Say something like ‘let me know if you need me to come and have a quick chat on your mat’ – perhaps your student doesn’t want to announce to the whole class they had a colonoscopy last week so be prepared to dash around the room quickly
  • Know your injuries! There is nothing worse than a student telling you about their ACL knee surgery and the class noticing your eyes glaze over. Of course, we’re not doctors and won’t know everything but do ensure you have decent working knowledge of the most common injuries that people show up with
  • It is possible that your students will withhold information from you. On a retreat I ran recently one of the guests ‘forgot’ to tell me that he had 4 metal pins in his forearm. Unfortunately there is not a huge amount you can do about this – but know that as long as you’ve done your best, asked the injury question and more importantly held space for the answer, that’s all you can do
  • And finally, the phrases ‘If it doesn’t feel good in your body – don’t do it’ and ‘Any sharp or acute pain – then back out of the pose’ are your best friends!

Poses that put newer students at at risk of common yoga injuries

For the purposes of this article we are going to assume that you as teachers have undertaken a comprehensive teacher training that has prepared you for teaching safe sequences, understanding alignment of the body and offering comfortable and respectful assists.

However, as we all realise your first YTT is really only a starter for ten when it comes to becoming an expert in the human body. There simply isn’t enough time to master all the information you might need to guarantee avoiding yoga injury.

Even if you are an anatomy expert you are also having to deal with students who are human people with free will and egos. Heck, your students might have physical weaknesses or limitations they are not even aware of.

It’s a minefield. So, as a new teacher, especially teaching beginner students, here’s a quick run down of the main poses that can most commonly cause injury:

  • Shoulderstand / Plough

Putting the cervicap spine into such an intense compression can be problematic on a number of levels. After all, your entire bodyweight is being channelled into those vertebrae. Furthermore, despite it being essential to instruct students not to move their head, the temptation can be just too great. Neck pain, or worse a serious disc problem can result.

  • Headstand

Quite simply, many students have not built sufficient strength in their upper bodies and mobility in the shoulder girdle to execute a safe headstand before they actually attempt one. Set up is key, but easy to get wrong. Most people place far too much weight into the crown of the head rather than the forearms. And apart from anything else the risk of taking a tumble is high. One to watch.

  • Upward Facing Bow

Urdhva Danhurasana, or full wheel can be one of the most exhilarating poses in a class. But it can be risky, as can all backbends. Quite often this is because people only think of bending into the lower back whereas all backbends begin with the thoracic spine. Add the need for supple quads, the difficulty of getting knees thighs and feet parallel plus the intensity of the pose for the wrists and you can see why coming into this pose safely can be a challenge.

  • Badly Executed Chaturangas!

Chaturanga and plank are common sources of shoulder injuries when performed incorrectly and you’ll find that many students go for form over function – lots of flamboyant ‘scooping’ up into upward facing, lots of dramatic lowering to the floor. In short: shoulders away from the ears, pelvis in line with the body, collarbones broad, elbows tucked in and at 90 degrees. Anything else, and you’re asking for shoulder aggravation.

Other recommendations:

Encourage Kindness and Compassion

Let’s face it, the ultimate aim of yoga might be to turn inward and still the mind, but the reality is students heads will always be turned by someone with a more advanced practice than theirs.

Sometimes, when you see a student really going for it, speeding through vinyasas as though their hair was on fire, taking every uplevel, visibly sacrificing the ‘ease’ for the ‘effort’ (sthira sukham asanam) – it’s hard to know what to do!

A few instructional tips and tricks from my own teaching methodology:

  • I always emphasise individual time, space and pace being one of the gifts of yoga
  • Sometimes if a student seems particularly fiery, I’ll hold the class in tadasana and place hands lightly on shoulders
  • Suggesting that today might be the day to dial it down and not go for every variation, allowing that energy to be available for their neighbours on the mat, can be an interesting perspective to offer
  • and if all else fails – simple poses, longer holds!

Limit Your Class Size

Of course you want a full yoga class because this is a business after all, but having too many students can work against you. When classes become too big you can’t possible keep an eye on all of your students. Additionally, packing classes full reduces the amount of space students have to move, which can lead to an accident.

Try reducing your class size to give students more space, or if you have heaps of space, bring in another instructor who can help you teach and monitor student movements. Another helping hand never hurt, after all.

Should you not be able to afford or have access to a second teacher, you could show each pose, then ask your students to perform it while you walk around and check their positioning.

Pay Attention To Class Levels

There is a reason we separate beginners from advanced yogis – the risk of injury. A new yoga student may be eager to try an advanced pose, but in their effort to fit in with the seasoned practitioner, they may well hurt themselves. This kind of accident can absolutely be prevented by placing students in the appropriate class level.

Always Offer Modifications As Well As Uplevels

If you notice a student who is out of place in their current level, voice your concerns privately. If they are unwilling to swap, offer them alternative poses. Again, there is only so much you can do as an instructor. 

The difference between an injury and an accident – and how to avoid both!

So — there are three red flag areas to look out for in the context of keeping your classes and students safe as houses. To summarise: first, always ask about previous injuries and surgeries that might affect the students’ practice. Second, create as safe a class as possible when it comes to sequencing, alignment, assisting and simply observing your students level and

Can you guess the third golden rule?

Pay close attention to your physical space ie. most often, the yoga studio.

As the yoga teacher, it is your responsibility to show up early and leave a bit later. This gives you extra time to tidy up your studio or space, so there are no objects that could cause an accidental injury.

Mats, blocks and straps that may be used should be stored in a spot where they are easy to access, but out of the way so no one trips or gets tangled up. If there are any water spills (or sweat splatter — you never know!) these need to be mopped up immediately or marked with a “wet floor” sign.

Another way to avoid accidents from a messy yoga space is by asking your students to remove any outdoor footwear before entering. Mud, snow and rain can all lead to slippy floors and then the risk of injury skyrockets. It’s also nice knowing that the floor you practice on isn’t filthy from outdoor dirt and grime.

Upgrade Equipment When Necessary

Another tip on how to prevent yoga accidents is to upgrade your equipment.

As time goes on, equipment wears out. Mats lose their grip, blocks fall apart and straps wear thin. If your equipment is starting to suffer from wear and tear, do yourself a favour and replace it. This will limit your negligence, as well as protect your students from the risk of injury due to faulty equipment.

This brings is conveniently on to how to insure yourself and your students.

The importance of insurance for both teachers and studio owners alike

As a yoga teacher you want to offer your students the best experience you can in a safe and comfortable environment. Whenever you are dealing with teaching of a physical nature it’s sensible to be extra cautious when it comes to liability issues.

One of the common questions that both freelance yoga teacher and new yoga studio owners will ask is, do I need insurance and if so, what kind?

The answer to this question is: most definitely. Not only do you need insurance, but you need the right kind.

In the end, your students’ choices are out of your control. No matter how much you train and prepare to teach yoga, you cannot control your students’ behaviour and choices during class. Furthermore, from a personal point of view, your physical body is now your livelihood so it’s important to be doubly protected.

While Yoga is not nearly as stressful on the body as, say, Crossfit there is still the risk a student could become injured. While there is no doubt that you make every effort possible to ensure this does not happen you cannot predict a mishap – accidents can and do happen.

A student, visitor or staff member could become injured through a variety of different causes and it could be something as simple as slipping on a wet floor.

To avoid any potential legal action or issue, and to protect your professional health, do your due diligence and get acquainted with the different kinds of yoga teacher and studio insurance available. Here are a few of the most common types available.

For teachers:

Professional liability insurance

An extremely important segment of your yoga insurance coverage is professional liability insurance. This protects you in case a claim of negligence is put against you by one of your students, visitors or employees. For example, if you were to teach a controversial technique that ended up causing injury or was misleading and could be taken as being negligent on your part as an instructor.

Participant Liability Insurance

Insurance for yoga teachers should also include participant liability insurance. This is part of your yoga insurance package that ensures that you are protected in regards to potential injury concerning anyone participating in your class activities no matter in what capacity. Every studio or freelance yoga teacher needs to ensure that have this type of coverage and more importantly, that their students sign waivers before ever beginning a yoga class.

For studio owners:

Public Liability Insurance

Public liability insurance is an absolute must for studio owners and it should extend to all of their teaching staff as well. This type of insurance is designed for “professionals who interact with customers or members of the public. It protects against claims of personal injury or property damage that a third party suffers (or claims to have suffered) as a result of your business activities.” [Source: Aon]

Accident and Liability insurance

This part of the insurance coverage offers protection to you as the yoga teacher as well as coverage for your yoga studio. It protects you against claims for bodily injury or property damage.Accident and liability insurance covers anyone that is at your studio, whether they are a student, visitor, or employee.

Property Damage Liability

This particular kind of yoga studio insurance focuses on property damage liability insurance. This type of liability insurance typically covers damage caused to another person’s property when you are the one legally at fault for the damage.

And don’t forget on top of this:

  • Health Insurance – your body is your business, so we advise additional insurance in case of sickness or injury, to allow you to access quick and easy solutions
  • Mortgage Insurance – if you are unable to teach for a period of time for whatever, life/mortgage insurance will cover your monthly repayments
  • Travel Insurance – if teaching and travelling at the same time make sure you have adequate cover to take care of yourself in the relevant country. There is nothing worse than unexpected

Insurance is a necessary evil!

Yoga insurance is an investment that every teacher will have to make to safely conduct business, so make sure you understand which policies you end up purchasing.

Yoga Alliance offers members liability insurance, so to learn more about your options visit:

AND FINALLY how to manage a yoga injury situation if the worst comes to the worst

Okay so here’s the real nitty gritty.

Let me paint a picture for you. On my second yoga training with Les Leventhal a year ago we were about half way through, so really getting into some challenging and borderline anxiety-inducing practice.

Inversions, deep backbends, intense flows: it was all happening. In the middle of our morning 3 hour vinyasa, we did a break out into small groups to spot each other through a pincha mayuransana against the wall. (Forearm balance, scorpion, walking legs down the wall.)

Sweaty and intensely focused in our groups, all knocking up againts our edges and supporting each other, the amount of concentration in the room was amazing.

Suddenly, there was a crash and a bang. One of our number had fainted in an inversion, collapsing against the wall and losing concsiouness for a short while.

I won’t lie, it rattled all of us. However, there was a clear directive in terms of what to do in this situation and things ran like clockwork.

  • There was a designated chain of command – who stays with the person, who calls the emergency services should they be needed, and who deals with the remaining (slightly shell shocked) students
  • A number of people in the room were either medical professionals, or first aid qualified, and we all knew who these people were from the start of the course
  • Everyone was well briefed on the fact that we were well into ‘advanced asana’ territory and had clear instruction on how to conduct the session safely and compassionately

In short, don’t get complacent and think it will never happen to you as a teacher. You don’t even need to be teaching an advanced practice, but you may have a student who hasn’t been upfront about a medical condition, or indeed did not know they were suffering from anything of the sort!

In case the unthinkable happens, and you have a student collapse or injure themselves in class, you need to be prepared.

In conclusion:

By nature yoga doesn’t seem like a very accident-worthy practice, but so many factors can contribute to accidents and negligence.

While you may not be able to control the behaviour of your clients, you can take environmental factors into your hands (like the practice space and equipment) and offer your best advice to those with physical limitations and beginners.

Be aware and be proactive.

It’s a jungle out there people, let’s support each other in terms of being safe and protected, thus preserving the practice that we love.

About The Author

Jules Barber

Jules Barber is the Founder & Creator of Yoginomics. Having worked in a golden cage in London for 15 years she sold out of her business to become a yoga teacher, corporate wellness specialist and location independent entrepreneur, on a mission to mentor and coach the next generation of amazing yogis - teachers and students alike.

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