Top 10 Yoga Safety Tips
This list of safety precautions and cues that comes from a combination of group fitness leader training, weight lifting precautions and Hatha asana studies. As a regular practitioner of yoga I find that it’s about half/half of teachers that are mindful of safety precautions and cue them every class, then the other half who have either learned and forgotten or just haven’t developed the habit of putting safety first. I have seriously injured myself in a fitness class (not yoga) where the instructor completely ignored my injury (even though I had to supported out of the class) because they simply did not know how to treat or react to my injury. No one from the facility even acknowledged or contacted me regarding my injury even though I went from being a daily annual member to not attending the club for at least 3 months. I urge everyone teaching any kind of class whether it’s yoga, fitness, or any other genre, to come back to basics and always keep in mind that….
Safety is Numero Uno
Unfortunately, injuries do happen and although some injuries are not avoidable or predictable, many injuries, especially in a slow and methodical practice such as yoga are avoidable when mindful teachers cues are heeded. No one can control whether a participant listens to a teacher or not, but if the teacher cues are correct then they’ve done everything possible to deliver a safe series of postures. As long as you’re certain you’ve taken proper safety precautions to deliver the safest class you possibly can, that’s all that can be done.
Safety incidents to learn from
I have witnessed several incidents in yoga classes I was a participant in that could and did cause injury, I will describe two separate classes to illustrate what a safety hazard can look like in a yoga class. The first incident was when a teacher within 10 minutes of the start of a class cued everyone into camel pose then told us all to try and drop back from camel to kneeling wheel, then full wheel. She said it was fun and we should all try it, that she and the studio owner had been doing it the day before and it was really “fun”. Most of the regular practitioners laughed nervously, shook our heads and did not attempt it (because it didn’t seem safe). However, a new guy beside me did do it and ended up hurting his shoulder on the landing. He later told me he sustained a rotator cuff injury that took over a year to heal. I was not a trained instructor at that time so I didn’t know better than to warn him not to do but later I wish I had, I could have saved him a year of pain. If that happened today, I would definitely speak up.
The second incident occurred in a class right after I finished my yoga teacher training program. This is significant because during the teacher’s course we had clarified some breathing cues and there were varying opinions about when to cue people to in-hale and ex-hale during specific movements.
My master instructor, Nakul was from India and one of the texts we studied from Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Nakul explained that when the major body moving was rising up against gravity to cue in-hale and when the major movement was towards the earth to cue ex-hale. Some of us disagreed with this and there was some heated discussion because we had all heard yoga teachers cue this just the opposite, i.e. exhale, rise up. He said that was incorrect and maintained that a person could get dizzy doing that as the oxygen was needed to restore blood to the head rising up. I didn’t recall that ever being a problem during my practice and decided I would ask some experienced instructors after my course what they thought.
Flash forward a week later, I’m taking a class with my favourite teacher at that time who had been teaching for several years. It was a full class, over 40 people, I was in the second row. About halfway through the class we go into Malasana and do a series of revolved arm stretches while in the deep knee bend. Then we are cued to exhale and rise up from Malasana to Tadasana Mountain pose. I experience for the first time ever in a yoga class a draining of the blood from my head and nearly go down but managed not to despite the sudden dizziness. However, the woman in front of me goes down like bricks and then very embarrassed quickly springs back up, but has to go back down to child’s pose to recover. She was a tall drink of water too, about 6′ tall.
Inhale to rise up, exhale to move down. Also to this day I hear instructors cueing the opposite and luckily I haven’t seen anyone else topple. No matter what the teacher cues I am always mindful to inhale rising up. Anyway, onto the safety rules.
TOP 10 SAFETY TIPS IN A YOGA CLASS
Knee and ankle alignment in a lunge (and warrior series, etc). Knees are notoriously fickle, it does not pay to mess around with anyone’s knees. The front lunged knee should never ride past the ankle creating a less than 90° inside the knee angle. When I see exaggerated front knee bends around me class and it makes me cringe.
- Core engagement in spinal twist. Cue participants to engage their core (belly button to spine) and open their chest which forces spine lengthening before beginning to twist and likewise on the release. I see people using their arm like a rachet over their knee to crank the twist when their core isn’t engaged, they compensate with arm strength.
- Never never never include camel or any deep back bend within the first 10 minutes of a class. The body is just not ready for such a posture until a series of lesser back bends have lead to this posture. Camel pose belongs in the last third of a class again only after other back strengthening postures.
- Once in Camel, cue the neck correctly. Keep a long neck like there’s big grapefruit at the nape. Open and raise the chest toward the ceiling, keep the hips and thighs forward. When a teacher calls all the correct cues for this posture Camel is safe and beneficial.
- The proper breathing cue is to inhale when the main movement is against gravity (such as rising up) and exhale when the main movement is towards the earth. Cueing the opposite can result in dizziness or worse, a pass out.
- Knee positioning in reclining hero should be whatever does NOT hurt the knees. If a teacher cues that the knees need to be glued together then participants think that anything else is wrong. Again, don’t mess with knees to get a specific shape, it doesn’t work that way for everybody and people need to be told that.
- Egos at the door reminder. Egos cause injuries. This is absolutely serious. If a new practitioner is pushing to keep up with and/or look exactly like the people in the front row, they will put themselves at risk for injury.
Teach inversions for only for right reasons. Again, see #7. For many people full inversions are inappropriate and unnecessary. They can have the full benefits of inversion postures by doing partial inversions. Full inversions can and do cause neck and spinal injuries if done incorrectly. There should not not be any full inversions included in a class unless it is advanced.
- Common sense is important. Teachers can and do make mistakes with cueing, switching right for left, front for back. Tell participans to listen mindfully, then move with their common sense.
- Cautionary hamstring tale. Once while practicing I heard a man’s hamstring tear right beside me. Yes, I actually heard the tearing noise. He was in forward fold and he was grabbing his feet and straightening his legs just like the teacher cued and then SNAAP. So, remind people that hamstrings can snap, again back to #9.
There are a lot more yoga safety precautions, I could basically go on and on, but I think these 10 points will suffice. Add to this the basic rule of thumb for participants in any sport, stay hydrated, make sure a appropriate warm up is done, and replenish electrolytes after finishing the class is a good way to wrap things up.
That wraps up this page on safety tips, thank you for reading.
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Comments are welcome, please leave them in the box below. Cheers, Connie.