Due to this strong interest in yoga many clubs are seeing large classes with as many as 50 or more students per class. On one hand this is good for business and satisfying for the instructors. On the other hand it makes it hard for a teacher to see each student and make sure that everyone is properly following instructions.

Rising to meet this increasing demand for yoga, many teacher-training programs have sprung up. Like personal training certifications, some programs offer quality training while others leave a lot to be desired. Consider the fact that “yoga teacher certification” programs vary from as little as one weekend to as much as three years. This means that some teachers are well prepared while others don't have the training and experience needed to be safe and effective.

LEARNING CURVE

Although yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years it is still fairly new in the West; introduced approximately 100 years ago and only gaining strong awareness here in the last few years. Originally, yoga was developed as a spiritual practice. Many of us in the West have been good at deleting much of the spiritual practice and have embraced the physical aspects of yoga in an effort to turn it into a form of exercise. Additionally, we are seeing a host of new yoga hybrids popping up that combine various forms or exercise or dance. So students as well as health clubs and even some teachers are trying to figure out exactly what yoga is and how it fits into our lives. Not knowing exactly what to make of yoga many people attack yoga as a competitive sport — no pain, no gain. Of course, all this sets the stage for injury, which is ironic because one of the basic philosophies of yoga is “ahimsa” or non-violence. This includes not being violent with ourselves.

INSTILLING PEACE

If you offer yoga classes at your facility or are planning to do so, there a number of specific things you can do to minimize yoga injuries and assure safer classes.

  • Encourage on-going training for teachers, especially training that focuses on anatomy, posture modifications and working with injuries. Yoga is a vast field and there is always something new and interesting to learn.

  • Have teachers talk with each new student prior to class if possible and ask about pre-existing injuries or limitations. Also, ask teachers to remind students at the beginning of every class that yoga is not a competitive sport — the goal is to bring awareness and sensation into the body, not to cause pain.

  • Make sure you provide the necessary props: yoga blocks, blankets and straps. These are a low-cost investment that makes yoga safer by easing sore spots, lengthening reach and helping to teach correct actions in postures.

  • Categorize yoga classes according to ability and or experience: intro, beginning, advanced beginner and intermediate.

  • When class size is more than 30 consider having an assistant or two for the teacher who can walk the room and act as a spotter. It is impossible for a teacher to see each person's form in a room full of 50 people.

  • Hire qualified teachers who are certified, have had anatomy and physiology classes and understand how to work with a diverse population. Not all teaching certifications are the same. Those of us who have been teaching for a while know that training is life-long and there is much to learn. Be sure to match the level of teaching experience and knowledge with the class being taught.

  • Inform and educate. Create an educational brochure that talks about yoga, including the benefits, cautions and clear descriptions of the different styles and classes you offer. Make this information available to members. Post it on your Web site, in your newsletter and at the front desk.

  • Howard VanEs, M.A., is a consultant, author and yogi. His book, “Beginning Yoga: A Practice Manual,” can be ordered through amazon.com. He can be reached at 510-587-3399 or via e-mail: tokreate@cs.com.