February 22, 2013

When is a Yoga Teacher Negligent? ~ Amy Taylor

Source: thedailybeast.com via PLANK on Pinterest

Sure, Hilaria Thomas had a responsibility to do her best to teach a safe class. But, ultimately, we are all responsible for our own bodies and judgment.

Intriguing details have emerged about the incident that prompted student Spencer Wolff to file a lawsuit accusing yoga teacher Hilaria Thomas of negligence after leaving one of her classes by ambulance.

Apparently, Wolff was coming into or out of handstand when his foot crashed through a window of the sixth story studio, causing significant bleeding and resulting in a leg injury. He blames the crowded conditions and poor judgment of the instructor.

See, this is why I avoid handstand. And practicing yoga on the sixth story.

Seriously, I’m trying to discern what went wrong here. Who decides when to cut off a class roster? Did the studio have guidelines and were they followed?

In reality, I know most studios pack ‘em in. More students means more money. It’s a problem many of us who teach would love to have.

Class size aside, whose fault is it if a student attempts handstand too close to a window?

Clearly, Wolff had a traumatic experience. No one expects to leave the studio on a stretcher.

But how much responsibility does the instructor bear for these events? Does it reach the level of negligence?

Can someone really be “forced” into a pose that’s unsafe?  I’ve implied it in my writings about unpleasant adjustments. I have felt distressed after adjustments given by sought-after teachers in crowded classes. Still, I never considered a lawsuit. On some level, I understand that I’m an actor in the drama, too. I have a role that comes with responsibilities.

In fact, this situation has helped clarify it for me:

I am responsible for setting my own boundaries. If I don’t, I put myself at risk.

If I am appropriately assertive and a teacher still bullies me, well, then she may be at fault. But I can always walk out.

Knowing nothing about Thomas’s teaching style, I can’t say whether or not she pushes people to push their limits. If she teaches handstand in an all levels class, as reported, it’s possible.

I do know other teachers who take a drill sergeant approach. One yelled, “C’mon guys! No one ever died doing yoga!”

I cringed, hoping that wouldn’t be the day she was proven wrong.

As students, what do we have a right to expect from our yoga teachers? Are they supposed to scan the room for every potential hazard and be ready to prevent misguided moves?


We know the releases students sign offer little protective value. Still, there should be a sense of trust, a pact between teacher and student. Mutual respect. No intentional harm. Healthy boundaries.

First time in a class, you might not know what to expect. But apparently Wolff had attended this teacher’s class before. He chose to put himself back into her hands.

Sure, Thomas had a responsibility to do her best to teach a safe class. But, ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own body and judgment.

Even when the teacher is married to a celebrity.


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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