According to a study by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, the number of yogis in the United States increased by over 50% between 2012 and 2014, and popularity is still growing. While welcoming new people to yoga is exciting, it also comes with risks, leaving studio owners a lot to worry about. Melissa St. James is one of those studio owners.

Her studio, Bird Rock Yoga, located in San Diego, California, has a primary goal of keeping all of their students safe, but it comes with a lot of work. “Of course, as a fitness and movement-based business we worry about physical injuries, but we also have issues related to sexual harassment,” said St. James. “We must be mindful of that since there is often contact with clients through physical adjustments. We also have safety concerns with our brick and mortar location.”

One way she keeps her students safe from injury, and her studio safe from liability, is by making them sign waivers. “We have a pretty standard waiver all practitioners must sign, regardless of the type of class they sign up for, including donation-based classes,” said St. James.

Hanover Yoga & Wellness, located in Ashland, Virginia, also makes every student, regardless of what class they are participating in, sign a waiver upon their first visit to the studio. “This waiver holds them responsible for their own actions during the class and their time at our studio,” said Sarah Bunger Horne, the owner of Hanover Yoga and Wellness. “Also by signing, they agree to respect the instructor’s safety/alignment instructions in poses and respect others practicing in class.”

First-timers are important to Hanover Yoga and Wellness, but they come with their own risk — especially if they’re new to the practice of yoga completely.

The Hanover Yoga and Wellness staff.

“We like to demystify the experience for newbies. We explain we are all learning and new to this, every time we step on the mat,” said Bunger Horne. “Another thing we ask new students is if they have any old or new injuries or concerns. If there’s anything recent, they must be cleared from their doctor first.”

From there, Hanover instructors make sure the new students are comfortable in classes and in poses, and ensure the practice is accessible for their body. 

Practice Precautions

Bird Rock Yoga places a high importance on safety. One way they do this is by making sure their studio is spacious and sparsely furnished.

The props and decor that are in the studio are carefully organized to avoid students hurting themselves on them and any other potential hazards they may cause. Additionally, the studio is cleaned daily with organic, antibacterial cleaning products, to ensure safety and prevent the spread of disease and sickness in the space.

Besides making sure the studio is clean and safe, Bird Rock Yoga also preps its teachers to reduce the chance of a risk occurring. When hiring new teachers, they focus on alignment-based teaching techniques. “Keeping students safe during class is the teacher’s only real job,” said St. James.

Hanover Yoga and Wellness also makes sure its teachers are educated and practicing safely.

“Our staff is trained to teach alignment-based yoga, and when you practice yoga poses with the correct alignment, injures should not occur,” said Bunger Horne.

She went on to explain the studio practices mindfully. Students are asked to explore poses slowly, with intention, love and kindness. “We don’t just do poses; we feel poses with the body and we explore each using the mind,” she said. “We understand how poses are serving us — and that is different for everyone.”

As a studio owner, it is important to recognize certain classes pose bigger risks than others.

Bird Rock Yoga is fully aware of those classes on their schedule. They have lightly heated classes, where the studio gets up to 82 degrees. This can cause concern for clients sensitive to heat. They also offer occasional workshops that can be riskier than a typical class, especially when they include inversions. However, being aware of these risks allows them to warn students before they take the class so they can use their best judgement.

Students practicing at Hanover Yoga and Wellness

For Hanover Yoga and Wellness, their vinyasa and hatha are much more active yoga classes compared to their gentle, restorative and yin yoga classes, bringing greater risks with them. 

“We have a few intermediate-advanced level classes, but we’ve been blessed with an amazing staff and amazing yogis who come to classes to learn, to practice to better themselves each day, to share their bright light and to heal,” said Bunger Horne. “Our vibe isn’t to push to the max, but instead embrace where you’re at and watch yourself grow.”

While yoga injuries are relatively low in number, they still happen. Having your studio be aware of potential risks will help prevent them from happening. Bunger Horne gave this advice for other studios when it comes to studio risks: “Assure your new clients you aren’t doing anything crazy; we are here to relax and to feel good. Remind clients at every visit to move slow with intention; remind them they are in charge of their bodies’ and movements. Inspire clients to heal by finding alignment-based postures that promote positive changes for themselves. And remember, in the end, the motto is, ‘You are your own guru.’ Meaning, the client is responsible for what they inevitably do ⁠— both from a philosophical approach and legal aspect with liability waivers and business insurance.”

Three Tips for Lowering Studio Risks
Hanover Yoga and Wellness
1. Keep poses/sequences realistic for your audience.
2. Share the concept of mindfulness with your audience.
3. Remind your instructors a client doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Bird Rock Yoga
1. All staff members need to be mindful of safety across the board.
2. Keep a tidy ship. Making sure everything is in its place is key to reducing unexpected injuries outside of the classroom itself.
3. Be prepared for anything.