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Should Yoga Studios Ask Students to Sign a Liability Waiver?

It's time for yoga teachers to adopt some of the legal protections that other health professionals already use. Here's how to understand the benefits of liability waivers plus advice on how to use them and what disclosures they should include.

By Michael H. Cohen, JD, MBA


1. Obtain insurance. Yoga teachers should obtain professional liability insurance, and yoga studios should obtain an umbrella insurance policy. Each should read their policy carefully to ensure they are receiving sufficient and appropriate coverage.

2. Ask about injuries. Teachers should ask students about injuries and conditions before beginning class and then caution their students accordingly. Failure to watch for contraindications (such as yoga students with neck injuries doing headstand) can signal negligence.

3. Mind students' limitations. Teachers should be mindful of students' pace and limitations so as not to create unnecessary injuries, discomfort, or an experience of invasion. Such mindfulness takes account of the classic legal definition of professional malpractice or negligence, which is failure to follow professional standards of care (or "due care;" "reasonable care under the circumstances"), thereby injuring the patient. Yoga teachers are legally, as well as ethically and professionally, obligated to take due care in their teaching and any adjustments.

4. Communicate mindfully. Many malpractice lawsuits stem from an injury and the perception of negligence, which can be exacerbated by frustration and anger around the provider's failure to adequately communicate with a concerned client. In other words, miscommunication between providers and patients accounts for many malpractice filings, and attention to communication and perception comprise a liability management strategy in any therapeutic practice. The physical and psychological intimacy of a yoga class suggests a need for particular vigilance around students' moment-to-moment receptivity to changing levels of contact, both physical and energetic, from the instructor.


The informed consent/liability waiver form, while offering no guarantee of freedom from liability or legal action, can add to these risk management tools when incorporated into the sign-up sheet for class. Make sure to mention the fact that in any physical activity, risk of serious physical injury is possible; that yoga is no substitute for medical diagnosis and treatment; that yoga practice and/or specific poses are not recommended for individuals with certain conditions (e.g., cardiac illness, later stages of pregnancy, post-surgery); and that the student assumes the risk of yoga practice and releases the teachers and studio from any liability claims.

Placing the risk disclosure and advisory language on the class sign-up sheet can help minimize disruption of the teacher-student relationship. Another option is to have each new yoga student sign such a form once, and then leave the regular sign-in sheet uncluttered. This avoids asking the student sign to the same language again and again, a practice that can sometimes flag the liability concern.

What if, despite a teacher's best intention and awareness, a student finishes a class injured or feeling violated? Again, good communication can be a key to limiting potential liability. It may be helpful, for example, to remain in an empathetic, listening mode, so that the kind of negative energy that leads to litigation may be safely discharged rather than fueled. Such a soft stance is no guarantee against suit, but, unlike denial, frozen fear, or a defensive shield, it may help re-engage the relationship instead of polarizing the dynamic.

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Reader Comments

Terry

Would you recommend online waiver services like Smartwaiver for yoga studios?

Emily Kochert Riveramelo

I have the same question. I've been looking online, and have found a few examples, but is there any "template" available?

Debi Kennison

Regarding the article by Michael H. Cohen on Liability waivers and disclosure forms: Is there a source for these forms online that yoga instructors can use?

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