Speaking Mindfully: The Legal Implications of Health Advice, Part I
Yoga teachers can receive professional credentialing, but no state grants yoga teachers licensure based on specified educational and clinical training requirements. Therefore, even well intended health advice could cross the line into the unlicensed practice of medicine, psychology, or even other disciplines.
Of course, some yoga teachers have licenses in other health care professions, which may give them greater latitude, but there are still complexities when one carries dual licensure and is operating in one sphere (e.g., the yoga studio instead of the acupuncture clinic). Given this environment, the following suggestions may help limit legal trouble and also maintain healthy boundaries around one's current, professional role:
1. Acknowledge the limitations of yoga teaching. It's ok—and often advisable—to tell your students that you simply aren't qualified to give advice about their conditions. When asked for advice, remind them that although in the holistic model of health, the body, mind, and spirit may constitute a seamless whole, our licensing laws do assign different tasks to different providers. Being modest about your knowledge and authority is a great way to smooth over any tension this acknowledgement might create. Less is more; it's better to be humble than to "punt." It would be perfectly acceptable, for example, to admit to students that you do not know whether and how inversions could affect their ongoing chiropractic care for whiplash, medical care for asthma, or heart condition.Yoga Journal's medical editor, Timothy McCall, MD, gives very cogent advice on this matter in "Can You Prove That Yoga Works?": "When we don't know precisely why something works, it's best to admit it, rather than dress it up in the language of science to make it sound more impressive….The irony is that when we try to explain yoga in scientific terms when the science just isn't there, we risk undermining our attempts to persuade others of yoga's benefits."
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