Dealing with Medical Emergencies
When Vic Rhodes, a diabetic student, went into insulin shock during her vinyasa class at Triangle Yoga in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, teacher Rebecca Drake activated her support network. A student alerted the desk attendant, who called 911. The studio director, Tracy Bogart, helped Rhodes eat one of the sugar tablets from the container he always kept next to his mat, and soon the ambulance crew arrived and administered more sugar. Rhodes has recovered and is back in classes.
Despite every studio's and teacher's efforts to create a safe environment, such medical emergencies do happen in yoga classes, as a result of either an acute injury or an underlying condition. Knowing the symptoms that indicate the need for medical attention and thinking through how to react during an emergency will help keep your students safer.
What to Watch
In teacher trainings she conducts with her husband, Erich Schiffmann, former nurse Leslie Bogart regularly tells the cautionary tale she calls "The Red Man." An older male student, new to yoga, appeared very red and was sweating profusely a few minutes into a class. When Bogart approached him, he reported feeling dizzy. They agreed he should discontinue the day's class and talk to his doctor about his symptoms, which he did the next day.
"The day after that he went in for a heart-valve replacement and coronary bypass surgery," Bogart remembers. "I was flabbergasted. You can imagine what could have happened had I been in a 'try it again' mood. I was and am so thankful that my medical training, and something else, caused me to see what I saw in Red Man that day and to realize that his leaving the class was the best solution." She recommends that teachers should have "no fear about suggesting that a student see a health care [professional] if there is any question about the situation."
As a medical doctor and yoga teacher based in Northern California, Baxter Bell is especially attuned to his students' health. When he notices a student who "just doesn't look right," he will check in. "Every once in a while, they'll say, 'I'm feeling really nauseous' or 'I'm feeling really dizzy right now.'" In those situations, he offers a modified practice, suggests that the student stop entirely, or recommends visiting a doctor.
Bell describes what to look for: "If someone's sweating profusely but you aren't doing anything particularly strenuous in the practice—that's a real classic thing for heart problems, a sweating episode with difficulty breathing. If you see someone laboring beyond what you would expect, go over and check out what's going on."
Other conditions may not be so obvious; trust your intuition and be conservative when a student's health is in question.
Handling Emergencies During Class
When you see something in class that raises concern about a student's health, quietly confer with the student. Ask what he or she is experiencing, and whether the symptoms might be related to any known medical conditions.
Determine with the student whether it's safe to continue practicing. If so, offer a modified sequence of poses.
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