As a yoga teacher, your legal obligations mirror your spiritual commitments. Simply, you are required both legally and spiritually to be clear and truthful in representing your abilities and intentions. In addition, you are required to teach with full attention and awareness, and in a way that is consistent with the level of experience you bring to the moment and have represented to your student as your own.
If any of your students are harmed as a result of any misrepresentation of your abilities or intentions, your failure to perform to the best of your ability or your negligence, you might have legal liability to your injured student. You might also have liability if one of your students is otherwise injured at your place of practice, such as tripping and falling over loose carpet, even if that injury is the result of the student”™s own negligence.
Of course, there is no absolute way to protect yourself against claims, whether legitimate or illegitimate. But there are ways to reduce the possibility of frivolous claims and your financial exposure in the unfortunate event of a legitimate claim.
One of the most important steps you as a teacher can take in protecting both you and your students is to clearly communicate both your qualifications and the specific risks entailed in a yoga practice. General, generic statements as to the risks involved will not protect you in the event of a dispute. This communication should be in writing and include a signature line for your student to acknowledge that he/she has read and understands the document, assumes the risks involved in undertaking his or her study with you and releases you from liability.
I would urge you to have an experienced lawyer prepare your release agreement to increase the chances that it is enforceable. This document need not be lengthy or replete with legalese, and should not require more than an hour or two of an attorney”™s time to prepare. You should allow your student sufficient time to both review the release form and ask you any questions he or she might have before signing. I would also suggest that you ask your students to initial each paragraph of the document, indicating that he/she has read and understands each provision.
In my many years of practice, I have heard myriad reasons from personal service professionals, including yoga teachers, as to why these liability releases are not a priority or are not customarily used. These reasons run the gamut, from a misperception that releases are not enforceable to the uncomfortable space created by requesting a student to sign a legal document.
Contrary to popular belief, written releases are enforceable where the document is unambiguous and specific and the student understands what he/she is signing and does so of his/ her own free will. While releases are not “self-executing”, they are invaluable in a legal proceeding to establish the understanding of your student before he/she entered into the student-teacher relationship and specifically, that he or she understood the risk associated with his or her practice. And, while it might be uncomfortable to request a student to sign such a document, the ensuing dialogue, in addition to having legal benefit, establishes clarity in the teacher-student relationship and provides an opportunity to address both a student”™s expectations and fears.