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Yoga Workshop Handed Lawsuit for Improper Adjustment Injury, Are All Studios Doomed for Sue-dom?

in YD News, Yoga Crime, Yoga Feuds

More lawsuits! Improper adjustments! This time not as naughty as you’re thinking. Can we just be happy for a moment this is not about sexual assault? OK…moving on.

knee-meniscus-big-moneyIt’s suddenly a rocky road for Boulder, CO studio Yoga Workshop, Richard Freeman‘s joint (he and his wife relinquished ownership and management earlier this year update: they took back ownership 9/09). News hit late yesterday that the studio is being sued by a former student due to instructor Luke Iwabuchi‘s “unsolicited physical manipulation” resulting in injuries causing “permanent disability.” yowch! Basically an unwanted adjustment gone terribly wrong, says the CA man, Robert Heit, who’s filing the suit. OK here go…we don’t know the Yoga Workshop, we’ve never experienced an Iwabuchi class, but we’ve certainly experienced plenty of adjustments in our time as yoga students, some not always what we thought as the safest maneuvering for the human body. Seriously ouch! There have also been several occasions where we wish the instructor would pleease come over and give us that extra nudge, but what are we supposed to do? snap our fingers? shout at the teach? *sigh* We digress…

So let’s break this down…

Date of Incident: approx. 4:30 p.m. Dec. 6, 2008.

The Accuser: Robert Heit, former Boulder resident now residing in Santa Rosa, CA. Other info we don’t know? Age, physical condition prior to the incident, yoga experience, etc.

luke-iwabuchiThe Accused: Yoga Workshop, by way of Luke Iwabuchi, a well-respected yoga instructor, at the presently well-respected Richard Freeman-blessed studio in Boulder, CO.

The Claim: “unsolicited physical manipulation” resulting in a torn medial meniscus (that precious soft band under the kneecap – the victim of outrageously frequent sports injuries) that required surgery.

The studio should be held responsible for promoting teachers who alter clients’ yoga positions without permission — thus creating hazardous conditions, Heit asserts in the lawsuit.

“Conducting yoga classes where unsolicited physical manipulation is permitted during yoga class poses a danger of injury to patrons and students,” Heit states in the suit.

The studio “failed to exercise reasonable care in that (the studio) failed to warn or instruct against the hazardous condition or activity of unsolicited physical manipulation during the activity of yoga,” the suit claims. As a result of the studio’s failure, Heit claims he suffered “severe personal injuries, causing him extreme physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering.”

What’s at stake: Money of course, no word on how much yet. Let’s not forget Mr. Helt’s grievous pain (physical no doubt, though we have no comment on the extreme mental and emotional suffering); the livelihood of Luke as a yoga teacher; the reputation of Yoga Workshop and all those involved with the studio, including the students. Then of course there’s the potential of this setting a precedent for yoga teachers and studios all over the country should Mr. Heit be successful in court.

So many questions!

Should those waivers we sign before entering the studio serve no protection in the event of personal injury?

Wouldn’t the studio’s insurance cover something like this? We’re no lawyers, so how much could Mr. Heit possibly claim against Yoga Workshop? Knees are expensive! And has the damage already been done to their rep?

Or maybe everyone thinks this Heit guy is a money-hungry finger-in-my-chili lawsuit-monger. He claims permanent damage, which, if torn severely enough, can cause increased risk of osteoarthritis later on. But is injury something we all understand is a possibility when signing our name on the dotted line of the waiver? Is it the responsibility of the teacher? the studio? or the student?

Man, we really like CO but what’s with all the crazy yoga lawsuits coming out of that state? sheesh

Great coverage from YD pals, hometown Boulder-based elephantjournal.com

Original news story at The Daily Camera

UPDATE: To the yoga injury ‘whose fault is it’ question, elephantbeans reminded us of an interesting take on responsibility. When is it an accident and when is it negligence?

EarlierUpdate: Graspin’ Aspen Yoga Teacher Prepares for Trial Over Sexual Contact

Yoga Teacher FAIL…Is that Pattabhi Jois? [photo]

22 comments… add one
  • kia

    When I saw this headline I immediately thought as a newer yoga instructor this is one reasons why I am grateful my YTT instructors taught me to always ask for permission with adjustments. Then I read the story and was crushed to learn it is Luke from Yoga Workshop being accused. I did my prenatal/postnatal teacher training at the Yoga Workshop, enjoy working with a woman I consider a mentor out of there, and am acquainted with Luke. I have much love for both entities mentioned in the suit and can only hope they are treated fairly in this whole mess.

  • admin

    There are some teachers I know who will make no adjustments or touches whatsoever for this very reason. Others who know me well and my practice, will make conscious and very helpful adjustments where needed. I know a great teacher (a male) who’s a bit rough and teaches a very heated vinyasa ashtanga-influenced class where he gets in and pulls and pushes. Obviously not everyone feels comfortable with that so he’s learned to start every class with a warning/disclaimer… ‘if you don’t want to be touched or adjusted, give me a sign.’ otherwise you’re pretty much fair game, and look out if you’re struggling! automatic target. no lawsuits.. yet.

    To me, adjustments are great. Good rule of thumb? If there’s doubt leave it out, especially new students.

  • I’m not a Yoga teacher, but this sure makes me worried for my many Yogablogosphere friends who are.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • lucas

    have you ever had a bee or other large bug on you that you didn’t know was there, but someone (maybe even a friend) slowly approached you with their arms out, staring intently at the problem, and said something like, “don’t…. move…..?” your body immediately tenses, and your guard goes up.

    that is how most teachers approach adjustments. no wonder students get hurt.

    i have worked as a dedicated assistant/adjuster for years (before i ever started teaching), and i can say this uneasiness and hesitancy about adjustments more often comes from teachers than students. i hear teachers complain about how their students don’t want to be adjusted and usually they are right – i know i wouldn’t want to be adjusted by someone who was touching me without confidence or worse yet, false confidence.

    adjustments all come down to intention. if you come from a place of “all i hope to do with this adjustment is not injure the student” i would submit that is the most dangerous place of all. it is not a teacher’s (or assistant’s) job to “fix” a pose, only to promote safe alignment and create a physical experience/environment where a practice can open up in a way that is safe, fun, and ultimately transformative. injuring a student is very difficult to do if you are listening to their body. it is easy to do if you are not present and are on teacher auto-pilot. it can also be a result of having only 3 or 4 adjustments in your tool belt that you apply to certain positions regardless of the body in front of you.

    i would love to see a section of YD dedicated to adjusting that sheds some light on what can be a powerful experience for student and teacher alike.

  • This is so depressing. And odd: Yoga Workshop is an Ashtanga place, didn’t this student know what he was getting into? I don’t think that people deserve to be manhandled, but there are some styles of yoga that are more intense in the adjustment department. And as for “unsolicited”: most adjustments are spontaneous, and ideally, don’t interrupt the flow of your practice (or the teacher’s teaching), so that claim seems just bogus from a yogic standpoint.

  • In the yoga teacher training I’m currently completing, we recently did a couple of sessions on the do’s and dont’s of adjustments as well as partner yoga (the two cross over). Generally speaking, the school I’m learning at, and not to mention my guru, both advise to offer adjustments sparingly.

    Basically, unless someone is in danger of hurting themselves, guide with words and demonstration first and foremost. Especially because we don’t know exactly what injuries and limitations people have (physically or mentally). Even if someone has filled out a medical history form, there’s no guarantee they will be 100% honest.

    And I think that works for me. No force required, just allowing things to open as they will.

    I’m sure Luke intended no harm. Unfortunately, teaching yoga is an intimate business involving people’s bodies. I’m sure I’d be unhappy if someone gave me an adjustment if they didn’t ask first. And if that resulted in an injury, I’d probably be pretty angry.

  • First off, from day one of yoga, I’ve always appreciated a good manual adjustment. They teach, in a visceral way, how to refine one’s pose. They actually feel good. That said, as a student, I don’t mind a firm touch; but, as a teacher, I believe that less is more. Here’s an alternate: try to get students to do the adjustments themselves, whether by touch (“press your knee into my hand”) or by words (“elevate your ribcage off your side waist”). That way, students control their own bodies.

    I cannot imagine a manual adjustment causing a meniscus tear. That is major damage. And who adjusts knees anyway, beyond telling students to bend more deeply or to align straight forward? Maybe he had a pre-existing condition (an “eggshell skull” in legal lingo regarding liability).

    The other day, a woman wanted to drop into a beginning class I was teaching. She wasn’t signed up, but I was open to her participation until she said, “I have no ACL. I go to physical therapy, but I thought yoga might be another option.” She ultimately decided against the class because she cannot do swivel motions (feet and legs) into standing poses. I was relieved! Now I’m even more so.

    Yoga Spy

  • Who loves you, Baby? WE DO! Your blog is getting some attention from our Yoga Blog Contest! (I must admit, it is definitely a fabulous blog!!)

  • bongomama

    It was a yoga class? That implies teaching?? If you don’t want or aren’t open to instruction, then perhaps you would be better off with your Gaiam DVDs and an empty house.

  • YogaLove

    As an instructor, I’m deeply concerned and interested in knowing more about the facts of this lawsuit. Since I do not know all the facts, it would be inappropriate for me to form an opinion at this time. I will be watching the outcome of this case closely and hope justice will prevail.

  • We’ve updated our report on elephantjournal.com: after talking with Mary Taylor of the Workshop yesterday, it appears the paper may have the story and headline wrong in a major way. Their headline, “Man sues Yoga Studio…” doesn’t seem to be accurate. And it appears this has already been settled. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/11/man-sues-richard-freemans-yoga-workshop-for-unwanted-adjustment/

    Thanks for the shout-out, and your own in-depth report puts ours to shame. As always, yours in yogadorkiness ~ Waylon

  • On my first-time-to-the-studio-data sheet, I have a question asking students if adjustments are ok, as they are an integral part of my teaching style (I believe in teaching to the 3 different modalities of learning:kinetic, auditory, and visual). My philosophy on is that adjustments should be first and foremost for helping with alignment rather than pushing farther into the pose. That being said, it is still up to the student in the majority of cases to tell the teacher when too much is too much. I have been adjusted too far, but it was entirely my fault, since I knew where the line was (where I should not cross) and let it be crossed. A power dynamic can come into play which prevents the student from stopping the teacher, either from being in a “subordinate” position, or through a belief that the teacher knows where the point of no return is.

    This kind of thing terrifies me, since anyone out to make a buck could claim that this happened to them in a class where the teacher makes adjustment.

  • In my teaching I rely on adjustments that work to correct alignment rather than make the student move deeper. In fact, most of my adjustments bring students into a less intense, but properly aligned pose. For example guiding a student up from a shoulder slumping, chest closing, hand-to-the-floor trikonasana. I’ve never been a fan of rough hands-on adjustments, but have had wonderful experiences with teachers guiding me deeper through verbal and gentle hands on cues (saying “I think you can tilt the pelvis a little more” while placing a palm on my low back in paschimottanasana). The work comes from within, but the knowledge and experience from the teacher’s guidance.

  • It makes me wonder if we’ll come to the day where a yoga teacher has to take out malpractice insurance.

  • Yoga is really a great medicine for all.

  • Patricia

    I am way late to this story but I once had an Iyengar teacher ‘adjust’ me when I was trying to do reverse prayer (hands in namaste behind my back). Seriously, *unsolicited* she literally YANKED my hands up and together to my shoulder blades. I hurt from that adjustment for over a year and never went to another Iyengar class. That being said, I love a good adjustment; that just wasn’t one of them!

  • Denice

    A yoga class with good assists is an amazing and transformational experience. I have been practicing Power Yoga for 12 years and teaching it for three years. Before teaching yoga, I was a chemist in the polymer market for 25 years. In order to become a really good chemist, I studied hard to earn a BS in Chemistry and a Masters in Polymer Chemistry. In order to graduate from a university or college, you have to meet stringent requirements and are tested to demonstrate compliance. When I decided to teach yoga, I researched yoga trainings that had stringent requirements and a test to demonstrate compliance to meeting those requirements as well as someway of ensuring the safety of students. Yoga Alliance has a two hundred and 500 hour certificates which are the closest thing to ensuring teachers are trained well. Then there are certification programs that do not meet Yoga Alliances requirements like Gym certificates where a person goes through a weekend of training or Yoga studios that want to have a teacher training program as a revenue stream but don’t want to invest the time in training teacher that meet a 200 hour Yoga Alliance so they call them a 55 Hour Teacher Training. These type of programs to me are like getting your degree from filling out the back of a cereal box versus going to a state university ( a 200 Hour) or a grad school (a 500 Hour). I have no idea what the teacher ’s training was involved in this case and in no way am insinuating that it is poor. What I am saying is a general statement that in no way would I want anyone’s hands on me that doesn’t have a 500 hour Yoga Alliance Certification any more than I would want a dentist in my mouth who has a cert from Santa’s Workshop like Herbie on Ruldoff the Red Nose Reindeer. If my teacher has a 500 hour, I signed a waiver and I gave permission to be assisted then an injury and lawsuit is less likely to happen. But when you have poorly trained teachers being cranked out like what is happening now, more and more lawsuits are inevitable. I doubt that an assist injured this man in the lawsuit. I hope that on his waiver he reported his previous injury that was probably aggravated by the assist but not caused by the assist. To the man filing the lawsuit, yoga is not just about asanas (poses). Asanas are only one of eight limbs. The first Limb is the Yamas and Nijamas. The first Yama is Ahimsa, to do no harm to others. A well trained teacher is coming from this direction, your attorney as well as most ambulance chasing attorneys are not. A yoga teacher does not make that much money. My question is for the person suing, are you coming from the direction of non-harm or are you coming from your attorney’s direction of financial wealth? Please be true to yourself as the outcome of this case may have grave impact to millions of students who are taught by well trained teachers. assists may become as extinct as lawyers who entered law because they loved law and wanted justice.

  • Sue

    I am so sick of the whole yoga franchise hypocrisy. Between the sex abuse that goes on and other things etc. And it is happening way more then people know. The ones that people know about are tip of the iceberg including dimwit instructors that think they have a PhD in physical therapy or kinesiology. They hold themselves up there like an ultimate Authority. Just very yoga jaded. Lots of very naive people who follow their teachers like they are infallible not capable of total crapola. God let’s go do yoga a drink afterwards and you cN be part of my yoga cult come to my house for personal adjustments. Oh he would never do that he has a wife. Bull oh yes he would.

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