I am sorry to hear that you suffered an injury in your yoga class. Of course you are right, people can get hurt doing yoga. I cited the research above by William Broad that attests to that fact. However, you didn't provide any context or background to the nature of your injury. While the injury happened in a yoga class, sometimes the predisposition for an injury is set up long before the student enters the classroom. A serious injury, if it is not caused by a sudden trauma, like a car accident or some other unfortunate incident occurring in a sport, usually has some small warning signals ahead of time: I like to call these "little tweaks." If the little tweaks are ignored, they can become big tweaks and if these are ignored, they blossom into full fledged injuries. Was the injury you suffered completely independent of all the other stresses you have subjected your body to over your years of athletics? I am not saying it was, because you have given no background to your overall health and the specific injury, so I can only ask the question.
It is a common human trait to look at the proximal cause of some event and assign responsibility to that event. There is a saying that it was "the last straw that broke the camel's back." We blame the last straw, the proximal event for the injury, but in reality it was the accumulation of stress over time (all the other straws) that created the predisposition for the injury to occur. This is a well-known problem in medicine, as this graphic below shows. Here you see that over time every stress of tissues reduces that tissue's tolerance to future stress. As the tissue weakens, a last straw effect can occur that damages the tissue (when the two curves cross.) But, it was not the last event that was the problem: it was the accumulation over time of stress that left the tissues weak that lead to the injury.
This last straw effect syndrome is described by Stuart McGill in his book called Low Back Disorders
. McGill is sometimes called as an expert witness for cases where a Workers' Compensation Board denies coverage to an employee. For example: the employee works all day on a production line, lifting a heavy load off a conveyer belt, twisting his spine and placing the load on a skid. This repetitive movement decreases the tolerance of the back tissue. One day the worker, while at home, bends over to pick up his socks and "throws his back out." He files a WCB claim, but is turned down because the injury occurred at home, not at work. McGill has to educate the court that the injury was not caused by the proximal event of picking up socks, but by the long term stress on tissues, which were not allowed sufficient time to recover or heal.
Yoga studio owners face a similar problem some times: a student hurts their knee or hip while doing a posture, and then sues the teacher or the studio blaming them for her injury. The student fails to reveal anything of her prior physical condition or activities, such as having just run a marathon, or did mountain climbing, or slipped at home and strained her joint the day before. The student blames the proximal event for the injury and not the chronic stresses she had be doing to herself over time. Again, I am not saying that this is your situation, as you gave no background to your injury. But, before blaming Yin Yoga or blaming the teacher, we do have to look at the bigger picture of the history of your physical activities, health and little tweaks you have had before attending that class.
You also state very boldly that "I think it is the responsibility of every teacher to be very clear and explicit on this point to make sure people don't get hurt." Every teacher has an intention to keep her student's safe, but it is a step too far to say that every teacher has the responsibility to ensure that people don't get hurt. As a parent, I could never guarantee that my children never got hurt, but what I could do was try to teach them how to look out for themselves. I would agree that teachers should try to teach their students to look out for themselves, but no teacher can guarantee that their students won't get hurt. The student has to take ultimate responsibility for her practice and her body.
Let me explain that last point and put it in some context. I wrote an article entitled Are Yoga Teachers Making Us Fragile?
in which I said the following:
- The author and geneticist Bruce Lipton once asked an important question: "What's the difference between a doctor and an airplane pilot?" Before delivering the punch line he pointed out that a pilot, by law, has to go through a large checklist of items before he can begin to taxi his plane away from the airport terminal. He always does this. Your doctor likewise is expected to go over a standard list of questions and procedures when you come to see her, but since she has only about 10 minutes allocated to your visit, she rarely does this. What's the real difference between the doctor and the pilot? The pilot is on the plane with you. This bears repeating: The pilot is on the plane with you!
Lipton's comment is not meant to disparage doctors, but none of them are on the plane with you. This also applies to dentists, accountants, lawyers, best friends, family and yoga teachers. You may be surrounded by bright, educated and well-intentioned people, but you are the one flying your plane. Experts can be part of your advisory team, a council of coaches, but you have to take final responsibility for your life, for your health, for your yoga practice.
Don't take anything a yoga teacher tells you as gospel: check it out. The advice is well intentioned, but you are flying your plane. If the advice or directions do not work for you, don't follow it. You are unique. Your teacher will never know you as well as you will know yourself. Her advice is guidance, but it is not a commandment from God. Beware of dogma no matter which expert is delivering it to you. How to know if the advice doesn't work for you? Consider it, try it, but pay attention: pain is often a great signal that something isn't right. If it is not right for you, ask for options.
I believe that the role of a good teacher is to help the student recognize the warning signs, the danger signals, the little tweaks before they become big tweaks. Certainly, a bad teacher could give directions that are extremely dangerous for many students, but it is up to the student to decide whether they will do what any teacher says. You are flying the plane: if you decide to give up control of the plane, remember that the person you are putting in charge of your life is not on the plane with you! I would be very sure that I can trust that person before I took my hands off the steering wheel. You do not need to have blind trust in your yoga teacher, your lawyer or your doctor. You are allowed to test out what they are recommended before complying with their instructions. You don't have to be mean or nasty about it, but as the Buddha once said, "Put no head above your own."
I hope your experience doesn't put you off Yin Yoga forever. I would encourage to look at the whole story and work out for yourself what caused your injury. Perhaps it was the yoga, but maybe it was only one particular posture or one particular approach to that one pose that was problematic for you. Assigning blame to the teacher or the practice of Yin Yoga may be an easy thing to do, but the result may be that you never do Yin Yoga ever again, and that would deny you many of the benefits this practice has to offer. If you re-evaluate the whole story of your injury, both the proximal and distal causes, you may come to some deeper understanding of the cause, and the lessons you learn may help you live your life more skillfully in the future.