Lately I’ve been taking a lot of classes around town, getting to know different teachers and experiencing different studios. Something that I’ve come to realize is that what you say as a teacher really matters. There are cues that have been handed down among the ages like “let your sit bones smile” (ok not really handed down from the ages, but more so from your 200 hour yoga teacher training) and they are not only tired, but also often inaccurate and confusing. I mean- can my ass bones really SMILE? No- they’re bones. I’m down for a good analogy, but there are a few oldies that really need to be retired (IMO).
Let’s take a look:
1.“Breathe into your kidneys”
Ok. Your kidneys are located in your back and are connected to your adrenal system. They function as filters of the blood and help keep your fluid levels balanced. It’s anatomically impossible to breath into your kidneys. If you want to tell your students to take a deep breath, tell them to take a deep breath, keep it simple. Simple does not mean boring, it means, understandable (and hopefully anatomically correct). For the record, you also cannot twist, ring out or stretch your kidneys.
2. “Stretch your IT Band”
Your IT Band is comprised of connective tissue, not muscle, therefore you can’t stretch it. You can foam roll it, stretch the muscles that attach to it (gluteous medius and tensor fasciae latae) but stretch is, nuh huh. When I hear a teacher say this, I know that they should pick up an anatomy book and read more (that being said, WE ALL SHOULD- there’s always more to know and…the more you know (insert rainbow here)).
3. “You’re tight in that area of your body because of past emotional life traumas”
Ok- flat out- you just don’t know if this is true. No one does. So saying it can be risky. In fact there’s a good chance you might lose your ‘down to earth’ folks. Adding into that, tightness in the body can come from a million sources, so how do you know why they are tight? You don’t. Never assume. Offer instead great verbal modifications to the posture and ditch the story telling. You’re their yoga teacher, not their spiritual advisor or counselor.
4. “Imagine you’re stuck between two planes of glass (in triangle)”
If you put a little bit of thought into this you might realize this cue sounds slightly terrifying. Being trapped between to pieces of glass- who wants that? I’m not there to actualize my student’s claustrophobia! Not to mention, in triangle it’s important to support a natural curve of the spine. Telling them they’re in between glass planes will more than likely cause them to push their pelvis forward, inadvertently tucking their tailbone, eliminating the natural curve of their spine (which is not a good thing!). Instead I am going to tell them to focus on creating a soft external rotation to their front leg and a mild internal rotation of their back leg. I will ask them to lengthen their spine and side body and gently rotate the rib cage, leaning back slightly. Lastly I will lead them to expand their arms, one towards the ground, the other to the sky, stacking the shoulders as much as possible while extending through the crown of the head. Boom, Utthita Trikonasana. No glass metaphors necessary. Moving on.
5. “Listen to your body”
This could in fact, possibly be THE MOST repeated line in all of yoga (outside of the word breath, but at least that has high merit). Sometimes honoring your body means doing things you’d really rather not do. For example, sometimes my body would rather sit at home and watch Netflix and eat ice cream rather than work on my jump throughs- so it’s not always best to listen to your body (aka, at the right/wrong moment, your mind). In fact, it can be beneficial to move into discomfort or to simply get your ass up and do the work. And that’s not to mention, this instruction is just vague. Explain the difference between pain (sharp/shooting) and discomfort (dull/achy) if you’re trying to teach them to “listen to their bodies”.
The next few are straying away from alignment cues, but are things to think about when considering how you speak to a class:
“and then…and then….and then…and then….”
“fold forward, good. Lift up half way, good. Step back to plank, good. Half pushup, good.”
“from here….from there…..from here…..from there…..from here…..”
“You guys are so amazing (fifty times in one class)”
OMG- repetitive language is about as horrific as it gets. Seriously! Two things to play with to make sure you avoid getting into this terrible habit:
- Take a piece of paper and write down 50 words for movement every few months. Of course you’ll have overlapping words every time you do it, but the tool will ignite your imagination. Plus, you might see a word you never incorporate and you can challenge yourself to use it. I tried sprite once for a week…. Double dog dare you to give it a go.
- Record yourself on your amazing smart phone. Talk yourself through a class or simply have your phone on record as you teach. You’ll catch yourself saying things you might not be aware of that you dislike, or possibly even cool things that will make you proud. This is all around a good tool- and don’t think that you’re ever ‘too advanced’ in your teaching to partake in this adventure. Sometimes it’s the seasoned teachers who need to check themselves the most.
7. “I totally messed that up, I’m so sorry. Wow that was dumb. I’m so, so sorry.”
Listen as a yoga teacher (as a human) you’re going to make mistakes. That’s just the way it is. Half the time you might be the only one who even notices it, but if you aren’t that lucky and people catch it, let them catch it because you know what- it’s cool. You can make mistakes; just try not to repeat them. Don’t over apologize, just fix it and move on. Over apologizing heightens the students awareness of the thing and makes it more important than it actually is. A quick “Whoops, never mind left foot forward” will suffice.
There are a lot more I could go into, but maybe the expanded content is best left for another post (I mean lets not even get started on the whole ‘to tuck or not to tuck the pelvis’ discussion- yikes). For now, think these over and pay attention to your language. Notice if things are said that you like, that you dislike, that you would like to be more mindful of- just continue to keep your awareness game on point. Developing your dialogue will further your teaching career immensely.
Bottom line; verbal queuing in class is an imperative component to your teaching. In many ways it will mold if not define who you are as a teacher. Some teachers like to talk about chakras and om at the beginning (and/or end) of class while other teachers will play loud pop music and possibly curse from time to time (I won’t mention which category I fall into personally….). What ever your style- it’s ultimately most important to be your authentic self, no apologies. But there’s also a commitment to be excellent, professional; to continue growing and learning. Be great at what you do. Teach with intelligence.