I gained a beautiful lesson the day I taught my first yoga class. This was an experience that I want to share and offer as a tool, for students and teachers to expand upon the motions of their yoga class.
The Power Of Cues
I was nervous but sure nothing out of the ordinary would happen. Seated, facing the class as I rehearsed my flow over and over again in my head. Just before I was about to begin, a blind student took a spot in the front row of my class. Suddenly I felt unqualified; if he didn’t understand my cues, I couldn’t just show him the pose or tell him to face the window side of the room.
I only had the power of cues to lead my class. His presence gave me an understanding that I am forever grateful for, the importance of using creative cues to help students develop their yoga practice.
During my teacher training, we had to guide each other through poses with blindfolds on. At the time, it just seemed like a good learning tutorial, and indeed it was one of the best things I took away (an exercise I recommend for all aspiring yoga teachers). If you are a student, I encourage you to find a teacher who provides cues that make your light bulb go off, that moment you find “a-ha! Look at all this space I found that I didn’t know existed if I just move my hip point back a little!”
Tips For The Student
Trying to drop the ego, breathe, stretch, balance, and find clarity all at once can take us away from what we are supposed to be gaining from, or feeling in, a pose. You benefit from having a teacher who can cue in an effective and inspirational way.
Inspirational as in an illustrative language that challenges you for what may be down the road in your practice. An example of a helpful cue I often hear and use: “imagine you can peel your heart open to the ceiling.” We may not be able to attain this full chest opening but the cue offers instructions as well as freedom on our way there. Your teacher’s cues should be used for teaching, not controlling.
Tips For The Teacher
It is important to let students know they don’t need to be forced in between two panes of glass in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), or that not being able to attain a 90-degree angle in Virabhrasana One (Warrior I) doesn’t mean you’re doing yoga wrong. Take notice when cues are limiting.
You (and the rest of the class) know when a cue doesn’t work—when that look of uncertainty whether to move or stay still is all around the room, we have to adjust. My personal go to rule for more beginner-focused classes is usually two to three or more cues per pose, depending on the vibe of the class.
Less isn’t always more even for advanced practitioners. Simply saying “arch the back and gaze up” doesn’t do Upward Facing Dog justice. There are so many more ways to describe a pose and help students gain the benefits because we all interpret things differently; “take any wrinkles out of the neck,” “find length across the collarbones,” or “melt the shoulders down the spine to find space in-between the shoulders and ears,” and “press the tops of the feet into the mat to engage the quads.”
These may be cues you’ve heard before but they are essential little adjustments you can give as a teacher that stick with students in their practice to come. They are offerings students can remember and use when they are practicing on their own and need assistance to find their way into a pose.
My Challenge For You
As a student, teacher, or both, to get creative with your cues: here’s a start and see what you can add in the process that is unique to you:
- Go through your own home practice, pause and think of multiple ways to describe poses and movements. Alternate these cues in your class and see which ones work best.
- Be active in teaching, walking around the room and noticing when a student can make an adjustment. That cue will most likely benefit more than that one person.
- Teach each class as if you have a blind student and cater to them.
- Keep in mind every person’s practice looks different, be mindful when demonstrating- you want students to find their own pose, not yours.
- Read more, write more, take more classes with different teachers, these are some of the best methods to learn new ways of saying the same things.
Please try these suggestions and let me know how it works out for you!
by Emily Hazelton - Emily is an undergraduate student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She advanced her yoga practice at a young age, but is always dedicated to remaining a student. Her goal as a yoga teacher is to provide individualized & dynamic classes where students can become their own teacher, focus on exploration rather than achievement, and create a mind-body connection. Know more about Emily and connect with her on Instagram.
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