3 Grammar and Pronunciation Tips for Yoga Teachers

You won’t find “English Grammar and Pronunciation” listed on too many yoga teacher training syllabi. You might learn a little Sanskrit in “yoga school” (and then offer a silent prayer of thanks that English does not also have ten classes of verbs and eight cases of nouns to memorize), but for many of us, the complexities of the English language haven’t been the subject of contemplation since our last high school or college English course.

And really, what’s the big deal? Does it honestly matter if you mix up lay and lie? No, not really; some of the best teachers in the world do it all the time. But here’s the thing—as teachers, it’s important for us to be clear with our language. Think about it this way: You might be an overall top-notch yoga teacher—you put together stellar sequences, speak confidently, and give hands-on assists like a pro, but what if you regularly misuse anatomical terms? True, a lot of students wouldn’t notice or care, but constantly mixing up biceps and triceps, or asking students to “breathe into your diaphragm” (note: this is not physically possible) could be really confusing for the healthcare professionals, body workers, and fellow asana teachers in your classroom. The truth is that no matter how great your overall class might be, these students probably won’t take you very seriously if you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. 

When we use correct grammar and pronunciation in the classroom, it projects professionalism, confidence, and intelligence and sets the stage for more clear and effective student/teacher communication.

Similarly, a teacher who uses poor grammar and pronunciation can evoke feelings of frustration and uncertainty for the writers, editors, English teachers, and amateur grammarphiles in yoga class. Of course, choosing the wrong verb isn’t going to be as detrimental as mixing up major muscle groups. (After all, whether you say “lay on your backs” or “lie on your backs,” your students are likely going to end up on their backs!) But when we use correct grammar and pronunciation in the classroom, it projects professionalism, confidence, and intelligence and sets the stage for more clear and effective student/teacher communication. With that in mind, why not take a couple of minutes to brush up on a few words that often throw English-speaking yoga teachers for a loop? The next time you use these words correctly, you might just make an English teacher’s day! 

1. Learn the Difference Between Lie and Lay

It’s not just yoga teachers—pop singers mix these up all the time, too. (An oft referenced example is Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” which technically should be “Lie Lady Lie.”) How do you know when to use which? (For clarity’s sake, we’ll focus solely on the present tense, which is likely how you would use these words in an asana class.) Lay is what we call a transitive verb, which means it requires a direct object—i.e., something specific that you’re laying down (like your yoga mat). Lie, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb, which means there’s no direct object involved, so if you want your students to end up in a supine position on their mats, ask them to lie down. To put it simply, we lay our yoga mats on the floor, and we lie on our yoga mats.

2. The Word Vertebrae Is Plural 

This means it doesn’t actually make sense to roll up/down “one vertebrae at a time.” Vertebra, on the other hand, is singular, making “one vertebra at a time” the cue that you want to use here. (Or, if you’re like me and constantly get tripped up by this one, “one spinal segment at a time” makes a fine substitute!)

3. Height, Not Heighth

Yeah, I know, it’s confusing. We stand with our feet hip width apart, but then we raise our arms to shoulder height. English is weird like that. But hey, now that you know the correct word to use, go forth and pronounce that final “t” sound loudly and clearly.

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Kat Heagberg

Kat Heagberg

Kat Heagberg is the editor of Yoga International and has been teaching yoga since 2005. Though she initially trained in alignment-based styles of yoga (which continue to inform her practice and... Read more>>  

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