When teaching yoga, communication is everything. From physical gestures to hands-on assists, there is a wide spectrum of communication available for guiding students through poses and helping them frame their feelings and intentions within the practice.
It is rare, however, to teach a class without utilizing verbal communication to a very significant degree. And carefully chosen words allow a teacher’s creativity to shine. As teachers, we certainly want to avoid using the same cues and descriptions in every class, because teachers as well as students can grow tired of the same phrasing. After a while, these words can become something of a rote script, delivered without considering the intention behind the cues. How, then, can we develop a new lexicon of communication that evokes the desired sensations and responses in our students, while still letting our creativity and individuality shine through?
As teachers, we certainly want to avoid using the same cues and descriptions in every class, because teachers as well as students can grow tired of the same phrasing.
To jumpstart your communication, begin by becoming aware of how other teachers craft their language. When participating in other teachers’ yoga classes, notice the phrases that resonate with you. Jot them down after class, but don’t immediately insert them into your teaching. First, we’ll learn how to transform those words into something more reflective of your own personality.
Grab a blank piece of paper, and in the center of the sheet write down the cue you’ve “borrowed” and circle it. Then draw a line out from that cue, jot down the next thought it prompts, and circle that. In this manner, continue drawing lines and circled thoughts/words until you run out of related ideas in that thought stream.
Now return to the main word/cue in the center of the page, and draw a line out in a different direction. From that line, begin a new and different train of thought, adding circles that contain each idea that flows from that. Don’t think too much about it—just let the ideas flow freely.
This is a process known as clustering, which is meant to stimulate creativity and associations.
Another useful technique is to give attention to each of your senses. When your heart pounds, what does it feel like? Maybe it reminds you of Mickey Mouse’s heart pounding out of his chest when he sees Minnie Mouse. Or perhaps you wade into the cold water of a lake and realize you are lifting and tightening your pelvic floor muscles away from the chill—a real-life application of mula bandha (root lock). Maybe the arc of your arm in reverse warrior reminds you of a rainbow. Or lengthening your spine in a forward fold makes you feel as if you are trying to kiss your big toes.
Open up your senses to associations, and write down any of those that could be used to assist in cueing your students.
After exploring different cueing options, become your own editor. Look for gems in the midst of your brainstorming attempts, choosing those you’d like to polish. Try one or two new cues in a class, rather than dumping a barrel-load of fresh phrases onto one sure-to-be-stunned class.
Evaluate the response to your cues. Do students lead with the chest more when you cue a Mickey Mouse heart beating out of his chest? Ask for feedback from your students, continuing all the while to hone your communication of the cues you offer them. Above all, seek to always choose phrasing that is true and meaningful to you. When you speak from the heart of your authentic self, words and intentions are genuine and are more likely to resonate with fellow practitioners. Such authenticity and attention add to the experience of yoga.