Words shape our world.  What we say and the manner in which we say it invokes a quality of attention and actionable instruction.  This is true of not only teaching yoga but also pertains to all moments of exchange. Teaching yoga with subjective language, opens a unique view for students.

Subjective Language is the yin counterpart of Directive Language’s  yang. This manner of speech is qualitative in nature, it asks the student to self reflect.  Directive Language emphasizes the outer parameters of the posture, Subjective Language invites the student to observe their interior experience.

In many ways, the deeper intent of yoga is to develop self-awareness, to recognize one’s bright strengths and shadowy impulses with equanimous attention. While much of the deeper work of self-awareness happens in meditation, Subjective Language can begin to build that bridge and generally constitute about 20% of class instruction.  

Teaching yoga with Subjective Language is best suited for quiet moments of composure versus more dynamic or demanding sequences. However there are exceptions to this guideline.

Two common arenas in which to apply subjective self reflection:
  1. During more intense postures (such as Warrior One) invite students to soften mental effort or cultivate a more neutral perspective. While the physical pose may be quite active, the mental pose is relaxed.
  2. During more relaxing postures ( such as Child’s Pose) invite them to soften effort, reflect on their felt-self, or breath smoothly. Become aware of how you are feeling and breath into it.
Examples of how to cue subjective experience:
  • Invite rest
  • Ask students to observe the interior posture
  • Surrender more fully to the posture
  • Soften the mental edges of resistance in the pose
  • Give the students assignments such as “ease your way into the posture one breath at a time”

  • Reflect on the effect of the previous posture
  • Refine the quality of your breath
  • Keep the physical posture strong and stable as you relax mentally
  • Teach meditation


As yoga teachers we create a container for people to experience greater joy and become more embodied.  The words that we use help shape that experience.  We can accomplish this by teaching yoga with Subjective Language.

I have been in the yoga teacher training trade for almost 20 years.  The first training sessions were nowhere near as polished and the current program.  Still, the students loved the spirit of the training, even with the rough edges.  Initially, practice student teaching was an afterthought and now it is a mainstay.  Yoga teaching language is one of the most important skills we present.

While 65% of people learn visually, 5% kinesthetically, and 30% auditorily, the great majority of yoga instruction happens on the auditory leve.  A teacher projects their presence and voice into the room.  As such, what you say, and how you say is critical and it happens on a variety of levels.

Perhaps you have experienced a class where the teacher gracefully cued you into a pose, offered whimsical metaphors, challenged you, and helped you to feel ‘whole’.  Chances are pretty good that did not happen by accident, there is a method to how they use yoga teaching language.

There is a method to how they use yoga teaching language.

In this series we will look at three principles of yoga teaching language.  For today we will look at Directive Language.

Number One: Directive Language 

Directive language makes up roughly 80% of posture instruction. It is the most base-line aspect of teaching.  The goal of directive language is to provide clear instruction – the teacher is clear in their intent and the student is clear on what to do.

Contrary to directive instruction, is ambiguous speech which consists of filler words such as “umm”, “like”, “sort of”, “kind of”, “now we’re gunna”, or excessive use of gerrings.  

Gerrings are words that end in “ing” and are to be avoided.  It is the difference between “Lifting” and “Lift”;  “Stepping forward” and “Step forward”;  “Opening your top chest” and “Open your top chest”.  Can you hear the distinction?  One is more passive and the other more declarative, which is important if you want to guide a group of people.

Another enemy of Directive Language is to state the overly obvious and or vapid.  Cues such as “feel the stretch” in a forward fold or “feel your back” in cobra pose detract more than they add. After holding warrior three for 45 seconds, why remind people that “this is a hard pose”?

“What does not add subtracts”
– Aristotle

In addition to making instructions clear, directive language moves the class forward.  Every word serves a purpose towards a specific end. The end goal could be a particular posture, a final meditative practice, or to learn a key physical action.

Economize words and learn to cue with brevity.

Directive language is quantitative  You can count, measure or specifically apply the instruction.

woman in dog pose in a yoga studio

 

“Why is peace unprioritized?”

I shared this question with my current teacher training students over the weekend.  They looked equally appreciative and puzzled.

You would think that the desire to live in harmony would be greater than the urge for affliction.  Yet somehow that does not appear to be the case.

Like many noble pursuits, peace can easily be dismissed as fanciful, a hangover from the counterculture movement, or even a sign of weakness. Peace is not in keeping with the status quo, a tide of stimulation usurp its place.

“Why is that?”

Years ago, when I first met Baba Hari Dass, someone asked him “how to develop personal discipline?”

His response:

“Climbing is hard, slipping is easy.” 

 

The words still ring true decades later and epitomize why peace is not the priority. It takes deliberate effort to develop positive qualities and the temptation to deviate can be strong.

The impulse to be impatient or disregard the needs of the whole may come more habitually and with greater urgency.  It takes far more energy and thoughtful consideration to create a building than it does to destroy it.

In short, cultivating peace requires dedicated self-reflection and effort – to swim against the current shortcomings and climb towards a noble pursuit. And it can be often far more convenient to choose otherwise.

For my Ayurvedic experiment, I chose to attempt to alleviate something more physically immediate that was plaguing my existence: allergies. I have struggled with allergies, asthma, and eczema my whole life. I was always trying to figure out what was causing it but with very little effort into truly trying to understand the why’s and what’s of the cause and just hoping it would miraculously go away some day. I lived in Hawai’i when from ages 3-6 and I seemingly had no allergies there (except to cats). We moved to Florida right before my 7th birthday and that is where my struggles began. I would have frequent asthma attacks and needed to be hooked up to a nebulizer in order to breathe. It was miserable. I seemingly grew out of it but have noticed recently that perhaps I haven’t grown out of my asthma and allergies as much as I’d thought.

This experiment has led me to speculate that perhaps my asthma is allergic asthma. While my focus was not so much my asthma, the two are very much interrelated. I began taking the following herbs for Pitta and Kapha allergies: 8 shatavari; 1 guduchi; 1/4 shanka bhasma; 2 sitopaladi; 2 yasthi madhu (licorice); 2 turmeric; 2 coriander. I have been taking ~2 tsp once a day with warm water since March 20th. The first week was a little bit of a struggle, as I missed 3 days of taking it due to forgetfulness. I strongly dislike the feeling I get when I haven’t held up my end of a deal and told myself I need to figure out a way to prioritize it so that I don’t forget. I have found that taking the ~2tsp once a day during my morning routine is most effective for me.

At first the taste was not as bad as I was expecting. It reminded me of the end of a cereal box, where all of the grainy sugar and sweetness lies, except minus the sugar. It tasted slightly sweet, which I appreciated (as I gravitate towards such things), but swallowing was a little difficult. I could feel every grainy piece of the herbs I was taking. The first time I took it, I tried to just open my mouth, drop my head back, and dump the herbs on the back of my tongue to avoid any sensory displeasure. This technique backfired as I inhaled and simultaneously drew the herbs into my lungs and erupted into a coughing fit of regret and annoyance. I learned my lesson. It has now been 8 consecutive days that I have taken the herbs everyday without forgetting. I don’t feel that I have that much to report on in the way of results, but I can testify to the other doors that have been opened for me during this process.

As I mentioned before, I have been more able to discover more about my condition, what exacerbates it, and what I may do to calm it or control it. I am a huge proponent for the positive effects of using marijuana. As a CrossFit athlete, I put my body under intense bouts of stress. I lift heavy weights, and try to complete metabolic conditioning movements as fast as I can. Marijuana is something I have been using daily for several years (about 4 years) and it helps my recovery tremendously. I noticed that it also eased some of the anxiety and restlessness that came along with my college graduation. I have noticed that for the past several months, as my allergies have been acting up more, that metabolic exercise has been tremendously more difficult for me. I have so much phlegm and mucous that it literally makes it difficult to breathe. When I am in the middle of a workout and I have to stop because I can’t breathe and am approaching a moment of asthma panic, it is disheartening. It makes me feel that my inability to breathe is keeping me from reaching my goals and it feels unfair.

My Ayurvedic experiment is actually several different experiments all rolled into one. One overarching theme I have begun is to be more mindful in everything that I do. I have never been someone who has paid attention to anything that I wasn’t interested in or willfully trying to learn. I am a daydreamer and one of my biggest flaws is that I don’t listen (my moon is in Pisces if that helps a better picture for you. AKA – Space cadet here!). Being more mindful has been an uphill battle. It is really difficult to change something I didn’t even realize I was doing. This experiment has made me realize that as much as I love smoking marijuana for all the positive things it brings to my life, perhaps it is not serving me in the same way anymore. I have decided to take a two week break from smoking marijuana (as of April 2nd), which I may extend to a month or even longer if I discover that I don’t need it as much as I thought I did. I am really trying to pay attention to how that can serve me right now in alleviating my allergic asthma and allergy symptoms.

Another mini experiment that is all part of this broader experiment is changing my routine. For years, literally years, I have been truly wanting to change my morning routine, to not have my phone be the first thing I look at in the morning, to not lose 3 hours of the start of my day to Facebook and Instagram. I wanted to get up and practice yoga, start a meditation practice, read a book, do something that was going to enrich my life in my day to day. As part of my Ayurvedic experiment, I have also taken up tongue scraping, oil pulling, neti potting, and meditation on a daily basis. I realize that I am always so eager to experiment on my body in ways that I can control: food, allergy, hygiene, etc. These are all physical experiments that affect my perception of myself. What I realized is that I have been resisting making internal changes and putting forth the effort of doing things that seem hard or boring, which gave rise to my sadhana practice.
I began my sadhana practice on March 21st and have only lost one day to forgetfulness. Hearing that “no effort goes to waste” in our class presentation on meditation inspired me to always just try and to keep trying. I have been practicing sadhana every morning for 10 minutes as the last piece of my Ayurvedic morning routine. This morning I incorporated nadishodhana (my favorite of the 4 purifications) and increased my time to 15 minutes. I definitely felt the extra 5 minutes, but have seen positive changes from my daily practice.

I have made strides in being the observer and the observed. I have discovered that the Axis Yoga Teacher Training program has given me the extra push and support I needed to make those changes. I have come leaps and bounds from where I was 5 years ago, spiritually, mentally, and physically. I have made strides on my own that have positively affected my relationship to myself and to others and have helped shaped a more free, connected, and positive view of the world around me. Axis has given me support to pursue those changes I have been waiting to make and given me a community to be accountable to in the most enriching way. I am so grateful for this experience and am excited to keep applying what I am learning for more growth and understanding for myself and those around me.

Yoga gives us time and space to hear ourselves, to feel our emotions, to connect to who we are apart from the distractions of our world. This isn’t always comfortable. Many times it’s easier to gloss over unwanted thoughts and feelings rather than to connect and process them. The following posts were written by an Axis Yoga Teacher Training student who decided to confront this discomfort in order to create change. As part of the YTT course, students experiment with chosen Yogic and Ayurvedic principles. With the instructors’ guidance, these experiments allow the students to feel first-hand the impact simple changes can have on daily life.

 

I struggle with addressing my disliked emotions and energies. I associate words like “anger” and “anxious” with shame, and so I generally avoid recognizing those presences within my body and mind. I choose quick-fix, lazy distractions instead. Gently and kindly observing manifestations within and external is a new practice for me, one that I exercise with variability. I continue to desire for groundedness in this endeavor, and to conversely but just as fluidly, let go of the experiences. To quiet my mind and warm my heart, I decided to experiment with relaxing and soothing Ayurvedic methods before bedtime. I hypothesized that this nightly routine would help me to engage more honestly and compassionately with my surroundings and myself.

I chose the following as my evening routine: 1) light incense, 2) massage coconut oil into my feet, 3) meditate (keep the mind on the breath) for 15 minutes, and 4) drop lavender essential oil on my pillow. From the onset I took notes to outline my experiment and to tinker with the design. On night one I learned that meditation should follow massaging the coconut oil, versus the opposite order, so that my mind would be most quiet directly before I placed my head on my pillow. Night one also taught me that I should not look at my phone light directly before turning towards sleep; I used an app called Insight Timer to measure the minutes of my meditation, and I decided that I would close out of the app in the morning to avoid the irritation of the phone light prior to closing my eyes. I learned, as one of the Axis mentor’s had stated, that a little bit of oil goes a long way.

 

I experienced profound peace within the first couple of nights of experimentation. On night 2 of the experiment I had this crazy thought: that if I were to not wake up, things would be ok…it wasn’t that I didn’t want to wake up, I’d just be ok with not waking up, too. This thought occurred in the few moments after I had tucked myself into bed and before I fell peacefully asleep. I did, of course, wake up the next morning, joyful and well-rested and smelling lavender. But the warmth of that thought stopped me in my mental tracks throughout the following days, likely because of it’s supreme oppositeness to general thought patterns of my life, and specifically a grand fear surrounding the mystery of death. It was an interesting experience.

I practiced every night for the first 8 nights. I felt more aware of my disliked sensations throughout the day, and I chose to recognize their presence and breathe through them. I was more aware of liked sensations, too! I experienced lightness as I woke in the morning, and I felt gratitude for a calming night’s sleep. I found myself abiding in greater clarity.