A well designed yoga class flows effortlessly; every instruction or posture builds consecutively.  And at the end of 60 minutes you seemed to have magically found the reset button. How is this possible? A successful class does not happen by accident, an experienced teacher will reference set principles to design and deliver their classes. Here are three keys to teaching yoga.

Three Keys to Teaching Yoga:


Connection happens when we truly take in, listen too, and or observe whatever is in front of us with genuine wonder, empathy and appreciation. This is true of all genuine human interaction. Relationships occur when we set aside our personal agenda and become more curious and attentive.

As a yoga teacher, we can build connections with students by closely observing students.  On the most surface level we observe their alignment.  We can reflect upon the quality of our instructions and if they translate for students.

Teachers can also be attentive to more subtle signals from students; such as the quality of breath, skin pallor, responsiveness, focus and general quality of energy. 


Most importantly, a yoga teacher is there to provide an experience for students.  They help them feel integrated and at peace. The sequence of a class, and the cues that a teacher uses, either support or undermine a students ability to have an integrated experience.  

Some teachers get lost in the superficial aspects of a class. They focus on the kind of music they play or how to choreography multiple postures together and miss the bigger picture, often falling back on cliche cues

The point of yoga is to connect to a reservoir of peace inside rather than manufacture a sensational experience.  As a yoga student matures, they become sensitive to their environment. Too much stimulation makes it hard to be mindful and attentive.

One of the most important ways that yoga teachers create an experience is through the cues they give.  Different yoga teacher trainings have different views on how to design a training and instruct a class. Students on our teacher training become fluent in four different kinds of language; each of which creates a specific kind of experience.

Briefly said, some cues direct the students attention to the outer body while others ask them to direct their attention to their inner experience.  Additionally some cues awaken the practitioner’s imagination.  These kinds of instructions are more visceral than they are literal.


Practiced deliberately, yoga can be very therapeutic. A skilled practitioner knows how to modify their practice based on their circumstances. The practice they do when tired looks different than the one they do if they feel anxious.

The postures need to build off of each other naturally and based on established principles.  A class should to be integrated rather than disjointed.  When a teacher does not understand the deeper “why” behind each pose, and puts them together haphazardly, the class is less potent.

There are many factors that go into teaching a yoga class. Connection, experience and coherence and three important keys to teach yoga effectively.  A masterful teacher knows how to combine these elements to awaken the higher nature of the students.

Students in Denver Yoga Underground’s yoga teacher training instruct classes outside of the studio. They offer their written reflections on teaching yoga in the community. Here is one such example from a dedicated student who fully embraced the process.

I enjoyed this teaching exercise. I have a background in teaching, so I am already quite comfortable with giving instruction in a group. As a teacher, I sometimes doubt myself or get stressed when I don’t know the content. This came up when I taught my first two yoga classes.

I was very focused on what I was doing, but it wasn’t until the end class that I actually looked up and realized I had students to engage with! After the first few classes, I started to become comfortable with more of the content and the flow of the class, so I was able to start engaging with the students (this also aligned with our YTT classes as we began to discuss the power of observation and different language techniques).

We began to discuss the power of observation and different language

woman with pink hair teaches yoga to a male student

Like anything, by my fifth class, I became more comfortable with what I was doing. I think I still have a lot of areas to work on, for example: reading the students, working on directive language, adding creativity to the class, and practicing safe sequencing. Overall, this exercise was a great way to jump in the deep end of teaching and just start somewhere.

I am often the type of person who needs to make sure everything is aligned before I start to do something, so I appreciated that this exercise forced me to start and begin to learn something from each experience as a teacher. I would like to continue providing practice classes for friends and family so I can continue learning and growing in my teaching skills.

How to integrate these reflections on teaching yoga?

1. Connection (with students and their needs)

2. Experience (teacher as a guide)

3. Fluidity (sequencing and flow)

As I progressed through my practice classes, I believe I was more and more able to incorporate these intentions into my classes. And discover more reflections on teaching yoga. After a few more practices, I started to ease into what it meant to create an experience for the student.

How to design a yoga teacher training? A program might have great content but if it is disintegrated, you may be in for a rough ride. The design of a programs could be the difference between feeling lost and finding your life’s path.

You need to assimilate the content you study.  

It takes years of experience to work out the kinks in any training – to integrate yoga theory and practice into a smooth and continuous flow.  Every hour of training is a precious opportunity and you do not want to waste time backtracking or feeling lost. Imagine reading a book in which the chapters were arranged in no particular order?

Imagine reading a book in which the chapters
were arranged in no particular order?

 Some programs take the McDonald’s approach and offer many, many homogenized yoga teacher training sessions a year.  It’s a business.  On the upside, the program will be predictable.  They may even have a nice brochure.  On the downside, the presenters may be hemmed in by too many rules and you lose out on the magic of yoga.   It may still be a good experience but not live up to its full potential.

ven diagram showing the three parts of an integrated yoga teacher training.

A cohesive and integrated training has three components:

  1. The actual content of the training.  Most interviewing students zoom in on this part.  It’s important and there is more you should know.
  2. The quality of the teacher’s knowledge and their ability to present effectively.
  3. The overall architecture of the program (how individual topics fit into the whole).

Denver Yoga Underground takes all of these components into consideration to deliver a cohesive and integrated training.  The architecture supports the students to gradually assimilate the content, and the teachers deliver the content to the student. This combination supports the student’s growth and are essential parts of how to design a yoga teacher training.

There are many ways to communicate as an instructor.  In this segment we will explore Figurative Language when teaching yoga. Figurative language is more sensual than it is literal, it invites the student to see and feel their body and mind as a poetic process.  This language invites us to soften the analytical mind with metaphor, imagery and even wisdom.  Figurative language invites the muse to guide the heart, mind and tongue.

It encourages students to see the practice and themselves through a unique lens; a specific color: such as red, yellow, or perhaps green.  Each color has a unique feeling-tone.  This specific color invokes a kind of felt-atmosphere or bhavana in Sanskrit. Different kinds of music carry a particular bhavana and have their own enchantment.

In contrast, Subjective Language is more neutral.  It does not have a particular agenda other than to be aware of what is happening in the immediate moment.  It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

It’s the difference between observing the sunset and being the sunset.

There is a definite place for Figurative Language when teaching yoga. It needs to be authentic.  It is important that Figurative Language be authentic.  Silly analogies or forced metaphors will not suffice.  This language is the voice of creative inspiration that cracks open a layer of insight in the student – a ray of light in a darkened sky. Or simple helps them feel held and more in touch with their imagination.

Generally, figurative language is used sparingly, and makes up about 10% of instruction.

Some may struggle to find their authentic creative voice, and to project it into the room, particularly as a new teacher. However, you do not have to start with a literary masterpiece on the first day. 

Here are a few suggestions to help you begin:
    • Teach depth rather than breadth.  Gear your class towards ONE simple principle, or theme and explore it in detail.
    • Ask provocative and rhetorical questions.
    • Share readings with heart

    • Use metaphor artfully
    • Make use of poignant silence
    • A well timed joke. Laughter brightens joy
    • Teach yoga philosophy in the most simple way possible without diminishing its intent and meaning. Be respectful.

    • Use synonyms to emphasize a particular point. How many ways can you describe a similar action in a posture?
    • Maintain a regular yoga practice and speak from experience
  • Integrate one or two of these principles at a time


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.

A few weeks ago, I brainstormed a list of 24 different ways to language yoga postures; from controlling the tone of one’s voice to the art of remaining silent. As part of this process, I also mapped out common expressions, including the most cliche yoga teaching cues.

I frequently hear it across gyms and studios, and is recognizable. I’m sure there are lots of people that would disagree with me but “if it is in your practice, then _______.” is by far the most cliche yoga teach cue. Perhaps it comes from something the put in the water at the majority of yoga teacher trainings?

Teachers use this instruction to tell students they can do the pose in one of a few ways. Sometimes these “modifications” vary greatly from the standard posture, transitioning from Prasarita-padottanasana (wide foot forward fold) to Sirsanasana (headstand) for example.

Designing a class is little like baking, in which each ingredient lends itself to the other ones. “If it is in your practice” unnecessarily invites a wildcard into the equation, particularly when it becomes a free for all. If the recipe calls for flour and people reach for the salt instead, it becomes problematic.

If the recipe calls for flour and people reach for the salt instead,
it becomes problematic.

Left to fend for themselves, students may look around the room for guidance.  When the class atmosphere is competative, students are tempted to emulate the most advanced version of the posture, one that is well outside of their sensible range of ability. At this point, the risk of injury goes up and the deeper spirit of yoga is lost.

Finally, this cue removes the onus of teaching from the teacher and onto the student.  In my own classes, I want to impart a tangible skill or experience to the students, rather than leave them to figure out and risk injuring themselves. The teacher has a responsibility to be knowledgeable enough to safely guide students.

Fortunately, we can easily offset the pitfalls of the most cliche yoga teaching cues. We can restore the balance between student and teacher.  The solution is simple, explain “why”.  Rather than giving an open-ended invitation, put some parameters around it. Under what circumstances does a student choose option A over B? And under what circumstances shouldn’t they go with option B?  This is your moment to steer shy of pat expressions, shine as a teacher, and keep your students safe.