Tag Archive for: language
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
This is the 4th part of an ongoing series that explores the different kinds of language a teacher uses to shape their classes. In this segment, we look at invitational language when teaching yoga.
Invitational language is a subset of subjective language. Subjective language asks the student to self reflect (or observe themselves) from a neutral perspective. “Be aware of how you are breathing” as a simple example. Invitational Language invites students to become aware of their particular needs and gives them free will to act upon them.
Both subjective and invitational instructions ask students to reflect on their experience and sense of self. This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.
This awareness teaches people to be less reactive and more empowered.
Invitational Language is often used in “trauma sensitive” yoga classes. It has been proven to be effective for people for whom agency over their lives was forcefully taken; such as a car accident, combat, or growing up in an abusive household.
In many ways, “Invitational Language” is the antithesis of Directive Language, which emphasizes specific alignment cues and implies a “right way” to do the pose. Invitational Language, freely presents possible variations and encourages students to make choices for themselves.
There are many different ways to best communicate with students, depending upon one’s ability as a teacher and the needs of the students. And there is an optimal place to use invitational language when teaching yoga. Gradually, a yoga student becomes a seasoned teacher, and learn when to use the appropriate style of language to best meet the needs of students. (You can find out more about our yoga teacher training here).
Examples of Invitational Language:
- “If you feel like it……”
- “When you are ready.”
- “If you want to…”
- “I invite you to try and _________”
- “As an alternative, you can bend your knees”
- “You don’t have to do any of these postures, you have free will”
- Give people the option to participate or not
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:
- 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.
- 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.
The words we use and the associations attached to those words tell unique stories. How we use words and language communicates a particular relatedness and brings forth certain possibilities; ranging from confusion to revelation. The language of yoga teachers creates a unique reality.
Encoded within a language is a unique history, set of values and cosmology. For indigenous tribes of the North West their names for a particular plant indicates: what it looks like, the season it grows in, where it is typically found, if it is edible or not, and possible medicinal properties. The name may also carry mythological significance, which unpacks yet more layers of significance.
Conversely, the name of the plant “Scotch Broom” doesn’t tell you as much. Maybe it came from Scotland? Though I do see how it could be used as a broom.
As students of yoga, we can be thoughtful about the words we speak and the effect they have; even more so when using the language of yoga teachers. This can be a little daunting for newer instructors.
This is certainly understandable and very common. In the beginning, teacher training students struggle to translate their own thoughts and words into a corresponding response in someone else’s body. They may know what they mean but it does not always register for the one who hears them.
Clear communication is the difference between
saying the “right words” and being heard and understood.
With time the aspiring student learns to use the language of yoga teachers more effectively. They learn to communicate not only the basic instructions about how to get into and out of a posture but they learn to do so with grace and poise.
They come to read the expression on people’s faces with greater clarity, observe bodily posture, and interpret subtle cues in how students breathe. All of which inform their spoken instructions
Ultimately, the job of a yoga teacher is to invoke an experience inside of the student. They can guide them to recognize deeper parts of themselves not only through the techniques but also through the thoughtful use of language. The words we speak awaken a particular reality.
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”
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.
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.
The Denver Yoga Underground began in 2003 at the request of dedicated students who wanted to study yoga as a holistic system. Over the years, a diversity of people, seeking education outside of a studio, found a welcome refuge in DYU.
Today we specialize in grassroots Pay What You Can workshops, accessible retreats and our signature yoga teacher training, for the outlier yogi.
Derik Eselius ~ 720.934.6934
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