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Importance of Verbal Instruction in Yoga

The three As to lead students in asana and to allow them to experience the effect happens over time.

  1. Alignment - Communicate - Instruct according to the student's current ability of that day. It is important to know if the student(s) have any difficulties coming into class so as to adjust instruction. Understanding the body's system is important to better instruct and support. Alignment gives the students time to assess imbalances in their body. No rush. Students will get where they need to go as they improve by practice.

  2. Activation - when the student is in a comfortable and stable position and understands "where they are going" in the posture, they will begin to integrate the flow of energy from body to mind. It feels good to flow mindfully.

  3. Awareness - our students notice where the pose is working or not working in the space of their body and around their body. Some have not connected with their bodies in years. This awareness leads to self discovery. What an amazing feat!

We must use our verbal cues accordingly so as to allow students to access their inner bliss. When we teach we are guided by our students and use succinct verbal instruction.


There are 4 steps to teach asana:

1) set up the student to flow into the current position or movement allowing them to flow with effortless effort. We want to avoid confusion and discomfort so as to enjoy the movement. Transition from one asana to the next is specifically designed to prepare your body for the next pose. No rush. Slow down and benefit from transitions between poses in order to relax and enjoy the class. Look at the students and be flexible.

2) Instruct - give the information needed. There are repetitive cues that can be incorporated and practiced. For example: exhale, inhale, inhale arm up, and so on. Be succinct - something I strive for daily. This is done through practice. Give the students time to move into pose without over instructing.

3) Refine - using verbal cues that enhance the posture or movement. As we are in the pose, we focus on what our breath is doing and take notice of our body. Where can we relax, where can we straighten or where can we send our breath? The student must be focused inward to know what's happening for them. Quiet, gentle refinement.

4) Release - give cues on how to move out of the posture or movement. This should be completed with regards to where we want the student to go; the next asana. Relax into and out of posture and consider the transitions.


Language

I believe there is nothing more deflecting than having to listen to a long dissertation on a 30 second posture. I become confused on what is expected of me and I am pulled out of my inner connection.

I feel that too little verbal instruction can be just as daunting. Again, not sure what is expected of me and disconnection.


Some guidelines on verbal instruction are as follows:

  • Checking in with students is a good indication of how your cues are received. If they are are in different poses, struggling, or looking bewildered, lets the instructor know what to cue next. Easiest to the more difficult pose is desired. You are being led by the students.

  • 2-3 sentences for each step is all that is needed. Students can only process so much information at a time.

  • A clear voice. One that is loud enough to be heard. Straining to hear an instructor is uncomfortable and that student will not have the experience they desire.

  • Language - coming from different walks of life, we may not practice the same idioms. Use practical, common language. We are not there to impress students by our knowledge or to be their friends. We are there to guide them in their practice.

  • Using "yoga" language which incorporates sanskrit is great provided you give the students their language first. Second, provide the sanskrit. Most people are capable of ingesting new information and making it their own provided they are taught correctly.

  • Some students may shy away from any reference to private parts of their bodies. We are not there to counsel them or change their upbringing. We are there to guide them through practice with kindness and support so be mindful of their discomfort with language.

  • Refrain from commenting on students' bodies and appearances in any way.

  • Perfect poses? We may not see these in class. Work with the students and instruct by meeting the students where they are today. Easiest to more strenuous gives everyone a chance to practice on their level.

  • Let's not single anyone out. Direct cues to entire class. Again, work from the easiest to the more involved pose so all can follow along. This also helps avoid any hands-on instruction. Moving slowly allows the students to stop when their body dictates.

  • Avoid individual praise or criticism.

  • Practice terms and language to enrich instruction but be practical and grounded.

  • Avoid visualization or imagination. The students are connecting to their body, mind and spirit. They have their own interpretation according to their needs. We do not have to paint "their" picture.

  • Allow students to connect to their breath and allow for quiet so students may move inward. This also helps the instructor relax and collect their thoughts.

  • We can't give students all our knowledge in 60 minutes. Give a little sanskrit with English, give a yoga sutra to contemplate, maybe a mudra and mantra. Be sure that your information is not overwhelming and that your class flows.

  • Practice and be prepared to adjust instruction. The students' have their own agenda. Let yoga take them where they need to be.


Demonstrate only when necessary and to beginners. We teach to the students in font of us and make adjustments to our cues by what we see. Be sure to look at students and practice verbal cues without demonstration. Our morning practice is for us. Our classes are for our students. Verbal Instruction is succinct, direct, easy to understand and easy to be heard.