I’ve completed two yoga teacher trainings and attended a countless number of yoga courses and classes. During my first teacher training we spoke a lot about the use of language and throughout my teaching career I’ve considered this a lot. This is a fascinating subject to me because as a writer and philosopher, the way that we communicate with one another through language has always interested me. We can never be sure that what we say will be received in the way intended and often what is appropriate for one person is completely inappropriate for the next. What has astounded me since that first teacher training is how little most teachers consider their language when instructing.
As teachers, we are responsible for the impact that we have on our students through our language, so it’s important to take the philosophies of mindfulness into the way that we communicate. Here are some simple ways to improve the use of your language while teaching.
Avoid ‘filler’ words or phrases
Have you ever attended a class where the teacher consistently says the phrase ‘now we’re gonna’ or ‘I want you to’? I call these ‘filler words/phrases.’ These words and phrases are simply taking up space and diluting the potency of your instructions. See if you can practice being as clear and direct as possible. Instead of saying ‘Now we’re going to come into downward dog’, simply say ‘Come into downward dog.’ This seems to be a habit that teachers develop due to lack of confidence when they first start teaching. They feel unsure about directing and worry about appearing overly confident. However, this lack of clarity may have the affect of causing your students to doubt your competence and potentially feel unsafe.
Become comfortable with silence
It’s like making a new friend compared to spending time with someone you’ve known forever. Sometimes, when we are getting to know someone new we feel the need to fill up space so there are no awkward silences. It’s the same with teaching. Sometimes as teachers we feel that our students might find us amateur if we have nothing to say but silence is golden when it comes to facilitating another’s personal growth. Those moments in between are the times when we can really tune into our bodies rather than focusing on the teachers’ instructions. Those spaces in between are when the real growth occurs and a good teacher knows when to allow that space for their students to begin to understand their practice internally.
Avoid using the same words or sentences over and over
It’s like when you’re eating a big meal and towards the end you can barely taste your food. If you instruct your students to ‘soften their shoulders’ (a big habit of mine!) or tell them that they look ‘beautiful’ consistently throughout the class, after some time they’ll stop hearing you. See if you can come up with different ways of explaining the same movement and give specific positive feedback where you can.
Give instructions that allow students to connect to their bodies
Phrases like ‘put that foot forward’ and ‘square those hips’ have a kind of militant ring to them, don’t you think? Referring to your students’ body parts as ‘that, those, the’ etc. can often have the effect of disconnecting them from their bodies and hence feeling less able to fully embody a pose. See if, more often than not, you can use the word ‘your’.
Be mindful of your language when offering more advanced variations
It can be a challenge to come up with positive ways to encourage your more experienced students while considering the many bodies in your class. By using language such as ‘too hard’ or ‘more advanced variation’ your students, particularly ones that are new to yoga, may feel compared to others and move into certain asanas before they’re ready. See what you can do to keep your students’ awareness on their own mat. You might encourage your students to close their eyes and tune into their own body throughout a class or offer them more complicated variations by using phrases like ‘more dynamic option’.
Try linking your instructions together
As we become more comfortable teaching we learn to engage with our students in a more conversational tone, instead of simply barking out instructions. Let your students know that you’re right there with them by linking your phrases together. For example, instead of saying ‘press into your feet. Lengthen your spine. Reach up through your crown’ try ‘As you ground down into your feet, lengthen your spine and reach up through your crown.’
Don’t say anything that doesn’t feel right to you
If you’re more interested in and comfortable talking about the anatomical aspects of yoga and not so cosy with the philosophy, share the gems you have to offer and don’t feel that you need to be everything. As a teacher it’s important to understand all aspects of our yoga practice – from asana through the philosophy and meditation. However, if one aspect doesn’t resinate with you then don’t feel the need to talk about it unless it’s required for safety. Don’t feel comfortable om-ing at the end of class? Don’t om! More important than imparting everything you know about yoga to your students is being authentic and true in your teaching, which, as we know, is a fundamental element of yogic philosophy.
Yogasync Me! Learn from the verbal cues in this short sequence: