Teaching yoga (asanas) is all about communication. About getting people in and out of a yoga pose. You probably have been in classes where there was a beautiful flow, but also in classes where the teacher was mixing up left and right all the time or you had no idea where to move to because you didn’t understand the cues. How to communicate during a yoga class is one of the basic things you should know as a teacher. Here are 10 tips.
1 – Practice what you preach
It doesn’t matter how good your cues are as a yoga teacher, everything starts with credibility. So practice what you preach. If you preach an open attitude, non-judgement, love and peace and you go around judging people, acting like shit you will have no credibility in class. Your words should match your behavior.
2 – Use your own voice and play with it
Use your voice as a tool. But once more: your voice. Don’t act a yoga teacher, be you. Let your voice be in line with your flow. If people are sitting with their eyes closed you can speak a bit softer. When your flow is very dynamic you can speed up. When you are throwing a lot of hard arm balances, core training you can me more encouraging and when you do a lot of hip and heart openers you can speak in a comforting voice. Your voice is your best tool.
3 – KISS cues
Yes, there is our KISS again. Keep It Simple Stupid. Your yoga class is all about cues. Of course you have to be creative to make a good flow, but in the end it is about getting people in and out of a pose. No matter how creative you are, no matter how much you know, your flow depends on the cues you give them to get them in and out of a pose. Think about your cues before you step into a class room. Try out your cues and feel for yourself if you can synchronize them with your breath and your flow.
4 – Use synonyms
Play with words like you play with your voice. You want to keep it simple, but simple and boring are two different things. You can use synonyms to describe cues that come back all the time. You can use anatomical language (engaging your quadriceps, to relax your hamstrings more), metaphorical language (melting your body over your legs), directional terms (lowering the right side of your body over your leg) and so on.
I make some yoga classes for YouTube. I like to play them back for myself. Every time I do this I discover words I use over and over again. If I notice this, I always look for synonyms I can use next time. The other thing I do is take classes with other teachers and listen how they cue. A yoga sequence is a dance, made of all little building blocks. You don’t want to copy somebody else’s flow (always be original), but you can use cues and parts of flows from other teachers as an inspiration and use bits and pieces as building blocks for your own flow.
5 – Use body language
You don’t only communicate during a yoga class with your voice, but also with your body. You can demo your flow, so people can see what you are talking about. You can choose to walk around and do adjustments and you can do a mixture of those two. If you walk around use your hands when you talk about left and right to make it easier for some of your students.
Be aware what else your hands are doing. If you cross them in front of your chest you are closing yourself of. It might look a bit strange. Most of us have a little thick we are not aware of. I once was in a class where the teacher was scratching her butt every five minutes. No clue what was going on, but it looked a bit wired.
I create a new flow for every class I do. I often have a note next to my mat to have a look at every now and then. A lot of teachers who create new flows all the time have it. I don’t have any cues on it. Just postures. It’s handy. You can do it as well. But don’t write your whole flow down and read it in class. It has to come from you.
Some teachers prefer to have their computer in class to look at, play music off. It’s possible, but again be aware what you do. I did a Kundalini class where the teacher was looking at her screen all the time, while we were suffering in poses. Sometimes she was typing something. Maybe to look at notes of find music, but she could have been on Facebook as well. It looks strange. Same for Savasana. It’s not a moment to check your Instagram or Twitter. Do it when you are done with your class.
6 – Don’t tell off
You want to get your students in the right alignment; for their body. Cues are a good way to do this. Some schools don’t allow hands-on adjustments, so cues are all you’ve got. Choose your words carefully. Students can have the idea you are telling them off in class. Never use names when you give a cue to correct alignment. Don’t say: ‘Rick you have to turn your right foot in 45 degrees’. Instead use ‘general’ language: ‘In this pose you want your foot to be turned in 45 degrees’.
So far I’ve been teaching at places where you are allowed to touch your students. I choose to walk around in class and when I give a cue to correct alignment I will pass by a student, place my hand softly on their shoulder or hip and give the verbal cue. Almost all students will check their alignment, but the person you place your hand on will know it is meant for him/her.
7 – Give compliments
Everybody likes compliments. Even when you practice non-attachment it is nice if somebody makes you a compliment. Your students will like them as well. The same rule applies here: don’t name a student. Other students can feel ‘left out’ or start to think you have your big favorites in class. Be aware that you are opening people up. In day-to-day life people may not react emotional if you don’t name them, in a yoga class they can.
I use the same trick as I just described: I walk around. Make a general comment that people look good or strong and if I want to give that compliment to one person specific I walk by and just touch that person so he or she knows I’m talking about him or her.
8 – Encourage your students
We do yoga (asanas) to go deeper into ourselves. Some of your students will always tend to stay on the safe side and will never explore a posture fully on their own. Same with arm balances or deeper back bends. Some of your students will just say or think: ‘I can never do that’ and will even never try. Encourage them. Give them different variations, use props, adjust poses and use your words to encourage them to explore a deeper posture. The smile on their face when they succeed in something they hadn’t expect they could do, is worth it.
9 – Limit your students
Sometimes you have to protect your students. For their own benefit. Some will go into postures their body is not ready for yet. You will often see people who walk into a yoga class for the first time trying out all full expression of postures when you encourage your regulars to go deeper. You can use your cues wisely to prevent this. Maybe even simple by saying: ‘If you know the full expression of the posture you can go deeper.’ They who know will, others will stay where they are.
10 – Make time before and after class
Teaching yoga is not a job. Well, it shouldn’t be. You are there to guide your students on their path through life. You choose to live a life of service to others and walk your own path at the same time. At least, that is what it used to be. Nowadays it’s too much a job. It doesn’t matter in what way you look at it, your class isn’t finished with savasana or the happy ending and doesn’t start with an opening chant. If you teach you should be there for your students. A lot of communication happens before and after class.
Some teachers only walk in the moment the class is about to start. They haven’t seen the face or the body language of their students walking in. They don’t take the time to feel the general energy in the class. Before and after class are the moment students tell you how they feel, what is happening in their body and mind. You communicate during a yoga class, your students can’t talk back. Before and after class are perfect moments to give your students some alternative poses to do to help them grow faster in their practice or to correct any bad alignment. It is also the perfect moment to take somebody apart and give them a few tips, give them a compliment or some encouragement. So when you teach: make sure you are there for your students.