Three Things Yoga Instructors Need to Stop Saying!
When I took my first teacher training I was very lucky to have an instructor that emphasised the importance of language while teaching. To be honest, at the time I thought he was a little picky in his views about a teachers’ language. However, I trusted his experience because he had been in the industry for over 30 years at the time. Now that I have been teaching for about 14 years I agree with him wholeheartedly, he knew what he was talking about!
As instructors, one of our most utilized and valuable tools is our language. We need to be clear and concise in the words we choose, knowing that students will try to do what we ask and they will remember the cues that we use for years to come. We need to mean what we say and say what we mean.
A valuable tool is to imagine that you are teaching someone with a blindfold on, they should be able to follow your cues. Just a side note, I once had a regular at a studio in LA who was legally blind. Having her as a student taught me a lot about clear instruction!
1. Tuck your tailbone- I hear this the most in Warrior II, but it is said elsewhere. This cue is meant to adjust a student who is anteriorly tilting in their pelvis and causing an overly arched low back. The problem with this cue is that the position that we want the pelvis to be in, ultimately, is neutral (on the Sagittal Plane)… not a tucked position (posterior tilt). When students hear this cue they continue to try to ‘tuck’ when really they should be working towards neutral, or dropping the tailbone straight down when in Warrior II.
By all means, say tuck the tailbone in certain positions if that is really what position you want them to be in. A good example: when doing some Pilates type movements where you are rolling from seated down onto your back. For that movement, you are rounding the spine into a C-shape and tucking the tailbone forward until the spine meets that mat, one vertebrae at a time.
Otherwise, say what you mean and mean what you say. We want the tailbone to be releasing down towards the mat in Warrior II position, not tucked. Possible a better cue would be, “draw your lower belly in while dropping the tailbone down towards the Earth.”
2. Reach your chest to the floor or knees (in Downward Facing Dog)- Without going into too much detail (I promise to do that in another blog), we want to ensure that cues we are giving are beneficial for all people in the room. If they aren’t, then we need to specify as to whom the cue is for. This cue is dangerous because it is only meant for the tight bodies in the room, the people with a rounded back. However, we often have people in the room who have good alignment in their Downward Dog, their body is in a upside down V shape. When we give them this cue, they push too far and too deep. They start to anterior tilt in the pelvis, over extend in the shoulder and flatten the back too much, maybe even going into a backbend. This can be injurious to the body in many ways, including injuries to the hamstring tendon and SI joint to name a few.
For this a teacher could use the amazing if/then tool. “If you have a rounded lower back, then work towards lengthening the spine by reaching the chest towards the knees until your in an upside down V shape.”
3. Square your hips (in Warrior II) to the long edge of the mat- No, no, and please no! Because of the positioning of the feet in Warrior II the hips will never be ‘squared to the long edge of the mat.’ We just don’t have the skeletal structure, muscular strength, and muscular flexibility to externally rotate in the front hip joint to a 90 degree angle. If a student tries to do this then the front knee will collapse inwards (putting the knee joint at risk) or the front of the pelvis will dump forward creating compression in the lower back. Of course it isn’t an injury that would happen the first 20 times the student tries to ‘square the hips’ but over time they could get an RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury).
A student can still get the amazing strengthening and opening of the hip by working towards maximizing the range of motion for their particular hip joint. Do this by keeping the front knee stacked over the ankle and externally rotating in the hip joint (opening the knee towards the pinkie) while working the back let towards straight. Doing these two actions together creates a teeter-totter between the legs that will stretch and strengthen the muscles of the hips and legs. The pelvis will align where it needs to (on the Transverse Plane) if you cue these two actions in the legs.
Of course, this cue applies to all of the poses that have that similar positioning. So ‘square the hips’ also does not work in Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana.
And the one that makes me cringe every time ‘stacking the hips’ in Half Moon. For the same reasons mentioned above, this is so unsafe. In particular, since you are balancing on one leg, this cue can be very detrimental.
I have many more cues that I think we need to stop saying as yoga teachers. However, to honour your time (I know we are all busy teachers) I will leave it to three for now. Check back later for more!