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Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses: The Most Common Instructional Errors We Make When Teaching Yoga

Handstand Assist | Verbal Cues for Yoga Poses

The ability to give clear, concise, and compelling verbal cues is one of the most distinguishing factors of a good yoga teacher. For all the time that we dedicate to doing bigger, harder postures and projecting our prowess across the social media space, most of us could spend a little more time honing our verbal craft. Students want to hear your words. Students want to understand your words. Students want to digest your instructions and learn from them. And, the reality is that being a good verbal communicator is hard. It takes practice. It takes strategy. And, like the subject of this post, it takes a willingness to look at the most common errors that we make and learn from them.

Look, we all make mistakes. We all speak redundantly, we all flub our words at times, and we all make up weird words that don’t exist on occasion. I think I said “hamstringossity” the other day. Seriously.

With a brave heart, let’s take a look at the most common instructional errors that we all make. Let’s start to clean up these warts and then, in the Part II of this post, we’ll look at The Easiest Ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication.

Here are the most common verbal cueing mistakes that we all make from time-to-time:

Not Speaking Loudly Enough

I know it’s obvious, but few things are more uncomfortable for students than being unable to hear their teacher’s instructions. It’s not only annoying, it’s unsettling.

There are three things to consider that impede your students’ ability to hear you: First, music that’s played too loud. Second, students are often in Down Dog or forward bends which turns their body away from you. And third, that sometimes you will not be facing your all of your students while you walk around the room and assist.

Dropping Your Voice Off a Cliff

What I call “dropping your voice off a cliff” comes from the paradox of speaking loudly enough that everyone can hear you while trying to keep a calm, quiet, soothing demeanor. What I mean by “dropping your voice off a cliff” is making the last word or two of an instructional sentence too quiet relative to the rest of the sentence. Our voice drops from full volume to low volume because we’re trying to soften the feel of an instruction. So we do something like this, “INHALE, LENGTHEN YOUR TORSO FORWARD INTO ARDHA UTTANASANA; EXHALE STEP BACK INTO downward-facing dog.” We change volume too much and the end of the sentence disappears. This is one of the many things I try to clean up about my delivery in all of my classes.

Using Upspeak

Compare these two phrases: “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog,” and, “Step back into Downward-Facing Dog??” Written the first way, it’s a clear command. Written the second way it’s a question. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Right. Right? Phrasing commands as questions is a pretty common vocal inflection that we can all do without.

Adding Filler Words

I do it. You do it. We all add filler words—often unconsciously. I was teaching a 200-hr yoga teacher training in Japan and, despite my inability to speak Japanese, I heard the phrase “et to” so many times during peer teaching sessions that I asked the interpreter what it means. She said, “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s similar to saying ‘like’ or ‘uh’ in English.” Filler words and phrases such as “like,” “good,” “yes” and “uh” are omnipresent in the classroom. Notice what your filler words are and, uh, like, practice not using them!

Lacking a Declarative Instruction by “ing-ing” Your Students to Death

Listen to this set of instructions: “Inhaling, stretching your arms overhead; exhaling, forward bending; inhaling lifting half-way up; exhaling stepping back to Downward-Facing Dog.” I could go on and on and there would be nowhere to put a period because there is no specific call to action. Using “ing” is fine, but constant usage creates a run-on sentence. Be mindful of your phrasing and don’t be afraid to come to a conclusion and add a period. Instead, try “Inhaling, stretch your arms overhead. Exhaling, forward bend.”

Crowding Your Students Ears

When you give an instruction you also need to give your students enough time and space to complete the instruction. When there is a constant stream of instructions your students don’t have time to do what you’re asking them to do. Remember to take a breath or two after each cue and allow your students to integrate the information.

Using Passive Voice

It’s generally preferable to use active voice because it’s more direct and conveys more certainty to the listener. Active voice is the subject of a sentence does an action (denoted by a verb).

Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb. Passive voice is wordier and harder for the listener to decipher the meaning of the sentence. I notice that people tend to use passive voice when they uncomfortable being direct.

Here’s an example of passive voice: “The action of the iliotibial band is to assist in knee extension and provide some external rotation force.” Notice the phrases, “the action of the …” and “…is to assist.” These are passive, unnecessary phrases that don’t help our students. Instead, the sentiment could be expressed like this: “The iliotibial band helps extend and externally rotate the knee.” This phrase is more simple, clear and direct.

Again, we all make mistakes. But, we owe it to our yoga students to refine the craft of verbal cueing yoga poses. Becoming aware of your errors is the first step. The second step is to focus on the six components of making your verbal cues more accurate, concise, and digestible. We’ll tackle this in Part II of this series.

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Episode 86: Q&A W/ Jason: Down Dog Strategies, Lower Rib Flare, & The Problem with the “Tuck Under” Cue

Jason Crandell joins me this week to answer your questions. We cover a lot of ground in this short episode including:

* Strategies for Down Dog — How to make it easier to step forward, what to do when a student can’t straighten their arms

* Lower Rib Flare — Why it’s important to think of core length, not just core strength

* The Cue to ‘Tuck Your Tailbone Under — Is it dangerous? Appropriate? What’s the deal. Please.


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RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS
Avoid Rib Flare in Forearm Balance

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Episode 43: Q&A W/ Jason – Sacroiliac Pain, Tailbone Cues, & Wonky Knees

Hi everyone!

This week, Jason comes back to Yogaland to answer your questions, specifically:
– Is the cue ‘flatten your tailbone’ correct or outdated?
– Why do yoga teachers tell us to flex the foot in Pigeon Pose? How does it protect the knee?
– Why is sacroiliac pain such a pain in the a$$?

Thank you to all of you who have sent in questions!

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RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
Essential Sequence for Back Pain
Yoga and Your Hips, Part I
Yoga and Your Hips, Part II
Yoga and Your Hips, Part III

MUSIC
Podington Bear — 60’s Quiz Show

WRITE A REVIEW
If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! I’m learning that it really does help others find it and it helps me to know which episodes resonate with you! You can also follow me on Twitter @yogalandpodcast.

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A New Program For Yoga Teachers!

Jason Crandell teaching

I’ve developed a new program — the 3-Day Teacher Renewal Program + Weekend Workshop Intensive. I wanted to take a minute to explain my thinking behind it. It’s a program that I’m genuinely excited to share…in fact, it’s exactly the program I would have loved to attend about 10 years ago.

In a nutshell: It’s a 3-day program for teachers of all levels to help you return to your center and reconnect to your practice. Think about this program as part retreat, part yoga teacher training in the company of your peers.

Here’s why I created this program:
If you’re a yoga teacher, your practice is no longer yours and yours alone. Your practice has mostly likely gotten tied up with your identity as a teacher and the challenges of making a living. Ironically, you might practice less consistently and intensely than you did before you taught. And, when you do make it onto your mat, it can be hard for you to find the steadiness of mind that once came so easily because you’re thinking about your sequences and which postures you’re going to teach your students this week.

I’ve taught for 20 years and I don’t know a single teacher who hasn’t gone through the same challenges. I’ve been there myself–more than once. That’s why I created this program.

I understand that yoga teachers don’t just need the type of information they typically receive in trainings. They also need to steep themselves in a supportive environment where they can reconnect to their practice and to the essence of why they started teaching in the first place.

HALF RETREAT, HALF TRAINING
3-DAY RENEWAL PROGRAM SCHEDULE

In the mornings, you will be a student again and savor a strong, complete three-hour vinyasa practice. No notes, no analysis–just practice. It’s time to make your practice a sanctuary again and remember why you fell in love with yoga in the first place. You’ll work at your physical edge, refine your technique, and inspire your practice.

In the afternoons, you will refine key components of your teaching. You’ll also create practical strategies to manage the logistical challenges of earning a living as a teacher.

Schedule Detail
A Practice for Teachers
9am – 12pm

Strategy Discussion: How to Make a Better Living as a Yoga Teacher
1:30pm – 2:15pm

2:30 – 5:00pm
Technical Refinement and Renewed Inspiration for Teachers

DAILY TOPICS

Each day we’ll hone in on a specific topic to refine your teaching.

Day One – Sequencing
You will hone your sequencing. You’ll learn how to bring greater focus, consistency and purpose to your classes. You’ll learn the absolute essentials for creating consistent, compelling classes that reflect your values and help your students make progress. You’ll also learn how to structure an entire month of classes and build sequences for workshops. You’ll receive sample sequences for every posture group and two “master” templates that teach you how Jason creates all of his classes.

Day Two – Manual Adjustments
You will fine-tune your manual adjustments. You won’t learn any fancy new tricks, like how to use 7 belts, 4 partners and the tip of your nose to manipulate down dog. But, you will make sure that you’re giving excellent, supportive adjustments that make your students feel safe, secure and knowledgeable in their postures. You’ll learn the most effective, successful ways of adjusting key backbends, forward bends and inversions.

Day Three – Verbal Cues
You will refine your verbal cues. Concise, accurate, accessible verbal cuing is the key to being an effective teacher. In this session, you will learn to trust simple, clear language that everyone can understand. You’ll replace common teaching jargon, cliché’s, and filler-words with accessible teaching cues that will resonate with your students. You’ll make sure that you’re language is inspired, consistent and accurate for every posture category. And, you’ll get advice on how much talking is too much—and, how much talking is insufficient.

WEEKEND WORKSHOPS

The weekend workshop that follows the 3-Day Renewal Program gives you even more time to deepen your practice and refine your technical knowledge of asana, anatomy, and sequencing. In these workshops, you will learn how alignment and attention to detail cultivates greater depth and ease in your flow practice—from arm-balance to hip-openers, from core-strengtheners to backbends. Each workshop will begin with a brief discussion of related anatomy and move into a smart, satisfying flow practice.

The Teacher Renewal Program and the Weekend Workshops are available separately — you can choose to register for one or the other. Or you can choose to do both.

UPCOMING BLOG SERIES! RECONNECT TO YOUR PRACTICE + INSPIRE YOUR TEACHING

In addition to my ongoing posts that feature pose breakdowns, anatomy guides to yoga, and sequences, I’m preparing to launch a new series of articles that provide practical tips for handling some of the day-to-day challenges of teaching yoga. Jump on our newsletter list if you haven’t already so you don’t miss them.

DATES AND REGISTRATION

New York, YogaWorks
August 11th-13th, 2017

Los Angeles, YogaWorks
December 8th-10th, 2017

ABOUT JASON AND HIS TEACHING

Jason Crandell is a natural teacher and author with nearly 20 years of experience. His accessible, grounded classes integrate the best elements of power yoga, anatomical precision and mindfulness teachings. Jason’s articulate, down-to-earth teaching will educate and empower you.

Named “one of the teachers shaping the future of yoga,” by Yoga Journal, Jason has been one of the most in-demand teachers at conferences around the world for over a decade. Considered a “teachers-teacher,” Jason has taught on countless teacher-training faculties, leads trainings globally, and regularly presents teacher-training content at esteemed conferences. Jason was a contributing editor for Yoga Journal Magazine where he has published over 25 articles and created their original series of practice podcasts. His critical-thinking skills will support you on your path of practice, teaching and self-inquiry.

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20 Insights to Set You Up as a Successful, Skillful, Happy(!) Yoga Teacher

The phrase, “teachers learn from their students,” is even more salient when your students are seasoned teachers themselves. Recently, my Advanced Teacher Training module in London was drawing to a close, and I asked the more experienced members of the group–many of whom have been teaching for years–to share one piece of advice to the aspiring teachers in the room. As the trainees started answering, I realized that we needed to document and post the conversation. For some of you, these tips will be new pieces of wisdom that you can apply to your teaching. For others, they will be a nice confirmation and reminder of what you already know. Either way, I truly believe that these insights will help make you a more skillful, successful, and satisfied teacher.

If you’d like to join this brilliant group of students to deepen your practice and advance your teaching, there are a few spots in my next two 100-hour modules in London! I had a great time teaching the first module — there’s nothing I enjoy more than engaging with bright, inquisitive students. I always learn so much and it’s a thrill to see people grow into themselves. I would love to see you there. (Dates are August 5th-18th, 2015 and January 15th-28th, 2016) Click here for all the details.

On being true to yourself:
Michael Hoyer
1. “Learn what you need to do hold the space energetically and vocally. It’s a disservice to yourself if you are meek, too quiet, or apologetic about perceived failings. Be a conductor of that symphony of bodies. Move around the room and let students hear and feel your presence.”
Michael Hoyer, USA

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