I’ve mentioned before that I think a lot about what I say in a yoga class. I’m sure I put more emphasis on it than there needs to be. After all, who hasn’t tuned out their yoga teachers at times just to sink into their practice? However, you never know who’s listening at any time, and when that one word or phrase you say will sink in and make a difference in your students’ practice.
It’s fun to get poetical when I teach. I remember in one of my first yoga classes that I was using language from nature to describe the poses. I think I said something like, “grow your spine long like a flowers stem reaching for the sun.” I recall second-guessing myself, and wondering if that was too cheesy for class. Then, I reminded myself that I get a lot of leeway as a yoga teacher! Students don’t come in expecting cut and dry language from the boardroom, or even the language that you expect from a friend when spending an evening over dinner. Yoga teachers, and poets, and writers are all allowed flourishes in their language. We are allowed to be grandiose, eloquent, poetic, or silly as we describe the actions of bodies twisting into asanas and the changes in energy that accompany those asanas. My friend and fellow teacher had me giggling this morning as she described the action of drawing your chin in as imagining that you’re hiding behind a tree and don’t want to press your nose into the bark. How silly and creative! How utterly yoga.
In my own practice as a student, I find that different alignment cues speak to me in different ways depending on the languaging of the teacher. Lengthen your spine, press the crown of your head up towards the ceiling, grow tall like a tree, and lift your heart all mean the same thing. Depending on the student and the time of day, one phrase might break through the clutter of the monkey mind to help the body find better alignment in class. Another might cause confusion or simply be ignored.
The teachers who trained me to teach yoga had a special dislike for the term “tuck your tailbone.” All were in general agreement that this normally caused an exaggeration of the subtle movement we as teachers look for as we toss that phrase out. I recall one particular afternoon where the students in my yoga kula spent quite some time discussing this phrase and alternatives for it. And bollocks if I can’t remember a single alternative! I currently have a number of students in my class exhibiting various degrees of lordosis, or an exaggerated curve in the lumbar spine. The subtle adjustment in the body to fix this is to tuck the tailbone slightly and lift up on the low belly. This then counteracts the large curve in the lumbar spine and encourages lengthening of the spine as a whole. Every time I use that phrase in my class and tell my students to “tuck their tailbones,” I can see my teachers cringing in my mind’s eye.
So I go to you, virtual yoga kula, for advice. What language do you use for this particular action? What are some of your favorite alignment cues or phrases that you either say or hear in your yoga classes? One of the things I love most about yoga is that it is a living practice, one that grows and changes to encompass all variety of people practicing throughout the world and over time. Language follows a similar process of evolution, and I believe that the languaging of the teacher does as much as another yoga training to increase the quality of the teaching being transmitted to the students.