Giving Direction in Class

It’s easy to become nervous and speak too much or trip over your directions in class. I use these simple concepts (and often fail, but I am a work in progress) to help direct students concisely:

Verb, Body Part, Direction

Write up a sequence, then write down every cue to transition from pose to pose with this formula. It’s a great exercise for your mind. If you have time, perform the sequence and say it out loud. Remember not to add alignment corrections; this is an exercise to help you tell your students where to go.

This list is short and to the point. Try to find good synonyms once you become comfortable with these words so you can spice up the language.

Words/Phrases to create Action 
  • Press, as in “press your heels”
  • Squeeze, as in “squeeze your right thigh”
  • Push, as in “push your thighs back”
  • Reach, as in “reach the arms skyward”
  • Stretch, as in “stretch the spine long”
  • Lengthen, as in “lengthen your spine”
  • Lift, as in “lift your knee”
  • Open, as in “open your collarbones”
  • Feel, as in “feel your spine elongate”

These are less intuitive. I for one do not like using “rinse”, since it’s pretty misleading and if anything, your CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) is being stimulated to refresh its supply, not actually “clean” and “rinse” itself. Also, the idea of wringing your liver like a dishcloth makes little sense to me. I prefer the idea of “squeezing” one’s liver or spleen, because that is far closer to the truth of what your body does during twists. (I may or may not approach my yoga cues with a Spock-like set of glasses).

  • Rinse, as in “rinse your spine”
  • Wring, as in “wring your liver/spine”
  • Tilt, as in “tilt your chin towards the chest”
  • Tip, as in “tip your shoulders forward”
  • Wrap, as in “wrap your elbows in”
  • Spiral, as in “spiral the underside of your ribs to the sky”

These are mood changers when in the midst of a pose that poses a challenge to the students. It also reminds people to release tension in different ways.

  • Soften, as in “soften your shoulders”
  • Let go, as in “let go of your arms”
  • Drop, as in “drop your head”
  • Release, as in “release the gripping of the jaw”
  • Gaze, as in “gaze gently”

Let’s face it though, guys – you need to develop your own voice. If using a particular word or set of directions doesn’t sound like you or resonate with you, don’t use it! Using these softer, crunchier styles of language have really only developed very recently. I dare you to find a traditional Iyengar or Ashtanga class that uses all of these (or half of these) words and phrases in their classes. Verb, body part, direction makes sense in any teaching setting, but the more “New Age” terms have been picked to create certain moods and elicit sensations in the body and brain. If you like the concepts but not the words, use a thesaurus. Practice “teaching mode” when doing simple tasks like making toast, taking a shower, or getting dressed. Learn how to give simple directions to yourself when doing things that are automatic to you. Seems silly, and you’ll be talking to yourself a lot, but it really helps develop your own voice, just with better editing for the amount and quality of words.

Remember, there is no ONE RIGHT WAY. Pick what suggestions work for you and incorporate slowly. Students tend to gravitate towards teachers that are themselves, even if their personality is somewhat grating. Raw person = authentic person, and if your students don’t like your true personality mixed with yoga, they’re certainly not going to like your fake personality mixed with yoga. And remember, the best teachers are perpetual students. Namaste!


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