Yoga teachers, are you talking your walk?

Yoga teachers, are you talking your walk?

As yoga teachers, our role extends beyond demonstrating poses and leading sequences. One of the most critical aspects of our teaching is the ability to cue classes effectively. Cueing is the language of yoga teaching; it bridges the gap between the teacher’s knowledge and the student’s experience on the mat. By refining our communication skills, we can create a more supportive, engaging, and transformative environment for our students. Proper cueing also ensures that students understand how to move into, hold, and transition between poses safely and effectively. 

The first and last thing to understand is the importance of precision in alignment cues. The more specific your cues, the safer your students’ practice becomes. Precision is a fundamental aspect of our teaching that we must always bear in mind. You might believe you’re being specific. However, terms like “move your arm,” “extend the spine,” and “stand wide”  are not specific enough. Let’s consider these examples below:

Not-Specific Cues 👎

  • Extend the spine” – What part are we extending? How do we achieve the extension? From where to where? Extend the spine by lifting the sternum and flaring the ribs? No, no, no, this will deactivate the diaphragm, dismantle the core, and compress T12-L1! Lengthen through the side body to extend the spine by hugging the side waist and ribs towards the spine. Now we are on track…
  • Stand wide” – How wide? Hips-width? A foot apart? Feet parallel or turned out? Guide me, please.
  • Move your arm” – Left or right arm? What part of the arm? In which direction? How do I move my arm?

You with me?! There’s no such thing as “too much precision.” The more exact you are, the more fluid your classes will feel. This will, in turn, increase the feeling of flow, being in the zone, or what we traditionally call Samadhi, that wonderful connected space where the mind is completely absorbed in the action.

So, anyone who has been to a few yoga classes will know the basic lingo:

  • Microbend your knees
  • Neutral spine
  • Square the heels
  • Tuck your tailbone – (I prefer to use “lengthen the tailbone” myself)
  • Lengthen the side body
  • Engage your A, B and C
  • Relax

But after a while, you can start to feel like a broken down record, and it’s good to expand your cueing vocabulary. Take a look below and if you are a new teacher, I encourage you to create a Cueing Journal, using these cues and any others from your favourite teachers.

ACTION CUES – these cues are great for helping students move on the mat. Some are small movements; others are larger transitions. They all indicate some movement from A to B. 

Knowing how to stack a pose is not enough; it’s really important to be able to cue the transitions. You might think, “OK, I want to teach Pigeon pose after Warrior Two”, but how do your students get from one to the other? If you are not offering specific, breath-centred cues, students are less likely to retain the pace and flow of the class and are even more likely to be injured. You need to think out a fluid transition that is accessible to all and be able to articulate it to maintain the rhythm of the class. It is also important to note that sometimes transitions are more difficult than the poses, so your student’s sense of comfort and ease may be compromised if you do not keep pace with your cues. No pressure. It’s just something to think about in advance, and all should flow easily.

  • Bow – Bow down over your leg
  • Cartwheel: From Warrior Two, cartwheel the arms and frame the front foot with your hands. 
  • Circle – circle the arm up overhead.
  • Cynch – Cynch the side waist away from the ground – the word was originally used in dress making to gather the waist of a skirt in
  • Draw – Draw the arms overhead.
  • Drape – Drape the body down over the front leg.
  • Extend into fingertips – Great word for “stretch” or ‘reach.’
  • Frame – Frame the front foot with your hands and tee-pee up onto your fingertips.
  • Flex – Flex the toes up towards the ceiling
  • Float – Float the hips up
  • Floint – Floint the feet (a combination of flex and point)
  • Gather – Gather the side waist up away from the ground.
  • Glide – Glide the arms slowly and mindfully as if moving them through treacle.
  • Hinge – Exhale lean forward, leading from the sitbones to hinge from your hips
  • Hollow – Hollow the armpits – Great cue for activating the upper trapezius in Downward Dog and Handstands.
  • Shimmy – Shimmy the hips from side to side, moving intuitively as you sense and feel in.
  • Spread – the toes wide
  • Stamp – Stamp the front foot down.
  • Sink – Sink into the hips, allowing them to open and release
  • Squeeze – Squeeze the scapula together, activating the rhomboids and feel the collarbones open
  • Tee-pee – Tee-pee up onto fingertips
  • Melt – Melt the heart down towards the earth.
  • Pivot – Pivot your hips to the long side of the mat
  • Place – call me old-fashioned, but sometimes it just works
  • Plug – Plug the femur up into the hip socket
  • Reach – Reach into fingertips (aka. extend)
  • Roll – Roll the legs into the midline
  • Rotate – Rotate the hips forward
  • Shift – Shift the hip bones forward over the ankle bones
  • Shoot – Shoot the arms back. 
  • Spiral – Spiral the rotation up the spine
  • Smear – Smear your hand across your chest and reach your fingers skyward
  • Sweep Sweep the arms up overhead
  • Unwind – Unwind your torso forward (coming out of a twist)
  • Wave – Wave the spine forward to Plank
  • Windmill: From Leaning Crescent (right leg forward), exhale and glide the hands back behind the hips. Inhale, reach the left arm forward and windmill the arms as you pivot the hips out to the long side of the mat for Warrior Two.
  • Yawn – From Downward Dog, inhale the right leg high, exhale, bend the knee and kick the right heel to the left glute. Yawn the hip open, and you reach the right knee skyward.

ISOMETRIC REFINEMENT CUES  – movements that do not change the angle of a joint or create any movement from A to B, but that can refine and greatly alter our inner experience of the pose.

In my experience, these cues are more difficult for new teachers to nail. The A to B movement cues are more gross, but not more important. The isometric cues are the refinement cues and are often used to create muscle activation in the poses and simultaneously align with functional movement for the joints. They are the tofu of the sambo. Dry bread is not enough. We need that little bit extra to pad things out and make the experience interesting. 

  • Allow – Allow the shoulder blades to drop down the back
  • Broaden – Broaden the collarbones as you retract the scapula towards the spine.
  • Claw – Claw the fingertips to activate the Hasta Bandha
  • Drag – Drag the heel to the wide end of the mat without moving the foot (to activate the abductors)
  • Draw up on the legs – Great for activating the quads
  • Hug the back of the calf forward onto the shinbone (in straight-legged standing poses, especially great for students with dropped arches and that hyperextend the knee)
  • Hug the legs into the midline to lift up into the core : Great isometric cue for activating the core meridian
  • Knit the front ribs in and down to connect to the core.
  • Engage the pelvic floor – Mula Bandha
  • Elongate the back of the neck
  • Magnetise – Magnetise the heels towards each other to create muscle energy through the legs into the core (excellent in poses like Goddess and Warrior Two)
  • Pin the navel back towards the spine – Great cue for maintaining the lower belly connection
  • Press – Press the pinky toes into the earth to internally rotate the legs (in Cobra or Camel where the foundation is on the front of the ankle)
  • Root – Keep rooting into the triangle of your feet, to align the femur, pelvis and spine.
  • Scissor – Scissor (adduct) the inner thighs towards the midline to activatve the core.
  • Scoop – Scoop the lower belly up towards the navel (Uddiyana Bandha activation)
  • Soften – Soften the jaws and broaden the upper pallet
  • Screw – Imagine you are holding two jam jars and screw them in towards each other to activate the hasta bandha

Effective cueing is the cornerstone of excellent yoga teaching. It ensures safety, enhances the student experience, builds confidence, fosters mindfulness, and promotes inclusivity. By continually refining your cueing skills, you can create a more engaging, supportive, and transformative experience for your students. Remember, the way you communicate in your classes has the power to significantly impact your students’ practice and their journey in yoga. Happy teaching and if you have any other cues that you love, please add them in the comments; I am also always adding to my favourites. 

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