As yoga teachers, we have a responsibility to our students to ensure they feel safe and comfortable during class. Providing a sacred space for our students is essential, but often difficult when teaching to so many unique individuals. But there are ways we can empower each student during their yoga practice and help create a more meaningful yoga class.
Yoga is unique to each student because yoga allows us to form a deep relationship with our body, mind and soul. In each class we teach, there are many different backgrounds, abilities, preferences and experiences in the room, so the easiest way to empower so many unique individuals is simply by changing some of the language of our cueing.
As yoga teachers, our language is the key to empowering our students.
Instead of “dictating” to our students, we should offer choices for their practice so they have the opportunity to ask themselves what feels right in their body, and then act accordingly. This will invite more body and mind connection within each student. Safety always comes first, but at certain times in class you can offer your students choices to help them feel empowered in their practice.
Since our language is the key to empowering our students, these cues offer alternative ways to guide your students through class and allow them to feel empowered in their body and yoga practice. Most of these cues are best for beginner yoga classes or an all-level yoga class, so keep that in mind when applying these cues to your classes.
Here are 10 effective yoga teaching cues to empower your yoga students:
1. “I invite you to try this”
Inviting your students to practice a pose or different variations is a subtle way of empowering your students, because an invitation can be accepted or declined. This cue can be used for postures that might make people feel uncomfortable or postures that are more advanced. If the yogi feels comfortable and ready to try something, the choice is their own.
2. “Experiment with this variation”
Again, this cue places the decision of different poses or variations into the hands of the student. Encourage yogis to experiment with different positions to evoke a deeper understanding of what feels good in their body. They may need a gentle boost to try something new or different, and this cue could lead them to discovering they are stronger than they thought.
3. “If you feel comfortable, feel free to close your eyes”
I learned the importance of this cue after teaching yoga to victims of sexual violence. You can imagine why women who have been through such an experience aren’t comfortable with closing their eyes in a room full of strangers. If a student wants to keep their eyes open until trust is established, that is another way to help them feel empowered and more comfortable.
4. “Please inform me if you would not like to receive hands-on adjustments”
Many students love hands-on assists, but many students would rather not be touched. If you plan on giving hands-on assists during class, then you should give your students the option to opt-out. There are ways to discreetly ask your class who would like to receive hands on assists so no one feels embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Many teachers invite students into Child’s Pose and then ask their students to flip their palm if they do not wish to receive hands-on adjustments. Some teachers prompt students before class begins to roll the back of their mat under if they do not wish to receive hands-on adjustments. No matter how you do it, give your students the choice of touch to allow them to have the best experience on their mat.
Check out our book review of Yoga’s Touch: Hands-On Adjustments, Alignment and Verbal Cues for more tips on giving hands-on assists to your students.
5. “Feel free to back out of a posture or lie down at any time during class”
This is an important cue to give your students before class begins. Let your students know this is their yoga practice. If they feel they need to skip a pose or rest in Childs Pose or Savasana during class, then the option is available and they should listen to their body. Yoga is about forming a loving relationship with the body, and for this to happen we must feel safe and able to honor our body’s needs.
6. “Find your own expression of this posture”
This is a beautiful cue to encourage your students to express themselves and explore their body. Again, yoga is about loving and connecting to your body, so if a student feels better in a different variation of the pose, then we should encourage them to honor their practice.
For example, in Low Lunge it may feel better that day for a student to place their hands on their heart, take a backbend or open their shoulders. This is another simple way of using language to give our students a sense of empowerment in exploring their practice. When your students begin to connect to their own energy and know what their body needs, their practice will grow.
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7. “Find a resting position that feels good to you”
Using this cue before Savasana allows students to identify what position will make them feel the most relaxed. Maybe provide options to use a bolster under the knees, place their arms overhead or rest in a fetal position to help them find the best variation of Savasana to fully relax.
It is important not to cue too much during Savasana, but instead allow your students to experience their own Savasana. So cuing them into Savasana and reminding them that they have options in this pose could help your students drift into a deeper meditative state.
8. “You have the option to stay in this pose, or try this variation”
This is a great cue for an all level class. The beginner yogis can stay in the pose if they choose and the more advanced yogis can try more advanced variations. This cue is also great to empower your students to listen to their body and what it wants to practice that day. This cue makes it clear that both variations are welcome and encourages yogis to honor their practice.
9. “Know that wherever you are in your practice is perfect”
Yoga is a journey, not a destination. We have heard that saying before and it is a great reminder during any class. It is very easy for students to compare their yoga practice to other students and feel inadequate. But this cue reminds your students that their efforts are seen, appreciated, and should be celebrated.
In your beginner classes, this cue can empower your students to love where they are now and how far they have come. This cue is another great reminder for your students that getting on their mat each day is a better accomplishment than nailing any yoga pose.
10. “Try these two options and see what feels better today”
Offering several options to your students and allowing them to try both can enhance their mind and body relationship. Giving them a choice of how to move their body and practice the pose helps improve body awareness and trust. Offering a few options will make your class accessible to different yogis with different bodies and abilities.
Yes, some of these cues are encouraging the same outcome. But it is important to offer a variety of cues to your students to keep their focus. It is easy for a student’s mind to wander if they know what you will say next, and a wandering mind can lead to the student missing important cues and not focusing on their body.
Always explore ways to communicate better to your students, and always create a class that leaves them feeling empowered. Namaste, teachers!