The language of yoga

by Astrid McCormick, 26-Feb-2018

Have you ever noticed the words you use when teaching a yoga class? Astrid McCormick did and discovered the subtle power of how language (and silence) can evoke a far more yogic experience for her students...

Astrid McCormick, is an IYTA yoga teacher based in Smithtown, NSW. Astrid is also organic farm owner and artist.

I’ve been teaching for more than a decade in my studio in Smithtown and have enjoyed teaching hundreds of classes. I revamped my teaching and studio environment as part of my Masters in Art and Design, I read articles on Yoga, and I am in touch with other Yoga teachers.

But when last year a student said to me, “I hear your voice, when I am doing my Yoga practice”, I got stirred up again and felt the urgent need to review my language of instruction. With a recorder and a feedback sheet, I went into three classes, asked the students to provide feedback and listened carefully to the recorded words.

Here is my challenge: How can I improve my teaching by improving my language of instruction?

First I thought about what my goals are for my classes and students. Then I pondered who I want to be as a senior Yoga teacher.

Thirdly I looked at a few new encompassing terms and phrases, and finally I look at creating a foundation of mindful terms for working through poses during the coming months.

My goals as a senior Yoga teacher are:to be authentic, come across as knowlegeable, and assist my students to extend themselves into new realms and new territory. I am here to serve and give.

I want to be inviting and I have decided to use the phrase: “I invite you to the pranayama practice of Kapalbhati.” The effect in the class is that my students are more prepared, better tuned in, and more attentive.

Be it spiritually or physically, my voice and words are opening the door and leading the way along the Path of Yoga.

Mindfulness is critical to my Yoga teaching. I want to suggest and encourage. I will not say: “Extend the heel to the floor!”, I instruct: “Make sure you keep releasing the heel towards the floor.”

I use a positive reassuring language. I want to hearten, not dishearten or overwhelm.

My instructions must be clear, a pose must be announced, so students have the time to anticipate the coming steps and actions. I must slow down and talk less.

I use Sanskrit terms sparingly. What flows off my tongue with ease, creates a puzzled expression on the face of long term students. I can go without them. However, I use Sanskrit where I know they carry a unique notion, like the word and concept of Sankalpa. It is special to Yoga and I will not water it down by a modern-day replacement.

My tone of voice is partly dynamic, and must carry a notion of calmness, not only during meditation, but also during the class. The use of silence is very critical to my teaching. I am happy when students chat about something during class, where a new pose may lead to questions, or remarks.

I am very mindful of the power of silence. Standing, waiting, allowing the students to settle, grant time for the breath to calm down, making space for the student to balance and when I farewell my class – our last moments of being together.

Love the language

Use Astrid’s tips to evaluate and develop the language of your yoga classes

  • Listen to yourself, record a class, and check for use of words
  • Set your goals and frame who you want to be as a teacher.
  • Find one or two things you want to change and check whether it makes a difference to your teaching.

Let us know your thoughts on this topic!

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