Each and everyone of us has an unique body.
What feels good for me, may feel completely different for you. The same applies to our experiences, emotions, likes and dislikes. Some yogis adore hands-on adjustments, while others recoil when being touched. There are people who rejoice in chanting, yet it can make others very uncomfortable. Our experiences are so vast and varied that no one can assume what is right or wrong for another human.
As teachers we have a responsibility to our students to ensure they feel safe and comfortable during class.
Yoga is all about forming a deep relationship with your body, mind and soul. The practice helps us to understand our bodies and mind on a honest and profound level. Because yoga is all about the individual experience it seems only fair not to ‘tell’ or ‘dictate’ to your students all the time. Maybe we could hand over more decisions to our students and encourage them to feel empowered in their practice. Safety always comes first, but at certain points in any class you can offer your students choices. Choices and options give yogis the opportunity to ask themselves what feels right and then act accordingly, thus beginning the body, mind, soul connection.
In addition to this, we do not know the preferences or experiences of our students (unless we ask). We cannot assume that placing our hands on someone is OK. Certain yoga poses may provoke negative emotions, we should always let our students know that no posture is compulsory. Our mat needs to be a place of safety and freedom.
These cues may not be applicable to all yoga styles. The suggestions listed here are best used in a beginners class or a yoga general class with mixed levels.
We can ensure that everyone, regardless of background, ability, preferences and past times feels empowered in our class by simply changing some of our language.
I invite you to…
Example: I invite you to come into Happy Baby.
Using the term ‘I invite’ is a subtle way of empowering your students because an invitation can be accepted or declined. This cue can be used for postures that could make people feel uncomfortable .
Maybe experiment with…
Example: Maybe experiment with placing the right hand on the knee and rolling onto the knife edge of your foot.
Again, this cue places the decision of additional movements 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.
If you feel comfortable close down the eyes.
I personally say this every time a new student is present in class. 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 closing their eyes in a room full of strangers. If a student wants to keep their eyes open until trust is established, that is perfectly ok. Give your students time to adjust and develop faith in you.
If you do not wish to receive hands on adjustments please raise your hand.
Another cue I learnt from teaching victims of sexual violence. I personally love hands on adjustments, but what works for me may not work for others. At the beginning of class, during meditation or your first child’s pose, subtly gage who doesn’t want to be touched. You can find your own discrete way of doing this, I usually guide my students into child’s pose, then say ‘If you do not wish to receive hands on adjustments raise a limb.’ A friend explained her teacher did this very gracefully by asking students who did not want to be touched to roll under the back of their mat.
Feel free to rest, come out of a posture or lie down at any time. This is your practice, your body, your time.
I always say this cue before the class begins, I want every single one of my students to know that this is their practice, not mine. Its important to let people know they are not expected to do every single posture. The practice is about forming a loving relationship with the body, for this to happen we must be in a space where we can act on our bodies needs.
Find your own expression of this posture…
A beautiful cue to encourage your students to express themselves. Try using this in a Warrior 3 or a low lunge, regarding the position of the arms; hands in pray at the heart, arms stretched out in front of the body, arm reaching back behind the body.
Find a resting position that feels good to you…
Using this before Savasana allows students to identify what position will make them feel the most relaxed. Maybe give options to use a bolster under the knees, hands out to the side or over head, lie on the side etc.
Option to stay as you are or…
Example: Option to stay as you are or tuck your back toes and life the knee (low lunge or high lunge).
Some yogis love to go harder in class and challenge their bodies, others prefer to take it slow and stick to what feels accessible. This cue ensures all levels are catered for and it makes it clear that both variations are welcomed.
Know that wherever you are in your practice, it’s perfect.
Yoga is a journey, not a destination. A gentle reminder to your students that their efforts are seen, appreciated and celebrated goes a long way (especially to a beginner practitioner).
You could try this or this, see what feels good for you…
Example: You could try forearm on the knee or take the hand to the floor, see what feels good for your body. (In extended side-angel pose).
Offering a couple of options to yogis and allowing them to try both enhances the mind, body relationship. Too many options may overwhelm your students, but a one-size fits all mentality will do this also. Find the middle ground, make your class accessible to everyone and everyBODY.