Guiding yoga students
TIPS for guiding students from pose to pose
For many new teachers, instructing students to get from pose to pose can be the most challenging part of leading a class. The words we choose to describe the movements of the body are very important and require practice, patience and time.
Here are some tips to get you started:
OBSERVING AND BEING PRESENT
- Listen in yoga classes to the way other teachers describe moving from one pose to the other. Ask yourself if their description makes sense to you. If it does, use it. As new teachers there is nothing wrong with copying what we hear other teachers say.
- While practicing at home take extra time during transitions. Say the transitions out loud and follow your own instructions. You can also do an entire practice and speak out load as if you are teaching, and record it. Later, listen to the recording and take your own class. Instructions that aren’t clear will be easily heard. If you can’t follow your own instructions, likely nobody else can.
- Teaching a yoga class is not your time to practice yoga. Resist staying on your mat and doing yoga while teaching. As best as you can try to develop the skills to teach transitions with your words, only demonstrating when necessary.
- If you demonstrate a transition once students are in the pose you don’t need to stay in the pose yourself. Take the opportunity to look at them, walk around the students and make any verbal or physical cues based on what you see.
- Observe your students when you first start teaching and notice the success of your instructions. If half of your students are not in the pose that you were hoping for, then likely your instruction needs to be refined. Try again!
- Using poetic words can be a lovely addition to what can sometimes feel like very mechanical instructions, however stay true to the essence of the movement. For example “Jump or step your feet forward” can be replaced with “Float your feet forward’.
- It can be helpful to let the class know you are going to guide them out of one pose and into another. Saying things like “Take one more breath” or ‘Take a deep inhale and….” or “On your next exhale…” This gives students a moment to prepare transition and to connect with their breath and body if they have zoned out. Keep it positive, safe and clear. No mumbling. Resist saying things like: “You’re gonna do that” or ‘This is going to be tricky” or “I’m not sure you can do this’ or “Just put your hand somewhere over there” or “Most of you won’t know how to do this” or “I can’t do this pose myself but here it goes…” or “I’m not sure what we are going to do next’ or “Ok…ummm…we should move on here…ok..so…” or “You may not be warmed up to do this yet but…” or ‘Open your heart” (this is not a concise cue for a transition). Be clear with directions. Instruct without the preamble.
- Try to keep the instructions very simple and aim to get the students into the basic shape first before getting into the details of the pose. Aim to give 1-3 instructions with each breath cue. For example: Inhale and do this, this and this (more then three is overload), Exhale and do this, Inhale and do this and this.
- Try this! Exhale….Instruction + verb + body part + direction + final destination = Pose (or preparation for the pose). Inhale + lift your + arms + up over your head.
- Usually we instruct from the ground up, however sometimes it makes more sense to instruct the largest body part first. For example from Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 it makes more sense to instruct the torso before the feet (Inhale and turn your torso to the side or turn your hips and shoulders to the side wall, Exhale line up your front heel with the back heel (or arch, depending on which alignment cues you are using) and bend the knee over the ankle.
- Use the active voice as much as possible. Use words like step, plant, place, put, lower, raise, open, pivot, turn, twist, lift, move, close, hold, clasp…
- Be precise with your language and direct students with accuracy about the shape you want them to be in. Things like… ‘move a bit over here’ or ‘sort of put your hand over there’ or ‘bring your torso kind of this way’ are too vague.
- Try not to rely on the name of the pose as a way of guiding students from one pose to the next, especially when introducing it for the first time in a class. Unless it’s a level 2 class with students that you know, always assume that there are new students and telling students to come into Child’s Pose or Tree Pose won’t work. For example, from hands and knees pose (perhaps after some Cat/Cow) say:
Slide your hands forward about 10 cm (or take the knees back about 10cm)
Inhale and curl your toes under and lift your hips high
Exhale take the hips up and back, lengthen through the spine and lower the heels towards the ground. Then you can say “This pose is called Downward Facing Dog”.
- If demonstrating transitions be sure everyone can see you. Move to the side or back of the room depending on where all your students are facing. Depending on the transition sometimes you may have your back to students, and other times you can face them. If you are facing them, consider if you want to mirror the movements (in other words you are doing the opposite to what you are saying so that you go in the same direction as them). If you mirror, let your students know.
- Whenever possible while teaching transitions build in variations and modifications. For example from Downward Dog to Revolved Extended Triangle:
Inhale and lift the left leg up
Exhale and step the left foot between the hands and lower the back knee to the floor
Inhale and raise the torso and place the hands in prayer position in front of the heart
Exhale and twist over the left leg and place the right elbow or shoulder outside the left knee.
Now you can suspend the breath instruction and offer variations. For example you can say: ‘If you are steady consider lifting the back knee off the floor and extending the leg” or “Try lowering the right hand to the floor” or “If part of practice includes binding, go ahead and do this now”.
15. When you have completed the transition and the students are in the basic shape of the pose, you can drop the breath instruction and move into other cues, alignment, modifications.
16. Be sure to make logical transitions. For example Utkatasana (chair) to Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Bend) is not a logical, smooth or pleasant transition whereas Virabhradrasana 2 (Warrior 2) to Trikonasana (Triangle) is.
The space between poses is extremely important. It is here where injury can happen which means we need to be very clear with our instructions. It is here that our sequencing comes alive, and our use of language is paramount. It is here that we instruct with breath, especially in the Standing poses. Students are listening to every word we say because they don’t know what pose comes next, and they trust us to take them safely and intelligently into them. It is here that the student’s mind often wanders and requires the guidance of the teacher to stay focused. We instruct with the breath in a Vinyasa style class.
Here are some examples of transitions TO POSES with breath instruction. These are basic entrance instructions to help get students into the general shape of the pose. They are not intended to be memorized or used as scripts. Remember, the possibilities are endless. It’s important to find your own voice, which will come with practice.
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
To Virabhadrasana (Warrior) 1
Inhale and lift the right leg up high
Exhale step the foot forward beside the right hand and place the back foot at 10 o’clock (or 45 degrees, or flat)
Inhale and lift the torso and the arms
Exhale bend the right knee over the ankle and extend the arms up over the head
To Virabhradrasana (Warrior) 2
Inhale and step the left forward between the hands and lift the torso and arms up
Exhale turn the hips and shoulders towards the side wall and pivot the back foot to 90 degrees
To Anjaneyasana (Monkey lunge)
Inhale and lift the left leg up towards the sky
Exhale and step the left foot between the hands, bend the knee past the ankle and lower the back knee to the floor
Inhale and raise the torso and the arms up over the head
Exhale lower hips down toward the floor and forward
From Tadasana (Mountain)
To Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch)
Inhale place your hands on your hip and look forward
Exhale bend the knees slightly and step the right foot directly back about 3 ft (replace with ‘less than a meter ‘to keep to metric system?) and plant it at 2 o’clock. Ensure the hips stay facing forward
Inhale ground down through the feet, extend the spine and lift the arms to a T position
Exhale draw the arms together either by interlacing the elbows or taking prayer position facing downward or up.
Inhale lift the chest
Exhale fold forward keeping the spine long and the chest moving forward
To Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Inhale and lift the soul of the right foot to the inner line of the left leg, toes pointing down. Plant the foot firmly anywhere but on the knee
Exhale ground down through the left foot and bring your hands into prayer
Inhale square the hips and lift the hands up and over the head
To Virabhradrasana (Warrior) 3
Inhale place the hands on the hip
Exhale press down through the soul of the right foot step the left foot behind you a few inches to balance on the your toes
Inhale lift the back leg up and
Exhale hinge forward from the hips, lift the leg to hip height and bring the torso parallel to the floor
Inhale extend the arms to the side like an airplane or forward alongside the ears
To Natarajasana (Dancer)
Inhale bend the left knee and place the heel behind the buttocks as you take hold of the inside of the ankle with the left hand (if shoulders are tight, take hold of the outside)
Exhale hinge forward from the hips, extend the chest forward as you reach the left foot back behind you
Inhale extend the right arm forward and gaze towards the horizon line
From Trikonasana (Triangle) to Ardha Chandrasana(Half Moon)
Inhale lift the torso up and place your right hand on your right hip
Exhale drag your right leg closer to your left as you lower your left hand down to the floor or on a block. Place your hand underneath your left shoulder. Line up your left thumb with the left baby toe
Inhale and raise the back leg up off the floor to hip height and point your chest and hips towards the sidewall. Lift the right hip up, direct the right knee towards the sidewall and flex or point the right foot
Now you can suspend the breath instruction
From Virabhradrasana (Warrior) 2 to Trikonasana (Triangle)
Inhale straighten the right leg
Exhale and extend the torso laterally over the front leg and place your right hand on the shin and your left hand up towards the sky.
Inhale lengthen through the spine and lift the chest and gaze either at the floor, the wall or up towards the ceiling or your hand
Now you can suspend the breath instruction
From Dandasana (Staff) to Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Forward Bend)
Bend the right knee and place the soul of the foot towards the inner left groin and plant the foot to the thigh. Square the hips forward and ground down through the sitting bones
Inhale and lift the torso and extend the arms up to your head
Exhale reach forward with the chest and lower hands to the shin, ankle or foot.