The power of words: Part II

As a yoga teacher, I let loose lots of words in class. Nowhere else do I speak nonstop for more than an hour. While my instructions seem straightforward, however, what I say can cause inadvertent effects.

A student I’ll call Rose confided that she disliked the way I sometimes verbally correct students by name from afar. In my teaching, I try to give students as much individual attention as possible. I do this mostly up close. But if, while demonstrating a pose or navigating the room, I notice a student’s splayed feet or collapsed chest, I might say, “John, toes in,” or “Sue, lift your sternum.” It’s the quickest method to remind a student to pay attention—especially if we’re about to exit the pose and I can’t reach my target in time.

Rose noted that she welcomed close-up adjustments but felt singled out, on the hot seat, if corrected out loud. This surprised me because such public corrections have never bothered me. In Iyengar yoga, corrections are inherent in the teaching. Hearing my name jolts me awake—and knowing that my teacher is watching me is both challenging and comforting. But others might react differently—and that’s legitimate, too. Some students respond to prodding while others need a gentler touch, manually and verbally.

Image: Edna Krabappel, The Times Leader

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7 thoughts on “The power of words: Part II

  1. instead of saying someone’s name in class, i say what i would say directly to them to the entire class. that way, everyone can benefit from the hint. if one person is doing something, it’s likely someone else is, too.

  2. Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
    Watch your words, for they become actions.
    Watch your actions, for they become habits.
    Watch your habits, for they become character.
    Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

    I like your tip Emma. Especially because I believe only you can teach yourself yoga. The teacher is there to guide you only as much as you are capable of absorbing. Even the slightest pressure beyond that would result in pain, shame, loss of focus etc.
    Had I been a yoga teacher, if in doubt I would keep quiet rather than say something I might regret. The practice by itself can go a long way… No need for words usually.
    Also, occasionally I would suffer from my teacher over-explaining as it sometime seems to arise from her will for the class to succeed rather than letting each one deal by themselves.
    I can easily imagine teachers’ ambition (=ego) becoming words, becoming action etc.
    So to make a long story short – Yoga teachers of the world, let go! 🙂

  3. When done with love and care, I so much appreciate corrections — including the across-the-room-by-name kind. Sometimes I space out in class, and the correction is the jolt I need to refocus. Or often I am trying my very best and need my teacher to take me where I need to go… In the beginning, it can be enough — more than — just to be in the poses. For me, to advance my practice I rely on my teachers’ guidance.

  4. Emma’s suggestion is a useful one, but coming from an Iyengar background, I also appreciate the value of personal correction whether it be physical or verbal. I often provide a general correction to the whole class and inevitably some people over-correct and the 1 or 2 people who really needed to turn their feet in more just don’t have the awareness available to them and don’t do it at all or don’t do it enough. Those gentle verbal nudges into clearer alignment are needed and I feel it’s my obligation and responsibility as a teacher to provide them within reason (maybe this is just an Iyengar thing?). For beginning students, I work on getting them familiar with the shape of the pose with safe alignment for all their joints; and I share the ‘why’ of alignment points so they understand I’m not picking on them, I’m just helping them keep their joints healthy. And I choose my focus for the class so as not to add confusion or overwhelm them with too much detail.(ie: If I’m focusing on the legs/hips, I won’t correct a chest that’s not as lifted as it could be, instead I’ll make sure that straying bent knee in Virabhadrasana 2 is brought directly over the ankle) For more advanced students, I get into more detail about all those internal actions that help them develop greater clarity in the poses; they are prepared to handle a broader scope of information.
    Keep up the good work Yoga Spy!

  5. I’m one of the people who appreciates the “personalized call to action” in a yoga class – not only does it bring me back to the present, but it gives me the sense the instructor is also present and attending to me as her/his student. Guess we all have different learning styles.

  6. I tend to give students personal correction when I can i.e. I’m not too far away. But if I am, i go with what Emma does, I send it out as a general comment to the room, and that usually works. Plus it gives me the chance to mention a cue or a correction that the other students might learn from. I feel like a broken record sometimes though, because I’m always calling out for students to breathe 🙂

  7. Nice post and nice discussion I tend to fall in the same camp as kat and Allison, but totally agree, as teachers, it’s important to be sensitive to students’ different learning styles and completely legitimate varying preferences. And, it’s also okay to have your own teaching style and preferences. One person will welcome personal attention while another will find it intrusive; one student will appreciate a hands-off approach while the one next to them will feel neglected by it. Ultimately the students who appreciate/resonate with your style will connect with and stay with you, and the ones who don’t, who need something different, will find the right teachers for them.

    Really well-articulated thoughts from everyone here. And, I don’t think a reminder to breathe is ever misplaced… usually, those students who then note that they are indeed connected to their breath will welcome a moment of validation!

    YogaSpy, thanks for visiting and commenting on my new blog. I’ve added a practice sequence you might enjoy — it’s intended as a homecoming practice after traveling. Please let me know how you find it if you try it out.

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