The best class you’ve even taken was well cued. Period.
It’s all about the words.
Teaching Yoga has little to nothing to do with your personal, physical execution of complicated shapes, and everything to do with the way you witness and describe other bodies working in them.
So how does a new teacher gain the skill it takes to teach and lead excellent, well cued classes? It’s all about presence, simplicity, and sensation, let’s break it down.
Here are four things to consider to cue an awesome class
1) Stability then mobility
Think about this as building on a foundation. If the cue for a shape starts from an unstable position in the body, the actions around that cue are going to be sloppy, uncomfortable and ineffective. Imagine being in a standing split position and being asked to move your stabilizing foot, not only is it not going to happen, the attempt is going to be jarring and confusing.
Start the course of the cue or transition from a stabilized aspect. For instance if you desire to move the class from high lunge (feet wide apart, one in front of the other, arms over head) to lizard (low lunge hands and back knee down) you’ll need to create a transition. The first point of stability in this scenario is the torso because the hops are balanced and even. Guiding the class to bring their hands to the ground, inside the lead foot, stabilizes the foundation of the shape, now we can approach lizard by using the hands to create steadiness as we move the lead foot further to the edge of the mat.
New teachers are eager, and often rush transitions from shape to shape, this is normal! As a teacher becomes more experienced, and with actionable feedback, hiccups like that can be avoided and help build confidence for new teachers. There is nothing more heart stopping as a young teacher than to see awkward movements ripple through the room due to a misplaced cue. Which leads to our next suggestion, pace.
2) Slower Is Better
Vinyasa is often sold as a break-neck paced, sweaty, almost chaotic set of movements, but that word means "to put in special place (or order)" not one breath one movement which it is so popularly said. Then if Vinyasa has this more nuanced meaning, we see that this practice isn't about pace at all, it's about the intention of movement, it's about transition.
A slower pace allows your students to actually breath and use the breath as a tool for their more mindful movements; after all, this is what all Hatha Yoga is about. The shapes we create in Yoga aren't happenstance, they are full of purpose and intention and that is how they should be met in order to rightly be called Yoga.
Slow doesn't mean boring or easy, not even close. You'll find as both a teacher and practitioner, that a steady cadence with intention and deep direction is intense, humbling, and ecstatic. A slower overall pace, leaves room though, for moments of up tempo movements, using a few guidelines, there's no reason to not incorporate a few opportunities for jumping, pulsing, and cruising. Have fun!
Moving steadily and slowly will allow you to formulate clear instructions. Giving classes timely, exacting cues is an art form; it takes time and experience to get really good at it, but it is a learnable skill, it's also something that evolves over time. As a teacher you will tune your ear in classes to listen for your colleague's style and for words that hit your body in a meaningful way and adopt or adapt them, this is part of the oral tradition.
The idea here is to be direct without being boring or cold, it's also not necessary to be too flowery with descriptions or analogies, simple is better. Simple cues are a point of accessibility for what might be an otherwise challenging class. Clear cues allow a practitioner to consider the movement potential within their own body. Excellent, clear cues are the first and most crucial step in sound adjustment skills as well.
Clear cues speak to generalized body parts, i.e. "front of the thigh vs. quadriceps," they also are clear with direction and sensation. Being exact with movement directives to get a class into position and then using more context to provide depth.
Excellent cues are a product of skillful witnessing, you have to be watching the class and responding to their needs in real time. In a typical class setting, in a typical year, this asks you to immerse yourself in the class space, being "in the mats" so to speak. Being among your students as they experience the physical . The best cues are born from the class of the minute, not from a well rehearsed, or didactic way. Remember, there are a lot of "right" ways to do things and that's subject to change based on the bodies before you.
Stay present for the experience of your practitioners and see their abilities blossom. There is nothing more satisfying as a teacher than to see the practitioners you guide, take steps into their ability, understanding, and strength.
Cues are the language of Hatha Yoga, they are the mode of communication between teacher and practitioner, they should be flexible, descriptive, timely, and thoughtful. Cues also evolve over time as we become more and more knowledgeable about the human body. Remain open to allowing the language of your Yoga to evolve and expand over time.
Beyond the impact of your words on the bodies of practitioners, consider too your tremendous opportunity to impact their mental and spiritual experience, what a great opportunity to touch lives positively!
Be authentic, have humor and humility and know that people show up to class for the experience you help them create and while you have a big responsibility, you're human too and the experience you have teaching should feel joyful, playful, and expressive for you. Stay close to yourself through the process of acquiring more words and watch yourself grow!
For more on all things Yoga, stay tuned for our upcoming video series on props!