The March 2007 issue of Yoga Journal's "My Yoga Mentor" newsletter included a link to an article by Jason Crandell on The Art of Verbal Communication. For yoga teachers and teacher trainees, it's a must read. But briefly, this is my overview of Crandell's tips to "help make your instructional language alive and effective."
- Provide landmarks when you give instructions.
Dolly has also told us this in training, and she uses it in every class. It's easier, especially when facing students, to cue them to "face the windows" or "pivot to face the mirrors." Of course, if all four walls look alike, this doesn't help—so in setting up your own studio, I suppose ensuring that there is something unique about each studio wall would be an important consideration.
- Learn your students' names—and use them.
Using names keeps students engaged and in the present, and allows you to direct your instruction to a particular person, which is helpful when you are circulating amongst students in a large class.
- Pretend you're working with a translator, and allow space between your instructions.
As students, we can all appreciate this. Give students a chance to process your instructions and move before giving the next cue. I hate it when I'm flowing through Sun Salutations and the teacher runs through so quickly each asana is barely accomplished, and with little integrity. Even in power classes, there can be a pause between cues and still keep a very demanding pace.
- Three is a magic number.
An average of three instructions per pose gives students just enough direction. It keeps you from over-describing a posture, which can be confusing, and is a good rule of thumb if you tend to be chatty. Students need some silence to be able to focus on their breathing, alignment, and mental state. Yoga is often a real-world escape for some students, so ensure your class is an oasis of calm and resist the urge to talk the entire time you teach.
- Use images and metaphors (preferably your own).
When giving instructions or describing movement, try to use vivid and meaningful language that is your own. Using your own feelings and imagery to bring yoga to life for your students differentiates you as an instructor, and feels natural because you're communicating as you normally do. Your students will always appreciate your sincerity and authenticity.