yogafire

Which Verbal Cues Do You Find Most Helpful?

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I recently had lunch with an old friend who just moved into my city. I was excited because very few of my friends practice yoga, and she went through a teacher training.  So we talked about how hard it can be for other people we know to get into yoga and not really understand the benefits we love about it.  We speculated one reason because some of the verbal cues said during class are cheesy or vague, and can be a huge turn off. But now that we've practiced more regularly and appreciate the subtleties, we can't really think of how else to say those same cues!  

 

For example, "be more comfortable with the uncomfortable".  How can a new person know what is good discomfort and bad discomfort? Of course everything is uncomfortable when it's new.  But, I find myself repeating that phrase to myself when I feel myself fatiguing or wanting to break out of a pose early.  I think during my first entire year of yoga classes, my lunges and warriors didn't go very low, and only when I was ready (and was prompted by my teachers) to take a longer and deeper stance, I started understanding the "uncomfortable" part!

 

Also, femmefatalekris's inspired me on sharing verbal cues:

 

i love when candace says "if it's in your practice, take a bind" because it reminds me that it's not a race and i can take my time to get certain variations into my practice

 

I realize not all cues work for people nor are they for everyone, but these cues have helped me recently engage the proper muscles are what I am focusing on now.  I'm hoping perhaps we can keep a running list, and edit our original posts to add new ones.  Since we can't get adjustments or assists online, maybe sharing verbal cues is the next best thing!

 

Not everyone will have the same weaknesses as mine, and different yoga styles may emphasize different alignment, but, here are some cues that have helped me most, and to also help remind me to keep doing them):

  1. Relaxing and remembering to breathe
    • Cue: Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth
    • Result: Prevents one from clenching teeth / jaw when holding a tough pose
  2. Downward Dog
    • Focus in Pose: engaging serratus anterior and / or "wrapping shoulders
    • Cue: Press elbows together while arms remain straight.
    • Result: When I get tired, my shoulder blades can "cave in", but this cue prevents me doing this.
  3. Lunges
    • Focus in Pose: Grounding / stabilizing stance, activating the feet 
    • Cue: Lift the toes and spread them
    • Result: Engages the muscles in my leg in a way that is not reliant on pressing the ball of my foot down. Bonus: Helps me relax and not clench my toes

What do you guys think? Are verbal cues too individual and specific to where you are in your practice to be useful to share? Or do you also get excited when you progress in your practice, and it was a verbal cue that helped open that path?  

 

I used to think progress was only achieving new poses or getting deeper in poses, but now I am realizing these subtle engagements of muscles I could never isolate before really help me on my path for more stabilization (I air on the side of hypermobility).

KristiSmithYoga likes this

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What a great idea, as a fairly new teacher I find myself searching for the right cue for the right student. I can't wait to see some cue suggestions here. While teaching, I try and run through 2-3 verbal cues for the same thing. Sometimes what works for one person (a visualization) doesn't work for those who are more anatomically inclined (like me). I might say "lift the heart" and also "expand the chest toward the ceiling". I try to keep a balance of those visualization cues and body specific cues so that everyone gets what they need. Cues are more often than not specific to an individual, it depends on their background and how they interpret them. There are a couple of cues that I find work in general, most of the time:

1. "Lengthen the midline of the body running from the top of the head down the spine through the floor". For the visualization I refer to "a beam of light shining from the crown to the root" (I may have made reference to a light saber at some point ). This works to bring that spine into alignment in both seated and most standing poses. It also works to "hug to the midline" in downdog (sort of the same cue about the elbows above), planks, Chaturanga, lunges and other balancing poses.

2. "Engage the fingers/toes" or "energize the hands/draw the toes toward you" helps to keep the muscles of the arms engaged (lessens the impact on shoulders/rotator cuff) and legs (protects the knee when the hip is in turnout, and while standing engaging the quads will keep you from locking out the knee).

I also remind everyone, including myself at the beginning of any practice, "honor your body where it is today, it may be different than where you were yesterday and it will be different from where you will be tomorrow". I think we, myself included, often forget what there is nothing our practice "should" look like. I agree, deepening your practice by finding those subtle muscles is way more rewarding!

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While teaching, I try and run through 2-3 verbal cues for the same thing. Sometimes what works for one person (a visualization) doesn't work for those who are more anatomically inclined (like me). I might say "lift the heart" and also "expand the chest toward the ceiling". I try to keep a balance of those visualization cues and body specific cues so that everyone gets what they need. 

 

Welcome! I'm honored your first post was here!

 

Thanks for explaining your rationale - perhaps that is why some cues just don't do it for me, but our practices are constantly evolving, so later on the cue may click later.

 

I think it's hard for me to visualize, so the cues that resonate most with me are specific actions in which I can feel the change.  But, after I get used to an action, such as "expanding my chest", then the cue "lift the heart" makes sense to me!

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This is a great topic - thanks, yogafire!

 

  • For down dog I like the cue "let shoulder blades melt down the back", as it's the visual that helps me
  • I am not a fan of cueing the breath into body the limbs because I think it's one of those eye-rolling cues for a lot of folks. Instead, I may say something like "bring your awareness to your toes"
  • I usually just remind students to unclench the jaw, but I like the tongue tip

Can't wait to see what others say. Also, ditto yogafire's quoting femmefatalekris comment about Candace's motto "if it's in your practice..." Can't get enough of that one.



yogafire, MrBalloonHands and KatieD like this

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I tend to prefer visualisations as opposed to more anatomically detailed descriptions, mostly because sometimes I get confused by the nomenclature and start wondering just where X muscle is and I get very distracted trying to locate X muscle, let alone trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do with it (how do you wrap your shoulders or engage your kneecaps? Inquiring minds want to know) By the time I think I've figured it out the teacher has moved into a different pose.

When it comes to online classes it doesn't help that English is not my native language - sometimes my vocabulary fails me. For that same reason I prefer it when teachers give both the Sanskrit and more common names of any given asanas - not as much room for confusion that way.

I used to get painful cramps on the soles of my feet while doing lunges - I have flat feet. It wasn't until I heard the instruction that your knee has to be above your ankle that the pose became more manageable. These days my feet hardly ever hurt. If they do, I'll switch any lunges for warrior II.

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Kristi - I agree with the eye-rolling cues, and really appreciate the "bring awareness" cue, especially since most of those times I was ignoring those areas!

 

I tend to prefer visualisations as opposed to more anatomically detailed descriptions, mostly because sometimes I get confused by the nomenclature and start wondering just where X muscle is and I get very distracted trying to locate X muscle, let alone trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do with it (how do you wrap your shoulders or engage your kneecaps? Inquiring minds want to know) By the time I think I've figured it out the teacher has moved into a different pose.

When it comes to online classes it doesn't help that English is not my native language - sometimes my vocabulary fails me. For that same reason I prefer it when teachers give both the Sanskrit and more common names of any given asanas - not as much room for confusion that way.

I used to get painful cramps on the soles of my feet while doing lunges - I have flat feet. It wasn't until I heard the instruction that your knee has to be above your ankle that the pose became more manageable. These days my feet hardly ever hurt. If they do, I'll switch any lunges for warrior II.

You bring up such good points, and now I understand why visualizations can be preferable for others.

 

I also didn't understand the same cues you mentioned when I first heard them - wrap the shoulders and engage or lift the knee caps, until I was given more specific body cues. They're actually the ones I wrote about as #2 and #3.  I think there are other ways to achieve the same (e.g. visualizations give us creative license on how to get there), but these two actions were very specific methodologies that worked for me.

 

This is such a coincidence that I'm reading your post today.  Last night I got a bad foot cramp for the first time in yoga, and it was during a lunge that was lifting while on top of the foot (a Forrest yoga variation).  We were cued to let out "lion breaths" during the pose, so I was able to breathe very loudly to get my foot to relax and stop cramping without making distracting sounds.  But now I think about it, I was so focused on trying to stabilize and push up that I think my front knee was no longer in line with my ankle.

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I think the short cues are good reminders but only after a person knows the poses really well. I have a few and maybe I can come back later, edit and add on when more come to me.

 

Breath

'Be generous with the breath.'

'Follow the breath' Literally means movement follows the breath and adjust the movement to keep the breath strong. 

I think this one was more of an intention at the start of class. This one is from a really long time ago. 'Practice with your heart (your breath) and the mind and movement will follow.'

 

Down dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana

I have heard so many instructions for this, turn the lower arms this way, and then that way, then the upper arms the opposite way, then do this and do that. How am I suppose to remember all that!!! 

'Press the finger knuckles into the mat and squeeze the finger knuckles toward center-line' For me this sets up all the correct muscles and correct alignment all the way from my hands to my hips. And never any sore hands from Vinyasa either.

 

Lotus - Padmasana, Hero - Virasana, Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana and others

'Be mindful of the knee' All these types of poses can damage the knee. Never any pain, pinching, or twisting in the knees. This rule should never ever be broken. Being careful with the knees is automatic with me now but I still remind myself regularly.

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I have added some from my French videos. They are very nice to follow and I think the translation is good. There is many more but I have trouble remembering them all when I am not practicing.
 
Breath
Bringing the inhalation and your exhalation to even
Bring the sound of the inhalation almost to the same sound as the exhalation
Always work with your breath 
 
Downdog
Keep the outer edges of your feet parallel
Extend the sitting bones to the ceiling
 
Forward folds with a flat back
Exhale with the spine long (to enter the pose)
Respect your flexibility choosing the option that lengthens your spine
Use the strength of your breath to extend forward
 
Utthita Trikonasana
Stack your shoulders over your shin
Do not lock out the knee (hyper extension of the knee) press the shin bone forward and lift the knee cap up for an active leg that is not hyper extended
The underside of the body (torso) lengthens
Extend from your sacrum to the crown of your head
Distribute your weight evenly between both legs
 
Garbha Pindasana
This one is really nice message for the back and it is said to be very good to reduce tummy fat. Just wrap your arms around your legs if you can’t do full or any lotus. Rolling around like this may seem silly but it is a pose with huge benefit, not silly at all. And you can't give up until you have made a full circle :)
Exhale roll down the right side of your spine inhale to roll up the left
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