March 5, 2011

The Language of Teaching Yoga. ~ Michelle Myhre

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

Clarity in communication takes your listeners/students where you want them to go with minimal distraction. Yoga teachers especially want to be understood, to inspire, and elate the people we are blessed to work with.

Lately, I’ve been exploring podcasting my yoga sequences and have noticed I use a number of filler words. Doh! Filler words are our verbal blind spots. In yoga, we call our patterns “samskara”, so you could say our filler words are verbal samskara.

Common verbal samskara yoga teachers use while leading classes include: go ahead, we’re gonna, and now, try, uh, um, nice, good, great, beautiful! don’t….

We each have unique language patterns that our students may be more cognizant of than we are!

Another word many yoga teachers use with alarming frequency is “down”: “Shoulders down the back, put the knee down, press down into the earth…” Downward facing dog gets an all clear, although adho mukha svanasana is a stronger way to convey the pose.

Roget’s Thesaurus has this to say on the word down:

Photo: Lululemon Athletica



1 I’m feeling a bit down: depressed, sad, unhappy, melancholy, miserable, wretched, sorrowful, gloomy, dejected, downhearted, despondent, dispirited, low; informal blue, down in the dumps, down in/at the mouth. ANTONYMS: elated.

2 the computer is down: not working, inoperative, malfunctioning, out of order, broken; not in service, out of action, out of commission; informal conked out, bust, busted, (gone) kaput, on the fritz, on the blink. ANTONYMS: working.


1 antiaircraft missiles downed the fighter jet: knock down/over, knock to the ground, bring down, topple; informal deck, floor, flatten.

2 he downed his beer: drink (up/down), gulp (down), guzzle, quaff, drain, chugalug, slug, finish off; informal knock back, put away, scarf (down/up).


1 the ups and downs of running a business: setbacks, upsets, reverses, reversals, mishaps, vicissitudes; informal glitches.


be down on—informal

why do you have to be down on your parents all the time? disapprove of, be against, feel antagonism to, be hostile to, feel ill will toward; informal have it in for.

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

Is “down” a seed we want to plant in our students minds? Is “down” a samskara we want in our own heads? Is “down” confident? Is it uplifted, high, vitalized, soaring, and joyful? The ubiquitous “down” needs an overhaul.

An excellent tool for yoga teachers is to develop a language of yoga, even better, use language that buttresses the theme you’ve created for your class. As we edit out our verbal blind spots, we can write a list of alternative words and phrases to express body cues and movements.

This conscious languaging has an energetic resonance that students will feel.

Another “downer” is “don’t”. “Don’t lift your shoulders… Don’t bend your knee.”

“Don’t think about a pink elephant!” Pure Yoga instructor and singer Amy Loftus teased as we explored languaging.

What picture just popped into your head? The phrase “Don’t allow yourself to be distracted” is, well, distracting.

Our new and improved languaging may also become verbal samskara when they’re over-used. Apparently verbal samskara are like Medusa’s snake hair-do. You cut one snake dread-lock off and two more immediately grow in it’s place. This is okay.

Language awareness is a mindfulness practice. Our inner listening creates clarity from the inside out. It’s better for the brain than a crossword puzzle.

When we speak with mindfulness, we choose our words specifically. What we say aligns itself with what we wish to convey with greater precision.

Say to yourself:
“Push your hand down into the earth.”

Now say:
“Stretch your hand into the earth.”

Photo: Carolyn Coles

“Pull your shoulders down the back.”

Now say:
“Pull your shoulders away from your ears.”

“Put the knee down.”

Now say:
“Put the knee on the floor.”

“Press your foot down into the earth…”

Now say:
“Press your foot firmly into the earth.”

Did you feel an energetic difference with each set of instructions?

An additional little poison bullet many of us use is the word ‘again.’ Pure Yoga Trainer Allison English of Equinox Chicago says, “Hearing the word ‘again’ tires out your brain and your students will zone-out.”

Another word for “again” is “repeatedly”. In yoga class, when we are in the midst of a challenging sequence and our brains hear the word “again”, where does that take us? Where does “again” begin?

Perhaps what we mean to say rather than “again” is “We’re going to practice that same posture one time on the opposite side of our body”?

Is all that necessary? How about “left side”? It brings us to the same place but so much faster, physically and mentally. In any case, “again” is a filler word. I’m letting it go.

Our languaging is a powerful tool. When we edit out the places we go into auto-pilot, we are stepping into new territory with presence and authenticity. Your students might not know exactly why they’re listening more closely to you, but they will definitely appreciate the shift.


Michelle Myhre, ERYT 500. Michelle teaches joyful vinyasa, yin & hatha private and public yoga classes on the California Peninsula. Please join her and Keith Ericson April—June 2011, for a 200 hour PURE Yoga teacher training in Palo Alto.

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