To Cue or Not to Cue?

As yoga teachers we offer verbal cues to our students to guide them through practice.

As a teacher trainer I am often questioned as to why I do not provide prescriptive cues for the trainee to utilise in their classes.

I know that doing so would be part of a good business model! The larger trainings I know of in Australia and Asia offer set sequences and cues which teacher trainees can use to guide students through their yoga practice. Assessment of teaching then often comes down to how well these cues are delivered, to what extent the sequencing is followed and whether the cues are coming at the right moment in the sequence. As a trainer this is a simpler way to deliver teacher trainings and to try ensure, especially with larger groups, that the format being taught is followed. Yet, this practice of providing prescriptive cues and sequencing formats is changing yoga in a way I am not comfortable with. Often approaching training teachers in this way might result in a more Les Mills style of class in which content is delivered, but not experienced deeply.

Mostly, to be a genuine teacher I believe we need to be able to teach the person in front of us, from experience and guide people into the actual experience of yoga. When we offer prescriptive cues and sequencing all of a sudden, we create rules and ways in which to experience the practice of yoga which might suit some but will most certainly not be inclusive of all.

Cues can help us cultivate a space in which students either turn their attention outwards, to physical alignment and whether they are doing a posture or practice ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (as if there was one universal right or wrong expression of a posture!). Or cues can help our student’s turn their attention inwards to the felt experience of their practice, giving them the ownership to move in ways that feel right to them. This is more of an embodied way of practicing, one wherein we create the conditions for people to feel embodied and to use their practice to meet their needs on that day and time.

To teach in this way requires that we have an immense trust in ourselves and our ability to be present and true with our students. It means that we must have gone on a journey in our practice, over time and learnt what it means to embrace the space of being, rather than doing yoga. It means we are teaching in a way that is inclusive, and sequencing in a way that is open and has many possibilities. This is a context in which multiple variations of the asana being taught is welcomed.

To teach in this way means to utilise cues which encourage sensitivity and curiosity towards our experience. We can ask students how it feels and give them some options to adapt depending on their answer, or perhaps the student will find the answer themselves.

Therefore what we offer as teachers becomes a collaboration between student and teacher. We use cues to remind our students to breathe, to gently pay attention, to cultivate awareness. We trust that in most ways and times student’s will find the ways to move that their body needs, even if it is different to what we are offering exactly as a teacher at the front of the room. We relinquish the need to control exactly how a student expresses the posture.

Essentially we discover our own voice as a teacher and drop the need to rely on someone else’s prescriptive cuing. In doing so we can meet each student where they are and cultivate a space in which their journey is personal, intimate and about getting to know their own mind, body and heart and what is needed in each moment, or practice session.

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