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The Art of Verbal Communication

Learn five essential insights that will help you refine your language and connect with your students.

By Jason Crandell

3. Pretend you're working with a translator, and allow space between your instructions.

I've been fortunate to participate in several teacher trainings in Havana, Cuba. I speak only English, so I had the interesting and fairly rare experience of teaching with a translator. I learned very quickly that I couldn't ramble on, nor could I give cluttered and unclear instructions such as, "Well, OK, really, really try to extend through your leg if you can." Seriously—just try to translate that.

But to tell the truth, that is what your students are doing: They are translating your instructions. If your directions are clear and you provide enough space between each one, your students will be able to follow along. If, however, you give 15 instructions in a row with no breath or pause between, your students will be lost. Always provide time for your students to digest your words before blazing ahead.

4. Three is a magic number.

Don't tell your students everything you know about each pose. Some teachers, your author included, are tempted to fill every second of each class with instruction, precaution, lore, personal revelation, and more. After all, there are few moments when we have a captive audience for an hour and a half.

But this is yoga class, not a storytelling seminar, so don't overcrowd your students or compete with yourself. Stick to an average of three instructions per pose. This probably sounds like too few, but it's as many as your students are likely to handle. What's more, if these instructions are related to each other, richly descriptive, and relevant to the overall theme of the class, they will give your students plenty to work with while allowing them to have their own experience.

5. Use images and metaphors (preferably your own).

Teaching yoga is not like giving a PowerPoint presentation. Even when it's succinct, teaching should be full of lively insight, experience, and nuance; it's not just a bone-dry recitation of information. So use language that appeals to sensations and feelings as well as language that applies to reason. Surely you've had an Iyengar teacher command you to open "the eyes of your chest," or an Anusara teacher has invited you to "melt your heart." Taken at face value, these instructions are completely nonsensical. While practicing yoga, though, the words deeply inform your practice because they appeal directly to what you are experiencing in your body. They apply to your kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness; they may even touch you emotionally or awaken your sense of empathy.

The best images and metaphors are those that come from your own practice. It is easier to recycle the words of others, but there is no poetry in plagiarism, and teachers have a responsibility to do their own homework. Sure, we all assume our teacher's voice at times, but recognize that developing your language skills requires the same level of commitment, consistency, and compassion as deepening your backbends. Heartfelt, authentic, and fresh images will convey more meaning and instruction than overused clichés.

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Reader Comments

Anonymous

A very good approach of the subject!
And some of the tips are very usefull for me!

Om Shanti.

Sandy

Just bring yourself into the present moment......meditate before your class and "stay there" it comes naturally and the class will feeeeeel it! Teaching students to be present needs to come from a present voice.....
I like to think that teaching Yoga isnt a job but a sharing of your life (style)

Anonymous

As a new instructor I am learning the art of verbalizing what I have been practicing for many years... But I am struggling to find the right words/phrases that are descriptive and detailed as well as poetic enough to portray the essence of the pose. Is there a source you can suggest where I can read/watch to build up my "teaching language" to get me started?

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