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Why Words Matter

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It’s not often that I make it to a yoga class and when I was recently in a yoga class, the teacher said, “root through your ‘sits bones,’ ” I cringed. I also cringe every time I hear “extend your arms overhead”. Why, you may ask? Your “sits bones” are called “ischial tuberosities” and it is anatomically impossible to “extend your arms overhead”. You can extend your elbows, flex your shoulders and you may also reach overhead, but you do NOT extend overhead, mmm’kay?

Yes, I am that person holding the grammar mug.

You know? This one:

grammar mug

I realize that I may be labelled as “particular” or narrow-minded, but my intentions are pure-ish. Hear me out:

I believe that as a community, yoga teachers have a wealth of intelligence and knowledge that is often discredited due to lack of formal, university based, dogmatic education.

Yoga has often been dismissed as a “new age”, “hippie”, and “artsy fartsy” type of movement practice. However, there is an increase in scientific-based evidence showing the benefits of yoga for overall health. If yoga wants to be recognized as a therapeutic movement modality that is supported by science, then the language needs to start reflecting this. This means correct anatomical terms and directions of movement need to start making appearances in the class room.

There is a culture that exists within the educational world that assumes that in order to reach an audience, we have to cater to the lowest common educational denominator in order to get the message across. However, something as innocuous as a medical information leaflet (i.e. How to prepare for your ultrasound), takes the opportunity to educate its audience by introducing new words and concepts.

Why must we as yoga teachers assume that our students will be unable to grasp this within the context of a yoga practice?

Note that given my day job as an Occupational Therapist, I have also fallen into the reverse trap of lapsing into “anatomese” while teaching an asana practice.

Anyone who has gone through yoga teacher training (regardless of lineage) will tell you that it was no walk in the park. Your teaching style should reflect that. It is an opportunity to show off your broad knowledge that goes beyond the “ down dog, chattarunga, up-dog” teaching-by-rote style. Own the scope of your knowledge and experience!

My teacher always told me that the cues you give your students need to land for them to be effective. Agreed. However, we also have this wonderful opportunity to educate our students in the hour between “hello, my name is…” and “see you next week…”

star wars body partAs educators we need to find a balance between cues that have become Pinterest memes – losing them in a maze of anatomical jargon and finding the sweet spot where your students are getting the most out of their time in your presence. This takes time, patience, practice, and an open mind.

The Yoga Tune Up® Integrated Embodied Anatomy course is an excellent starting point that will give you the tools to find your unique voice to go beyond instruction in order to become an educator.

I know that this post will no doubt generate some controversy, and my hope is that it triggers some thoughts about your own teaching habits about how your words represent who you are, both in and out of your teaching space.



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