Consider How Much to Say & When: Wise Word Choice

Balance the Amount of Instruction

  • Teachers are typically advised to make a few concise points and avoid overwhelming students with too much teaching.
  • At the same time, simply naming a pose or mindlessly stating a few basic cues is a missed opportunity.
  • Consider if you might be too wordy, or if you are on the other end of the spectrum—not instructive enough.

How much do you choose to explain to students about the philosophy, theory and/or benefits of a practice vs quietly inspiring them to experience it for themselves? As with everything else related to the art of teaching, there is certainly not one, right way. Different teachers are excellent at teaching on different ends of this spectrum and for many, we tend to believe a balance of these techniques is effective. Here are some considerations:

Consider your style

Be sure you’re conscious of your own skill and comfort with teaching philosophy, theory, benefits, etc. Is it natural for you to be more explanatory or less? What are the benefits of your natural style? And what are its weaknesses? What type of student will be most responsive to this style? What type of student will be least responsive or comfortable? How would you like to experiment with increasing or decreasing your explanatory teachings?

Keep students engaged

You might avoid agitation in some students if you give wordier teachings while they are engaged in a simple repetitive movement, holding a simple stretch or some other practice. This is in contrast to having them “do nothing” other than sit and look at you while you explain.

Keep wording tight

Of course, our task as teachers is to give descriptions that are compelling while also avoiding unnecessary words.

Explain in “left brain moments”

Plan to give educational, wordy, “left-brain” information at appropriate times. Avoid giving such teachings during long holds, restorative postures or other times that students are going deep into their practice. At these times, consider more silence and words that are more in-the-moment, sensory-oriented, rhythmic or meditative.

Honor personal experience. Avoid dictating an experience as the correct one. For instance, consider this:

This technique calms the mind and awakens third-eye capabilities such as intuition.

How much room does this statement give for varying personal experience? And might it refer to concepts that some students may be guarded against? We invite you to find words that resonate for you and that teach while leaving room for personal experience.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t describe the purpose for what you’re about to teach in a general way. We think that explaining uses/purposes of yoga tools potentially increases students’ awareness of their personal experience and makes it more likely they will use the techniques outside of class to receive its benefits. But the line we’re trying to highlight is between purpose/use and room for individual experience.

Perhaps something like this:

Here’s a practice that you may find calms your mind. Some people report this deepening their sense of intuition and perception. Your experience may be different. I invite you to try it and see.

Tactic: Visualize What You Are Saying

If you visualize what you are saying as you say it, the intention of your words will be present in your pronunciation and inflection. This can help your students conjure the action or the image you are describing. Can you, for instance, make verbs like “drape,” “pour,” and “sprawl,” or adjectives like “heavy” and “light,” sound like what they mean? Speak to individuals (rather than to an undifferentiated mass of bodies), and you’ll find yourself speaking more conversationally… Every now and then, allow yourself a low-in-the-belly sigh to release tension from your chest and throat. When you do it, it invites students to do the same. – Amber Burke