Be Clear & Cautious with Yoga Terminology: Wise Word Choice

Some teachers use a lot of anatomy-focused cues. Some use a lot of poetic or metaphorical language. There is value in every combination of such techniques and your personal approach will draw students who resonate with your teaching. We offer the Asana Digests to help you expand your teaching in all directions.

But while there are beautiful benefits to all the different approaches, there are also some cautions. Being thoughtful in how you use yoga terminology will help beginners to understand and retain what is being taught, and to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Here are some considerations.

Be Mindful of Yoga-Speak

  • Be mindful of everything from “hug the muscles to the bone” to “puff the kidneys.”
  • While lyrical phrasing and visual imagery can be extremely impactful, be mindfulness of your audience. (When teaching beginners, for example, we recommend avoiding or translating such language so as to avoid confusion.)
  • As appropriate, be prepared to add or substitute more literal instructions and/or demonstration of the action you’re looking for.

Explain Anatomical Terminology

  • Even such terms as “thoracic spine” or “femur” are outside the everyday vocabulary of most people.
  • We are not suggesting you avoid using anatomical terminology but rather that when you do, define and demonstrate your point.

Explain & Translate Sanskrit

  • Whether teachers use Sanskrit when teaching is a personal decision based on experience, lineage and style.
  • Utilizing Sanskrit is one way of conveying the history and lineage of yoga.
  • But when using Sanskrit, we invite you to examine your approach for any potential to be perceived as exclusionary or confusing. You might choose to give a very brief intro into Sanskrit and the reason you use it.
  • Immediately translate Sanskrit phrases into the student’s home language.

Use Caution with Energy-Oriented Terms

  • Be mindful of your audience when teaching about nadischakras and the energetic effects of various asana. (We recommend holding off on such teachings with beginners.)
  • Consider the potential of alienating students who have yet to have their own experience with the energy of poses. Until they have personal experience from which to explore such concepts, your speaking to such topics could perhaps be intriguing but it also might be confusing or create mistrust.
  • Even though we love chakra teachings, we have a pet peeve about teachers who speak of a chakra, for example, as if there’s a bright yellow lotus appearing to everyone who looks at or contemplates their solar plexus. See Chakras and Koshas for examples of approaches and terminology that can help teachers to consider inclusive and effective ways to introduce teachings to students of all backgrounds and belief systems.

Examples of Clarity

“Press your femurs—those are your thigh bones—toward the wall behind you.” “Resist your forearms toward each other. This is called ‘hugging to the midline’ because you’re resisting in toward the center of your body.” This puts everyone on the same page and no one feels left out or confused because they’re not hip to the yoga lingo. – Kat Heagberg