Why Even Common Cues Can be a Problem: Choosing Cues

Many verbal cues in asana teaching are used widely by many teachers and in many situations.

Occasionally, such a cue turns out to be misunderstood or it simply doesn’t widely apply. But most of the time, there are good reasons that a cue comes to be used often.

Still, even with good, solid cues that work much of the time, they won’t always be applicable or optimal for all students at all times:

  • Individual bodies (not just outer body shapes, but skeletal structures) are different from each other.
  • Since the purpose of practicing asana is not to look a certain way in a pose but to promote health and well-being, then the optimal way to practice asanas will naturally vary among individuals.
  • As such, some instructions that are useful with one student are not effective or appropriate for another.
  • See more in Defining & Teaching Alignment.

However, even if you understand and honor this truth that bodies are different, it can be challenging to put this into practice—especially in a group class. Thus, we bring you this section on Alignment & Cueing to help you develop more expertise in deciding when and how to use various alignment cueing options.

Following is an example of a cue that can be very useful in some cases with some students, but also may be over-applied or mis-applied. Consider, for example, how students of different experience levels may apply the following cue in Warrior 2 vs. Warrior 1 pose.

“Move shoulder blades down your back”

In the article quoted below, Amber Burke explains how the cue, “Move your shoulder blades down your back” contributed to her shoulder issues. She notes that (as explained by a physical therapist here), when the upper arms are lifted higher than the shoulders, then the shoulder blades naturally elevate and upwardly rotate. When not allowed to do this, the shoulder joint gets pinched, and the front ribs must either thrust forward or the arms widen into a “V” shape.

Shrug Your Shoulder Blades Up Your Back

Allowing my shoulder blades to scoot up my back has been therapeutic for my left shoulder, which was often prone to minor injury (in part because of the enthusiasm with which I’d been shoving my shoulder blades down my back for years). Now I encourage my students to shrug their shoulder blades up their backs when their arms lift—and if that action crunches their neck, I enjoin them to lift up more through the crown of the head, while keeping the chin slightly tucked. – Amber Burke