Have you ever really thought about the effects of your physical cueing – in the long and in the short terms? Have you ever more deeply thought about why you place a hand on a hip here, or gently inch your fingers down a student’s spine there? The obvious answers to those questions are that we seek to teach our students, as well as deepen the experiences of their practices. We learned certain adjustment techniques in our teacher trainings, and others we observed our received in classes that we’ve taken. Maybe we read about others in Yoga Journal or learned about them in workshops.
I personally started to think more deeply about the purposes and effects of cueing, however, when I looked more closely at a few physical adjustments that I received in a few Vinyasa classes that I took. I realized that a few of these cues, I trust, helped me to align me for a safer and more beneficial posture. On the other hand, as I write this now I’m still not sure how nor why that was so. In that case, I think that I might have benefited from the cue in that moment – but I didn’t truly learn anything for the longer term. Yes, it’s true that our bodies learn things in ways that our minds aren’t consciously involved with. I also believe that helping a student momentarily experience a posture in a deeper, or a safer, way through a physical cue has much value in itself.
With mindfully pairing verbal cueing with our physical cueing, however, in many cases we can offer our students both; we can help them cultivate their practices in isolated moments in our classes, as well as learn about practice and their own bodies for the longer term. For instance, we can ask a student in a Runner’s Lunge (Anjaneyasana) to “plug in the thighbone of the front leg and bring forward the back leg’s hip” - while we simultaneously encourage him/her to draw back one hip and draw forward the other with light touch on each hip.
Then the student is more engaged in the process of making that change in the asana, and also more directly understanding what we are trying to help them to do. Another way to engage our students more in the change we’re looking to happen from our cueing is to ask them to move along with us, rather than moving to where we place them. For example, to energize the upward arm in a Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) we can place a flat palm right on the palm of the upward-reaching hand and ask them to push into us. After the cue, it’s also important to check in with how the student is receiving it. What’s the quality of breath? Do any areas of their body tighten, release, or deepen into the posture? Do they vocalize (sigh, grunt, et cetera), or even talk to you about what’s happened?
In ideal situations, students let us into their experiences in those ways. If not, we can always ask them how something feels or if something is all right for them. That’s particularly important if something in their bodies indicates that the physical adjustment doesn’t feel right for them. To sometimes complicate things, students might tell us that something feels okay to them – but their bodies tell us something different (whether because they don’t want to contradict us, or they’re not consciously realizing what their bodies show). All in all, the body doesn’t lie. There are ways to bring a student’s attention to such a contradiction that doesn’t accuse them of lying. We can say something like “I just ask because your spinal muscles tightened up, from what I could feel.” In a beneficial way, that could bring students’ attentions to how attuned, or not attuned, they are to their bodies’ experiences in their practices.
To go even further to educate our students with our physical cueing, there are short-and-sweet ways to explain to them the reasons for the physical actions we encourage with our cues. For example, after that gentle push against the upward palm in Trikonasana, we can tell them something to the effect of “That’ll help to bring your energy upwards, and help you feel more expansive. It’ll also deepen your side-body stretch, as well as align your spine more clearly out of your pelvis. All things we’re looking for in this posture.” The next time the student executes the posture, there’s more of a chance that he/she will more strongly extend energy up through that palm, and therein help them to achieve more of those effects. That could be on a conscious or unconscious level.
Regardless, by adding that extra bit of instruction about the posture, we’ve added another sensory layer of instruction that the student can encode into their memories – and then later beneficially call forward. It’s true that instructors juggle multiple tasks when teaching – cueing a student here, passing a prop to another there, all while guiding all students in the present/soon upcoming postures and flows. Every second in our classes can feel precious. If we don’t help our students to understand why we give them a physical adjustment, however, we’ve lost an opportunity to help them to truly learn.
That goes along with us as instructors having good reasons for why we cue students – or theme our classes in certain ways, or guide our students in certain prop usages. Whether it will help students to deepen the present practice, learn for the longer term, or (ideally) both, it all matters. Additionally, the more we practice those clear, concise, and quick ways to explain the reasons why we cue to our students, the better we’ll get at it. We grow with each class, adding up over time, just as our students do. It’s our practice, not our perfect. It does keep growing, however, with every cue – verbal and physical – that we give.
© Copyright 2016 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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