The language of teaching yoga (asana) in English internationally is specific. It’s direct, physical and actionable. It could be anatomical, metaphorical or philosophical. Sometimes it’s seasonal, or just trendy. It changes and evolves every day, just like the asanas, styles of yoga and you as a teacher. The yoga industry is booming internationally and the way to reach people worldwide is teaching yoga in English. In this blog I’ll share a few tips that change everything! And will allow you, as an international or multilingual yoga teacher, teach yoga in English more effectively.
Why is our language important?
The way you speak, in many ways, isn’t the same as when you have a friendly conversation or speak at a social occasion. It’s not the same language you read in the paper or learn in a general language class.
If you’re here, you might be a multilingual yoga teacher. You may be living abroad and teaching people from a different background. Maybe your online community is international and you want to make yourself clear and understood by everyone. Or, this is where you want to be in the future.
Bringing attention to the language of yoga asana will help you teach with more confidence and accuracy. It’ll help you think less, and be more present in your classes. It’s a tool that will help you stop comparing yourself to other yogis and express your ideas and intentions clearly. And, tt helps you to teach yoga effectively.
What happens when communication goes wrong?
Do you remember your first yoga class? How much of what the teacher said was new to you? Was there anything the teacher said intimidating? And how did this make you feel?
My first classes were a disaster. I felt silly, insecure, stupid and misunderstood. I had a hard time understanding what was happening. We shouldn’t forget that there is a lot going on. You listen to cues, try to stay connected to your breath, stay present, move with ease and control, feel into the body, and sometimes more. If you know this feeling , you’re not alone: it’s a lot to process in a very short time.
After years of practising, I did my first teacher training and thought that, after that, I would have all figured it out: ‘I would practise and teach yoga as well as my teachers, and would never have to worry about all this again.’
I couldn’t have been more wrong. After I got certified, I thought I wasn’t ready at all. I didn’t feel prepared to teach and actually gave up on yoga completely for a good six months.
It’s normal to feel a little lost at the start of your teaching career. Or not to know where to start if you want to teach in another language. But, I don’t believe that you should feel that way!
What if you could teach yoga in English in a way that your students understood you much faster and you wouldn’t have to worry about simple cues and inclusive language? And, what if you actually could teach yoga effectively?
What is effective communication?
Communication is about sending and receiving. It’s about engaging with your student and using material that your students can relate to. Yoga can be spiritual, personal, or ‘simply’ physical, but you can only teach what you know; guide your students along the path you walked and are familiar with. Teach what you have experienced, studied, felt in your body and know how to explain in simple ways.
Teaching and communication is not about showing off how spiritually connected you are or listing facts to prove your knowledge. It’s being able to understand your students and simplify the language, structures or cues in a way that even a child would understand it.
‘’Effective communication is not about making yourself heard, it’s about making yourself understood.’’
3 Career-Changing Tips
Here are some techniques, tips and tricks that I really like to use myself as a yoga teacher but which have also helped my clients and other teachers that I know to teach more effectively and confidently.
1. Break-up with -ing
‘You’re going to come to the front of your mat’
‘You’re wanting to lift your arms a little higher’
‘Keep gazing in front, while pressing through the corners of your feet and staying connected to your breath’.
Many native speakers won’t believe you when you tell them that the second phrase is grammatically incorrect. State verbs like ‘want’ shouldn’t normally be used in the continuous form. So, you were right to be surprised when you saw McDonalds’ ‘I’m lovin’ it’. Because, yes, that’s wrong.
That aside, a lot of structures using “-ing” forms also need extra words like auxiliary verbs or prepositions. There are a lot of words and very little time to perform all the actions. If this is you, consider how you could rephrase and use short, more direct language.
‘Come to the front of your mat’
‘Lift your arms higher’
‘Look to the front, press through the four corners of your feet, connect to your breath’
You’ve lost nothing! But you’ve gained clarity and time. Think of the best wording and structuring of your instructions before class. There’s no need to spend longer on the instruction than they will on the action.
You can use this formula:
verb + pronoun + body part + direction = action.
lift + your + right hand + up
2. Be Mindful During Mindfulness Practices
In mindfulness practices, we often speak about hypothetical or conditional situations. An example which I heard recently was: “What would it be like if you were walking by the sea, your toes were touching the sand and you were feeling full of energy?”
This is a lovely idea but it is long and we need to remember that you do not want to spend time trying to prove your knowledge and turning the grammar of conditional structures into meaning. For example, in conditionals, we hear the past tense and have to decide if this is a past story or a present/future hypothesis. Whether you’re speaking or hearing it, this is another unnecessary barrier for you and your students. The more is said, the more we have to think.
Our language choice could be creating mental blocks that cause you and your students to focus on the language, not on the practice. So, be mindful of what’s being processed. To do this, you can stick to short and direct action verbs. Leave it open so people can use their own imaginations. For example:
“Imagine a beach. You sit down. What’s the temperature? Is there wind? You touch the sand. How does it feel?”
These are short sentences that are easier to remember, easy to digest and people understand sooner. Asking open questions limits our chances of causing confusion by saying something they don’t understand. And for you as a teacher, it stops you needing to write a full script or remember details.
Always opt for simplicity!
Even fluent and proficient speakers in your class can benefit from simplicity. We receive so many images and pieces of information these days, particularly on social media. So much so that we leave less and less time for entertaining ourselves creatively by imagining and inventing things (e.g. knitting or painting). Or we get bored the second we lose wifi connection. We are not used to imagining things anymore, so many of us struggle to do this in our practices. By minimising the information we hand to our students, we can train their ability to visualise and to imagine independently.
3. Pre-Teach Vocabulary
Pre-teaching is when a teacher starts the class by teaching concepts that they predict students will find challenging or aren’t familiar with. Pre-teaching gives you an opportunity to evaluate your students’ needs, helps you to plan your classes and avoids confusion, misunderstandings and miscommunication.
In most yoga teacher training, you learn to demonstrate and model new or more challenging asanas. You get the class in a circle around you or demonstrate from a place where everyone can see you. Taking the time to pre-teach vocabulary that you’re going to use and might repeat during the class is also useful for avoiding confusion and teaching effectively.
They can also be fun, relaxed activities that you can improvise with a bit at the start of the class and use to engage with your students individually. For example if your students are at a lower level of English and they don’t know what the body parts are, just sit down with them and go through them one by one. Or, if your students are at a higher level, you can gear it up and introduce advanced anatomy or ask for synonyms.
When planning what you’ll pre-teach, script your explanations or definitions. Sometimes we think we know what a word means because we understand it. But, when someone asks you for a definition, you can’t actually express it. There’s a difference between being familiar with a word and knowing exactly what it means. Choose the key words for each class to pre-teach and script all your definitions and examples.
Yoga has become very international and so you want to be able to connect to people globally. That means that you have to be able to communicate with diverse groups and unique individuals where you can’t always rely on having the same language skills. We can achieve effective communication despite language barriers by being conscious and deliberate about which language we use.
Use short instructions with simple, one-word verbs and action verbs for cues. When it comes to hypothesising and stimulating imagination, avoid conditional structures like ‘if you could…’ and ‘what if you were…?’ Replace these with a clear context and simple, open questions like ‘You’re in a forest. What can you smell?’
Be mindful of where your students are coming from at all stages of teaching – when you’re planning, creating and delivering. We want to give them the opportunity to spiritually or internally connect. So, we distract them if we’re using new words, complex structures and wordy descriptions. Sometimes we keep speaking because we are trying to impose on others what we know or experience, but that’s not a teacher’s job. Create an experience. Say less but say it better. And, dare to be quiet.
Do you want to know more about how to teach yoga in English effectively?
Continuing Education Membership
In the meantime, check out our Continuing Education Membership for multilingual yoga teachers. This membership offers professional and personal development for yoga teachers that want to start teaching worldwide; online or abroad. Develop your communication and teaching skills while obtaining continuing education hours with our live and recorded classes and teacher training sessions!