We push ourselves to learn and use more complex language as we improve our language skills. So unlearning the desire to complicate our grammar use as a way of displaying our own knowledge is a new challenge. However, as mentioned in our previous blog on mindful pronunciation, mindful language and uncomplicated grammar is necessary for multilingual yoga teachers too. It is really important if you want to create inclusive classes that are accessible to a variety of types of language skills and confidence levels. So, let’s have a look at what uncomplicated grammar in your English yoga classes means.
Generally speaking, the less we say the better. Especially when our students lack confidence. When a student or a class is quiet, however, we often try to compensate by talking a lot and trying to create a chatty and relaxed atmosphere. We do it out of empathy but actually, this can be overwhelming for them.
While finding a balance between creating a safe space for your students and keeping your classes simple, clear and centred on your students’ needs, here are a few bits of grammar that we can avoid and replace with uncomplicated grammar in your English yoga classes:
Examples of Complicated Grammar in Your English Yoga Classes
Example: ‘Keep gazing in front, while pressing through the corners of your feet and staying connected to your breath’.
These days, English speakers tend to overuse the -ing forms, such as using state verbs in the continuous form, which is incorrect. ‘I’m loving your photo’ is wrong! But let’s focus on the fact that a lot of structures using ‘-ing’ forms also need extra words like auxiliary verbs or prepositions. So, consider how you could rephrase and use short, more direct language. What’s wrong with: ‘Look to the front, press into your feet, connect to your breath’?
Example: ‘I reckon you would feel better if you didn’t look at your phone within the first hour of waking up.’
We often use conditionals to talk about imaginary or unreal situations. These conditionals depend on two clauses and normally a variety of tenses which are often counter-intuitive. For example, for a present or future imaginary situation we use the past tense! It may seem natural to you now, but put yourself in the shoes of a beginner. It can be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together at the moment of speaking.
We are in a yoga class, not a language class or a job interview. So find simpler alternatives! Instead, to add the idea of possible or hypothetical situations, you can:
- use the modal verbs ‘could/may/might + main verb’ to talk about possible situations in the present or future. Example: ‘You may feel better if you don’t look at your phone in the morning’.
- use the words ‘perhaps/maybe’ for example: ‘Perhaps journal more frequently.’
3. Indirect questions
We use them because they feel and sound more polite, but in a yoga class that isn’t really your objective; you aren’t asking someone for a favour. In the student-teacher relationship, there is already an expectation of a certain amount of instructional language and direct guidance. Look at these examples:
‘Could you please make sure you tell me about any injuries you have?’
‘Would you be able to tell me about any injuries you have, please?’
These are complex, wordy and unnecessary. Some students might not even recognise them as a question because they do not follow the normal structure that we learn at lower levels. These are perfectly clear and polite:
‘Do you have any injuries?’ (question)
‘Tell me about any injuries you have, please.’ (instruction)
Remember: it is about how you say something. Say everything with kindness: kindness doesn’t need complex grammar.
4. Open questions
Open questions are questions that do not have a simple yes/no answer, and the person answering needs to give the specific details. That means that we don’t put specific ideas into the question. For example, a good open question is:
‘Imagine a beach. What’s the temperature? How’s the weather? You touch the sand. How does it feel?’
These are short sentences that are easy to digest and people understand sooner. However, in a lot of yoga classes and guided mindfulness practices, the teacher or speaker provides all the details. We want to give a lot more than we need to. An example of what to avoid is:
‘Imagine you’re relaxing on your favourite beach, sitting down or lying down; what’s most comfortable for you? Is it hot? Is it warm? Or is it cool? Is it sunny? Is it windy? Is the sand soft or hard? Or are there pebbles?’
In the last example, there is too much to understand. It takes time to process all the information and also increases the probability of confusion. Avoid this by asking more open questions. They allow our students to imagine for themselves and go to a place they choose to be for their practice. And for you as a teacher, it stops you needing to think of or write and remember so many details.
5. Wishes and Regrets
Advanced and fluent English speakers often use the phrase ‘I wish’ or ‘if only’ to talk about things they want to change about the past or present. A common example of when we use this is when we talk about things we regret or things that have caused us difficulty. These often come up in yoga and mindfulness practices.
- ‘I wish I had started practising yoga when I was younger.’
Here, the speaker uses the positive form of the past perfect to describe something that did not happen, but that they want the opposite to be true (that it happened). If we use this structure, we expect our students to know we are saying something negative, when our verb is grammatically positive. Similarly, if it were negative, it would mean the reality was positive. Now consider this:
- ‘If only there were more hours in a day so I could do asana twice!’
Here, the speaker uses the past simple for a present situation that they want to be different. Now compare it to phrase 1 which refers to the past: ‘I wish I had started practising yoga when I was younger.’
The two past tenses might sound similar to your students; the only difference is that the first one uses the past perfect rather than the past simple. But only one has a past meaning! If we use these phrases, our students have to listen for precise details: which past tense you used, positive or negative, only to understand the key information of when this thing happened or if it happened at all!
There’s nothing wrong with saying:
- ‘I regret that I didn’t practise yoga when I was younger’ and
- ’I would love to have more hours in a day to do asana twice!’
It isn’t easy to simplify your language – that’s why we always find ‘native’ speakers in a foreign language so difficult to understand when we start learning. They don’t realise how difficult their words are because the better you know a language, the harder it is to notice the complexity of what you say.
These structures are often only really clear and natural to English learners when they reach upper-intermediate and more advanced levels of the language. So, find a simpler way to communicate wishes and regrets that uses uncomplicated grammar next time in your English yoga classes.
6. Phrasal verbs:
One of the most difficult things about learning the English language is phrasal verbs. They require a big learning journey because they are really common but also very difficult to translate to other languages; they often can’t be taken literally.
Also, the meaning can change from region to region and country to country. For example, ‘work out’, to me, means to solve something, like a problem or a maths equation. To others, especially those who know American English, it means to ‘do exercise’! Some phrasal verbs also have more than one meaning like ‘get up’ can mean ‘get out of bed’ or ‘to stand up’ after you’ve been sitting down.
As teachers, we need to accommodate these variations and the challenges they bring our students. i In your yoga classes, it helps to give little extra clues where possible. Compare:
- You’re all in forward fold (Uttanasana) when the teacher says: ‘Roll up slowly’.
‘Roll up’ can mean many things! It can mean your students might need to have a look at what you’re doing, wondering ‘should I roll up in a ball like a cat on my mat? Or long like the paper of a cigarette?’
Why might this be confusing? Well, if you search for ‘roll up’ in a good dictionary, you’ll find multiple uses:
- ‘Come and pay/buy [something]!’
- ‘Arrive’ (normally late)
- ‘Wrap around/fold on itself’ i.e. a cigarette paper
- ‘Come together/congregate’ i.e. a group of people gathering
You can’t know which of these contexts individual students have learned the verb ‘roll up’ in, if any. So instead, as a teacher, you can add the necessary context easily to clarify the meaning:
- ‘Roll up slowly; come up to stand; vertebra by vertebra, then shoulders, neck and head’.
Your students then know which kind of rolling up you meant and you won’t find them curled up on their mats like cats or rolling around like a cigarette.
Finding other uncomplicated grammar options in your English yoga classes can be difficult when it comes to phrasal verbs. They can be confusing but they are necessary. So, when we can’t find a less complicated alternative, we need to clarify. We can give our students little pieces of supporting context and clues.
Good language choice supports your students
Deciding on simpler alternatives to complex grammatical structures is a good idea when your objective is to teach yoga, not language! From –ing forms, conditionals, indirect questions and open questions, to wishes or regrets and phrasal verbs. These are just a few of the things we can bear in mind when planning or creating inclusive classes with mindful language and uncomplicated grammar as multilingual yoga teachers. Language, just as everything else in life, is constantly evolving. As yoga teachers it’s our responsibility to stay informed and meet our students where they are at. This goes for their yoga journey, but also their language learning journey. So, rather than making yourself heard in class, consider how you can simplify your language to make yourself understood.
Want to dive deeper into mindful language & uncomplicated grammar for multilingual yoga teachers? Register for our 10 tips for multilingual yoga teachers: video series here.
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