The most common challenge our students claim to have is that they don’t know the right vocabulary or cues to effectively guide their students. They deal with the common misconception of believing it’s necessary to have a proficient level of English. So in this blog, I want to address 10 categories of yogic words you should know to teach with confidence and clarity.
How fluent do you really need to be?
Enga’s team are English language and yoga teachers, so of course we teach our students to speak English for yoga as perfectly as possible. Yet, we often see our students overthink their language use, vocabulary knowledge and, or trying to translate every word as precisely as can be. The problem with direct translation is that it loses meaning and it doesn’t always make sense as many words, phrases and terms simply have another association or connotation in the language you want to use it.
Direct translation is one of the first things we help you unlearn, but not the purpose of this blog. If you want to know more about translating effectively, check out our blog on Why it’s a bad idea to translate your scripts. With this blog however, I want to reassure you that your English doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ in order to teach yoga in English amazingly!
There are 527 million people who are native or bilingual speakers and use English as (one of) their first language(s). In return, there are 1.5 billion English learners like you, around the world. That is to say that there are way more English learners than people who have English as their first language. 973,000,000 more, to be exact. So, English is a global language spoken by so many different people that imperfection and variation is inevitable.
How many words do you need to know?
The Common European Framework of Reference for Language describes the type of tasks, performance, expectations and language skills needed for each level. They say that to pass an exam a beginner knows about 2,500 words, whereas an advanced to proficient speaker knows about 10,000 words.
But as a yoga teacher, your goal isn’t to pass a language exam. The language skills you need for teaching yoga are completely different and depend on the context of your services and your professional goals. Think of yoga for starting yogis, which often focusses on the body, anatomy, and alignment or yoga for mental health, which focuses more on emotional and mental fluctuations.
Instead of learning general classroom English, I therefore invite you to reflect on the type of services you offer and the language you truly need for it. Then focus your learning on the language you need for your specific field in yoga.
Passive vs active vocabulary
Before I dive into the 10 categories of yogic words you should know, I also want to point out the difference between passive and active vocabulary. Keen language learners learn new vocabulary every day. First, you learn to understand the word in context, recognise its spelling, and overtime, the more you read it or hear someone use it you start to understand the meaning and how it’s used in context. This is called passive vocabulary.
Passive vocabulary are all the words and expressions you see (read) and hear other people use. This includes the people around you, what you hear on TV, the internet, the radio, but also in films, lyrical music, and much more. In other words, passive vocabulary is produced by others but is subconsciously perceived and understood by you.
The words that belong to your passive vocabulary bank have the great potential to become active vocabulary. Active vocabulary are the words that you, next to understanding them, can also accurately use in your own speech or writing. These are the words that you’ve integrated in your communication and feel confident using.
Understanding this difference and embracing the fact that you don’t need to be able to use all the vocabulary you know actively, even less so if your purpose is learning English for teaching yoga.
Your teaching style
Remember I spoke about choosing the type of language and vocabulary you need for your specific field in yoga. This also refers to your style of teaching voice. If you’re a teacher that loves to speak about alignment, give detailed instructions and educate your students on anatomy, it may be clear that your language learning focusses on words to do with directions, movement, and the human body’s anatomy. But, if you’re more of a motivational speaker, spiritual leader or want to help your students with their body and mind connection, you’re more likely to focus on adjectives that describe the body, mind, characteristics and personalities, but also metaphors, phrasal verbs and quotes.
To find out what type of language you need or which of the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about you first need to become clear of your style of teaching voice. To do so, take this quiz so that you can make your language learning more personlised and effective.
The 10 categories of yogic words you should know
So, let’s have a look at the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about to teach with confidence and clarity.
1. Asana names in English
The language used in English yoga classes is universal. There are synonyms and other options, varying from teacher, place, country and continent, but generally speaking the asana names in English are the same or very similar. No matter how fluent you are, knowing the asana names is the very first thing that will help you teach a class more confidently. Even if you don’t know how to cue an asana, the name will give your students a great deal of information about what you expect them to do. If you don’t know them already, make learning the asana names your priority.
2. Language for movement
When teaching asana, you want to be able to guide our students from point A to point B. To do that, you need cues and instructions that are clear and easily understood. Especially if your classes are dynamic or fast-paced, you want to use as little words as possible, helping your students to move while listening to your guidance. Language for movement include verbs, prepositions, and nouns, adjectives that describe directions. You will use them to guide your sequences, communicate direction and position, and to describe alignment.
3. Body parts
The third category of the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about are body parts. First of all, general body parts. These are the common, everyday words that are used by most English speakers from a young age. They’re the general terms that refer to areas of the body. If you take a more anatomical or medical approach, it’s wise to also inform yourself on bones, joints, muscles, tissues, ligaments, tendons, and organs especially if you teach using the meridians.
4. Physical sensations
Dive deeper and learn vocabulary that describes physical sensations. Sensations are the things we feel in our body, but often find hard to describe. Some of them are pleasant, some not so enjoyable, or even irritating or painful. It’s especially necessary to know about physical sensations if you have people showing up to class with injuries or physical conditions or help your students explore their own bodies by making them aware of the possible physical sensations they could experience.
Adjectives are words that describe or say something about a person, the body, hair, skin, emotions, characteristics, personality and relationships. Appropriate use of adjectives is extremely beneficial if you want to speak about certain things in more detail. It can help your students to dive deeper into their practice and personal development by teaching them to take their practice off the mat.
Ethics relate to morals, values and principles that define a person’s thoughts, beliefs and behaviour. Learning vocabulary to do with ethics greatly helps you to teach your students about the philosophy and lifestyle of yoga, including the yamas and niyamas. Your ability to speak about them accurately introduces your students to something more than asana, which in return helps them to dive much deeper into their spirituality and or sense of self. Ethics don’t have a specific word sort and vary from nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and more.
7. The language for mindfulness
Next to ethics, mindful language opens up a whole new world. It’s obvious that you want your students to move, think, act, react and behave mindfully, but describing it without becoming too repetitive or feeling stuck using the exact words can be challenging without consciously learning language for mindfulness and leading meditation practices. This category includes idiomatic phrases, expressions, and metaphors.
One of the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about is equipment. Equipment in the field of yoga is another word for props and attributes. This category contains some objects commonly used in yogic practices. You might find that there are other words for the same thing, depending on the place or who you’re teaching. Especially if you want to ensure an accessible and inclusive learning environment, you’ll need these terms to increase your ability to accurately describe objects you come across in almost every yoga setting.
9. Outdated language
Speaking of accessibility and inclusivity, knowing which cues, words and terms are outdated and having accurate synonyms or alternatives is a must. Outdated languages are instructions that include words you no longer want to use because they’re inappropriate, not effective or not inclusive. It’s important to understand why some things are wrong so you don’t have to take the risk of offending or excluding someone or activating trauma or traumatic events.
Inclusivity and accessibility are a responsibility. They are constantly evolving and the point is that you stay up-to-date and informed about the most recent advice. For now, become more aware of the negative associations and connotations some words and cues have. They may not have a bad reputation for you right now, especially if you’ve no personal experience of these words, but we advise thinking about your word choice carefully, considering what they might mean to others.
10. The Business of Yoga
Finally, the 10th category of the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about is the business of yoga. Now that yoga is becoming more and more popular online, you’re more likely to be self-employed and in need to know a little bit about how to launch your business, grow your clientele, create offerings and sell them with success. The vocabulary of the business of yoga includes marketing, content, design, people, services, and money.
How do you learn the 10 categories of yogic words?
Now you may wonder; where do I start? How do I find the right resources? And how do I learn all this vocabulary?
Especially for this purpose, we’ve designed the Yoga Vocabulary Builder for multilingual yoga teachers that want to learn the right words, cues, and phrases to make themselves better understood and guide their students with confidence and clarity.
In the vocabulary builder you’ll be equipped with language that deals with all the 10 categories of yogic words you should know about, as well as video training to help you optimise your learning techniques, find out about your learning style, memorisation techniques and much more.
To know where to get started, I suggest that you first take the English Grammar and Yoga Vocabulary Test. Check which words and phrases you need to learn according to your style and teaching purposes and then invest in your language learning, according to your personal preference. Below find the links to help you get started: