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8 Principles of Clear Cuing For Yoga Teachers

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Clear cuing makes everything better!

Learn how to guide your Vinyasa students in the clearest way possible.

Great cuing makes it possible for your students to follow your guidance without feeling stressed or confused. Apply these cuing principles to make your instruction as understandable, liberating, and enjoyable as possible. 

Table of Contents

1 - Make command statements

Use imperative verbs to cue movements

Imperative verbs have been called “bossy verbs,” and that makes sense. You are in charge when you are leading a class, so speak like you’re in charge! As often as possible, use direct, clear, concise commanding statements like: 

  • Lift your arms above your head.
  • Gaze to the horizon.
  • Step your right foot between your hands. 
  • Wrap your right arm around your back.
For some teachers, this takes some getting used to. I promise though, you can still come across as a gentle, supportive person — even when you cue directly and commandingly. 
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Need SEQUENCING help? Click here to read.

2 - Cut out excess words

Concise cues are clear cues.

When possible, shave off extraneous words when you are cuing. This will help you to be as clear as possible, and it will help your students develop a practice of listening to your every cue very carefully. 

Consider these examples of excess language:

  • Then we can lift our arms above our heads…
  • You might want to gaze out onto the horizon.
  • Next we’re gonna step the right foot between our hands.
  •  And now you’re gonna wrap your right arm around your back.

Should we NEVER use extraneous words? Of course not! We’re human, and using relaxed, everyday language can make us relatable and accessible. The point here is to notice if you’re using excess wording repeatedly and to aim for conciseness most of the time. 

3 - Cue the breath early on (or first) for each transition into a pose

As a general rule, cue the inhale or exhale before the body part positioning.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule (thank goodness!). But, generally speaking, make a habit of cuing the inhale or exhale as early as possible when you are transitioning into an asana

It helps to remember that traditional Ashtanga Yoga is almost always taught with the breath cue first (and Vinyasa yoga wouldn’t be possible without Ashtanga).

Here’s an example of  Ashtanga teacher David Swenson’s cuing from standing into a Chair shape: 

  • Inhale as you bend your knees and raise both arms. Fill the lungs fully. Gaze at the thumbs.”

If you were to cue “bend your knees and raise both arms” first, then your students might be exhaling and therefore miss the opportunity to completely fill their lungs and fully express the expansiveness that Chair pose affords. 

Of course, in Vinyasa you have the option to slow things down and savor the breathing once you’re in a pose. That’s why this is a general rule and not an unbendable law of the Universe. 

Read about the goal of yoga here.

4 - After the breath, cue: body part + directional

This equation will make your instructions crystal clear for mixed-level classes.

Instead of saying something like, “Let’s come into Warrior 1,” make a habit of cuing the body parts into Warrior 1 so that even students who have no clue what Warrior 1 is will find themselves in Warrior 1. 

For example, if you’re in Downward Facing Dog and you want to move students into Warrior 1, you can say: 

  • “Exhale to place your right foot between the hands. Inhale to lift your chest and take your arms overhead into Warrior 1.” 

For advanced-level classes, it might be enough to simply name the pose (as in “Let’s come into Warrior 1”). But it will never hurt to direct the body positions exactly as you expect to see them. 

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Read about the 5 sheaths.

5 - If you're going to name the pose, do so after cuing body part position

Cue first, name later.

It’s helpful for our students to hear the English and Sanskrit names for poses! However, it’s important to cue the body part movement and spatial positioning before you name the pose (as a general rule). 

Consider this cue: 

  • “Exhale into Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana…” 

Like… Whaaa?

Your most diehard Mysore lovers miiiight know what to do with this cue, but the wide swathe of your students will not. Nor will many know what “Adho Mukha Svanasana” means even if it sounds second nature to you.

Avoid confusion and cue with clarity as your primary aim by placing the body parts first then naming the pose once you’ve arrived. 

6 - Embrace silence

Fall in love with the quiet moments.

Befriend silence as soon as you can. Since part of our role as yoga instructors is to direct students back themselves, we do well to give them plenty of space and quiet for inner exploration. 

It’s too easy to talk too much and consequently to distract our students from themselves! With this in mind, take opportunities for complete quiet (or for the therapeutic hum of collective Ujjayi breathing). With practice, you will discover many moments during class when silence really is the best possible cue. 

7 - Offer refinement cues but not too many!

Give alignment and energetic cues here and there, but don't overwhelm your crew.

Have you ever been in Downward Facing Dog and the teacher is going through an apparently comprehensive list of everything you should be keeping in mind?

  • Draw your shoulder blades apart
  • Hug your abdominal wall back
  • Press firmly into each finger
  • Envision your root chakra
  • Gaze between your knees or to your navel
  • Bring your ears in line with your arms…

And on and on!

It’s enough to make most students want to drop to their knees in surrender. 

So, while it’s an excellent idea to offer energetic and alignment-based cues once your students are holding a pose, don’t feel the need to drop the litany of all the refinements you know are possible. 

Instead, select a refinement cue or two, and let that be enough! Trust that the next time you teach this pose — whether that’s later in the class or next week — your vast knowledge of refinements will unfold like a painting being brought to life stroke by stroke. 

Study for your 200hr yoga teacher training certificate with Leigha in this once yearly online offering.

8 - Choose clarity over ego every time

Catch yourself when you're showing off your knowledge.

Look, it’s the human condition. We all do it! We want people to see just how much we know. Or perhaps we’re afraid that people will think we DON’T know what we’re talking about and so we compensate. 

When it rears its ugly head, the ego will do things like: 

  • Opt for Sanskrit when we know a body-part positioning cue would be more clear.
  • Offer 10 anatomical cues when just 1 or 2 would have done the trick.
  • Dress our cues in flowery language even when doing so compromises clarity. 
When you keep clarity as your primary aim and your students’ best interest at heart, your ego naturally slides out of the way, and your students are more likely to experience a mentally freeing yoga practice — exactly as intended!
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Yoga Sessions to Support Your Awakening

Remember: Clarity is the goal of yoga!

When we cue clearly, we give our students the best possible chance to experience the clarity of mind that is pointed to in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Happy cuing, friends. Let me know if you have any comments or questions below!

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Leigha Butler is a long-time yoga teacher and explorer of consciousness. Find her soulful sadhanas on YouTube and on her membership site, LBY

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