How to Tell Your Yoga Teacher Their Cues Don’t Work for You

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We’ve all been there: You’re midway through yoga class when the teacher offers a cue that doesn’t quite land. Whether the instruction feels confusingly complicated or anatomically impossible for your body, it can distract from, rather than enhance your practice. It can also cause you to feel overlooked. But how do you start a dialogue with your teacher about their cueing  that leaves you both feeling seen?

Why Yoga Cues Matter

At the most basic level, cues help you move safely from the beginning of class through Savasana, whether you’re practicing Warrior 2, Crow Pose, or Chaturanga.

But of course, moving through a yoga practice with safety in mind doesn’t look the same for everybody. “We know Iyengar’s poses were created with 12-year-old male athletes in mind. Most students are not that,” says yoga teacher Kelly Jensen. “They have bodies that come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and abilities. If you’re cueing to the 12-year-old boy, you’re missing who is actually in front of you.”

But good instruction in a yoga class tells us more than where to put our limbs. It encourages us to identify and manipulate the sensations in our bodies.

“Cues are important because they help students make the mind-body connection,” explains Jensen. “A good cue does not direct students to a particular feeling, experience, sensation, or expression of a pose. A cue grounds the student in their own experience.”

Yoga teacher Matthew Sanford adds that cues should also invite students to approach their bodies with curiosity. Sanford is the founder of Mind Body Solutions, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to transforming trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body.”

According to Sanford, “a good cue should not be delivered too forcefully or with disrespect. I always want my cues to create a sense of wonder and exploration. At the end of the day, what a teacher wants is for their students to make yoga their own,” he says.

But yoga teachers have the not-always-easy job of looking at an entire class of students and trying to offer cues that make sense for all the bodies that are present. “Here’s the thing: many of us fall into patterns with our cueing and do so because we’re repeating cues how we’ve been taught,” says Jensen. “But our responsibility as teachers is to look at those cues and our own habits and identify places where we might make improvements and create more inclusive spaces.”

The onus for great instruction ultimately lands on your teacher. But you shouldn’t be afraid to open up a dialogue after class if you don’t feel like your instructor is offering cues that are understandable, anatomically diverse, and inviting experimentation. The one way to ensure they understand you’re struggling is to say something.

(Photo: thirdman | Pexels)

5 Ways You Can Ask for Different Yoga Cues

Keep in mind, it’s a conversation and not necessarily a confrontation. Most teachers will appreciate you helping them better understand your needs.

1. Listen for a Conversation Starter

Yoga teachers commonly ask students to approach them after class with feedback or questions. Consider that your nice (but not necessary) invitation to initiate a conversation.

Katie Lynch of Healthy Happy Yoga always extends the following invitation in class. “I’ll be here for the next 10 minutes if you’d like to ask questions or give feedback about your experience. I truly value your input because it will help me to improve. You can also take my card and email me if you prefer.’”

2. Choose the Right Time to Have the Conversation

As with all important conversations, timing is everything. Choose a quiet moment to pull your teacher aside, either before or after class. If they’re talking with another student or leaving directly after class for another engagement, consider asking for their email or privately messaging them on social media.

You may be able to offer real-time feedback, depending on the studio you frequent as well as the style and size of the class. For example, students may feel at liberty to ask for a variation if stepping through isn’t an option, provided the class is small and the pace isn’t an intense vinyasa. So feel out the vibe and decide if that’s a respectful option. Keep in mind, your teacher’s answer may be concise during class. However, you can always follow up with them afterward for more detailed information and options.

3. Approach Your Teacher With Curiosity

Sanford recommends approaching your teacher and their response with curiosity. “Engaging the teacher in an open-ended discussion about finding what works for you, as opposed to saying, ‘That didn’t work, I was offended.’ can be useful,” says Sanford. After all, you’re interested in learning more about a practice you love.

It can help to have a sense of what you intend to say beforehand in case you feel rushed or a little anxious when asking your question. Yoga therapist Sarah Blunkosky recommends the following sample script that you can adapt as needed: “Hey! Thanks for class today, I found [fill in the blank] especially helpful. Can I ask you a question about cueing? I don’t think that the cue [fill in the blank] is landing well in my system. Could you offer another one for me to practice at home or in class?”

4. Continue the Conversation

Establishing a connection and conversation with your teacher means you can continue to learn from one another—your questions expand the teacher’s awareness and their responses enrich your practice.

Thanks to continued feedback from students, Jensen had a recent breakthrough in cueing Star Pose. Initially, she would tell classes to point their toes opposite from one another. “That would rarely lead to the shape I was hoping students would make,” she says. Through feedback from students she learned how she could cue it differently. “I realized it was far easier to say, ‘Point your toes toward the top corners of your mat.’ Voila!”

5. Honor Your Needs

If you continue to feel overlooked on your mat even after requesting advice or drawing your teacher’s awareness to the situation, it may be time to find another instructor or studio.

As you continue your search, don’t discount online yoga, particularly if you live in an area where yoga businesses are few and far between. “Look for studios and teacher bios that advocate inclusivity and talk about modifications and using props,” says Jensen. “Trust your instinct when you go to a class—that is one of the things yoga asks us to do. Choosing to keep looking for the right fit is part of the practice itself.”

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