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Yoga Vocabulary

Words can land so very differently with so many people and things will never be perfect for every single person in a space. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect yogi!

But what we yoga teachers say during a class can have a big impact. And over the past few years teaching and then learning from some amazing teachers how to slightly change my vocabulary while facilitating has opened my eyes (and ears!) so much and makes me more mindful about what I say.

I’ve shared before that one of the most important lessons I learned on my first teacher training was about making my first words of the day mindful. And I try to apply this when facilitating in a space.

I’ve narrowed down some buzz words that I have heard and may have used myself before, and some alternative offerings.

Using pronouns.

I’m starting with this as talking about like this is like ripping off a bandaid for me. I was pulled up on this by a student once and I was so embarrassed, shocked and humiliated that I burst into tears as soon as they left. I didn’t even notice I had used the word “ladies” in the class until they mentioned it. Usually, I like to keep things gender-neutral for a number of reasons but especially nowadays, not singling out anyone is an important thing to do.

Alternative offering: People, folks, everyone, yogis

Using “should”

I was re-watching a video of mine on YouTube recently and noticed that I had used the phrase “you should feel the stretch here” in a pose. I cringed as I listened and also reflected that this video was recorded fresh out of teacher training when everything was very new to me. It’s not my job as a yoga teacher to tell my students where or when they should be feeling something, but instead offer that in a way that’s supportive for them.

Alternative offering: could, maybe, might, perhaps

Using words that normally would describe food…

Unless you’re referencing Lizzo, I really don’t want to hear the word ‘juicy” in a yoga class. It’s a word that has always sat uncomfortably with me, because it describes something that I “should” be feeling. Often used in Yin classes when sitting in a deep hip opener, “juicy” makes me cringe a little and seems like a lazy description word tbh.

Same goes for any reference to “feeling that delicious stretch” – mindful not to place in the yogis mind what they should be feeling.

Alternative offering: Notice any sensations that you might feel (this I picked up from my wonderful teachers Jo and Mei Lai at Yoga For Humankind)

Using jump or float

I’m 6 foot and 80+ kilos – personally, I don’t float and jumping requires a heavy-duty sports bra.

Also, the thought of “jumping” in a yoga class seems a little off. I like the slower pace, the softness that comes with movement.

Jumping can place a lot of pressure on joints and cause injuries if not done with proper warm-up or practice, so that’s also something to be mindful of.

This is also relevant to any inversion of kicking up or floating up into a hand/headstand. Really inaccessible for a lot of people.

Alternative offering: Step or find your way back / forward on your mat

Using levels

I’ve heard many times, “if you can’t do this”, stick with level one. Not only is this limiting to those who are at all different abilities, but it also places poses on a hierarchy that only a peak pose, or the end goal is what’s important.

Offering options in a class is super important but mindful to stay true to yoga and remove the ego from the practice. And numbering is a bit icky when it comes to that level that may be uncomfortable for some people.

Alternative offering: There are a couple of options in this next sequence and a number of shapes you can take, examples are X, Y, Z…

 

These are just some of the vocabulary changes I’ve picked up on my own teaching over the years and are some ones that I make a real conscious effort to adapt to in my classes.