How Yoga Teachers Can Create Positive Cues

The cues that you use when you teach a yoga class (or any movement class, for that matter) will make or break a class. Trust me, even when your students are super savvy on the craft of teaching and cuing, they can still feel a difference when they walk away from a class that was cued well. 

As yoga teachers, it’s our job to provide a safe and constructive experience for our students to effectively explore their own body, mind, and heart within the confines of our class. That means we want our students to walk away feeling capable and empowered, rather than discouraged or confused. 

Remember, you can still challenge your students regardless. Empowering the people who show up to class doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re coddled, or not pushed to their fullest potential. It simply means you’ve created a safe space for students to learn more about themselves and the yoga practice. 

Today’s post will cover all things on positive cueing to help you create more impactful classes simply through the power of your words. 

To learn how to cue as a yoga teacher, check out this post HERE

And to refine your existing cueing methods, check out this post HERE

How Yoga Teachers Can Create Positive Cues

How Yoga Teachers Can Create Positive Cues 

Positive cues in yoga classes can help your students to build confidence within the yoga practice. This is important to cultivate within your classes. Because confidence allows students to explore with a bit more trusting curiosity, which comes in handy when the shapes get challenging.

What Are Positive Cues

Positive cues are verbal directions given by the teacher within yoga classes. These particular types of cues tell you what to do, rather than telling you what not to do.

Cueing in a positive manner will use affirmative language, in an effort to empower students as they move and breathe throughout the class. 

A few examples:

“Place your back knee on the ground.”

“Lift your arms overhead.”

“Create space between your earlobes and tops of your shoulders for a long neck.”

Most cues that you hear are positive cues. Because most of the time the teacher is telling the student what they want them to do. However, once in a while, you’ll hear negative cues weave in throughout the sequence. And those are the cues that we want to do our best to avoid.

What Are Negative Cues

Negative cues are verbal directions given by the teacher in a yoga class that tell the student what they don’t want them to do. 

Oftentimes, these cues aren’t meant to sound or feel harsh, but they can feel that way on the receiving end. Once you’re attuned to recognizing the difference between positive and negative cueing, it’s likely you’ll feel that same harshness, too. 

I made the positive cue examples above into negative cues so that you can see the difference:

“Don’t lift your back knee.”

“Don’t keep your arms by your sides.”

“Stop lifting your shoulders up by your ears.”

Like I mentioned before, most cues that you hear through a yoga class are going to be positive cues. Because the teacher is usually telling you what they want you to do. However, negative cues tend to seep in as a knee jerk reaction to seeing a student do something other than what you want them to do. 

Why Yoga Teachers Should Avoid Negative Cues

  • Sounds harsh and negative.
  • Disempower students.
  • Make students feel wrong. 
  • Causes students to feel singled out.
  • Positive cues provide a faster solution. 

Look, negative cueing isn’t going to make you fail as a yoga teacher by any means. And, no matter how conscious you are of your words while you’re teaching, you’re still never going to be perfect. So, let’s just come to a place of acceptance first, shall we?

Okay, now that you know that these little slips are likely to still happen from time to time, we can work on minimizing the frequency that they do!

To work on your cueing even more, make sure to check out my online 100 hour course today.

Sounds Harsh And Negative

Of course the first reason we want to avoid negative cues is that they sound harsh and negative. I’m assuming you’d prefer your classes to feel encouraging, which means your language needs to match that same energy. 

Disempower Students

Like we talked about in the beginning, it’s our job as yoga teachers to make sure we provide a safe space for our students to explore themselves and the yoga practice. 

Safety must be holistic, in that we cannot only provide anatomically safe classes, but also classes that protect and support the mental and emotional health of our students, as well. 

Makes Students Feel Wrong

Think about how you feel when you’re with someone who’s constantly telling you: “don’t do this,” or “don’t do that.” It makes you feel like you just can’t get anything right!

As yoga teachers, it’s also our collective goal to spread the practice of yoga. Which means we want students to come back to class. Chances are, if they felt wrong during the whole class, they won’t feel as inclined to return. 

Causes Students To Feel Singled Out 

There’s nothing worse than being singled out in a yoga class. Especially when you’re singled out because you’re clearly doing the pose incorrectly. That’s not to say that teachers shouldn’t help those who are lost or struggling in their classes, because it is important to support people through and through. 

However, there’s a line between support and singling people out. Oftentimes if there’s only one person who’s incorrectly aligned and your cues are continually speaking to them in a negative manner, then they feel singled out and even ashamed. 

Positive Cues Provide A Faster Solution

For all the yoga teachers out there who want practicality, rather than the touchy feely stuff I’ve been describing so far- then this reason is for you: positive cues provide a faster solution. 

Think about it, someone is likely to do what you tell them explicitly, rather than what you’re telling them not to do. Plus, sometimes other students hear the negative cue and accidentally DO the thing you DON’T want them to do, because they’re so used to following along directions of what you DO want them to do. 

All in all, positive cues are more efficient and effective when it comes to leading a group of any kind.

How To Make Negative Cues Into Positive Cues

Now that you have a firm understanding of the difference between positive cues and negative cues, we can work together to transform your negative cues into positive cues more seamlessly. 

Let’s look at a few examples that tend to come up often in classes. 

Swap “Don’t” For “Rather”

(Negative Cue) “Don’t pull your upper body over your legs.”

(Positive Cue) “Rather than pulling your upper body over your legs, focus on engaging the belly to fold deeper.”

Swapping out “don’t” for “rather” is a simple approach to avoiding negative cues. Remember, when you use rather, then you still need to give students a positive direction to go. 

It’s clear that you DON’T want them to pull their upper body over their legs, but it’s not yet clear how they can fold WITHOUT pulling. This means you need to be savvy enough with anatomy and alignment to understand how they can fold without pulling.

Learn more about anatomy and alignment with this book

Swap “Stop” For “Instead Of”

(Negative Cue) “Stop dumping into your low back in your backbend.”

(Positive Cue) “Instead of dumping into your low back as you backbend, try to keep your chest lifted high even as you tilt back to maintain a long spine.”

This is similar to the last example in that you’re swapping out the negative language “stop” for something more gentle with “instead of.” 

Just like last time, you need to remember to include the HOW TO direction so that students are not confused. In this case, I added the part about keeping the chest lifted to maintain a long spine, so that they could avoid the dumpy and crunchy feeling in the  low back feeling.

Use “The Tendency Is”

(Negative Cue) “Don’t let your front knee cave into the center.”

(Positive Cue) “The tendency is for the front knee to cave into center, try to fight that urge by pressing the weight to the outer edge of your front foot.”

I love this example, because it really normalizes the incorrect alignment at play, which helps the student to feel less singled out or wrong. Plus, it’s letting them know that this happens all the time, and that’s okay. 

Just like past examples, make sure you provide HOW TO directions in addition to making the negative language more positive. Otherwise, the students still won’t have a clear understanding of how to align correctly. 

How Yoga Teachers Can Create Positive Cues

Let me know what your favorite tip was from this post in the comments below!


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