The Art of Effective Cuing – Part 2: Enhancing your cuing skills as a Yoga or Pilates Teacher

27th June 2024

In this continuation of our discussion on effective cuing, we’ll delve into more advanced strategies to enhance your teaching skills. Building on the basics of language use covered in part 1, I will explore the art of observing and responding to your students, refining your cues, and fostering a deeper mind-body connection. Let’s jump straight in …

Observing and responding in real-time

This really is one of the key aspects of enhanced cuing and is one of the most common pieces of feedback I share during practice teaches on our teacher training courses. This is where the ‘magic’ in the art of teaching lies and it will really help you to stand out as a teacher. The ability to observe your students and respond in real-time requires a keen eye and a deep understanding of body mechanics and movement patterns. It is crucial for working with clients on a 1:1 basis and is continuously evolving.

So what may we be looking for? Well, we can observe: the breath, posture, movement quality, activity, passivity, rigidity, flaccidity, neurogenic sounds, protective patterns, holding patterns, chronic tension and the ability for your student to focus (mind / body connection or disconnection)…
By paying close attention to how each student moves, you can provide more precise and effective guidance, and tying in with Part 1 of this blog series, it will help inform your choice of language.

Cue with clear intention and purpose

Following on from the above, observing and noticing how your students move informs your intention and purpose for each cue you use. It’s so important to understand why you are using a particular cue and how it benefits your students, rather than repeating a cue you’ve heard or read. This makes your language more concise, specific, and authentic. Cultivating a regular personal practice is an important part of growing as a teacher as it will help you to develop this clarity, allowing you to embody, understand and become more discerning with the cues you give.

Tailoring Cues to Individual Needs

Some cues are more ‘generic’ than others, however the same cue won’t necessarily work for all your students. It’s essential to tailor your instructions based on individual needs and physical conditions. Customising your cues helps address specific challenges and promotes a more inclusive practice environment. Remember that every ‘body’ is different!
Generic example: “Press into the 4 corners of your feet” is a grounding cue that will usually be effective for almost all class participants.
Specific example: “Send your ribs towards your hips” is effective for someone who is ‘rib flaring’, while “Lift your rib cage slightly” will free the diaphragm benefiting those over compressing around their rib cage (commonly associated with kyphosis).

Be mindful to avoid over cueing

Be mindful of your cue’s context and avoid over-cuing which can overwhelm students. Stronger cues may be necessary for those struggling to connect with their body or during specific joint actions like deep lumbar-spine flexion. However, I find that cues for neutral spine, pelvis, and shoulder girdle are the key ingredients to naturally enhance body connectivity and activity. Once neutral is established, the fibres can naturally organise themselves to provide the architecture the support it needs for stability with more holistic and integrative cues. Remember to balance your verbal instructions with moments of silence, allowing students to connect with their bodies and breath.

For example:
The cue “tuck your tailbone under” in yoga’s chair pose or Pilates’ Imprint (I actually refer to Imprint as Rib to Hip Connection) can be outdated. It may inadvertently exacerbate imbalances for those with a posterior pelvic tilt (often shortened glutes and hamstrings) and lead to overuse of glutes in those with anterior tilt, affecting diaphragm alignment and pelvic floor engagement.
Instead, focus on cues that promote more neutrality in the pelvis – the antidote to both the above instances. This can be done by cueing foot foundation, inner thighs, pelvic placement, rib cage placement, shoulder girdle and head and neck placement to engage deeper stabilising muscles throughout the body’s kinetic chain from foot to head.

Describe the How, Not Just the What

Using the example from the prevous point, instead of simply instructing students to “come into imprint” (which many may not be able to embody or understand) or “engage your pelvic floor,” provide clear descriptions of how to achieve these actions. Describing or explaining the how is crucial for effective cuing as it enhances students’ interception and embodiment, empowering them to execute movements more effectively.
How to come in into Imprint: “Move your middle fingers and thumbs slightly closer together as you exhale”.
How to engage your pelvic floor: Cues like “You may notice a natural ‘switching on’ in the depth of the bowl of your pelvis” and “Ground through the feet while reaching the crown of your head away from the bowl of your pelvis” (lengthening the spine and using opposite forces to increase activity).

Use a variety of cues

The aim is to empower your students and deepen the mind-body connection throughout your class. Incorporate embodiment cues that encourage students to discern between active and relaxed states in their core, pelvic floor, and other body parts. You can also encourage students to notice which parts of their body are active or holding and which are passive or releasing without. These practices help students develop self-awareness and promotes a well-functioning autonomic nervous system, enhancing resilience, balance, and overall health.
Additionally, employ a mix of physical, imagery, visual, and alignment-based cues to cater to different learning styles and stages of embodiment. Starting with more physical and visual cues can help beginners, while more experienced students may benefit from cues integrating imagery which encourages right-brain engagement, fostering focus, connection, and neural pathway development over time akin to Joseph Pilates’ approach. Repetition of cues and movements can also be very helpful.

Empower with positive reinforcement

In recent years, I’ve observed a shift towards a more supportive ‘wise councillor’ approach to cuing, departing from the outdated ‘strict school teacher’ style that may unintentionally undermine students. For example, start by introducing a foundational level of an exercise or asana that everyone can comfortably engage with, then offer options without judgement. Instead of presenting the full expression and suggesting limitations with phrases like ‘if you can’t do this’ or ‘if this isn’t available’, guide with affirming language such as ‘you might like to’, ‘perhaps you can’ or ‘option to explore’. This approach empowers students to cultivate self-awareness, make choices that honour their bodies, and fosters positive reinforcement for their ongoing journey of growth.

Continuing your teaching skills journey…

Enhancing your cuing skills is a continuous journey. Stay curious, keep learning, and refine your approach to become a more effective and inspiring teacher. As a little bonus, you can download here a couple of example cueing script cards for Yoga Chair Pose and Pilates Rib to Hip Connection (aka Imprint) which tie in with the examples given above.

At Harmonise, we provide a range of CPD courses and workshops, including hands-on assists, older adults and back care, and posture assessing. These sessions are designed to enhance observational skills, tailor cues, clarify intention and purpose, and diversify your cueing styles (e.g incorporating imagery and metaphor among others). Additionally, it’s a valuable opportunity to share suggestions and examples with your fellow teachers in the Harmonise Community, enriching your collective knowledge and expanding your repertoire of cues.

If you’re currently reading this as a yoga or Pilates student, and this resonates, maybe you’re interested in finding out more about training to teach. We cover cueing (and so much more) in great detail on our courses. We invite you to sign up to receive more information and free resources including free taster classes in a couple of emails:
Click here for more about Yoga Teacher Training or here for Pilates Teacher Training resources.

Article by: Clare Francis

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