Working on my Cueing and Timing

I was just sitting in the sunshine in our courtyard window, minding my own business, when the urge to stretch overcame me. Going with it, I opened up my armpits (one of my teachers recently said “you can’t be depressed with open armpits,”) and did some seated twisting and side bending, stretching the intercostal muscles between each rib all the way through my triceps. Suddenly, I could breathe better. I had opened from right to left (along the lateral plane) and rotated (along the transverse plane). Now my body wanted to move forward and backward (along the sagittal plane, like cat/cow).

So that’s how I came to the breathing and movement pattern I’m writing about now.

In light of one of my goals to become a better teacher, I decided to record myself cueing the exercise I had done. The first time I recorded myself, I was talking so much after the cue to ‘inhale’ or ‘exhale’ that I couldn’t make my breath long enough to do it correctly.

Has this ever happened to you in class? The teacher is cueing you to breathe, but they are going too fast or too slow for your breath rhythm?

Of course, this will always sometimes be the case. As a student, you’ve got to figure out the balance between adjusting your breath/moving with the class and honoring your own breath length/going at your own pace. As a teacher, you’ve got to make sure to communicate the permission to move with your own breath during class (although, there may be situations in which you are teaching something particular and want your class moving/breathing together…)

So, once I realized I needed to tighten up my cues, I timed myself doing the exercise comfortably without saying anything out loud. Just practicing. One cycle took me 20 seconds. Now I had an idea of how much time I had to cue between breath segments.

My second recording was much better, coming in at 21 seconds, and was easy for me to follow when I listened and practiced along. So, knowing I’ve got more cues than I have time to say, and knowing that varying my cues means I get through to more students, I decided to make a list of everything I might have to say while teaching this exercise. This is on the table below.

If you want to try, start from a seated position like easy cross-legged or vajrasana (sitting on your heels), or even sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Think seated cat/cow. You’ll inhale into cow, taking in air the whole time and holding at the top while you continue to expand if you can’t breathe in any longer. Max extension. Then exhale into cat, moving from base of spine upwards. Hold the breath after the exhale while exaggerating your forward spinal curve. Continue holding the breath to roll back up to seated to begin a second round.

Here’s my chart of cues:

I share this simply to share the process.

The same teacher I mention above was kind enough to invite me along on her journey of becoming a more highly certified Iyengar teacher. The Iyengar testing and certification process is quite rigorous and she was giving it her all. I got to watch/follow her teaching, see her take our feedback, and improve/evolve as a teacher over the course of a couple months. Being a part of this process helped me figure out just how it’s done. How one becomes a better yoga teacher.

One: you’ve got your yoga practice. Two: you’ve got your teaching practice. They are always together but require different applications of the mind.