Decoding Cues in a Yoga Class
by Sara Downey Robinson

c96242_0a9b3e17463446109990174d7668b496-mv2Have you ever wondered what a teacher meant when saying “tuck your tailbone,” or “bring your shoulders down and back?”

There can be few things more frustrating than not understanding what a yoga teacher is telling you while seeing a room full of people do what it is you think he or she is saying. I’m pretty sure all yoga asana practitioners have had that experience at one time or another. I know I have! A lot!

Let’s break down some of those common cues with some humor and good old fashioned anatomy to back up our decoding.

Cue #1 “Bring Your Shoulders Down and Back”

This cue is innocent enough. It’s meant to speak to anyone in the room that is making a candy cane shape or hunching forward with their upper body.

I promise you, we’ve all been the Candy Cane person before and it’s no good for your posture in the yoga studio or in the real world.

What’s a better cue?

“Reach your arms up overhead. Turn the pinkies of each hand inward towards each other. Keep reaching. Reach and stretch out those intercostal muscles between the ribs. Now soften and relax the neck and shoulders just a bit. Keep reaching and breathe.”

Anytime the scapula (shoulder blade) is moved at the arm past the shoulder, making a T shape or 90 degrees, it’s important to allow the scapula articulate outward in its natural movement.

Watch my pretend BFF, Jason Crandell explain it.
(We in no way own Mr. Crandell’s work or brand, we just want to share because…)

Damn, he’s good, right?

Cue #2 “Tuck Your Tailbone”

Dear Lawd in heaven, not everyone needs to tuck their tailbone. That creates the exact dysfunction that can lead to repetitive stress injuries to your SI joint and other similar regions.

What is a better cue?

Neutralize your spine. So y’all like me who walk around all day with our butts sticking out, we need to check in and bring our lumbar spine back to its neutral curve. That may indeed mean drawing the sacrum under slightly as we tone our core and glutes; however, the word neutral is key. If someone has a naturally posteriorly tilted pelvis and you ask them to tuck their tailbone, they’ll be contorting into a very dangerous position. Their joints and ligaments aren’t meant to support such a shape. In that instance the practitioner needs to untuck their tailbone and neutralize their spine while toning the core and glutes.

Cue #3 “Draw Your Navel to Your Spine”

I actually still say this one sometimes depending on my class that day. It sounds like I just want you to suck your belly in.

Really the teacher is asking for you to engage the core.

What’s a better cue?

Annie Abrahamson is a boss at this one. She says “pretend there is a corset wrapped around you and you’re cinching it – all the way around.” There she is giving a visual cue that also evokes a feeling in the body. This brings the student to a place where they engage the Transverse Abdominus. This muscle wraps all the way around the torso, supporting the organs and spine while you move from pose to pose, keeping you safe and engaged in the pose.

Hey, let’s do this again real soon.
If you have specific cue questions, leave them in the comments and we’ll make sure to get to them next time.