I’ve been thinking a lot about ways I can make everyone who attends my class feel like they are included, listened to, and that they have agency over their bodies. It can feel like a daunting issue to tackle, but I think making some small changes to your language and how you approach cueing can have a big impact on your student’s experience. The last thing we want for our students is to have them leave class feeling like yoga isn’t for them, or feeling like they’ve failed in some way.
Here are a few things I’ve been making an effort to change so that all of my students feel like they are included in class.
Cue for what a student may feel in a pose, rather than how they may look. Are you teaching Warrior 1 so your students feel a stretch in their back calf? Cue for that feeling, rather than for how a Warrior 1 “should” look.
Allow students to choose their resting pose. Child’s Pose isn’t relaxing for everyone. In fact, it can be downright uncomfortable for someone with tight hips and ankles. I allow my students to start class in the resting pose of their choice, and allow them to return to that pose whenever they need a rest. This has the added benefit of students taking the time to see how they feel and assess what their bodies may need on any given day. And most importantly, no one will feel like a failure for being uncomfortable in a “restful” pose.
Don’t refer to poses as “relaxing” or “easy.” You can easily alienate any student who doesn’t feel that way in a pose.
For that matter, don’t assign poses a level. Referring to a pose as “advanced” or “beginner,” or referring to “leveling-up” a pose, implies that there’s a linear progression that all bodies follow. We all know the student that can jump into Crow, but have a hard time in a Forward Fold. That doesn’t make any aspect of their practice better or worse or right or wrong; it is just their practice.
Just leave gender out of it. There’s no need to offer someone an adjustment because of their perceived gender. You can verbally offer options; if a student thinks they’d be more comfortable in another variation, they will take it.
Stop cueing from a place of preventing injury. Use language that makes your students feel strong and supported. Approaching poses as harmful-unless-practiced-exactly-this-way takes away the student’s ability to assess how their body is feeling and what they may or may not be capable of.
Don’t perform a physical adjustment unless you have permission. How you implement this one’s up to you as a teacher. You may ask students to raise their hands at the beginning of class if they would like to be adjusted, or you may use some kind of token system, or ask on the fly. Regardless, no one likes unwanted touching. I prefer the “ask on the fly” method, as I think it helps students feel as if you’re really paying attention and respecting their space.
Honor students that make their own adjustments. Praise students that use props, self-adjust, rest, or otherwise listen to their bodies and make adjustments as they see fit.
That’s my shortlist. What are your thoughts? What are you doing to help your students feel included and welcome? I love to hear other instructor’s thoughts.