Never be blur in class again.
(Also read: 8 Yoga Poses That Will Calm You Down Before Bedtime)
You’re trying to relax and zen out in your yoga class when your teacher suddenly says something that you can’t decipher. We know the struggle.
Yoga cues are made to correct alignment and help you get the most out of your practice. And while some of them are easy to understand, others can be confusing.
There are also multiple ways of expressing one cue. For instance, some teachers say “shine your heart to the sky”, while others say “lift your chest upwards” to tell you to open up your chest.
To help you feel more comfortable and confident in yoga class, we’ve broken down common cues into erm, normal human language. Hopefully, you’ll om and flow with a greater peace of mind from now on.
Yoga cue #1: Press into your fingertips
Whether you’re only balancing on your hands or you’re on all fours, a significant amount of weight goes into your hands. As our wrists are not used to bearing this much weight, you might feel a pain or ache. Teachers often tell you to press and grip the floor harder to prevent this. But what does this mean, exactly?
In other words: It means you should spread your fingers apart and place your weight into your fingers, top of your palms, and the base of your palms. This even weight distribution will ensure that the weight isn’t going directly to your wrists. To make sure you’re pressing firmly enough, ask someone to try lifting your fingers or middle of your palm up. It shouldn’t move if you’re gripping the floor hard.
Yoga cue #2: Tuck in your elbows
When you’re doing anything that requires bent elbows such as a chaturanga or arm balance, you might hear your teacher tell you to tuck in your elbows.
In other words: When your elbows are bent in a 90-degree angle, it might feel easier or more natural to let them flare outwards. However, keeping them close to your body will make it easier to support your weight. It also helps you to properly engage your back, shoulders and arms.
Yoga cue #3: Internally rotate your elbows
When your elbows are straightened, you might hear this cue to internally rotate your elbows.
In other words: Instead of having your inner elbows face forward, engage your biceps and hands so that your inner elbows naturally face each other. This makes sure you’re using your arm muscles and not collapsing into your hands. It also prevents elbow hyperextension and pain.
Yoga cue #4: Lift your chest and collarbones
Whether your teacher asks you to lift your chest, widen your collarbones or spread your shoulder blades, it all points to the same thing – engaging your upper body to take the pressure off your wrists.
In other words: When you’re in poses like high plank or crow, pressing firmly into your hands and pushing your upper body up and away from the ground will make the pose much easier. Not only will you take the pressure off your wrists, but you will also activate your core to support the pose.
Yoga cue #5: Pull your shoulders away from your face/Bring your biceps to your ears
When you raise your hands above your head, you might instinctively raise your shoulders towards your ears. This works fine when you’re stretching, but not if you’re in an active pose such as a high lunge with arms stretched overhead.
In other words: In an active pose, engage your shoulders by consciously pulling them down. You can do so by shrugging your shoulders backward and downward while your arms are down. Then, use your shoulder strength to keep your shoulders at the same height as you move them in front of your body and reach your hands up. Continue engaging them as you bring your palms together.
Yoga cue #6: Tuck in your ribs
In poses when your arms are overhead, your ribcage might flare out. This happens when you’re reaching upwards and breathing deeply. Though this helps you catch your breath, you’ll lose core engagement.
In other words: Prevent your ribs from popping out by tightening your core and pulling your ribs and belly in. Breathe deeply through your diaphragm to maintain the pose.
Yoga cue #7: Engage your mula and uddiyana bandha
This cue is also used when you are doing arm balances or poses that require lots of core strength. Mula bandha is the “root lock” and the uddiyana bandha is the “abdominal lock”. Both of them help you engage your core and “lock” it in place to keep you strong and stable.
In other words: The mula bandha is like a kegel exercise for your pelvic floor muscles that helps to engage your lower abdomen. It might be difficult to execute at first, but with practice, you’ll be able to control your pelvic floor muscles without doing a kegel.
To do the uddiyana bandha, take a deep breath in, exhale fully, and pull your abdomen in and up towards your chest. As you continue to breathe, do not let go of the abdominal lock to keep your core tight.
Yoga cue #8: Flow through your vinyasa
Yoga teachers will say this during a flow class or when you use a sun salutation to transition from move to move. Essentially, this just means going through the vinyasa which consists of a standing forward fold, chaturanga, upward dog and downward dog.
In other words: Connect the moves from the starting (standing) position. Reach your arms up above your head as you breathe in, then keep your spine straight as you exhale and bend down, placing your palms on the floor or around your ankles. Breathing in, come up on your fingertips as you reach your head forward and look up. Placing your palms flat on the mat again, step or hop back into a high plank position and lower to chaturanga. Breathe in to an upward dog and breathe out to a downward dog. Basically, that’s what “do your vinyasa” means.
Yoga cue #9: Float back to chaturanga
This cue is used when you are moving into a chaturanga – usually from a standing forward fold. Instead of jumping and throwing your legs back to land hard on the ground, this cue asks you to do it in a slow and controlled manner.
In other words: “Float back to chaturanga” requires more core activation and shoulder stability because you have to hop high and land softly. The key is to lift your hips up above your shoulders and push back into chaturanga. Try to keep your shoulders above your wrists to stabilise yourself.
Yoga cue #10: Lengthen your spine
Due to gravity, bad posture and sitting for long periods of time, our spines often become compressed. This can cause back pain or poor body alignment.
In other words: To lengthen your spine, do not hunch or overarch your back. Take a neutral spine position with a slight arch in your lower back and lengthen your body. Imagine a thread attached to the top of your head that’s pulling you up. Keep your chin up to keep your body lengthened.
Yoga cue #11: Tuck in your tailbone
When you’re standing straight or your upper body is upright, you might hear your teacher using this cue. It is meant to help you keep your posture straight, spine in line and back healthy. Arching your lower back makes you more injury-prone.
In other words: To “tuck in your tailbone”, engage your glutes and tilt your pelvis slightly forward to reduce the arch in your lower back. Immediately, you’ll feel less pressure in your lower back.
Yoga cue #12: Square your hips
In a one-legged downward dog or any other pose that requires your feet to be in different positions, your hips might become misaligned. While it might feel comfortable in the moment, you’re actually not using the right muscles to hold the pose. In serious cases, your hips or spine may become crooked.
In other words: To align your hips, pull your back leg in towards your body and lower it slightly to keep it at the same height as your other hip. If you can’t tell whether you’re squaring your hips right, look in the mirror or ask an instructor to check.
Yoga cue #13: Micro-bend your knees
If you’ve ever felt pain in the back of your knees after doing a pose that requires you to straighten your legs, such as downward dog, forward fold and triangle pose, you might have hyperextended knees. Confirm this by looking at the side view of your legs when you stand straight as you normally do. If your knees are bent beyond 180 degrees and go behind your ankles, your knees are extra flexible. While this might allow you to do more poses with ease, it can also cause discomfort and injury.
In other words: To protect your knees, softly bend your knees instead of locking them. Engage your kneecaps by lifting them up. This will ensure your knees and hamstrings don’t get overstretched.
Yoga cue #14: Ground your feet
Standing is something we do all the time, but often not in proper form. When we stand, we often bend one leg and put more weight on the other. Some people place more weight on the outer edge of their feet. These daily habits make it difficult to place our feet flat firmly on the floor.
In other words: To “ground your feet”, spread out all your toes and press them into the ground so you can stand stably. Aim to have your weight evenly balanced on both feet, including your toes. This will keep you grounded and make it easier for you to do any poses that require balance.
(Also read: 5 Tips to Get Into A Deeper Full Dancer Pose)