'Relax your glutes'.
'Tuck your tailbone'.
'Square your hips'.
'Roll your shoulder blades down your back'.
'Squeeze your elbows into your ribs'.
The shock waves of the #metoo movement are still being felt throughout the world and in the yoga community. Stories of sexual abuse by leading yoga teachers are the most shocking, but there are subtler changes happening as inappropriate structures continue to collapse, including how we practice yoga postures.
We must build these from the ground up, to be stronger.
This includes inappropriate cues for yoga postures.
This offers a great opportunity to uproot outworn cues and practices.
Are you beginning to feel like modern yoga is a bit like nutritional advice?
That's because nutritional advice and yoga practice is unique to each individual, and when an approach is systematized it suits only certain individuals.
When we find something that works for our bodies, or a diet that works for us, we may shout it from the rooftops and claim it to be the best one for everybody.
When I first trained as a yoga instructor, I was given certain cues to teach others. I no longer use all of them.
Yoga systems are taught, not for the benefit of the students, but for the benefit of the yoga school. It's easier to simply give a group the same instruction. Systems can be taught to individuals, of course, adapted to their specific needs.
We are seeing more and more competent yoga teachers use a system of yoga or sequence; tailoring it for individuals' needs.
However, there are certain cues that must to reexamined - some which just need to be dropped completely.
Here is a list of cues I no longer use:
'Relax your glutes'
This was the first cue I dropped when I stepped outside of the traditional norms and cues taught by most yoga schools.
I followed this instruction for years and, like anyone else who does this, developed a weak and important part of core strength: the glutes.
Yes, of course there is a tendency to rely too much on the glutes in certain yoga postures, which naturally externally rotates the thighs, but a balanced approach is not cuing this to find that balance.
Instead, a balanced approach would be to cue 'engage the glutes' while engaging other muscles such as the inner thighs, for example, to come to a neutral position in bridge pose.
'Tuck your tailbone'
Tucking the tailbone may suit some with hyperlordosis, but even then the cue can lead to poor movement mechanics, by overcompensating. Better to cue a movement for such an individual with something like, 'lengthen your tailbone'.
For those who are already posterior tilted, any 'tucking' will only lead to even more problems.
There are very few people with a neutral pelvis, i.e., a pelvis that is not naturally posterior or anterior tilted. I've noticed over the years that pitta (fire) type individuals (mesomorphs) are more likely to have a neutral pelvis.
However, this cue is just inappropriate for anyone, no matter what is going on with the pelvis.
'Square your hips'
It has now become obvious that this cue needs to be dropped, when we consider how the pelvis, hips and knees are affected by this instruction when turning the legs out.
Take any wide-legged posture, externally rotating the front foot, while the other leg is at, or close to, a 90 degree angle.
Squaring your hips to the long side of the mat is a typical cue. This doesn't work for any body because it places too much torque on the hips and pelvis.
A better cue would be to 'open your groins', without forcing the pelvis to square the hips, either to the front of the mat, as in 'warrior 1', or to the long side of the mat, as in 'warrior 2'.
This change in cuing will impact a lot of yoga postures, including twists. Although the form of the posture may look the same from the outside, the difference it makes is huge.
This will be especially apparent to those with sacroiliac joint issues, but really to anyone that has practiced traditional yoga postures for any length of time.
'Roll your shoulder blades down your back'
This is another cue that could do with being ditched.
This is because of what it makes most people do when instructed this way. Most people are going to create more tension while trying to pull the shoulder blades down their back, especially when already holding a posture under tension.
A better cue is 'relax your neck and shoulders', before entering a posture by 'externally rotating your arms before you lift them'.
External rotation of the arms will naturally roll your shoulder blades down your back.
Which brings me to the last one of the list, but one of the first I ditched myself in my own practice...
'Squeeze your elbows into your ribs'
I dropped this one a long time ago, but a lot of yoga teachers still use it.
When instructing someone from plank to bent elbows, (chaturanga) the cue to 'squeeze your elbows to your ribs' needs to go.
When you do this, it naturally internally rotates your humerus, rolling your shoulders forward as you hold the posture.
What does that look and feel like? Rounded and tight shoulders!
Fix the shoulders first, just as you would when taking them over head as you externally rotate the arms, and let the elbows do what they want to do, which will not be squeezing them to your ribs.