The biggest struggle of a movement practice is that we simply don't have the right words to talk about movement. As a culture we are largely divorced from our bodies. Disembodied, if you will. We pursue fitness goals without much grasp of of the territory we're working with. The scary thing is that many "experts" are just as lost.
We hear the same cliche cues parroted over & over. Here's the thing: different bodies need different cues. To more effectively use cueing we need to follow a few simple rules:
- The location of cueing must be exact
- The cue must have definite direction
- The cue must have a relevant functional goal
Let's unpack each a bit, shall we?
Location, Location, Location
If verbal cueing is going to do us any good, we have to be speaking the same language. If I say hips back while cueing a deadlift, that's a pretty vague term. Is that hip socket? Hip crest? Sit bones? Does the student know the difference between these places? This is where the best teachers truly shine. A knowledge of anatomy coupled with creative wording can paint a much better picture in a student's mind.
Consider the devious cue of shoulders down & back, given so frequently to yogis in an upward-facing dog. 20 students in a room will likely have 20 different responses to such vague cueing. Do you know what part of the shoulder? Do you know why? Keep in mind the shoulder girdle is highly complex (comprised of three distinct joints). Unless we cue with accuracy & precision, we'll constantly struggle both to teach & perform movement.
Direct The Movement
Here's the thing. All movement--voluntary or involuntary--is directed by the nervous system. If we want to improve efficiency of movement, we need to play nicely with the body. When we make concrete cues, we improve their specificity. This specificity works wonders in generating functional movement from abstract cues.
Consider for instance the cue of standing straight. Not only is this anatomically impossible, it completely lacks a sense of direction. How much better to cue a sinking downward of the sitbones and a lifting upwards from the manubrium (top of the sternum). These directional cues produce a far better result by clarifying the process at hand. We certainly won't be standing straight up, but we'll find a much better sense of length & verticality.
Make It Work
This problem runs rampant in yoga studios. Many teachers simply cue for the sake of cueing without regard for whether the prompt improves the movement at hand. Consider the infamous hug your elbows in when lowering to chaturanga. On the surface this seems harmless. It has a specific location & direction. But the truth is this cue does little to improve the function of the shoulder girdle in eccentric pressing. It may do more harm than good. See, hugging the elbows in toward the ribs can actually shear the shoulder joint. Hugging elbows in toward the ribs simply doesn't improve the movement at hand. And if we don't improve the movement we're teaching, what's the point?
A Humbling Realization
As teachers we must ask ourselves: does this prompt actually improve coordination of the movement at hand? Does it make the movement better? The answer could be yes, no, or the dreaded I don't know...
If you truly don't know, it's far better to err on the side of caution. It can be humbling to realize we don't truly know what's going on, but we have to adopt a growth mindset in these situations. This is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the body for our own benefit & that of our students.
Putting It Together
A working understanding of movement can be enriched by better cueing. As students we will be better able to direct our own bodies, and as teachers we will be better able to guide our students.
Proper cueing has three distinct ingredients: an exact location, a definite direction, and a relevant functional goal. When we start cooking with these ingredients, movement takes on new life, injuries plummet, and we find improved strength & ease. A winning combination if you ask me.
Are you curious to learn new ways to deepen your practice? Do you want to find more confidence in your body or in your teaching? Let's have a one-on-one conversation to see if coaching is a good fit for you. Whether or not we decide to continue, you'll leave with a powerful plan of action to start seeing immediate results.