How Your Words Can Prevent Injury

When you take a yoga teacher training, a lot of concepts are thrown your way in a short period of time.  You may even start dreaming in Sanskrit. The experience is intense and by the time it is over, you may feel the same way first-time parents do when they take their child home from the hospital. It is the whole, “What the F$%# am I doing?”

You remind people to breathe deeply on a regular basis, so the first step is to take a deep breath for yourself.  Remember to put on your oxygen mask first before anyone else’s.  Then, when you have a class in front of you, it is about them.  As you teach, the words you use can be as important as the sequence you prepare.  Here are six phrases to make part of your repertoire:


  • Use your breath. You may start to feel like a broken record. “Move with your breath.” “Use your breath as a guide.” Or sometimes: “Just breathe.” You can never say it too much. Students have the tendency to hold their breath when they are holding a pose.  The quality of the breath will help to enhance the quality of the yoga practice.  Also, if they are listening to their deepest inner teacher, they will notice if a pose affects their breath.  Make sure that they know that if there is an abrupt breathing change that they must listen.  It may be their body’s signal to get out.
  • Everything you do in yoga is a pose.  Make sure the students keep their transitions slow and mindful.  Otherwise, students may have a tendency to snap out of the pose as soon as you cue the second side.  The body is likely already in an unnatural position and a quick exit can be the quickest route to injury or exacerbating a pre-existing condition.
  • Do less. When we get into a shape, many students try to take it to its full extension right off of the bat.  Make sure that they aren’t overzealous and that they are giving the body time.  Yoga is a way to rush less and be more.  Even so, many people are using the yoga mat as a microcosm for the rest of their lives by rushing the process.  By doing less, they will be very clear of their ‘edge.’  The edge is not the edge before they fall off a cliff.  It is the edge of bliss.
  • Start with bent knees.  It is the lucky few who can forward fold with a long straight spine and straight legs.  Most students have tight hamstrings, tight shoulders or a tight spine and will have to round to get closer to the floor.  Rounding causes the spine to bend in the opposite way that it is supposed to and may leave the student achy (not what you’re looking for).  In Uttanasana or Paschimottanasana  you can cue bent knees for everyone to start.  After five breaths, you can invite them to move further if you see that your class is more flexible or advanced.  Nine times out of ten that will not be the case.
  • Move within the space of the joint.  Yoga is about becoming more spacious and flexibility is determined by the amount of movement available at the joint.  We can access our students’ hamstrings by getting them to note their knees and hips.  This is also why it is important to know if your students are nursing any particular injuries.
  • Start from the ground up.  Alignment helps your students to find their energetic anatomy, but also to stay safe.  So many time, poses may look off kilter or unsafe by something as simple as the fact that the feet were turned out.  Start there and have your students build a solid relationship with the ground.

Your students come to yoga to get out of their own heads.  This can be a good thing and a bad thing.  You want to be sure that they aren’t listening to your words more than they are their own bodies.  As a teacher, it is your job to help them to find their inner teacher. Accessing this benevolent voice can help to keep their injuries to a minimum.


Courtney Sunday is a freelance writer and RYT500 who teaches globally.  She runs small and affordable Yoga Alliance teacher-training programs set on developing conscious and well-versed teachers.  It is her belief that every teacher has a specific light and a specific gift to give the yoga world.  Contact her at if you are interested or if you would like to practice with Courtney through muuyu.

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