There’s always the possibility that students may need clarification or clarification about what we are trying to say. In light of this, we should create a feedback loop that allows us to determine if what we’re saying is understood and implemented as we intended.
If you’re a yoga teacher, different schools have varying views on reality. Some yoga schools are dualistic and suggest that the self has a physical and an energetic or non-physical dimension. Dualistic practices aim to find harmony with the “true self” by gradually transcending the physical. Dualistic approaches focus on subtler forms like meditation and breathing exercises rather than flexibility and strength. The non-dual philosophy, on the contrary, suggests that the physical world is composed of energy or prana that can influence and be affected by our physical practices.
This is to show that one’s beliefs about the nature of reality may influence the way one practices yoga and achieve its goals. In this article, I’ll assume that if you’re interested in the non-dualist movement-based practices that are hatha-yoga, you consider energy to be an aspect of the physical world and yourself. This article does not aim to contribute to the debate on the nature of reality but to examine our language choices to communicate our instructions better.
Action without Movement
When I am teaching yoga practices to encourage reflection or direct consciousness or enhance awareness, I often use more reflexive and energetic language (i.e., “Notice how your hips grip and surrender into gravity with every exhalation” and “Radiate your heart through your fingertips into the space surrounding you”).
When teaching yoga and attempting to understand kinesthetics better, I prefer more direct instructions that involve action (e.g., “Spread out your fingers and press into the mat”). However, this approach has a problem because action implies movement, and most yoga poses are held once we’ve moved into them.
How can you teach action without motion and make it clear?
You have likely heard your teachers say “isometric” or use the adverb “isometrically” to preface an instructional. Understanding this word will help us improve our practice and increase engagement. Isometric is “equal measure” and refers to muscle contractions in which the muscle length does not change. While you read this, your muscles are isometrically contracting. They aren’t lengthening or reducing in size but remain at the same length. Isometrically engaging a power means creating the action that would typically move your joint and cause the muscle to shorten, but not in a way where the muscle shortens.
It happens because the resistance to the action is the same as the force. Your body remains in a fixed position while your muscles are engaged. It is possible to help a student identify and create an isometric movement in many different ways. The resistance can come from closed-chain contacts (with the wall, the mat, a prop, or another body part) or, more complexly, from internal counteractions if the chain is opened (meaning that your body part isn’t in contact with anything).
I use closed-chain feedback, with action-based instructions and “as if” to quantify the feedback. To train the isometric contraction of pectoral muscles, which creates shoulder adduction, I might instruct a student to do this: “Holding a block in between your hands while reaching your arms forward.” Straighten your elbows and draw your shoulder blades towards your spine. Squeeze the block between your hands as if you wanted to crush it (the block closes the chain). This if statement can cause a contraction that is close to maximum effort. It will help increase strength and awareness in the pecs.
Then I can offer the reflexive instruction “Feel Your Chest Muscles Engage.” I might remove the block from the equation as the skill improves, but keep the education and add the adverb Isometrically. “As though you were holding the block, Isometrically pinch your hands together, and crush the brick. Feel your chest muscles engaging.” This encourages counteractions. As this skill becomes more familiar and practiced, I can simplify the instruction so that the student understands, regardless of the context. This would require a lot of background knowledge (like the kind I shared above) to teach the student exactly how to perform this.
Using terms interchangeably can lead to confusion. Some people confuse doing something physically with doing it energetically. After all, matter is made of energy. Others, however, believe that doing something ‘energetically’ means only doing it on the energy level or prana. Depending on their context and background, it may be a good fit for some students. However, it can lead to confusion because we all perceive energy differently. I have found that teachers who say they engage energetically express their feelings when they engage isometrically.
I want to allow my students the space to feel their bodies, their physiological reactions, and the feelings and quality of being they produce by making different choices with their thoughts, movements, and breath. In addition, I want to establish precise communication methods so that my words can be heard and understood. There is no one-size fits all model that works for everyone and in any context. However, I can reach and address more people by carefully choosing my words and using multiple ways to describe an action.
Establishing the Feedback Loop
Consider these approaches to your physical/energetic self to better understand your teacher’s instruction. You will feel empowered to explore options, ask questions and observe their effects. My students had asked for more clarity or information about what I meant to do when I instructed specific actions. This has led me to my greatest growth moments as a teacher. This has helped me understand my choices better and find more precise ways to communicate them.
If you would like to learn more about how I use isometrics in my classes, I recommend my course, ” Creative and Smart Sequencing For Yoga Nerds.”
Yoga, both in its practice and teaching, offers us many chances to gain clarity through greater discernment. We may always ask questions and grow in our ability to find answers. Your yoga practice may take you to more profound levels.