Yoga Alignment Snobs

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

I’m a yoga anatomy nerd.  I love studying bones and muscles and how they work together in yoga.  The intricate workings of the human body can hold my attention for hours.  I am turned on by the adrenal system, and I will skip just about any movie to study how the nervous system responds to the practice of yoga.

I’m also passionate about alignment and the precise rotations, grounding points and lines of energy that make up any particular pose.

In my teaching, I know that key alignment points used in a clear and relevant way can be the very thing that brings awareness to my students.  The very fact that they are able to focus on their femur bone externally rotating rather than their shortcomings may be the very thing that changes the course of their lives.

So let me say this loud and clear:  Alignment is a necessary & vital aspect of any yoga class. 

But can alignment cues become just another mask yoga teachers hide behind?  A mask to put on when we don’t know what else to say?  Some sort of weird way of making up for our shortcomings?  A way to prove our worth? A bullet pointed list that sits in our back pocket, waiting to be retrieved when we hit the auto pilot button?  Sort of like when the checker at Kroger says, “Hi there, how are you?’ or “Thank you very much Mrs. Dockins, would you like a carry out?”  They’re sort of talking to me, but not really.  There are words, but some how I don’t feel they really have much to do with me.

Seriously, Yoga Teachers, how many students do you know who have hurt their knee in tree pose?  Do you really need to say it every single time you call the pose?  ”Put your foot above or below your knee, Never on your knee!!”

Then theres the incessant spewing of cues when no one in the room needs them!  I catch myself saying, “reach your hands up!”  when everyone’s hands are already up damn it!  How irrelevant is that?  Sometimes I catch myself about to give more instruction and instead, I hold the words in and trust the space.  From the space, something beautiful emerges…something that perfectly fits the moment.

I’ve seen a teacher INSIST that a certain student was doing their up-dog wrong to the point of completely disrupting their practice.  The student had been doing the same up dog for 7 years and never a lick of pain.


photo credit: OUCHcharleyCreative Commons License

Why do we become so righteous with our yoga knowledge?

Now granted, there are lots of situations where students thrive from the expertise of a yoga teacher.  A Yoga Teacher that is knowledgeable in anatomy and alignment can be more helpful than the most highly skilled physician.  I just see too often, that when overused, alignment cues can be there very thing that get in the way of real connection, real seeing and relevant communication.

What about simply calling a pose, saying nothing, looking around the room and only speaking to what is relevant?  Is it possible to see our students as amazingly intelligent human beings with good memories and keen intuitions?

What do you think Teachers?  Do you ever catch yourself saying more than is needed?  Why do we do that?  Hopefully it’s not just me..let’s talk about it.


Posted by:

- who has written 2 posts on Yoga Modern.

Stacy is a regular contributor at Yoga Modern and co-founder of LIVE LOVE TEACH. Along with her husband Dave, she owns The Yoga Project in Arlington, TX. She travels world wide facilitating teacher trainings and programs. Stacy also travels across the U.S. teaching workshops and presenting at conferences, sharing her love and passion of yoga with others. Stacy has mentored many teachers across the US and loves to empower them in their teaching and lives! Find Stacy on Facebook here

24 Responses

  • Dana says:

    YES!!!! Thank you!! Very well said!!

  • Shannon says:

    This really hit home for me, yes, I catch myself using more words then needed and the same ones at that. It’s habit more then anything else, filler words. I can feel the disconnect. And does the student think to themselves “well dah, we already know that”, can we say “boring” I can only imagine what my students feel each time I pull them out of their very own expression of the pose to follow my instruction. “Doesn’t my teacher trust I know what feels good in my own body?” More Space, less talk, going to do this in my next class.

    • stacyLLT says:

      Thank you Shannon. Sometimes it's like I am creating the students entire experience, you know, telling them what they should feel instead of just letting them feel it! I agree, they are filler words. Like we feel like we need to say something at all times. It's a cool thing to finally notice and acknowledge tho. Let me know how it goes..

  • "cue a pose to death" comes to mind. It does exactly that.. kill the pose. kill the moment. kill the experience. As a student it's annoying when the teacher spews out alignment cues one after the other and doesn't give space to explore each cue. As a teacher, this is a skill I have to keep at bay.. especially in a flowing vinyasa class. The right amount of alignment cue mixed with silence and space makes for an incredible peaceful practice that leaves me empowered in my own ability. This only happens when there is connection and often connection happens when there is space and space is only available if teachers can shut the F up sometimes.

  • Susan says:

    This is so very good.

  • Chelsea says:

    am about to teach a class. will take this and practice it. :) thank you stacy.

  • Barbra Brady says:

    I'm loving one of the more recent cues my teacher, Rod Stryker, has been giving: once you are steady in the pose, let go of the micro-adjustments. I love it, but I've noticed some students are not comfortable just being still in a pose. (It is where we face ourselves, that stillness.)

  • alma says:

    i taught tonight with this in mind. it was liberating. i was able to speak because i "wanted" to make a difference not because "it was too quiet or because it felt like something needed to be said."

    • stacyLLT says:

      So great Alma. There is such a difference for me, being on auto pilot with cues or speaking because something needed to be said. Thank you.

  • Theresa says:

    Nicely said Stacy! I can relate to your comment about the instructor who insists on fixing a pose that's not broken. In my teaching I believe that every BODY is different and there are some alignment cues that can be followed and some not so much. I've seen many yoga students (especially beginning) do what they can do and no it doesn't look pretty, but their on their own yoga path and I respect that.

    • stacyLLT says:

      Hi Theresa, I agree about the Beginners! I often realize that sometimes just showing up is a big feat for a Beginner. I like to leave them alone and let them land before moving in with too much help for them. If there is something obviously unsafe or a tiny bit I can give them to help them find more ease, I will. Thank you!

  • Mara says:

    There are MANY styles and ways of teaching. One is NOT better than the other! This article comes across as beyond judgmental and snobby in and of itself. From Iyengar (major alignment cues) to Ashtanga (none) and everything in between, you gravitate towards the yoga that resonates with you. Maybe I LIKE tons of alignment cues on Tuesday, and a pure flow with NO cues on saturday.

    • stacyLLT says:

      Hi Mara, I whole heartedly agree with you that one style is in no way better than another and I too have days of loving the alignment. My intention is to share my experience of speaking from a place of not seeing.
      My alignment cues land when I am seeing my students versus just "reading" off of my mental list. Its sort of like when I'm talking to my children while thinking of many other things versus stopping and really seeing them.
      I think this applies no matter what we are teaching, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa or Italian Cooking.
      I'm sorry I came across as judgmental and snobby to you, this was not my intention. To me, words have no meaning without connection. And as yoga teachers, what a beautiful opportunity we have for connection. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your opinion.

  • Jen says:

    Lately, I see so much complexity where it just isn't necessary. Over-talking. Over-doing. Over-analyzing. Not just in yoga, but in LIFE. And what I see happening in the midst of all this complication is DIFFICULTY. It is so true that less is more. Stillness allows for space. Space allows for simplicity. And simplicity allows for ease. When we allow that ease to creep into our lives, into our teaching, into our practice…it changes everything.

  • Re-read this several times and found different answers to my immediate reaction/feedback, well written. S from a perfectionist standpoint, I think my own flaw as a former coach was correcting too much at once. I now take bits and pieces and insert as needed as a yoga instructor emphasizing different cues at different sequences/set. the only comment I would like to add is one of my favorite quotes: "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." Overcue or under–the tone, delivery, pitch and flow–the heart of a teacher's cues connect the student to the practice, to their mat and to their inner teacher.