Favorite Obscure Cues and Their Translations Revealed!


July 10, 2012


Ever been stuck in a class utterly perplexed by the lexicon of yogaspeak? Me too! Thankfully  I have compiled a cheat sheet for all your mind-bending yoga cue needs. Translation, please!
I took a yoga class recently at an unfamiliar studio as part of my yoga teacher training. Being the practicing yogini that I am, I settled myself down on my mat and tried to keep an open mind. To say that I needed a dictionary to understand the teacher’s cues would be an understatement. I needed a thesaurus, and an encyclopedia. A short tour inside her yogi brain wouldn’t have hurt either! So in order to save you some awkward pauses, and to help yoga teachers avoid confused looks, I decided to share my top 10 translations with you!



1. Blossom your fingers: No, your fingers did not turn into flowers in the few seconds you haven’t been looking. This probably just means engage or spread your fingers. Done.

2. Find your breath: No worries, your breath was never lost – just use your nose and suck in air like you’ve been doing all your life!

3. Puff your kidneys: If your teacher tells you this, you have my permission to give her a perplexed stare until she/he realizes this cue is just plain dangerous. Seriously, if you have puffed kidneys, visit a doctor.

4. Spiral your thigh bones out like a rainbow: I don’t know about you, but this comes off rather kinky. Anusara cue or not, if your teacher is staring straight at you and starts to speak like a leprechaun while saying this…run far, far away.

5. Open your heart space:  The gist here is to broaden your chest, slide your shoulder blades down, expand your rib cage via your breath, relax your neck muscles, pull in your core… THIS is your heart “space.”

6. Feel the river of energy flow through your core:  Huh? Last time I checked I didn’t notice a river flowing through me. I wonder if there’s a forest too?  Maybe some fishes? Hold on let me go check. In short, feel the burn.

7. Allow the back of your heart to curve: Don’t freak out here, I can’t curve my heart either – curve your thoracic spine (behind your heart) and you’ll be good.

8. Flutter your butt cheeks: Pardon? I may be wrong but I believe (HOPE) this means engage your mula bandha. I don’t know about you, but I   don’t flutter my butt cheeks for just anyone. Hug your midline. Engage your core towards the center of your body and don’t forget to breathe! Or go on, hug yourself, it’s your prerogative.

9. Shine the heart forward as if it’s springing out of your chest:  Egads, if my heart sprung out of my chest I would be too busy dying to worry about shining forward. If you see shining and/or springing hearts, I recommend calling 911. Spread your collar bones, chest forward. Safety first.
Well there you have it! I hope you yogis and yoginis are better equipped to handle obscure cues now.  When in doubt just breathe and look around the room to see what everyone else is doing. Odds are, they are just as confused as you so at least you won’t be alone!

A few of my favorites worth honorable mention (and yes, these were all really instructions given in a class):
Remove the fluff from your sitz bones
Make space in your kidneys
Make your collarbones bright
Hug the muscles to your bones
Draw up through the legs as if your are putting on a pair of pantyhose
Let your spine pour out like water
Imagine there are 2 windows where you buttocks meet your thighs, now open those windows

All-time favorite:
I had a teacher during my YTT whose catchphrase was “blossom those buttocks.” And I do believe one teacher of yore instructed us to imagine a lotus blossoming internally from our perineum. I never knew our nether regions were so floral. Maybe my farts really do smell like roses!

Subbing Hell


May 18, 2012

Ok, maybe it’s not a layer of hell, but it can be really uncomfortable.

If you’ve ever subbed a class for someone else, particularly a very well-loved teacher, you know what I’m talking about. Two days ago I guest taught for a popular teacher for the first time. I felt honored and grateful and excited to share my teaching with her lovely students. But when I sat down in the spot that she normally sits in, I suddenly felt like a dazed deer. The thought, “this is her spot” went through my head, and I had a surreal moment when I felt like I was in a spotlight.

Not in the “Oooh, look at me! I’m in the spotlight!” kind of way. But the kind where I’m trying to quietly sneak out of somewhere and all of a sudden thwak, the spotlight goes on and I’m frozen in my tracks, exposed.

The truth is, a subbed class is an awkward and potentially triggering event for sub and students alike. As a teacher, you’re unfamiliar with the students and maybe it’s not a class time or style that you normally teach, so you’re completely out of your comfort zone.

As a student, it’s not the warm fuzzy blanket of what’s familiar, so you’re also out of your comfort zone. And when everyone in the room is out of their comfort zone, you get a whole room full of triggered people. And the only thing worse than a room full of triggered people is a room full of people who are triggered but don’t know that they’re triggered, or are triggered and are trying to pretend like they aren’t. In my experience, this is often the case in a yoga class with a sub.

Having been a student in a class where my teacher has a sub, I know that being triggered for me means being ornery or being inwardly judgmental of the new teacher, or (yes, I’ve done this, too) just deciding to leave when I see that it’s not my teacher who is teaching.

Given that I know that students must feel some of the same things that I’ve experienced as a student, when I’m a sub and I’m triggered because I’m uncomfortable, my tendency is to try to make the students feel comfortable.

In the past I’ve done this in different ways—I’ve tried to teach more aligned with how their usual teacher teaches than with how I teach, I’ve taught a very vanilla class so as not to offend anyone or I’ve tried to throw the kitchen sink of what I know about yoga at them so they see how smart I am as a teacher.

The common theme of all of those above techniques is of trying to please the students so they’ll like me, of trying to meet the expectations I imagine they must have for me, and doing it in a way that abandons who I am as a teacher. I know when I’m doing that because the general flavor of the class is either lifeless and robotic or kind of spastic and hasty. And during it I feel disconnected from myself and from the students. Most of all, I know when I’m teaching that way because it’s just not fun. In fact, it can actually kind of feel like hell.

Not to say that the class that I taught the other day felt like hell—hardly. But it definitely was not as fun as I normally have when I teach. So I came home and sat with why that was and with what I could have done differently. I discovered that it has to do with expectations—mine and the students’.

When a student shows up for a class and finds that her teacher isn’t there, one of her big expectations has already not been met. And if her tendency is to want to compare me to her teacher throughout the entire class, I will continue to fail to meet her expectations. Guaranteed. Even if I’m a great teacher, I can never be someone else.
I’ve recognized this before, and simply spoken to it at the beginning of class. Essentially saying “release your expectations and be open to what I have to offer.” I did this the other day, but it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough because I realized that I also have expectations–I have expectations of how my students will engage with my teaching. There are ways that I’m accustomed to interacting with students that fits my style of teaching and that is different than the way others teach. I really want people to respond and to find a bit of dialogue to enhance the learning environment, not sit quietly waiting for class to end.

When those expectations weren’t met the other day—people thinking my questions were rhetorical or just not feeling confident enough to speak up—I felt more and more uncomfortable. I left feeling ornery, the way I do when I’m a student and had a sub who didn’t meet my expectations.

What I realized is: not only is it not my job to meet their expectations in relationship to me being like their teacher, it’s not their job to let go of their expectations of me. For better or worse, it’s human nature to have expectations. In fact, I shouldn’t let go of mine either. Instead, it’s my job as the teacher to set new expectations.

So that’s what I did today. I started class by briefly saying how my approach to teaching differs a bit from the regular teachers, and then I asked for what I needed from the students so that I could offer them my best teaching. Then I just dropped in and did what I do. The result: no dazed deer, no sense of being trapped by a spotlight or of enduring 75 minutes in hellish discomfort.

It doesn’t mean that everyone loved how I taught, but everyone did know what to expect. And with all of us having shared expectations, there was more comfort all around, and class flowed with ease. I had fun because I got to be me, and I left feeling good that I had given them the best class that I could. And that’s all I can ever do.
So though subbing a class for someone else might not actually be a layer of hell, expecting someone else to meet your expectations without having conveyed what your expectations are just might be. But that’s for a different post…
Courtesy of Jay at Grace & Grit Yoga:

When are 5 breaths really just 5 breaths?


November 21, 2011



Hello Everyone!
This is a blog that my dear friend Ellen wrote and I felt it was quite appropriate for the first blog entry at SSYS! Ellen was probably the most influential of all of my teachers – from helping me develop that “yoga voice” (especially when I am taking you out of savasana) to picking up the props and putting them away for you. I have learned so so much from Ellen and miss her as well as Yoga Madre. Enjoy!




This is a blog all about the caring community that makes up my yoga classes each and every week in and around the San Gabriel Valley area. I hope to feature overviews of the classes I have taught during the week, along with links and cool resources about issues that have come up in our groups.
Ellen Mathews
** To follow Ellen please see:

When are 5 breaths really just 5 breaths?
I admit it.  Often when I say take 5 breaths in down dog, it really stretches out into 8, 9.  Who knows?
As I look around the room during the poses, some students need to be adjusted, and others need encouragement, and sometimes 5 breaths turn into 8 or 9.  This confession came to the fore yesterday on Thanksgiving.  After teaching at Yoga Madre, while saying goodbyes in the lobby, Ken, a dedicated yogi, mentioned how gentle and kind I sound in class and then keep them in excruciating poses FOREVER!  Okay, that is not be his exact quote, but you get the picture.

I cop to all of this.  In fact, I shared with my lovely, dedicated Thanksgiving students that Martin, my husband, has rightly accused me of the very same transgression.  Once, while in my class at Yoga Madre, he noted that my 5 breaths in dog stretched out interminably.  He battled with his desire to yell out “this is madness…I am going for the door, who’s with me?” and stage a mutiny.  Thankfully he didn’t do it, but I got the point.
Another admission is that I once exclaimed something similar to Martin’s call for mutiny.  While taking a class from the wonderful Erik Rieder, my colleague and friend, he had us in warrior 1 for what felt like forever.  I finally blurted out something like, “Come on man!”  I regretted it immediately and felt embarrassed.  It just came out!  We all had a laugh about it, though.

Seriously speaking folks, if any pose feels too long or inappropriate for your body, seek rest in child’s pose or modify the pose that you’re in.  Always remember to stay safe, connected to how you feel in the pose as so to never hurt yourself.  Playing your edge and exerting the body is different than causing an injury.  Your yoga practice is always an individual experience and you are, no matter what I or any other teacher say, your best teacher.
In closing, I have been accused of liking “bed of nails” style yoga, but I realize that this stuff is not for everyone.  When I do lose track of time and breaths, I do apologize to those who suffer.  To all students, past and future, I apologize for those times when 5 breaths are not 5 breaths…Namaste and see you in class.

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