Finding the right way to describe a yoga pose, or how it should be feeling, is not always easy, says Victoria Jackson.
Recently I confessed to my parents that I hate speaking in public, that the mere thought of standing up in front of a group of people used to reduce me to wobbly-kneed anxiety. Funny how teaching yoga soon got rid of that particular phobia – you can’t do yoga with wobbly knees after all! Teaching yoga also leaves me now unembarrassed about OM-ing, breathing audibly, touching people I don’t know, or bending myself into various shapes and then asking people to comment on how I look (to check alignment, I mean!).
My parents’ reaction to my little confession was incredulity: they see only confidence and expertise (thank you, mum and dad, I love your support). My students too might be surprised to hear about my shyness – or not, since they’re a very perceptive bunch. In class they watch carefully and listen closely to whatever I say. I can see their bodies responding to my verbal cues as they self-adjust, they’re generous enough to laugh at my jokes, and are patient with me (rather than assuming I’m being pretentious) when I tell them I can only remember the Sanskrit names for a pose, rather than the English.
Despite my shyness, I’m now happy talking uninterrupted for an hour at a time as I lead a class. Because I’m very aware of the power of words, I try to pick mine with care, although I never like to work from a script. But it’s not always easy to be a yoga wordsmith on the fly, when you’re talking through a flow, keeping an eye out for everyone’s understanding, as well as attending to an individual’s needs. And multi-tasking isn’t the only difficulty. Sometimes I really need some help in finding the right words – and not just in differentiating between left and right if I’ve been turning around a lot as I move about the room (my students are endlessly patient with this too!). It can be difficult to find the right metaphor, that vivid phrase that will bring to life the quality or action that I want to convey in a pose. I struggled for a long time to describe hasta bandha, trying to explain the energetic lift through the palm of the hand it’s weight-bearing, in downward facing dog for example. And then a student coined the wonderful phrase ‘gecko hands’ which suggested exactly what I was trying to get across about the pressure of the finger pads and the suction-cup effect of the palm. Everyone understood this immediately. Sometimes students really are the best teachers!
Victoria Jackson lives and practices in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a vinyasa yoga teacher.
Read more OM Lite columns here.