grammar for yoga teachers

grammar for yoga teachers

When looking for a studio to complete my advanced training, I admit that somewhere in the process of choosing ISHTA, a deciding factor was that most of their teachers had a basic command of grammar. Perhaps I could be less judgmental, but it’s a matter of elegance. If you want your students to respect you and trust the knowledge you have to impart, it doesn’t hurt to know a few basics about words and phrases that are commonly used in yoga.

When to say “lay” and when to say “lie.” This is quite easy, as it’s generally used in present tense. The issue is not the action or the subject, it’s simply whether the verb takes a direct object. “Lay” takes a direct object, “lie” does not. Huh?

Lay your head down on the mat. Lay what? If you can answer that with a word in your sentence (your head, your hand, your iphone, yourself), use “lay.”

Lie down on the mat. Lie what? If there’s no word there to explain what (a direct object), then it’s “lie.” Lie over the bolster, not lay over the bolster.

(Note that “bolster” does not answer the question of what is to be moved.)

Fairly easy, if you quickly ask yourself if what is to be moved is in the sentence before you choose your words.

Another frequent problem is vertebra vs. vertebrae. The first is singular, the second plural. We have 33 vertebrae, each one a vertebra. “Roll up to the top of your spine, stacking the vertebrae as you go.” “Roll up the spine, one vertebra at a time.” Same goes for scapula and scapulae, though scapulas is also correct plural form. Scapula is not.

I’ll refrain from some pet peeves, which aren’t exactly grammatical errors, such as suggesting the class enjoy a “juicy” hip opener. For the visual student, this is quite distracting. When not pertaining to food or weather, juicy connotes:

a. Rich in wealth, fit to be ‘sucked’ (quot. 1621); or  c. Suggestive, esp. in a sexual way; piquant, racy, sensational. colloq.

Is this really what we want to imbibe? (Definitions care of OED.)

Feel free to share your favorite yoga pet peeves. Perhaps we can learn something from them.

9 thoughts on “grammar for yoga teachers”

  • Very good explanation of lay and lie, vertebra and vertebrae.

    I do think people are into imbibing many kinds of juices, from apple to orange, though I don’t think they should do that in class… ne?

  • I find it quite annoying when teachers use cliche yoga speak without clearly articulating what they are talking about. Also, maybe its just me but the whole “namaste” thing at the end of class, its basically expected! I need to really connect internally if I am going to say “namaste” and even explain what it means to the students. In my opinion there is a great danger of this beautiful word loosing its authenticity as yoga gets more and more commercialized…

  • I agree that yogic ideas and terms are often thrown around to the extent that meaning is lost–and that it’s important to stop and think about what we as teachers and practitioners mean when we speak. Do we really understand and embody what we are talking about?

    Pet peeves say as much, if not more, about ourselves than anything else. I know that some people might love the terms ‘juicy’ and ‘delicious’ used in yoga class, and there are teachers I love and respect who use them. This wasn’t intended to be a gripe session, so much as a call to be aware of the words we teach having an effect we might not imagine. Thanks for your comments!

  • I really appreciate this post. I have found that yoga classes in which grammar and vocabulary are used inconsistently leave me unfocused. It’s easy to lose focus on your body and lose focus in the pose if you’re caught up in trying to decipher what your teacher is saying. I didn’t appreciate how consistent and clear you are, Anastasia, until I was in a class where grammar and vocab were not as consistent.

  • Here’s a toss-off distinction between lay/lie that I’ve retailed to students:

    Lay: to place or put (pLAYce or put)
    Lie: to rest or recline (rest or recLIEne)

    Maybe from Strunk & White?

    • Lie/lay is big with me. When I hear an otherwise great/respected teacher confuse them, I think “well, that’s one thing I know which they don’t.”

      • Yeah, I’m always kind of shocked when people don’t know these. I guess they’re easy to confuse though, if you’re focused on something else. 🙂

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