Yoga is magic and appeals to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Some people prefer an anatomically based class where others prefer a more spiritual class. As a teacher, it’s your job to appeal to a wide variety of people, those who are looking for the physical and those who are looking for “more than.”
As a teacher, for several years I gave strictly anatomical cues. And most of the classes I attended were similar. But when I started to build sequences around things like the cakras or the 8 limbs of yoga, I knew that I needed to deliver more than just anatomical cues. But I couldn’t figure out HOW to do it.
That’s where the kośas came in. The kośas are energetic layers, or sheaths, that move from the outermost layer of skin to the deep spiritual core. The kośas provide a framework to journey towards your deepest level of Self. Each kośa is contained within the other, like Russian Dolls.
When you practice yoga, you are impacting these 5 layers. Each class should have a mix of all the different levels of kośas. A lot of teachers intuitively teach the deeper layers of the kośas. If you’re looking to build a specific theme, you may want to spend a little more time on your verbal cues. Cuing through the kośas is a great way to open the doors as a teacher to provide more than just anatomical cues. Perhaps you want to theme a class on happiness or on the changing seasons: cue through the kośas.
How To Start Teaching the Kośas
It can be intimidating to learn a new teaching style. Therefore, I suggest you start by choosing one pose and writing down the 5 layers of the kośas for that one pose. Teach one layer in one class. In the next class, teach another layer. Then another layer. When you feel comfortable, pick another pose and repeat the process.
Keep in mind you don’t teach every layer of every pose in every class. Your class would take way too long! Here’s how I cue the kośas-
First side Triangle pose – cue the physical body and the breath (kośas 1 & 2)
Second side Triangle pose – cue kośa 3 OR 4 OR 5
First side Tree Pose- cue the physical body and the breath (kośas 1 & 2)
Second side Tree Pose – cue kośa 3 OR 4 OR 5
Cuing the kośas is definitely a bit more of an advanced teaching style, but anyone can implement it with a little practice. Try not to overthink it. Allow the inner teacher and your intuition to guide you. Start with one pose, build to 2, then 3, then a sequence, etc.
The 5 Kośas are:
- Annamāyākośa – the physical body.
- Prānamāyākośa – the energy body.
- Manomāyākośa – the mental body.
- Vijñanamāyākośa – the wisdom body.
- Ānandamāyākośa – the bliss body.
The first layer of the kośas represents the dense physical body. When you give anatomical cues in class you are working with the annamāyākośa. This kośa is first because it’s incredibly important! You must find and connect with your physical body before you can journey deeper inside. Giving good alignment cues is imperative for all teachers. However, many teachers (including myself) get stuck here. I taught only the annamāyākośa for several years, even though my students were ready to venture deeper.
How to teach the Annamāyākośa:
First and foremost, choose a good yoga teacher training program that teaches you good cuing skills. I suggest Camp Utopia Yoga School, where you learn proper alignment and how to speak about the body. Plus, you’ll get lots of great practice teaching and feedback to help hone your skills. If you can’t attend a teacher training, then I suggest starting with basic cues. Start by doing your own yoga practice and saying exactly what your body is doing. The key to this kośa is understanding your own body. If you turn your right toes to the side, then tell that to your students. When practicing cuing, always make sure to say things out loud.
Example cues for the Annamāyākośa
First Cakra – “In mountain pose, look down at your feet and notice if your toes are pointing forward. Spread your toes wide and push down evenly into the feet. Engage your legs.”
Triangle – “Turn your right foot to the front of the room, back foot is placed at a 45 degree angle. Stretch your right arm to the front of the room and place your hand to your shin, stretching your left arm up to the sky.”
Tree – “ Place your left foot on the right calf and bring your hands to your heart.”
The second layer represents the pranic. or “life-force,” energy body. This includes our breath, bandhas, mudras and our outermost energetic being. The breath helps connect us with our life-force.
Cuing the breath is incredibly important in yoga. This is typically the second step in cuing yoga classes. This is not simply teaching breathing practices but linking movement with breath – cuing breath in cat/cow or through Sun Salutations. If you work with students one-on-one in private sessions, you will start to see where the breath is locked in the body and how to direct attention to unlock the breath and relax the muscles.
You can also teach people how to control energy with breath by calling attention to how a student’s breathing accelerates when they’re working hard or experiencing stress, and how they can consciously control their breath to lower their level of exertion. You can also cue the bandhas and mudras to help direct and control energy within the body.
How to teach the prānamāyākośa:
There are many different ways to teach this kośa. Start by linking breath with movement. Perhaps teaching Cat/Cow with breath, then progress to Sun Salutations with breath, then other sequences with breath. Breath is integral in every pose – how can you bring awareness to it?
Next, start teaching more about the energetic body through mudras or specific breathing exercises. You can even bring this in by asking people to notice how their breath feels in certain poses. Or notice how the breath feels at the beginning of their practice and again at the end. When I teach, I ask the class to notice how their energy and breath changes from “in” the pose to the “meditative” part of class.
Example cues for the prānamāyākośa:
First Cakra – “In mountain pose, with each inhale imagine red light traveling up your right leg, and across your hips. On your exhale imagine the red light traveling down the left leg.”
Triangle – “On your inhale, breathe into the left side lung, opening and expanding through the left side. With each exhale, expand the right side of your body, lengthening through the right side.”
Tree Pose – “As you stand in your tree, push down into your right foot and feel the energy lift up out of the hip joint. Imagine a string connected to the top of your head and lengthen the entire spine to the sky.”
Advance Your Yoga Teaching Skills
This week, take this information into your class. Teach just 1 pose cuing either the annamāyākośa or the prānamāyākośa. Next week, we will explore the manomāyākośa and the vijñanamāyākośa.
Also, make sure you follow me on IG @allisonrissel where I’ll be giving example cues every Thursday and Friday.