By Kathryn Boland
Webster’s Dictionary defines imagery as “1 a: the product of image makers : IMAGES; also: the art of making images b: pictures produced by an imaging system 2: figurative language 3: mental images; especially: the products of imagination.” All of these definitions can meaningfully apply to Yoga practice; with figurative language, we can imaginatively make mental images during our practices. These can help us to deepen our experiences in the ancient system of coming to wellness, increasing the degrees to which it can enhance our lives.
In the same way, Yoga instructors can use specific language in their verbal cueing to offer their students specific images – those which most can relate to and benefit from. For instance, with Plank Pose one could suggest that students imagine that they are “pushing open a very big door, so spread your hands as much as you can and push through both the palms and fingers.” This will lead students to the best hand placements and uses of their own strengths for the posture.
Considering safety, it will also likely keep students’ wrists safer by preventing them from placing all their weight there, as many students dangerously tend to do – instead evenly distributing the weight as necessary. The image is simple and one which most students likely understand through personal experience. This allows them to receive it in ways that will help them to achieve those aforementioned effects.
Imagery can also be especially beneficial with special populations of Yoga students, such as children and the elderly (especially those with challenges related to dementia). With the former group, images can keep youngsters engaged in the practice by offering connection points to it that interest them. For instance, we can guide them to imagine being ferocious lions, as we “roar” together in Lion’s Pose. We can ask them to stand tall and strong like their favorite trees in Tree Pose.
With the latter population, images can offer concrete ways to relate to postures and optimal physical sensations. Doing so can become difficult with the effects of aging, with our bodies’ abilities to interpret complex sensations – and our minds to adjust to them in the moment (especially with the onset of dementia-related challenges) – declining as we age. With both populations, this greater comprehension of their own best postures and physical sensations, while practicing, can help prevent harmful and life-obstructing injuries, as described in the example above. It can also work to prevent the aches and pains that stop students from coming back to Yoga classes.
Imagery is additionally effective for relaxation within our practices. Instructors can consciously craft this imagery to offer students optimal winding-down from the physical aspect of Yoga practice; we can fully focus on doing so without having to balance the multitasking of physically cueing one or more students, while offering verbal instruction to the rest (and also getting one an extra block and adjusting music at yet another’s request, for example, in some busy classes).
Yoga Nidra is one specific relaxation state that imagery can allow students to experience more fully. The Yoga Journal article “Yoga Nidra for Sleep” cites master instructor Rod Stryker describing the state as a “systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs.” In order to guide students to come closer to such deep relaxation, instructors “use a variety of techniques—including guided imagery and body scanning.” Such imagery could include cueing students to imagine muscles of specific body parts tightening – then ultimately and ideally releasing – like contracting and expanding accordions.
Those imagery examples are among the many that Yoga instructors can use to guide their students closer to accomplishing their Yoga goals – physical, mental, spiritual, communal, and more – while also helping to forestall common and unfortunate injuries. Using imagery might not appeal to all Yoga teachers, and they may have other methods that can effectively achieve those same ends. Nevertheless, carefully crafted imagery language is one strong tool available to us as instructors, and we shortchange our students if we don’t at least give it a chance.
“Imagery”. Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary.
28 December 2012.
Levin-Gervasi, Stephanie. “Yoga Nidra for Sleep”. Yoga Journal.
28 December 2012.
© Copyright – Kathryn Boland / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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