The Problem with “Just”: How to Avoid Using This Harmful Word in Your Yoga Teaching

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As yoga teachers, we strive to create a safe and welcoming space for our students. We want to offer modifications and options that allow everyone to participate in the practice, regardless of their level of experience or ability. However, there is one word that we should all avoid using when teaching: “just.” This seemingly innocuous word can actually have a harmful effect on our students, and it can undermine our efforts to create an inclusive and accessible environment. On Gymlocal, we are dedicated to providing you with the resources and information you need to be the best yoga teacher you can be. In this article, we will explore the reasons why the word “just” can be problematic and offer suggestions for how to avoid using it in your teaching.

When Good Intentions Go Awry

Unwitting Exclusion

In an attempt to be inclusive and invitational, yoga teachers commonly, and perhaps unknowingly, slip in the word “just” when cuing more intense add-ons in a pose. This usually takes the form of offering students the option to “just stay here.”

For example, in Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), when I cue students to take the top arm alongside their heads, I’ve heard myself say, “Or just keep your arm reaching to the ceiling.”

When I cue students to take their top arm in a bind in that pose, I’ve often said, “Or just put your hand on your hip instead.”

My intention is to be helpful. But for people who are unable or unwilling, for any reason, to practice the alternate version of the pose, my words can be demeaning.

The Problem with “Just”

The word “just” can also occur when we’re offering students the option of taking an alternate pose during a sequence. For example, I have also made the mistake of offering alternatives for Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) by saying “Or just do Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)” and “Or just practice arms overhead.”

In each of those instances, I had thought I was being conscious and thoughtful. Our intention may come from a place of sensitivity, but if we preface pose options with “just,” our teaching can go from accessible to hierarchical real quick.

Jivana Heyman writes about yoga teachers’ good intentions backfiring in his recent book, The Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga. “Sometimes we overcompensate and infantilize our students, especially older adults, by speaking in overly concerned or worried tones. An example of this is using the word “just” as in ‘just raise your arms up in front of you,’ even though you may be saying it to sound sensitive. It can come across as belittling.”

Yoga Pose Problematic Cue with “Just” Inclusive Cue Without “Just”
Extended Side Angle Pose “Or just keep your arm reaching to the ceiling.” “Or keep your arm reaching towards the ceiling, or rest it on your thigh for support.”
Handstand “Or just do Downward-Facing Dog.” “Or practice Downward-Facing Dog, or another inversion that is accessible for you.”

You’re Not a Bad Teacher If You’ve Used “Just”

Acknowledge and Learn

If you’ve used the word “just” in your yoga teaching, don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to acknowledge your mistake and learn from it. Remember, the goal is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all of your students, regardless of their level of experience or ability.

Problematic Cue with “Just” Inclusive Cue Without “Just”
“Or just keep your arm reaching to the ceiling.” “Or keep your arm reaching towards the ceiling, or rest it on your thigh for support.”
“Or just do Downward-Facing Dog.” “Or practice Downward-Facing Dog, or another inversion that is accessible for you.”

Be Compassionate with Yourself and Others

It’s also important to be compassionate with yourself and others. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. If you hear yourself using the word “just” in your teaching, simply correct yourself and move on. There’s no need to dwell on your mistake or to feel ashamed. And if you hear another teacher using the word “just,” don’t be judgmental. Instead, offer them some support and guidance.

  • Be mindful of your language and avoid using the word “just” when offering modifications or options.
  • If you do use the word “just,” be sure to follow it up with a more empowering statement.
  • Create a safe and welcoming environment for all of your students, regardless of their level of experience or ability.

Remember Your Intention

When you’re teaching yoga, it’s important to remember your intention. Why are you teaching? What do you want your students to get out of your class? If your intention is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all, then you need to be mindful of your language and your actions. Avoid using the word “just” and other disempowering language. Instead, focus on creating a positive and supportive environment where all of your students feel welcome and respected.

“The most important thing is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all of your students, regardless of their level of experience or ability.” – Jivana Heyman

How to Stop Using the Word “Just” When Teaching

Look at Your Why

First, consider why you are offering an option. Are you giving options as a place for people to explore their practice autonomously? Or are you implying that there is a mandatory sequence for students to follow?

Reason for Offering Options Inclusive Language Disempowering Language
To provide students with autonomy “Or explore another option that feels good for your body today.” “Or just do this other option.”
To accommodate different levels of experience and ability “Or try this modification that may be more accessible for you.” “Or just do this easier version.”

Make It an Inquiry

Carpenter encourages teachers and students alike to make everything an inquiry. She relies on asking questions. For example, instead of telling students to “just keep your arm reaching overhead,” she prefers to ask “can you take your left arm overhead?” That empowers the student to be their own expert on what is right for them that day.

  • Instead of saying “just keep your arm reaching overhead,” ask “can you take your left arm overhead?”
  • Instead of saying “just do Downward-Facing Dog,” ask “can you practice Downward-Facing Dog, or another inversion that is accessible for you?”
  • Instead of saying “just rest in Child’s Pose,” ask “can you find a shape that feels restful for your body today?”

Logical and Empowering Variations

Offer Alternatives That Are Safe and Accessible

When offering variations, it’s important to make sure that they are safe and accessible for all of your students. This means avoiding variations that could cause injury or that are too difficult for beginners. Instead, offer variations that are within the reach of all of your students, regardless of their level of experience or ability.

Pose Traditional Cue Empowering Variation
Downward-Facing Dog “Press your heels towards the ground.” “Press your heels towards the ground, or keep your knees slightly bent.”
Chaturanga Dandasana “Lower your chest towards the ground.” “Lower your chest towards the ground, or stay in Plank Pose.”
Cobra Pose “Lift your upper body off the ground.” “Lift your upper body off the ground, or stay in Sphinx Pose.”

Empower Your Students

When offering variations, it’s important to empower your students to choose the variation that is right for them. This means giving them clear and concise instructions, and then allowing them to make their own choices. Avoid telling your students what to do, and instead focus on providing them with the information they need to make informed decisions about their practice.

  • Give your students clear and concise instructions.
  • Allow your students to make their own choices.
  • Avoid telling your students what to do.
  • Provide your students with the information they need to make informed decisions about their practice.

Let Your Students Teach You

Maintain a Beginner’s Mind

Souza encourages teachers to always maintain a beginner’s mind. “Stay humble and be a student,” he suggests. “Allow your students to be the teachers instead. This approach fosters compassion and kindness, making your class more human-centered.”

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Traditional Approach Beginner’s Mind Approach
The teacher is the expert who knows everything. The teacher is a student who is always learning.
The teacher tells the students what to do. The teacher listens to the students and learns from them.
The teacher creates a hierarchical environment. The teacher creates a collaborative environment.

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Be Open to Feedback

Souza finds this approach particularly helpful when we inevitably slip and blurt out things we didn’t intend. Allowing yourself to be a student first means “you are no longer in the position of being the teacher who knows everything and feels the pressure of that role,” he says. “Instead, you can simply smile, regroup, and try not to make the same mistake again.”

  • Be open to feedback from your students.
  • Use feedback to improve your teaching.
  • Create a safe space for students to give feedback.

Conclusion

The word “just” can be a harmful and disempowering word to use in yoga teaching. It can make students feel like they are not good enough or that they are not doing the pose correctly. It can also create a sense of hierarchy in the class, with those who can do the full pose being seen as superior to those who cannot. By avoiding the use of the word “just,” we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all of our students.