Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning the Dialgoue

So, it's been years since the last post. Lots of change. More on that later. The focus of this post is the following article I wrote last year. It evolved from thoughts I had about my own experience in trying to learn the dialogue, and it includes guidance based on my experience as a public speaking instructor and a student of communication studies. Please take what helps you and leave behind the rest. Enjoy!

Learning the Dialogue

A Handy Guide for Teachers Who Struggle

I was, by far, the worst person in my group. Everyone groaned when I got up to deliver my dialogue. It took me six weeks to learn the first part of half moon. At training, I studied the dialogue every waking moment (even in lecture, I confess), and yet I just couldn’t get it right. When I graduated (and I was really surprised that they gave me a diploma), I felt I didn’t know it at all. I was so desperate after training, I drove 500 miles to meet with a hypnotist to help me overcome my inability to memorize (her name is Mary Holmes and is on FB – she is AWESOME and in LA!). Despite my struggle, I was determined to learn the dialogue, and over time, I did. But it took a while, and I continue to learn; I continue to refine. Here’s an article that might help those who struggle like I did.

If you are having trouble learning the dialogue, consider why. For most people, the trouble lies in one or more of the following:

  • Trouble memorizing
  • Public Speaking Apprehension
  • Misunderstanding the dialogue

I’ll discuss each of these challenges below and offer some solutions to overcome each problem.


In my own experience in training, and observing others in training, it seems that people “of a certain age” have more trouble than their younger counterparts memorizing the dialogue.

More mature folks, I believe, are challenged when asked to use another person’s words unless they can thoroughly understand what they mean, what they imply, and then they need to make those words their own before they can use them with ease. This takes time. Because many younger people are still familiar with what’s referred to in the world of pedagogy as the banking model of learning (make a deposit of information, withdraw said information when needed), they more easily are able to memorize the dialogue and pull it out on cue. If you’re one of those people, good for you!

But I have also seen, entirely too much in my opinion, an inability by those who learn the dialogue easily, regardless of age, to keep the dialogue pure after a while. The easy learners often lose it and end up using their own words after they’ve been up on the podium for six months or so. Take caution rock star performers – please keep your dialogue!! For those who struggle, take heart – in my experience, the people who work the hardest to learn the dialogue, own it for life.

For those of any age who have trouble memorizing, here are some ideas to help:

Know what kind of learner you are. Here is a link to information on learning styles: You could have one or more style, and this site offers a questionnaire that will help you to learn your most dominant learning style. Here’s a discussion related to a few different styles.

Are you an auditory learner? If so, you will learn best when you hear the dialogue over and over again. Tape yourself or another person and listen over and over again to the pose said THE RIGHT WAY. Don’t listen in posture clinic or in class to people who say it the wrong way – if you do hear it incorrectly, then make sure you say out loud (quietly) the right way. That will eliminate any programming your brain will take on with the wrong words. And take notice, if you learned half moon best from hearing it 350 times in weeks one and two, you will probably need the same number or more to learn the rest of the poses.

Are you a visual learner? If so, you might have to look at the words, over and over again. Say the words out loud as you read them and then say them again with your eyes open looking at bodies. Many people who are visual learners close their eyes when they recite the dialogue in posture clinic so they can see the words on the paper in their mind. This is a good step in the learning process, but work to transfer your visual learning from words to bodies because as you know, you will eventually have to keep your eyes open when you teach. Also, this is important, try to get your body facing the same way as the “teacher” delivering dialogue in posture clinics – you have to train your eyes to look from the mirror out to the students doing the yoga – it is a completely different place for your mind to process. If your podium at your studio is large enough, ask your studio owner if you can sit on the podium during a few classes (while the teacher is teaching a class) to just listen to the dialogue and watch the bodies from the other direction. It will help you A LOT.

Are you a tactile learner? When you say the dialogue, you may need to use your arms and legs to help you memorize. Remember, you can’t jump up and down or put your body in toe stand when you teach, but you can touch your right hip when it’s time to say, “push your hips forward, little bit towards the mirror, opening up your hips and pelvis.” And that little touch to your hip can be the cue you need to remember the words. When I say, “streeeeetcccch” while teaching dialogue, chances are you will see me pull my fist from a high to a low point. When in posture clinic sitting and waiting your turn, LOOK at the bodies (hopefully from behind the teacher) and how they move when you hear the dialogue said THE RIGHT WAY and mentally attach the words to their movements. Allow your mind to do the postures even though your body won’t actually be executing. The more you attach the words to a feeling (physical or emotional), the better you will learn the dialogue.

Do you learn best in social or solitary settings? If you are a solitary learner, take some time on your own to study, but work with people too – remember that although it may not feel good, you will have to teach the dialogue among people so you have to get used to it.

The obvious key to memorizing the dialogue, whatever kind of learner you are, is repetition. You have to put in the time to learn it. The only thing that’s even close to a short cut is to practice before and after training at studios that are loyal to the dialogue so you don’t pick up all those phrases that veer from what’s correct. But even so, OVER and OVER and OVER is the key. And when you leave training, keep working it. This is not easy, but one of the best ways to learn the dialogue and really get it down is to tape yourself teaching a real class, and then do two things: (1) Listen to the class you just taught and compare it to the dialogue. Identify the posture that needs the most work and work that one until you have it verbatim. Continue from there. (2) Take the class from the tape you made (yup! Do the poses!) and pay attention to your timing, to your voice and to your enthusiasm. There’s nothing like taking your own class to help you make appropriate adjustments to your timing, enthusiasm, and enunciation.

And if your studio is not dialogue driven, try your best to find and work for one that is. My experience is that studios that use the dialogue religiously are the most successful, by far. And if you want to be successful, you will work for, and hopefully eventually own, a dialogue driven studio.

Finally, if you are one of those people who are in week nine of training and you feel like you hardly know the dialogue, take hope. Don’t give up. It could take you a year or more AFTER training to really learn the dialogue and that’s perfectly okay. Just keep trying the right way and you will get the benefit. Sound familiar?


If you are one of those many people who fear public speaking more than death, then GOOD FOR YOU!!! Congratulations on facing your fear through yoga! WOW!!!

Public Speaking Apprehension (PSA) is a real condition and is manifested in the body through a variety of ways. As a stressful event, your body assumes fight or flight symptoms: the hypothalamus flashes signals through the nervous and endocrine systems of your body to produce a surge of chemicals into your bloodstream. You may sweat profusely or you may get blotches on your skin. Your voice may sound shaky which can make your nervousness accelerate. Oh and all those words you memorized and know by heart? They can just disappear! Over the short term, it can be exhilarating; over the long term (i.e. a 90 minute class), it can be exhausting. In short, PSA can affect your ability to deliver the dialogue successfully, but you can overcome it!!

Ironically, a lot of the things we do in yoga can help overcome public speaking apprehension. Before you get on the podium, go to a private place and do a few slow pranayama breathing exercises. Just enough to calm you down – don’t pass out. Then when you start to teach, BREATH NORMAL – in through the nose, out through the nose. Try not to hold still as a statue – this will actually increase your body tension, and that tension will then manifest in your voice. Use your body to release your tension – but move with purpose to emphasize the dialogue, not compete with it.

Try to channel your nervousness into two emotions: Passion and Compassion. Before I teach every class, I tell myself to teach with Passion and Compassion. My passion is evident through my voice, my motions, and my enthusiasm for the yoga. My compassion can be seen by understanding and communicating that everyone must do the best they can, the right way. But I don’t know what’s going on in anyone’s mind or body. I can share my enthusiasm, and certainly encourage each and every student, but I never scold or berate anyone. Nerves can highjack passion and compassion. So keep those words close to your heart to remind yourself and take comfort in knowing that it’s about the yoga, it’s not about you.

Do your best to know the words inside out, bones to skin. The more you can rely on your ability to really KNOW what’s coming next, the less nervous you will be. And of course, the more you practice teaching, the more competent you will become.

Here is a link that offers a number of suggestions for PSA, but pick and choose what is appropriate to teaching Bikram hot yoga. The recommendation to “not memorize” won’t work in this case. But knowing the gist of the pose and being able to talk your way through it can help you if your nerves have left your mind blank!


Believe me, I was the biggest doubter out there. When I got my first copy of the dialogue, I retyped the first six poses and made it grammatically correct. I was incensed by the incorrect verbiage, I HATED the visual descriptions, and I argued with everyone that cobras didn’t have one leg! But here’s the strange thing that happened: as I gave in and taught the dialogue, I noticed that those words really worked!! They were succinct, and they gave people the information they needed when they needed it and silly sayings such as, “you have to make up your mind to use your 100% strength in half a second” was actually wonderfully effective in allowing people to catch their breath and then gain the confidence through the words to do the next pose to the best of their ability, the right way.

There are many reasons we use and adhere to the dialogue when we teach Bikram yoga. Here are some of them:

1. It provides you with everything you need; nothing you don’t: It is designed to communicate how to do each posture while keeping your mind engaged and focused. It gives you the instruction you need to do it the right way for the most benefit within a specific time frame. You may even find over time that you hear something new, even though it’s been there the whole time; your body and mind will hear what it needs as it needs it and will respond accordingly.

2. Trust in the timing leads to strength in the postures: By regularly hearing the same dialogue over time, you will learn to turn off your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to hear what it needs in order to execute the pose the right way, the best way it can. And when you start to trust the process, your body will then know how much time it has to push to exactly the limit it needs to get the full benefit. When you trust the instructor to teach the posture the right way within the right time frame, you yourself can trust your body and your mind to respond in the same way.

3. Collective movement equals collective energy: You will find that when everyone in the class moves together to the best of their ability, the collective energy is palpable and will help you to have a better class. That’s the power of the dialogue – when everyone works together do what they can the right way, the collective energy helps each member of the class.

4. Open eyed meditation improves the mind/body connection: Over time, the connection you have between your mind and your body will become stronger and stronger. So strong, in fact, that you will, with a regular practice, have the ability to turn off your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to hear what it needs in order to execute the postures to the best of your body’s ability. And by turning off your conscious mind, you grow to develop a laser sharp focus in the moment of the posture. That calm, sharp focus will transfer to other parts of your life outside of the studio, and again, over time, you will find that you can calmly and with focus make your way through what used to be very stressful situations.

Talk to a senior instructor who really understands the dialogue (although I have a lot of mentors, my #1 go to person for understanding the dialogue is Diane Ducharme) and learn as much as you can from him or her how the body responds to the dialogue, how the mind makes connections to the body and what actually happens when you use the dialogue the right way. You will be blown away by how smart these silly words are!

And then watch the bodies from the podium. You will see it for yourself! It’s incredible! Watch people respond to your words, watch how they make micro adjustments to improve their body and their pose. Watch how they turn off their monkey brain and trust the process. Over time, you will see the power of what you are teaching. It’s amazing!!! Alternately, pay attention when teachers veer (sometimes wildly) from the dialogue – notice how your mind stays engaged, not in a good way, but often in a questioning or critical way. You will see that students who practice without hearing proper dialogue often won’t improve, they won’t be able to get that deep peaceful meditation, they won’t have the amazing healing that I know you have felt from the teachers who, with passion and compassion, teach dialogue.

Make the commitment for yourself to adhere to the dialogue and use it 100% to the best of your ability, the right way...for the rest of your life. You owe it to yourself and to your students.

Best of luck to you, enjoy every moment of the teaching experience - even those that feel horrible! You'll love to tell the horror stories later!


thedancingj said...

Lucy, this is great! So glad you put this together. Good food for thought when visiting posture clinics, and good for the trainees.... I will try to circulate this around a bit.


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