Back to Yoga Basics: Common Yoga Teacher Cues Revealed

Tell me this yoga community.

How many times have you attended a yoga class or practiced yoga online only to have a confusing, not so great, what the f*ck type experience? I’ve been there. I’ve possibly/definitely led people here. And I know how disappointing + frustrating it can be.

And because I know this, today’s topic is all about…

Yoga Teacher Cues

… and revealing some of the common cues that are typical throughout a yoga class, in hopes that it makes your experience more enjoyable, impactful and beneficial.

And if you’re a newer yoga teacher, the free yoga guide below is a wonderful tool to keep learning (just saying).

I will touch on four common cues that teachers in my yoga studio use and that I’ve adapted in my yoga teaching toolbox too. Please note, every teacher has their own style of language, verbal cues, and sequencing. So while my cues can be adapted to your personal yoga studio/yoga teacher, know that there will be always be new cues to learn!

Hence why we are always considered yoga students, never yoga masters.

Let’s get started!

1. Stack the Body

This is a common yoga teacher cue because it promotes safety within the yoga posture + your body.

I would gather that many yoga teachers are using this verbal cue, possibly changing the actual verbiage, but communicating the same principle nonetheless.

A great example of this cue in action is Warrior II pose. Let’s dive into it and unpack where the body needs to stack.

  • Heel of the front foot aligns with the arch of the back foot
  • Front knee aligns over second + third toes to protect the knee and to open/strengthen the inner front thigh
  • Front thigh is working towards parallel to the ground
  • Hips are open and squared to the side of the mat
  • Torso is aligned over the groin, not leaning forward or hovering backwards
  • Back leg is energetic and acts an anchor for the pose
  • Arms are shooting straight out, in line with the shoulders, and not scrunched up towards the ears
  • Chest is broad, expansive and open to continue the squaring of the body towards the side of the mat

As you read through these alignment cues and possibly even stand up to do Warrior II, notice the building block actions your body is taking to create the shape. Notice how strong you feel when the body is aligned. Notice how well your body responds when each joint/limb/muscle is properly supported.

Notice how this translates to every yoga pose you do and start to break it down, cue by cue, to experience the best version of your pose yet!

2. Create Space + Length  

This yoga posture cue took me years to understand and at the cost of a painful injury, so let’s learn from my mistakes, yeah?  

Often times and mostly for women, we begin our yoga practice with a good dose of flexibility. Women love to feel and be flexible, it’s not only beautiful/graceful, but it also feels good in the body and most importantly – in the ego.   

And flexibility is good, don’t get it twisted, but only if it’s counterbalanced with strength. This is where women can fall into trouble. We lack strength where flexibility lives, leading to hyper-mobility and possibly injury.  

So when we hear the cue to create space + length, I want us to let go of how big, beautiful and bendy we can be, and instead focus on how integrated, strong and expansive we can be. This is hard to understand, I get it, but just like above, let’s use a yoga posture to break down this yoga teacher cue.  

……side note for yoga teachers, it’s equally important to include helpful prep postures leading to a peak pose or a set of postures, warming the body in all the right places.    

The yoga posture example is – Upward Facing Dog/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.  

Not Integrated Example:  

    • Legs rest atop the mat
    • Shoulders round forward + chest collapses
    • Belly soft and not engaged, allowing low back to be compromised
    • Head/neck thrown back, compressing cervical spine

  Strength + Flexibility Combined:  

  • Wrists + feet are aligned with shoulders + hips – creating equal distances
  • Legs are active and both knee caps + quads are hovering above the ground
  • Navel center is engaged, protecting the lower back
  • Shoulders roll onto the back, broadening the chest, encouraging a mid-back opening
  • Neck is an extension of the spine

   3. Long Lines of Energy

Next up on our yoga teacher cue journey, how to create long lines of energy and what the hell that means.

I love this yoga cue for balancing postures like warrior III and half moon, but also for foundation postures like plank pose, downward facing dog and crescent pose. This cue is super similar to the one above, but translates differently for my body + mind, and here’s why.

When we energize and activate the body into a long line of energy, the pose becomes easy or almost effortless in a sense. But when we leave body parts dangling and muscles not engaging, the postures become hard, like fall all over the place, frustrating as anything type hard.

So while it requires more effort to create the long line of energy, the outcome is a more streamlined shape.

Are you feeling me?

Let’s break down warrior III and investigate this yoga teacher cue further.

  • The standing leg + foot is the axis point or base of the posture, meaning it must be grounded, strong and present (the knee can be bent or straight here)
  • The hips are squared to the ground helping to encourage alignment + length
  • The lifted leg is pulsing with energy, extending straight back and long, even the toes are alive here
  • The torso is active with core engaged, chest parallel to the ground, and the neck long + steady (gaze is down)
  • The arms are either extended forward or back towards the toes with energy radiating out of the fingertips
  • From the crown of the head, to the fingers, to the toes, and down to the standing leg – you are one long line of energy

4. Root Down to Rise Up  

And lastly, and one of the community favorites, root down to rise up.  

This is another yoga pose cue that’s been passed down to me from yoga teachers I frequent/adore/love/look up to. And it’s one that makes sense in almost every yoga posture we create. The idea behind this simple, yet powerful cue is that we create a rebound effect by rooting down into the ground and rising up through our body.  

The root of the pose is whatever body part is touching the ground or has the most surface area connected to the ground. And whatever is rising up from this root is responsible for lifting, making space, and blossoming outwards.   Let’s examine tree pose and how this rooting down to rise up action works.  

  • The standing leg + foot is the root of the pose
  • Focus on the foot here – the big toe, the pinky toe and the heel – all creating a root like sensation
  • The standing leg is active, strong like a root would be in the Earth
  • The rising up manifests in the pelvis, torso, chest, arms and through the crown of the head
  • The pose is strong, grounded and rooted, yet lifted, spacious and rising

That’s the jam for today yogis!

Thank YOU SO MUCH for reading all the words, learning more about your yoga practice, and continuing to live your journey!

Until next time, xoxo.

Hey! I’m Allie.

I’m a self-growth student, freedom-seeker, yoga teacher and the founder of a tight-knit online yoga community: the Body Mind Soul Studio. I’m here to teach you how to transform your life on-and-off-the-mat with a holistic yoga practice.

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If your practice has waned, if your yoga journey feels lonely or you like the way I share yoga’s teachings, then this is where you need to be. Join me once a month, for free, to practice yoga as a community.