Can Verbal Cuing In Yoga Influence Its Effects?


September 7, 2021     | Yoga Research

How does verbal cuing in yoga affect us?

Research Study At A Glance

The Research Question Asked

Does the type of verbal cuing in yoga influence its effects?

Type of Study

Clinical research study

Study Participants (Sample)

Sample size: 84 total participants

  • Women
  • Mean age 22 ± 3.8 years
  • No previous yoga experience

Methods

Researchers split study participants into one of three treatment groups including: a control group who did no yoga, a “sport” group who received verbal cues emphasizing physical aspects of yoga, and a “spiritual” group who received verbal cues emphasizing philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga. The sport group and spiritual group attended one yoga class per week for 10 weeks.

Study participants completed four psychological questionnaires one week before the 10 weeks of yoga classes began and again at week 11 after the study was complete. The questionnaires included: the Essential Properties of Yoga Questionnaire, Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale, Positive and Negative Affect Scale, and the Spiritual Connection Questionnaire.

Results

Body awareness, mindfulness, positive affect, and spirituality scores were not significantly different between yoga groups who received physically focused verbal cuing in yoga class and those who received spiritually focused cues.

Conclusion

Specific emphases in verbal cuing in yoga (physical cues versus philosophical cues) did not affect levels of body awareness, mindfulness, positive affect, or spirituality.

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Background

Verbal cuing in yoga is a common part of modern, Western group yoga classes. Nearly all styles of yoga practiced in the West incorporate some verbal cuing in yoga classes. However, the emphasis in verbal cues varies from class to class and between styles. Styles of yoga that emphasize the physical aspects of practice may also highlight the physical in their verbal cues. Classes that focus more on mindfulness, relaxation, or other aspects of yoga likely tailor their verbal cues towards those goals. Although verbal cues are a part of nearly every yoga class, we don’t really know what the effects of verbal cuing in yoga are. That is particularly true with regard to psychological effects. This study looked at that question.

Research question

Does the type of verbal cuing in yoga influence its effects?

Research methods

The study evaluated the influence of type of verbal cues on body awareness, mindfulness, positive affect, and spirituality in a clinical research study. The study participants were all females with no yoga experience. There were 84 total study participants and their mean age was 22 years old.

Researchers randomly split study participants into one of three treatment groups. A control group who did no yoga included 34 participants. A “sport” group included 27 participants who received verbal cues emphasizing physical aspects of yoga during their classes. Finally, there was a “spiritual” group, which included 23 participants. They received verbal cues emphasizing philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga during their classes.

Both the sport group and spiritual group attended one yoga class per week, led by a qualified instructor, for 10 weeks. Both treatment groups practiced the same sequence of postures in the classes they attended. Each class began with a body and breath focus. The classes then followed a series of standing and seated postures with an 8-10 minute rest at the end. While the amount of verbal cuing in each yoga class was the same, the emphasis of the content varied between the two treatment groups.

All study participants completed a series of questionnaires one week before the 10 weeks of yoga classes began and again at week 11 after the study was complete. They completed four psychological questionnaires: the Essential Properties of Yoga Questionnaire, Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale, Positive and Negative Affect Scale, and the Spiritual Connection Questionnaire.

Results

There were no differences in scores on the four psychological scales between the sports cuing group and the spiritual/philosophical cuing group. When researchers merged the two yoga treatment groups, and then analyzed a comparison between yoga and the control (no yoga) group, spirituality scores increased in the yoga group compared to the control. Negative affect decreased in the yoga group compared to the control.

Why is this relevant to yoga practitioners?

Many yoga practitioners are also teachers. And one of the ways we communicate in group classes is verbally. This is often the simplest way to convey information to a group because we can verbalize concepts to everyone at the same time. However, this study suggests that specific types of verbal cuing in yoga don’t affect some measures of either our physical or spiritual experience.

This could be because when we are focused on the movements we’re doing with our body, we tune out verbal information. It could also be a reflection of the specific verbal cues used or the impacts that were measured. More research is needed to know for sure. I do think this research should make us pause for a moment, however, and consider our intent with the verbal cues that we use. We might want to consider if we are adding anything to our classes with all those words, or if allowing some silence into the yoga space could also be to our students’ benefit.

Conclusion

Verbal cuing in yoga is common to most styles of yoga practiced in the West. But so far there is very little research on what the impacts of those verbal cues are. This research study compared two emphases in verbal cuing: physical cues and spiritual/philosophical cues. In this initial study they found no differences in the impacts on body awareness, mindfulness, positive affect, or spirituality scores.

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Reference citation

Csala B., E. Ferentzi, B.T. Tihanyi, R. Drew, and F. Koteles. 2020. Verbal cuing is not the path to enlightenment: Psychological effects of a 10-session hatha yoga practice. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375.

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