I remember this mind trick kids would play on each other when I was younger, saying something like “Don’t think of a pink elephant!” and of course, that is what happens right away.

You think of a pink elephant.

It seems that the mind does not recognize the not when it hears it.

According to Mark England, negations like this one focus the mind on what it’s trying to avoid.

I also remember being in a yoga class, trying super hard to balance on one leg, when the teacher said “Don’t fall”.

Well, excuse me? I wasn’t thinking about falling till you mentioned it. I was thinking about keeping my balance, my gaze strong and my breath calm.

Why bring up what I’m not supposed to do in a situation like this one?

And yes, I did fall.


With this in mind, and the knowledge from Procabulary, I have (tried) to be very mindful of what I say, as a yoga teacher. What I say and how I say it.

Am I using way to many “not”s?

Because, I know that what I say, will affect what my students hear, and how they practice.

Wording clear and short cues is an art yoga teachers must know, to lead their students in practice.

You should say, clear and quickly, what you expect them to do.

So think about it, what are you saying?

Do you say “don’t fall” when you should instead be encouraging them to keep their balance?

Do you say “your knee should not go past ankle” in warrior pose, where you could instead say “your knee should be in line – or behind – your ankle”?

Do you say “we won’t hold this for long” when you could say “you can do this! only a few breaths more”?

Do you say “don’t hold your breath” when you could say “remember to breathe”?


If you are a yoga teacher (or planning to be), think about how what you say affects what your students do – and what they focus on.

Because, ultimately, they will focus on what you are saying, no matter if there is a “not” or not.

And if a negation is needed, sandwich it up with clear affirmations.

For example, when teaching side plank: “push through your shoulders. Do not collapse into them. Push through!”

And when I write this, I realize that instead, I demonstrate for my students and we go through both collapsing into our shoulders and then pushing through, meaning that I never need the negation. My students simply feel which way feels right.


And if you are a student of yoga (which you should also be, even though you’re a teacher as well), listen to what other teachers say. See the possibilities of wording things differently when they say “not”. And be mindful of how what they say, affects your practice.

By saying what they should do (instead of what they shouldn’t do), we make the cues for our students much clearer. We put their focus on what matters. And we help them grow their practice.

Teachers, how are you working to remove the “not”s from your teaching vocabulary?