How to teach boat pose

The Hidden Language Of Boat Pose Decoded

After reading this post, you’ll know the steps to allow your students to become more aware of the “hidden language of boat pose”.  You can weave this “hidden language” into your next yoga lesson plan or a yoga class theme.

Why reveal the hidden language of boat pose to your students? 

Everyone loves a mystery!

It’s the mystery of life that makes it so darn appealing.  After all, if you know exactly what’s going to happen each day, life would soon become…well, for lack of a better word, dull.  Yet, that’s how most of us (yoga teachers) teach yoga.  We teach the same dull way year in year out without giving our students the opportunity to decode the hidden language of the asana.

OK, time for an example….

For years I taught yoga the traditional way, you know something like this:  “Here’s how you do boat pose: Sit with legs straight. Press hands on floor behind hips, fingers pointing toward feet.  Exhale & bend knees, lift feet up (thighs angled about 45 degrees to floor).  Lift pubis toward navel. Straighten knees .  Reach strongly out through fingers. Keep hands on floor beside hips or hold on to backs of thighs. Tip chin slightly toward sternum so base of skull lifts lightly away from back of neck.  Release legs with an exhalation. Sit upright on an inhalation.”

That’s very professional and yes, I agree, it’s important to give clear instructions when teaching, but it’s so very…yawn…dull.  Read it again and try not to yawn.


We yoga teachers can do better then dishing out stereotypical left brain asana directions to our students.

This “dull teaching” is how you were taught to teach yoga, and it’s a great foundation.

But that’s all it is…a foundation.

Once you graduate from yoga teacher training school, the real learning begins. Your classes are the perfect places to experiment with your students, and the best part is that you can even tell them.

Quite often I’ll go into the first class of a 6 week course and say something like:

Hey everyone. For the next 6 weeks we’re going to be experimenting and failing forward with XYZ (xyz being my 6 week theme).”  

The point is that I let my students know that I’m constantly testing out new things.  And so far they enjoy my brutal honesty and being part of an adventure.

If you continue trying to be the archetypal yoga teacher that gives perfect directions and are afraid to drop your guard and enter into the mystery, you will almost certainly bore your students into signing up for a pilates class or even worse, the dreaded Zumba class.

The main thing is to be yourself (not a yoga teacher stereotype) and have fun.

If you’re teaching “Yin Yoga” (where you get students to practice one pose for 5 to 10 minutes at a time), then it’s a perfect opportunity to ask your students to put their mental scuba gear on and submerge underneath the asana iceberg.

We all know that icebergs only reveal 10% of themselves.

The same is true with “Asana Icebergs”.

If Mr. or Mrs Yoga Student doesn’t submerge to see the other 90% of the asana iceberg, he or she is robbing themselves of a deeper (forgive the pun), and dare I say it, more spiritually fulfilling experience.

The courage to put “mental scuba gear on” turns a run-of-the-mill stretch into a spiritual odyssey.


Weaving “hidden language” into a yoga lesson plan will help with the following…

  • Bring new depth and insight into the minds of your students.
  • Discover layers of meaning and make connections that change lives.
  • Explore the mythological meaning of postures.
  • Reveal a richer purpose than making your body feel good.
  • Stretch beyond the physical and into the subtle body.
  • Take your student’s yoga practice deeper, not in the body, but in the mind.
  • Teach a new, deeper awareness of asanas.
  • Understand the messages and the secrets that are locked in our bodies.
  • Weave together yoga practice and philosophy without scaring off your students.

9 Steps To Reveal The Hidden Language Of Boat Pose

Step 1
Teach Translation 

nava = boat
asana = posture

Step 2
Teach Sanskrit Pronunciation


Step 3
Teach A Memory Trick

An easy and fun way to get your students to remember Sanskrit is to come up with a bizarre story that involves a boat and the Sanskrit name and turn it into a visualization.   Ask them to visualize it when they are actually in the pose.

Here’s an example for you…

“Imagine as you get on your magic mat and practice BOAT pose, your mat suddenly starts hovering and then whooosh, it travels so fast that it’s taken you back in time to the 1700’s and you’re on board Captain Jack Sparrow’s pirate boat. Jack asks you to help him on his quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, and you say, “Oh that’s easy.  All you have to do is practice NAVasana and say the magic word, NAV, three times. Let’s show Captain Jack Sparrow the fountain of youth….”  This is where you ask your students to snap out of the visualization and practice boat pose.

Step 4
Teach Boat Symbolism

Boat symbolism speak to our intuition mostly about NAVigation. Just before asking your students to practice Boat Pose, ask one of more of the following questions.  You can also ask a question(s) during and after the pose…

Navigation Symbolism 

  • Where do you want to GO?
  • Have you PREPARED for your inner voyage with a consistent yoga practice?
  • Are you NAVIGATING through life with awareness or are you burying your head in the sand?
  • Are you NAVIGATING through emotional tides of life with an inner calm?

Water Symbolism 

  • What EMOTIONS are you feeling right now?
  • What could do with some DEEPER Knowledge in your life right now?
  • What are you DREAMING about?
  • What needs FLEXIBILITY in your life right now?
  • Have you got FLUIDITY in your life?
  • Are you ready to become silent and use your INTUITION?

Step 5
Boat Quote

You could memorise a quote and repeat it several times throughout the class. Maybe the quote could morph into yoga class theme?

Here are some to get quotes you could use for boat pose…

May the sails of your soul always billow with fresh winds of wisdom” ~ Anon

“To reach a port we must set sail – Sail, not tie at anchor.  Sail, not drift.”  ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

This beginning motion, this first time when a sail truly filled and the boat took life and knifed across the lake under perfect control, this was so beautiful it stopped my breath.” ~ Gary Paulsen

Sailing a boat calls for quick action, a blending of feeling with the wind and water as well as with the very heart and soul of the boat itself. Sailing teaches alertness and courage, and gives in return a joyousness and peace that but few sports afford.” ~ George Matthew Adams

A boat is a vehicle that allows you to move move from point “a” to point “b” quickly and more safely then swimming. Metaphorically speaking our subconscious is our vehicle. How we navigate our subconscious will be the wind in our sail, or the storm on our sea.” ~ George Watts

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr

How do men act on a sinking ship? Do they hold each other? Do they pass around the whisky? Do they cry?” ~ Sebastian Junger

Now then, Pooh,” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?” “I ought to say,” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, “that it isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a Boat, and sometimes it’s more of an Accident. It all depends.” “Depends on what?” “On whether I’m on the top of it or underneath it.”  ~ Winnie-the-Pooh

Step 6
Boat Poem

If you’re feeling brave and want to memorise a poem instead of a quote, here are a few you could use for boat pose…

I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweet, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” ~ John F Kennedy

A BOAT beneath a sunny sky, Lingering onward dreamily In an evening of July — Children three that nestle near, Eager eye and willing ear, Pleased a simple tale to hear — Long has paled that sunny sky: Echoes fade and memories die: Autumn frosts have slain July. Still she haunts me, phantomwise, Alice moving under skies never seen by waking eyes. Children yet, the tale to hear, Eager eye and willing ear, Lovingly shall nestle near. In a Wonderland they lie, Dreaming as the days go by, Dreaming as the summers die: Ever drifting down the stream — Lingering in the golden dream — Life, what is it but a dream?” ~ Lewis Carroll

“All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Describing the “doldrums” in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Step 7
Teach Using Imagery

Instead of teaching with “dull directions” such as…

Sit with legs straight. Press hands on floor behind hips, fingers pointing toward feet.  Exhale & bend knees, lift feet up (thighs angled about 45 degrees to floor).  Lift pubis toward navel. Straighten knees . Reach strongly out through fingers. Keep hands on floor beside hips or hold on to backs of thighs. Tip chin slightly toward sternum so base of skull lifts lightly away from back of neck.  Release legs with an exhalation. Sit upright on an inhalation.

Maybe you could sprinkle a wee bit of “imagery” when teaching Boat Pose.

Here are some imagery examples for you…

“Allow your mind to go from stormy sea to still as a pond.”

“Carry an inner oasis of calm, even in the midst of stormy chaos.”

“Instead of letting life’s stormy seas sink you, learn to enjoy the voyage.”   

“The doldrums is a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are totally calm.  Ships with sails could be stranded for days or even weeks in the doldrums.   If you strive for low-pressure in your life, you could be stranded for days or even weeks with mild depression, listlessness or stagnation.   Instead of asking the Universe to give you a low-pressured life, ask for pressure and the ability to navigate your way through it.” (you could use the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem in step 6 to emphasise the futility of seeking out a low-pressure life).

“Rather then fight against your “problems”, forgive and let go — resist less, struggle less, fight less, and flow more.”

“Yoga is pure cause & effectthe smallest daily practice can have a profound domino effect as you journey through life, just as a tiny wave can turn into a tsunami.”  

“Raise your (legs) sails high.”

“Raise your (legs) sails high. A sail redirects the power of the wind to propel a boat. What needs redirecting in your life right now?”

“The winds of inner peace are blowing all the time. All you need to do is raise your sails to discover it.”

Step 8
Teach Variations

I know there are only meant to be 7 steps, but I could resist adding this one.

Allow your students to experiment with variations of boat pose. Ask them to create a “new never before seen version of boat pose”.

Here are a few images of myself in boat pose variations….


Half Boat Variation

Half Boat Variation


Half Boat Variation

Half Boat Variation


Half Boat Variation

Half Boat Variation

Step 9
Teach Boat Pose

OK, now you’re ready to teach boat pose.

Watch the video below to learn new ways of teaching boat pose (includes several variations).


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George Watts

Hope you enjoyed my post. I'm a BWY yoga teacher, and creator of the Yoga Genie Lesson Planner. Create yoga lesson plans quickly and easily. Get started with the Yoga Genie Lesson Planner for free today.

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