Common Yoga Terms and Phrases
Walk into any yoga class as a beginner and you may feel like you are walking into a class taught in another language. Well, you would be partially correct. Many of the words and phrases you hear are part of a dead language known as Sanskrit.
A “dead language” is just a language that isn’t used in everyday life anymore. However, many original yoga texts are written in Sanskrit and yoga teachers will incorporate Sanskrit to honor that tradition. The words are also soothing to hear adding to the relaxation benefits of yoga.
The following terms and phrases are words you will most likely hear during a yoga class or workshop.
Also read and heard as om or aum, this sound is typically used to open and close a yoga class. It is known as the sacred sound of the universe and it brings everything together. In a sacred Hindu text, called the Mandukya Upishad, it states,” Om is imperishable and that it is all states of time, past, present, future, as well as transcending time itself.”
The ohm sound and its vibrations may also positively affect your chakras (which we will talk about later) as you chant.
You will almost surely see the ohm symbol in any yoga class or environment. The symbol is a visual representation of the sounds of ohm and evokes feelings of serenity and unity.
Many beginners feel shy chanting ohm before or after class, but I encourage you to give it a go, it truly is an experience.
Asana is a Sanskrit word that refers to the physical postures that you practice during class. When a teacher uses the Sanskrit name for a yoga pose you will start to notice that it always ends in “asana”. For example, trikonasana, or triangle pose can be broken down into “trikon” meaning triangle and “asana” meaning pose.
Most of the time this will be shortened to just “chaturanga” and all it describes or instructs us to do is go from high to low plank. It is usually incorporated into a series of flows like Sun Salutations.
If you are going to a vinyasa or power yoga class, you will surely experience sun salutations. Sun salutations are a series of poses connected by movement and breath. It is typically practiced as a warm-up at the beginning of class and is comprised of 7 steps. Each movement is linked by breath. An easy rule of thumb to remember how to breathe is to inhale with upward movements and exhale with downward movements.
- Tadasana/ Mountain Pose
- Forward fold to flat back
- chaturanga/ high to low plank
- Upward Facing Dog or Cobra
- Downward Facing Dog
- Jump or step to forward fold
- Finish in Mountain
Vinyasa can be used to describe a style of yoga which is a quick-paced class where you “flow” from pose to pose. The style focuses on using your breath to move through the sequence. Vinyasa can also be used to describe the connection to breathe and movement in any style of yoga class.
This style of breathing is used in the majority of yoga classes, especially high-intensity ones. Ujjayi Breath can also be used off the mat during stressful problems, anger-inducing situations or anxiety attacks. It can create energy but also has calming properties as well. This style of breath is something everyone, not just yogis, can benefit from knowing. You can learn to practice ujjayi breath anywhere but when you first learning, have a seat or start in a child’s pose.
- Start by taking long, steady deep breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth. As you exhale, imagine using your breath to fog up a mirror.
- As you start to take deeper breaths, restrict the airflow to the back of your throat, this should create a slight sound to your breathing.
- Breathe into your belly, taking care to fill your lungs and diaphragm. By resting your hand on your stomach, you should be able to feel it rise and fall.
- As you get used to this deep breathing, close your mouth and breath in and out of your nose, mimicking the sound of the ocean.
Ujjayi breath is powerful on and off the mat and has physical and mental benefits in and of its self. This type of breathing can release tension built up in the body due to stress, it can also release toxins built up in the body, strengthens your immune system and may help you sleep better. It promotes better concentration and focus. It also can help you control your blood pressure. Ujjayi breath is ideal for anyone who suffers from panic or anxiety attacks, it provides instant relief by slowing your heart rate down and relaxing your brain.
Drishti is a fixed, intentional gaze on an object. Some yoga teachers will call out specific places to set your Drishti like your thumb, eyebrow, tip of nose, fingertips, navel or your toes. They may also call out places like the top of your mat or the ceiling.
Downward Facing Dog:
Downward dog is one of the most used poses in yoga. It can be used as a resting pose or a base pose. Down dog is a yoga pose that stretches and strengthens your arms, legs, back and core, it lengthens your spine and releases tension in your neck and lower back.
A lot of classes will start with a child’s pose. It is a great pose to pull yourself together, start your breathing and set a personal intention for the class. This pose is also useful to come back to at any point during a class if you just need a rest.
For many yogis, Shavasana is their favorite pose. It is a complete surrender of your body and mind. It typically comes at the end of a class and involves laying flat on the ground with your eyes closed.
At the end of a yoga class or workshop, you may hear the word namaste partnered with a little bow of the head. Translated literally, namaste means, “I bow to you”. It is an acknowledgment of one soul in another.
Karma refers to the cycle of cause and effect or consequences dished out by the universe. More commonly thought of as “ what goes around comes around”. People who believe in karma believe that what happens to a person, good and bad, happens because of their past actions.
Chakras are energy vortexes in our bodies. There are seven chakras and each is associated with a color and a life force are located along your spine. Although you cannot visually see charkas, they are depicted as spinning wheels. When all your chakras are active and in alignment, your life would feel balanced, healthy and whole. You might feel secure and spiritually connected. Many of us deal with blocked, overactive or underactive chakras.
- Root Chakra – Located at the base of your spine, your root chakra controls survival issues. Things such as finances and food. It is associated with the color red as well as the Earth element.
- Sacral Chakra – Located slightly below your navel, this chakra is in charge of things like pleasure and sexuality. It is linked with the color orange and the element of water.
- Solar Plexus Chakra – Located in your stomach area, the solar plexus chakra deals with your self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. It is connected to the color yellow and the fire element.
- Heart Chakra – Your heart chakra is located just above your heart and controls love, joy and inner peace. It is associated with the color green as well as the air element.
- Throat Chakra – Located in the throat, this chakra deals with communication, speaking out, truth and self-expression. This chakra is associated with turquoise and is linked to sounds and music.
- Third Eye Chakra – Located between your eyes, smack dab in your forehead. It controls your imagination, intuition and wisdom. It is associated with the color purple and the element of light.
- The Crown Chakra – Located at the very top of your head and deals with spirituality. It is associated with the colors of violate and white as well as the element of divine consciousness.
There are plenty of things teachers say that sound a little funny but one explained, they make complete sense. A lot of these cues are very specific and small instructions that make a huge difference.
“Soften your knees and elbows”
When a teacher says this, they are telling you to bring a small bend into your elbows and knees. For many poses, you want to avoid locking your knees and elbows for several reasons. By bending your joints you bring the pose into your muscle, creating strength and stability. You protect your joints from injury and your body tones up quicker. It also helps your balance.
“Soften your gaze”
If you hear a teacher say this during class, set your gaze on one spot. Instead of intently staring at that spot, just start to focus on it. Let your eyelids and the muscles of your relax, imagine staring through that spot instead of just at.
During class, you may hear a teacher call out something like “engage your uddiyana bandha”. This simply means pulling your abdominals up and in. So lift your belly button and pull it back towards your spine.
“Elongate your spine”
This just means to create space between your vertebrae. You can do this by lifting your head towards the ceiling while keeping your spine straight. You can try pressing your shoulders down and pressing your tailbone down.
There are many unusual names and terms used in yoga classes. Some classes even have different names for the same poses. You shouldn’t let this discourage you from starting a yoga class. Knowing the basics and just mimicking the poses you see can go along way.