Yoga is about getting in touch with your inner self, your mind, and your body. For this reason, yoga is really open and accessible to everyone.
Yoga is often intimidating to beginners because their is so much to learn and new things to take in. For example, you might be in a crowded class surrounded by strangers which is odd at first.
And then there are all of the positions and their names to learn. And your instructor maybe using Sanskrit terms that are also strange at first when you don’t know what they mean.
This article is to help put you at ease so you won’t get discouraged by all of this! For you to appreciate and enjoy and benefit from yoga, you have to feel like you fit in and look forward to going to classes.
In this article we are here to help you feel more at ease and fit into your yoga class and start embracing the yoga culture. One thing that is often confusing is all of the new yoga terms and terminology. We are here to help you understand these terms so they won’t feel so foreign and you will feel more comfortable and start to enjoy your yoga classes.
Yoga Terms and Terminology
The most common yoga term is obviously yoga which is interpreted as ‘union’, the union of your mind, body and breath.
Literally it is translated to ‘seat’, referring to the mainy positions and poses in yoga. Commonly, asana is used to describe a single posture or pose but it is also used to describe a certain yoga style that involves movement. When sanskrit is spoken to say a pose’s name, you will notice that the pose or position’s sanskrit name is followed by asana.
In sanskrit this translates to ‘tighten’ ‘hold’ or ‘lock’. Bandha is referring to the muscular ‘locks’ in your body. When these ‘locks’ in your body are engaged by contracting your muscles, it supports the toning and lifting of these particular muscles. Bandhas are used to control and support the energy (prana) flow throughout your body by accessing the ‘locks’ through muscle contractions. The 3 major types of Bandhas you will most likely hear are:
This refers to the ‘lock’ in your pelvic area. This is the Bandha you will likely hear more than the others, as Mula Bandha involves toning and lifting the muscles in your pelvic floor.
This refers to the ‘lock’ in your abdominal area. Accessing this Bandha will tone and lift the muscles from your diaphragm to your abdominal area.
This refers to the ‘lock’ in your throat area.
Translating to ‘wheel’, chakras are referring to the energy centers throughout your body from lower spine to the top of your head. Chakras are essentially areas that our energy pathways come together. Chakras are main points of mental, physical and emotional energies.
There are 7 different chakras in all of our bodies:
- Sahasrara – This is referred to as ‘crown’ and is located at the top of your head.
- Ajna – This is referred to as ‘third eye’ and is located in the center of your forehead between your eyebrows.
- Vishuddha – This is referred to as ‘thoat’ and is located in your throat area.
- Anahata – This is referred to as ‘heart’ and is located in the center of your chest.
- Manipura – This is referred to as ‘solar plexus’ and is located in your upper abdomen.
- Svadhisthana – This is referred to as ‘the sacral’ and is located in your lower abdomen.
- Muladhara – This is referred to as ‘the root’ and is located at the base of your spine.
Referred to as ‘low plank’ or ‘four-limbed staff pose’, often beginning in a high plank position, the chaturanga is used as a transition to another pose such as the upward facing dog. Doing the chaturanga requires you to have shoulder, arm and core strength, but can be modified for beginners to allow them to leave their knees on the ground instead of being on all four-limbs.
Translating to ‘sight’ or ‘view’, your instructor or teacher may tell you to focus your drishti at a certain spot. They are telling you to focus your gaze. Focussing your gaze can be helpful to your yoga practice because it helps you focus on your breathing, avoid being distracted by your yoga classmates, and finding the balance in your body so you may hold the yoga pose or position that you are practicing. Focusing your drishti is also very commonly used in meditation and not just when holding yoga positions or poses.
Translated as ‘to think’, a mantra is a word, phrase, or a sound chanted out loud or in your mind. Mantras are used to increase your focus when meditating or holding a certain pose or position for a period of time. Some yogis use “I’m strong” or “Just breathe” as their mantras but the most commonly used mantra is “om”.
Translated to ‘seal’, a mudra is a hand gesture or position. Mudras are used in poses or positions and meditation to focus your drishti, concentrate better and connect yourself. Two of the most common Mudras are:
This mudra is achieved by pressing your palms together at the heart.
This mudra is achieved by touching your forefinger to your thumb, creating a circle, while the other three fingers are stretched apart.
Translates as ‘conduit’, nadis are the energy channels that your life force (prana) circulates in. Our bodies contain thousands of nadis, or energy channels, that our life force (prana) flows through.
Directly translated to the light in me bows to the light in you’ or ‘I bow to you’, namaste is used for a greeting and a departure. In yoga, namaste is usually used at the very end of your yoga class. Namaste is commonly said while bowing your head and having your palms pressed together by your heart.
Translates to ‘life’ or ‘breath’, prana means the life force that is within all of us. Prana essentially is the energy that gives our bodies life. Practicing yoga encourages our prana (life force) to flow throughout our body by accessing a mind-body contact.
Translates to ‘life/breath extension’, pranayama is a breathing exercise you do while during yoga or meditation to clear your emotional and physical obstacles in your body to free the flow of your life force (prana). Pranayama is often referring to controlling your breath, making you more able to create a calmness in your body and be more relaxed while practicing yoga or meditation
Often called to ‘corpse pose’, savasana is usually the last pose in a yoga class. You achieve the ‘corpse pose’ or savasana by laying on your back and having your arms and legs widely spread out. This pose is meant to create a blissful state of relaxation. Although the Savasana might look like a useless pose, it is really beneficial to help your mind and body relax after doing physical practices, resets your nervous system and is sometimes used to prepare your body for meditation so you can focus more.
Generally meaning ‘sun salutations’, Surya Namaskar is a series of poses and positions that are usually performed in a specific sequence at the beginning of your yoga class. This series is meant to kind of warm up your body, mind and soul, giving you the energy and ability to not only go through the rest of your yoga class but also the rest of your day.
Referred to as ‘victorious breath’, Ujjayi is a breathing technique that is performed by deeply breathing in and out through your nose. Ujjayi is one of the most difficult breathing techniques used in yoga because it requires you to have a slight construction in your throat, allowing you to be more present and enlivening your sense organs. This technique is often called ‘warriors breathe’ and ‘ocean breath’ as well. In class you may hear your teacher or instructor say “use your Ujjayi breath” or “start your Ujjayi breath and continue to focus on it throughout your practice”.
Translating to ‘to place in a special way’, Vinyasa is a movement that is linked to breathing. Vinyasa is used as a transition, it is a step-by-step approach to take you from one pose or position and lands you in another pose or position safely. This is often described as a ‘breathing system’ or ‘union of breath’ and is often used in yoga classes to describe the connection between yoga poses or positions.
Some yoga classes are designed to make you get a really good work out and have you sweating a lot, but there are also other types of yoga classes that teach mainly meditation, and are often more of a restorative and gentle type of yoga
practice. Yoga classes are usually very welcoming and often accepting, but some yoga classes may not be for you so talk with your instructor or teacher if you feel uncomfortable in your yoga class.
Without the distraction of trying to figure out the sanskrit words that you now know, your yoga practice should go smoother and you can focus more on getting the exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, and spiritual parts of your yoga journey. You don’t need to know the whole sanskrit language, but these terms are useful so you don’t feel so lost in your next or first yoga class.
There are yoga studios that offer classes locally and especially during the pandemic in 2020 there are more and more remote yoga classes online. Those will help make your adjustment to learning yoga much easier to be honest and remove the stress of being new in a studio and feeling like a “newbie” and feeling like people are too close to your mat! (Yes, everyone will relate to this).
Either way, if you’re taking in-person classes or online classes at home, these terms will be helpful in understanding what the instructor or teacher is asking from you.
PS. If there are other terms you would like us to write about, please leave a comment below and we will update this article as needed.
My name is Dave and This is my website about yoga.