Sometimes it can feel like your yoga teacher is speaking another language! Part of that may be if she’s using terms in Sanskrit. The other reason may be that, like most industries, yoga has its own jargon; words and phrases that teachers sometimes throw around with the assumption that everyone else knows what they mean. The reality is that many students, especially those newer to yoga, are clueless.
The best way to get familiar with common terminology is to attend classes and to ask the teacher (before or after class, please; not during). Below are some common words and phrases you’re likely to hear in a yoga class.
Namaste (nah-mah-stay): Loose translation -The good in my honors the good in you. If your teacher closes class with Namaste, students may bow and respond with Namaste. It’s your choice to say it or not.
Savasana (shah-vah-sah-nah): Loose translation - corpse pose. Most yoga classes end with a 5-10 minute savasana. Students recline on their mats, eyes closed, lights dimmed. For some, this is the hardest pose of the class for two reasons: 1) they tend to fall asleep (which is not the objective); and 2) they have trouble keeping their minds still (which is the objective) and find their minds drifting to shopping lists, what to have for dinner, and other distracting thoughts.
Asana or any word then ends with -asana (ah-sah-nah): Loose translation - seat or pose. The physical practice of yoga is called asana. Most pose names end with the suffix -asana. For example, savasana (see above), Trikonasana (triangle pose) or Tadasana (mountain pose).
Come to your breath: This common phrase simply means begin to pay attention to your breath. Attention to breath is an integral part of any asana practice.
Tabletop Pose: This one’s easy - hands and knees with the back flat(ish) like a tabletop.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart: Feet directly under the hip bones (the little bones in front that stick out) as opposed to as wide as the outside edges of the hips. The objective is to have the leg bones stacked on top of each other in a straight line (hip to knee to ankle to heel). This may or may not be the best place for your feet so take this cue with a grain of salt. Start here, then explore how it feels to take your feet wider or narrower. Find the place where it feels best for your hips, knees, and overall balance.
Sacrum: A flat triangular bone at the base of your spine, just above the tailbone.
Sternum: Breastbone; a long flat bone in the center of the chest.
Drishti: A gaze point. During postures it helps to focus energy and maintain balance.
Pranayama: Breathing exercises. Clears physical and mental obstacles from the body to allow for the flow of prana or life force.
Om (or Aum): A sound often chanted (sung) at the beginning and/or end of a class. Said to be the origin of all sounds and the seed of creation.
Hatha (haht-ta) Any yoga that involves the physical body is Hatha, whether it’s called Vinyasa, Flow, Power, Fitness or whatever. However, the common usage in yoga studios is that a Hatha class is more gentle than other styles. The translation from Sanskrit is “Ha” = Sun and “Tha” = Moon. Hatha classes are generally appropriate for Beginners and those newer to yoga.
Vinyasa: A Hatha yoga class where each pose is linked to another in a rhythmic fashion to create a flow. This style of class often moves more quickly than a generic Hatha class and may include more advanced poses. Because of the quicker pace and advanced nature of the postures, these classes are more athletic. You will sweat and may have sore muscles the following day(s). Not recommended for Beginners. Other names for Vinyasa classes include Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, and Fitness Yoga.
Next time: You Are the Boss of Your Body!