When I started doing yoga consistently a few years ago I was overwhelmed. Not only was I asking my body to do things it had never done before, but there were so many new words. What was a practice? Drishti? You want to me to do a vin-what? I thought I’d write a post with some of the terms and words that are used in ashtanga yoga classes.
Practice This is what yogis call their yoga routine. Not only does it mean a single yoga session, but also how your sessions combine into a longer term pattern.
Asana Each yoga pose is called an asana. For example, Upward dog and chaturanga are both asanas.
Drishti The gazing point in a yoga asana is called the drishti in ashtanga yoga. There are a few of them, and each post has a specific one. For example, in warrior 2 the drishti is your finger tips. In downward dog it’s your bellybutton. You’re not so much staring at these points, but giving your eyes a place to rest while you’re in the pose.
Sun Salutation These are a specific set of poses in a specific order that are done starting and ending in a standing position. Sun salutations are typically done in vinyasa and ashtanga classes (check out this post to find out more about ashtanga).
Vinyasa Similar to sun salutations, vinyasas are also a set of poses in a specific order, but they start and end in a sitting position. Ashtanga classes do both sun salutations (for the standing asanas) and vinyasas (for the sitting asanas).
Ujayyi This is a specific kind of yogic breathing for ashtanga yoga. The back of the throat constricts slightly so that each breath creates a bit of noise. Think of Darth Vader but not as pronounced. The inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Throughout your practice the breath should be smooth and steady and not rushed.
If you walk into an ashtanga yoga class, hopefully you’ll know know at least a bit about what the teacher is talking about. Every asana has a Sanskrit and English name. I didn’t go into those because with a little googling you can find all kinds of information about them. If you’re looking for a book that gives the basics on ashtanga yoga I’d really recommend The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino MacGregor (affiliate link). It’s easy to read and thoroughly goes through every asana in the primary series as well as the philosophy behind ashtanga yoga.
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