Today I’m sharing some terms that you’ll hear in the yoga class that might you may not know the meanings of. I know how intimidating it can be walking into a yoga studio for the first time. Hopefully this post will help with some of unknown if you’re new to yoga.
I remember being completely terrified when I walked into a yoga studio for the first time. I was so intimidated by all the yogis there who seemed to know where everything was (the change room) and the etiquette (taking your shoes off at the door). And that was even before I got into the room where we would be practicing! If you’re interested in reading more about my tips for your first yoga class, check out this post and this post. You can find all of my yoga content here.
Sometimes yoga can feel like a completely different language – and in some ways it is. Many teachers will use the Sanskrit terms for poses. Sometimes they’ll use the English translation – it really depends on the teacher. As someone who’s been through yoga teacher training, I still sometimes confuse utkatasana (chair pose) and uttanasana (standing forward fold). Rest assured that people who have been practicing for years and have taken a ton of classes sometimes still mix up poses.
I thought I’d share some of the more common terms that you’ll hear in yoga classes. Since there’s such a wide variety of kinds of yoga, some of these words will be more common in certain classes than others. For instance, there are quite a few words found in a yoga nidra class that you wouldn’t find in other kinds of yoga classes. Most of those terms haven’t made it into this post because they’re so specific to nidra.
These are a series of poses connected by the breath that are usually included at the beginning of ashtanga or flow classes. If you decide to attend those classes with regularity they’ll become second nature to you before you know it. They start and end in tadasana (mountain pose) or samasthiti (for ashtanga classes).
There are two kinds of sun salutations (surya namaskara in Sanskrit) – A and B. A is definitely done more in classes. B simply has a few extra movements added into it (two downward dogs and warrior 2’s). If you know how to do a sun salutation A, a sun salutation B will be pretty easy to pickup.
Similar to sun salutations, vinyasas are also a set of poses linked to breath, though they start and end in a seated position. They’re typically done between seated poses to keep the heart rate and heat up.
Poses, postures, and asanas
All of the above terms mean the same things in a yoga context. They describe a specific shape that you make with your body. For example, downward dog and tree are both poses, postures, and asanas. Asana is the Sanskrit term for pose or posture.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for breath. In yoga there are quite a few different kinds of breathing. I’m most familiar with ujjayi pranayama because it’s used in ashtanga yoga, which is my the kind of yoga that I first started doing at first.
Each pranayama has a specific purpose as well as counter-indications. I found that I didn’t learn to much about different pranayamas until I did yoga teacher training. Generally there’s not a lot of time in yoga classes to go into depth about pranayama. If it’s something that interests you, I have seen workshops that focus just on the breath. They might be worth checking out.
Ujjayi is a specifi way of breathing, that like I mentioned above, is used a lot in ashtanga yoga. The mouth is kept closed so the breath goes into and out of the body through the nose.
Ujjayi breathing is slightly noisy – think Darth Vader or the waves of an ocean. This noise is caused by the air passing through the back of the throat. If you’re interested in Ujjayi pranayama be sure to check out an ashtanga yoga class.
Every single pose in yoga has a drishti point, or gazing point. For warrior 2 it’s the tip of your middle finger on your front arm. In chair pose it’s your hands up above your head. The idea is to give yourself somewhere to look at so that you’re not distracted like other things like seeing how your neighbor’s pose compares to yours.
Savasana is the Sanskrit name for corpse pose. It’s the last pose in most yoga classes, though in some specific ones it can be done at any point in the practice.
Savasana is done flat on your back, feet wide apart and splayed part, arms away from your side and palms up. Your breathing goes back to normal if you were doing a pranayama during your practice. You let your mind wander. It used to be a tough pose for me, even though it might seem like the easiest one out there. Being still and quiet was (and still is sometimes), but I really appreciate savasana now.
It might be really tempting to skip out of savasana and leave class early, but it’s honestly one of the most important parts of your practice. Even if you have a mile long to do list or a tight schedule, it’s so worth taking savasana and enjoying it.
Most yoga classes or practices will end with everyone saying namaste. The tanslation of this Sanskrit term differs slightly, but you’re essentially saying that the light in you honors the light in them. It’s a really beautiful idea. You’ll probably be cued to bring your hands together in prayer in front of your heart when you say it. In some classes you’ll simply say it to the teacher, or in some classes you’ll be prompted to say it to the fellow students around you as well. It all depends on the class and teacher.
Obviously there are a lot more words that you can and will hear in yoga class that you may not be familiar with. I wanted to put together a list of the most common words you’re most likely to hear in yoga classes. Would anyone be interested in a more extensive list of words, or words found in specific kinds of you classes? If so leave me a comment below with what you’d like to read.