There are so many new words and terms to learn when you decided to start practicing yoga. Check out our take on yoga vocabulary.
Have you ever walked into a yoga class and found yourself absolutely lost in translation within moments? You’re not alone. Nearly every public class I teach I find at least one person who is taken off guard by the Sanskrit terminology disseminated in a yoga class. I can completely relate! Below I’ve organized some important terminology that will help you familiarize yourself with common yoga terminology.
In Sanskrit Asana means seat, and in yoga we term all postures (standing, seated, or prone) asana. If you’re teacher specifies that there will be 30 minutes of asana practice and 30 minutes of meditation practice you can expect to move for 30 minutes and be still in meditation for 30 minutes.
Breath restriction in yoga is called pranayama. There are hundreds of types of pranayama used by yogis, but the most popular in a yoga class is Ujjayi breath (oo-jai). Commonly translated as “victorious breath,” it is a audible restriction of the breath in and out through the nose. Pranayama can be very beneficial in helping to calm and balance the nervous system.
The practice of mantra or chanting is similar to the practice of hymns or prayers. The greatest mantra is Om (also spelled Aum), and is considered the sound of God, the sacred sound of The Universe. This philosophically comes from the Hindu faith, where God created sound first and all of the Universe followed Om.
Poses to Know
There are a handful of poses you may want to aquatint yourself with as you begin to cultivate your yoga practice. Here are my top 5:
1.) Chaturanga Dandasana: Four limb staff pose or half-way push up. In my opinion, this is the most misunderstood pose in a vinyasa class. I would love to do a workshop entirely on chaturanga dandasana. Essentially there are stages to this pose like there are with most yoga poses. Practitioners new to yoga should begin with knees down to protect their low back. Shoulders should never dip below the heart, and the core should always be engaged. Once the arms and shoulders are strong enough to maintain the entire weight of the plank, then the practitioner is ready to lift the knees.
2.) Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward facing dog pose is the cornerstone for our Sun Salutations. Some teachers teach it as a resting pose, but in truth Adho Mukha Svanasana is more than a resting pose. Downward dog is an inversion and should be treated as a prep for handstand. The arms press into the earth, while the biceps rotate externally away from the midline. The hips press up and back, and are aided by the inner thighs wrapping back internally towards the opposing wall. Done properly and this pose is active and invigorating.
3.) Virabhadrasana: Warrior (insert numeral). This is a foundational standing pose that you will see throughout most yoga classes. There are three versions of Virabhadrasana, each with a different arm and leg variation. The most common mistake I see in Virabhadrasana is in the base. In Warrior I, the hips are squared towards the front of the room and the torso is facing forward too. In Virabhadrasana II the forward hip is externally rotated and the back supporting leg is in a neutral position; thus freeing the sacrum from compression. In Virabhadrasana III the front leg is supporting the standing posture and the back leg is lifted. Both legs are in neutral and the pelvis stable, sacrum level.
4.) Tadasana: Mountain pose, is the blueprint pose used by B. K. S. Iyengar to teach alignment in all other poses. Iyengar teaches that every pose is Tadasana. What this implies is that in every pose the spine is straight and stacked one vertebrae on top of the other.
5.) Savasana: Corpse pose, is considered the most important pose in a yoga practice. It is the final pose in practice, and it is designed as a time for integration. In savasana one should remain still and refrain from fidgeting.
Hopefully this crash course in Sanskrit studies will help you feel more comfortable when unrolling your mat to practice. Just remember, yoga teachers are passionate about what they do, and they sincerely want to teach you more than just asana. By exposing you to the cultural, historic, and language of yoga your yoga teacher is sharing great wisdom with you. Cherish this gift and apply compassion to yourself as you learn to integrate these gems into your practice. It is in fact a new language you are learning, so be kind to yourself and breathe.