Your first Yoga class can be a little bit intimidating and one of the areas that put off a lot of first-timers is the multitude of phrases that are said throughout the flow of the class. So, getting comfortable with the most common Yoga terms used in Yoga is an important step in becoming a true Yogi.
If you really feel like getting right in amongst it then you will need to learn Sanskrit which is the classical language of the Indian people that contains the liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. But if you don’t feel like learning this complex language then our guide to Yoga terms will keep you in the loop for any yoga class.
An asana is a pose or posture and is translated from Sanskrit as “a steady, comfortable seat”. Asana is basically the physical aspect of Yoga. Yoga has eight elements which are known as the Ashtanga and Asanas are part of the eight limbs. These eight elements are the following.
- Yamas (ethical elements)
- Asana (physical movement)
- Pranayama (breathing exercises)
- Dhyana (meditation), yamas (codes of social conduct)
- Niyamas (self-observances)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Samadhi (bliss)
Although this isn’t a term that you will hear in most yoga classes it’s important to understand what Bikram yoga is. Bikram yoga is a type of hot yoga that came to popularity in the early 1970s. It involves a sequence of 26 poses in a room with a heat of 105 °F (41 °C). The temperature is meant to replicate the temperature in India in Summertime. The heat will allow you a greater range of motion and flexibility due to the warmest of your muscle, but with all yoga, it’s important not to overextend yourself and to listen to what your body is telling you on that day.
A type of Yoga, Hatha has defined broaden to encompass any type of Yoga that includes physical movement of the poses. The majority of Yoga classes that you will attend will be a variation of Hatha. If a class is listed as a Hatha class it will most likely include the core Yoga movements. Sequences such as Sun salutation will be at the core of Hatha classes.
A type of yoga, Yin Yoga is synonymous with slower poses that require you to hold the pose for long periods of time. Yang yoga is the more traditional type of yoga-like Hatha and Vinyasa which is derived from it and power yoga. Yin yoga is based on the Taoist principles that there are pathways of energy known as Qi that run throughout the body. By holding poses for long periods of time Taoists believe that the energy that is blocked through inactivity in the muscles is released with deep and long stretches. Similar to how acupuncture releases areas of tension with the insertion of a needle, the holding of poses are said to achieve a similar thing.
A type of yoga that is mainly focused on building strength and flexibility in an up-tempo class that raises the heart rate. Started in the late 1980s by Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest. The idea of power yoga was to have a yoga class that aligned with the expectations that gym-goers had in the 1980s. That was an expectation that the exercise needed to be high tempo and that participants would burn calories. This style of yoga is definitely more uptempo, but if you’re a first-timer we definitely suggest starting with Vinyasa flow yoga.
A yogi is simply a person that practices yoga. Definitely a trending word at the moment. Yogi is another example of a word that has been taken in by the North American culture and morphed in its own meaning. Yogi is a word to describe male yoga enthusiasts and the feminine version is Yoginn, but it’s very common for all practitioners of Yoga regardless of gender to be called yogis.
This translates to “Wheel” in Sanskrit. It’s related to the seven chakras of the body. They are seven areas that are focal points in traditional meditative practices. The general concept is that these Chakras are closed and energy cannot flow through these focal points. When all of the chakras are open then there is harmony between the mind, body, and soul. The seven focal points are
- Root (Muladhara)
- Sacral (Swadhisthana)
- Solar Plexus (Manipura)
- Heart (Anahata)
- Throat (Vishuddha)
- Third-Eye (Ajna)
- Crown (Sahasrara)
This is a Sanskrit phrase that simply means “I bow to you.” This is typically said at the end of a yoga practice where you place your hand together, close your eyes and acknowledge the practice that you just did.
The meaning in North America and Europe has been slightly altered from the way it is used in Indian culture. In India, it’s used in greeting elders and effectively means “hello”. The Yogi community have Americanised the greeting and relabeled it for use at the end of Yoga classes. If you want to learn more about the origins of “Namaste” and how it has changed in different cultures be sure to check out NPR’s article on it here.
The basic mean of Vinyasa is the gradual progression. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word is “to place in a special way”. Vinyasa can be characterized as a popular style of yoga and typically consists of a flow of poses that differ from class to class. Which makes sense when you think about the meaning of the word. It progresses through Asanas in a gradual flowing manner.
In Vinyasa flow classes a teacher will typically say “Vinyasa” which means that you are linking your breath to your movement and flowing to the next asana.
Used to describe a gazing technique that helps with concentration when meditating or practicing yoga. It concerns the fifth and sixth limbs of the yoga that concern the pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and the Dharana (the concentration elements). To perform Drishti, you need to focus your gaze on one specific point while holding a pose or meditating. This helps to bring your thoughts inward and to really focus on the practice.
Downward Dog (Adho mukha svanasana)
Probably the most synonymous pose with Yoga. This type of pose is one of the most basic and important poses to learn. This will be one of the core poses of either a Hatha or Vinyasa yoga class. Done in a sequence you typically will flow from a standing position such as halfway lift to a plank position. From plank, you will then go to an upward facing dog and then rise up to a downward-facing dog.
This pose is a great all body pose that helps to strengthen a large portion of the muscles in your body. Your arms and your legs will bear most of the brunt in this pose, but it’s important that you keep your glutes and core engaged in this pose.
Adho mukha svanasana is the term for a downward-facing dog in Sanskrit and is roughly translated to inverted v. When you get comfortable with the pose or know what the pose looks like, this will make sense to you.
Basically a low plank Chaturanga is typically used in transition from a standing pose to an upward facing dog and then onto a downward-facing dog. In this position, your body is parallel to the ground with your feet (predominantly your toes) and your palms supporting your body weight. To get into the chaturanga pose you must lower down to your elbows being at a 90-degree angle and hold. It is integral that your elbows stay glued to the side of your body as you lower down and hold.
This is a lot of Yogi’s favorite poses in Yoga practice and this is a meditative pose that is done at the end of a yoga session. Also known as corpse pose this is exactly as the pose sounds where you lay with your back and legs flat on the ground. Your arms should be by your side and you should rest your neck and jaw as you relax into the pose. The main focus in this restorative pose should be on your breath. At the end of a class, savasana helps to reduce your heart rate after the physical exertion of your practice as well as reducing muscle tension and general anxiety in this meditative pose.
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
This is a sequence of 12 linked asanas that has their origins in Hatha Yoga. For any beginner that is taking a Hathe or Vinyasa flow class. This sequence will most likely be at the core of the practice. The basic sequence involves going from a standing pose through a set of lunges, upward and downward dogs, and then finishing off where you started with a standing pose. If you can learn this flow of poses with strong alignment and form then you should be well on your way to having a strong understanding of the basics of yoga.