Below are some common terms or phrases you might hear in a yoga class and wonder what they’re talking about. Hopefully this helps expand and deepen your knowledge of the practice of Yoga.
Anjali Mudra – the name for when your hands are together in prayer position at your heart/chest usually at the end or sometimes the beginning of a yoga practice.
Asana – the word actually means ‘comfortable seat’ but is also what the yoga poses/postures are called in Sanskrit
Ashtanga – This is a bit confusing because there is also a style/type of yoga called Ashtanga yoga, but the word Ashtanga means ‘8 limbs’. Asht = Eight and Anga= Limb. The 8 limbs of yoga are in further detail below.
Chakras – (in Indian thought) each of the centers of spiritual power in the human body, usually considered to be seven in number. There are 7 major Chakras in the body but many more smaller energy centres throughout. The 7 main ones are:
Muladhara (root chakra)
Svadhistana (sacral chakra)
Manipura (solar plexus chakra)
Anahata (heart chakra)
Vishuddha (throat chakra)
Ajna (3rd eye chakra)
Sahasrara (crown chakra)
Drishti – means gaze – gazing on a fixed focal point, or having a focused gaze. Especially used in balancing poses, a drishti is an unmoving spot that you focus on in front of you (or on the floor) to help keep your balance. It is essential to finding stability in poses – when you gaze out over the middle finger in Warrior 2, that’s a drishti
Eight limbs of Yoga (Yogic Philosophy) – the 8 limbs of yoga, as outlined by a sage called Patanjali offers guidelines for a meaningful/purposeful life. They are codes of ethics to live your life by and attain a more spiritual life. They are:
1. Yamas – our code of ethics and how we should conduct ourselves. There are 5 yamas
2. Niyamas – self discipline. There are 5 Niyamas:
Tapas: burning enthusiasm
Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God/the Divine
3. Asana – the physical postures/poses of yoga
4. Pranayama – breath control or ‘life force extension’. You can practice pranayama as an technique on it’s own (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or as part of your hatha yoga practice.
5. Pratyahara – withdrawl of the senses. This is the bridge between the tangible, and then the more subtle limbs (the rest dealing with looking inward such as meditation). We draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli
6. Dharana – Concentration. Concentration inward on the mind – or trying to still the thought waves of the mind. We focus our attention on a single point.
7. Dhyana – a state of being aware without focus. The mind has been quietened
8. Samadhi – Bliss or Enlightenment, where the person transcends the Self and feels a connection to the Universe/the divine/interconnectedness or oneness with everything.
Hatha yoga – a yoga system of physical exercises and breathing control
Mantra – a word, phrase or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
– to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra
) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
Mudra – means ‘seal’, is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. Most are performed with the hands and fingers. A common mudra (besides Anjali mudra above), is bringing the thumb and forefinger together in a circle and resting your hands on your knees in meditation (the hands can be turned upwards in a gesture of receiving/energizing, or turned down for more grounding).
Namaste – the word said at the end of a yoga class to finish the practice. It means ‘I bow to you’ but there are many different variations, such as ‘the divine light in me sees and honours the divine light in you’
OM/AUM – is a vibrational sound that represents the Universe/creation. Chanting of OM or OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (Peace), occurs at the beginning or end (or both) of yoga classes. Chanting OM is said to connect you to the greater power of the Universe/the source energy, and also connects everyone chanting in the yoga class together, on a vibrational level. OM is a mantra that allows the group to come together, it helps you to turn your attention inward, and it is sowing respect for the practice and lineage of yoga, and for each other. It attunes you to the greatness and the inspiration that yoga can bring.
Pranayama – expansion of life force energy (prana), also the breath
Sanskrit – an ancient Indic language of India, in which the Hindu scriptures and classical Indian epic poems are written and from which many northern Indian languages are derived. When you hear strange words in a yoga class like names of poses: Balasana (Child’s pose), Uttanasana (Forward Fold), Tadasana (Mountain pose), and very rarely Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose), these are the Sanskrit names for the poses The ‘asana’ that all the names end with is just the word ‘pose’.
Shavasana – corpse pose – the final resting pose in a yoga class
Surya Namaskar / Sun Salutation – a series of yoga poses performed in a continuous flowing sequence and intended to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles. There are a variety of different variations of Sun Salutation. Most popular is Sun Salutation A and B. The most basic Sun Salutation is a sequence of these poses:
Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold), Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)(Anjaneyasana), Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) OR Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), and then stepping back up to Low Lunge, Forward Fold, and back to Mountain pose.
Yoga – union/to yoke, sometimes means connection – as in union or connection with/of the mind/body, or connection of the mind-body-spirit.