When you first take a yoga class, you may hear the odd words or phrases from your teacher and wonder what on earth is he or she on about! Not to worry – what you hear is normal. The terms and phrases used are Sanskrit words for yoga poses (asanas) and phrases. Sanskrit is a classical language of India. Although no longer spoken, it is like Latin and classes are still often taught in Sanskrit so it’s useful to develop a basic knowledge of common terms. Here’s a helpful list:
- Asana – seat; any postures or poses
- Bandha – to lock, to tighten. Helps to control energy from the breath. For example Uddiyana bandha (abdominal contraction; gently drawing the stomach inwards)
- Chakra – energy centres throughout the body
- Drishti – gaze or focal point used during practice. It also helps one not to think about how one looks in the posture. When the eyes wander the mind also wanders. For example gazing at the middle finger in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
- Mantra – a word or snappy phrase audibly or silently repeated. This could be in Sanskrit or could come from a quote that motivates and inspires you.
- Mudra – gesture, seal. Helps increase focus and concentration. For example Anjali mudra (hands in prayer at the heart centre), Chin mudra (index finger and thumb touching with the palms facing up)
- Namaste – usually said at the end of the class. This means I bow to you and is commonly translated to mean “the divine light in me honours the divine light in you.” It is the recognition that we’re all equal and share a common divinity.
- Niyama – our attitude to the environments and others.
- Om – slow steady sound mantra chanted A-U-M. The sound of the universe.
- Pantanjali – compiler of the yoga sutras and also considered the founder of the yoga philosophy
- Prana – life force; life energy, breath
- Pranayama – breathing regulation/ techniques
- Shanti – peace (often chanted three times)
- Surya Namaskara – Sun Salutation; a sequence of asanas, linked together by breath
- Yama – self observation
- Yogi – yoga practitioner
- Yogin – male yoga practitioner
- Yogini – female yoga practitioner
These are just a few of the common terms you may or may not hear in a yoga class. Just like Latin, saying the words in Sanskrit keeps the authenticity of the language. Once you get used to hearing these terms it becomes second nature. For example did you know ego is Latin? Yep, we speak Latin often without even realising it. What’s more, as the Swedish scientists have discovered, learning a new language increases the size of your brain helping you stay cognitively healthy well into your later years.
Now my fellow yogis and yoginis, you can add a bit of Sanskrit to your lingo list.