Breaking the verbal barrier to enjoying your yoga practice

One hurdle that keeps many people from practicing yoga is the terminology used in class. To hear the instructor say something you don’t understand, but somehow everyone else in class got it, can leave you feeling defeated. That’s definitely not what you want to get out of a yoga class. Yoga itself is meant to bring people together. The word yoga is Sanskrit for unite.

Overall, you’ll learn yoga terms every time you practice. The more you practice, the more terminology you’ll understand without consciously trying to master a language. Most yoga terms are Sanskrit and it’s not expected that everyone know the ancient language. That’s why instructors will go back and forth between both Sanskrit terms and modern day terms, followed by clear directions of what he/she is wanting you to do.

As you progress in your practice to advanced classes, you’ll notice the amount of Sanskrit tends to increase and the amount of modern day terms and directions decreases. If you’re in beginner or all level-class with an instructor who is not using many common terms or descriptions, it may be best to choose a different instructor. Another option is to speak to them after class and let them know you could use more verbal guidance. Remember, your instructor is human and when you do something for a long time it’s easy to forget what it’s like to begin. A gentle reminder may benefit everyone involved.

To build your confidence, here are some frequently used yoga terms:

Asana — The poses or postures of yoga. The most commonly known part of practicing yoga

Ashtanga — The 8 limbed path of yoga. If your instructor is using this term it’s more than likely they’re encouraging the class to go deeper into their practice. That’s a good thing. Feel flattered and encouraged.

Chakra — energy center in the body; there are said to be 7 energy centers/chakras in the body. You do not need to believe in chakras or fully understand them to benefit from a yoga class where the instructor mentions them. For some people yoga classes are about going through the motions to get a good workout. That’s okay. It’s how most people start. A mind body connection will develop organically over time enriching your experience on the mat and both your body and experiences off the mat.

Namaste — This is an expression of mutual respect used to end each class. It translates to “I bow to you.” It’s a way of saying thank you for a great class both to and from the instructor and the students. It also is a way to say the light in me recognizes the light in you. New students can be uncomfortable when they first start going to classes with the bowing and saying Namaste. Once it’s known to be a beautiful expression of gratitude and respect, you’ll enjoy it at the end of your yoga classes and wish that your boss would end meetings with this.

Prana — This is in reference to your energy. It sounds hokey until you’re holding a plank and your body starts to shake. Instead of seeing yourself as weak, it’s nice to know this is your energy moving your body.

Pranayama — A breathing techniques used to move and build your prana. If that sounds silly, know that these beautiful breathing techniques can make you feel blissfully lightheaded and carefree. Another bonus is they’re available to you at any time. This is a great way to diffuse mounting stress.

Savasana — The most beloved and most dreaded pose depending on the day. Savasana is also known as corpse pose, which is not indicative of what it really is, or its beautiful benefits. Savasana is how most yoga classes end with students lying on their back at ease for a couple minutes allowing the nutrients of their practice to soak in. Think of it as a way to seal in all the effects of your practice without doing any work. There will be days your mind wonders all over the place and there will be other days that it feels like two minutes was two seconds of bliss.

Ujaii Breathing — A specific prayanayama/ breathing technique that sounds like the ocean or Darth Vader depending on which direction your imagination goes. Either way it’s instantly relaxing and gets you into the moment.

Yoga is a practice that you can go as deep as you would like to. There are a variety of books out there that can enrich your practice. If you want to get a book that will help you take your practice to the next level or help you feel more confident in class, think of how you best learn. Some are written to be read one passage a day, others like reference books and yet others are akin to any other book that you would read straight through. Find what works for you and go with it.

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