Yoga class can be an intimidating place, and not only because you're surrounded by experienced yoga enthusiasts who have spent years perfecting headstands and other complicated poses. Even if you ignore other participants, you'll find it impossible to avoid Sanskrit terms, which are an integral element of yoga. The following ten terms are especially important:
Typically used to refer to yoga instructors, a yogi is, in fact, anybody who regularly practices yoga while adhering to its overarching philosophies. With regular practice and the right mindset‚ anybody can become a yogi.
Literally, the term chakra refers to a wheel. In yoga, this concept is expanded to involve spinning wheels of light and energy within the body. There are seven main chakras, and each is connected to major organs and nerve centers. In yoga, the goal is to keep these chakras open so that energy can flow.
Derived from the term "mantrana," a mantra is a sacred word that can prompt great physical and spiritual transformation when repeated in a focused manner. In many yoga classes, instructors offer a simple mantra on which students can focus as they perform various asanas and vinyasas. This mantra is designed to keep students' minds focused, even through the most difficult elements of the class.
Deemed by many the most sacred mantra of all, om may be chanted together at the beginning or end of class. Often repeated three times, the mantra also incorporates the power of three in its three distinct sounds: "ah," "oh," and "mm."
Breath is arguably the most important element of yoga, even above the poses and other movements that most people associate with the practice. Pranayama involves breath control in the interest of awakening the "prana," or life energy. If practiced correctly pranayama can improve focus, while also stilling the mind and easing anxiety.
A common breathing technique, ujjayi is typically conducted during difficult vinyasas or asanas. It is marked by an ocean sound, formed through the narrowing of the throat passage. This breath style makes it easier for yoga students to maintain the rhythm or flow desired in movement-base vinyasa classes.
Outside of yoga classes, the various positions you hold with your body are referred to as "poses." During class, however, your instructor may label these moves "asanas." An asana is a specific posture designed to help individuals improve their mental acuity and physical strength, flexibility, or balance. Common asanas include child's pose, half moon, and downward-facing dog.
An asana is a single pose. A series of asanas completed in a fluid manner is known as a vinyasa. Breathing is an integral component of the vinyasa, with each breath specifically linked with each movement. Vinyasa yoga is a type of class that focuses largely on moving between poses, as opposed to holding a single pose for a long period of time.
Sometimes referred to as the corpse pose, savasana may seem like nothing more than lying down. To the uniniated, the pose resembles a nap at the end of yoga class. But savasana is far from a nap -- it's arguably the most difficult pose in yoga. The pose involves stilling the mind and letting go of mental chatter, all while focusing on the breath.
In some Himalayan regions, namaste is a common greeting used in everyday life. In yoga class, the greeting is offered while the palms of the hands are pressed together and the person is bowing slightly forward. The intent of the greeting is to acknowledge the divine within each person.
Once you master the above terms, you will feel more comfortable in yoga class -- and you'll have a better idea of how to follow your teacher's instructions. The more you expand your yoga vocabulary, the more you'll take away from each class.