Exotic-sounding terms are commonplace inside the walls of yoga studios. And this can be an obstacle; you wouldn’t jump at the chance to take a kickboxing class in Swahili, would you? Skim our dime-sized dictionary and see if you find yourself feeling a bit more fluent – or at least faking it convincingly – by your next class.
(AH-sah-nah) Literally, it means “seat”, but it’s any yoga posture. A series of asanas, or poses, makes up a vinyasa, or flow.
(CHA-kruhz) The Sanskrit term chakra literally translates as “wheel” or “disc”, referring to the shape of these whirling energy centres that control the body’s vital organs. They correspond to nerve plexes, ganglia and glands. When one’s organs are malfunctioning, yogis believe it is because they lack sufficient life energy (hence, “My chakras are out of balance”). The seven principal chakras are situated along the spinal cord, from the base to the cranium, and relate to reason, cognition, memory, willpower, divine love, divine sight and illumination. Seven others exist below the spine and relate to fear, anger, envy, selfishness and other unenlightened traits. Chakras are typically depicted as colourful and resembling a lotus flower.
(kun-duh-LEE-ni) Literally, “coiled up”. Kundalini energy is the life force that lies dormant in our bodies. It is often depicted as a coiled up serpent at the base of the spine; the theory is that practising certain spiritual disciplines can cause the serpent to spring awake. The kundalini style of yoga focuses on the centres in the body (chakras) that can release kundalini energy.
(NAH-MAH-STAY) Means: “May the divine light in me greet the divine light in you.” You know it’s coming at the end of class when your teacher puts her hands in prayer position and bows her head. Students say it back to convey, “Thank you for class”.
(OH-MMMM) A long and loud sigh or hum chanted at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. This is intended to warm up the lungs and focus and quiet the mind. The sound of om is said to be “the sound of all things”, all the noise and music in the universe combined.
(PRAH-nah) The “life energy” that keeps us alive and thriving. The ancient Greeks called it pneuma and the ancient Hebrews, ruah. The three major sources of prana are air, sun and ground.
(PRAH-nah-yah-mah) Controlled breathing technique. These exercises regulating the breath are intended to calm and focus the mind for asana practice or seated meditation.
(SHA-vass-ah-nah) Translates as “corpse pose”. This is the full-body relaxation pose done lying on the back, completely still with eyes closed, usually as the last asana in the practice. Focus is on relaxing every part of the body from toes to jaw muscles.
(SHOCK-tee) In Sanskrit, it means “power” or “energy”. Different from the life force that prana refers to, shakti typically refers to the power of the god Shiva, which pervades all of existence; the pure consciousness of all form. Manifestations include kriya shakti (action) and icha shakti (desire, love). No worries if you don’t quite grasp this one – you won’t be missing much in class.
(SUE-ree-ah NAH-mas-car-ah) aka sun salutation. A series, or vinyasa (see below), of poses that warm up the body. There are multiple variations; the common A series includes mountain pose (tadasana), standing forward bend (uttanasana), low push-up (chaturanga), upward-facing dog pose (urdhva mukha svanasana) or cobra pose (bhujangasana) and downward-facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana).
tadasana (TAH-dah-sah-nah) Meet mountain pose. This pose looks like the old-school diving board move known as “pencil”. Just stand up straight with your feet together, arms at your side, shoulders back and head aligned with your spine.
virabhadrasana (vi-ra-BAH-dras-ah-nah) Warrior pose, a standing posture with a burn-inducing bent-knee and raised-arm position. There are multiple common variations of this classic pose; in vira II (as the initiated sometimes shorten it) arms are extended out to the sides (instead of overhead); vira III is a one-legged, no-armed balancing act (the Sanskrit term for “face plant” is unknown).
vinyasa (vin-YAH-sah) Commonly translated as step-by-step or breath-by-breath. This term describes a series of poses linked together smoothly, such as surya namaskara. A vinyasa is also often referred to as a “flow”.