Starting yoga can have you feeling like a fish out of water for the first few classes. Not only are you beginning to contort yourself into shapes that may seem totally inaccessible at first, you’re also listening to what may seem like another language as the teacher dishes out various cues and names of poses. To help you out a little, here’s some of the more commonly used words and phrases used in yoga classes:
Also known as a ‘posture’ or ‘pose’, a yoga class will progress through a number of ‘asanas’, bringing the body through its full range of movement. As you hear your teacher begin to name the postures using Sanskrit, the ancient language of Hindu scriptures, you’ll notice that the name of each pose ends with an ‘asana’.
Meaning to ‘bind’ or ‘lock’, the bandha is a muscular engagement that enhances the flow of energy. The most commonly used bandha is Mulabandha with Jalandhara Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha featuring less often, particularly in beginners classes. Mulabandha, or ‘root lock’, is activated by engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor. Energy rises up through the spine and helps build core strength.
This subtle, internal activation provides strength and support to the body as it moves into and remains in the pose. Uddiyana Bandha or ‘abdominal lock’ is used to send energy upwards.
It is activated by drawing the abdominal wall in towards the spine and up into the ribcage maintaining this contraction as you exhale and inhale. Jalandhara Bandha or ‘chin lock’ is located in the neck and prevents the downward loss of spiritual energy. To practice, while seated, inhale, hold, tuck your chin down towards your chest to close the windpipe. When ready, raise the head slowly with a long exhalation. This is said to help achieve stillness of the mind and body.
A mudra or ‘gesture’ is a position of the body that helps recirculate energy within and center the mind. Mostly practiced with hand positions, sometimes the whole body can be part of a mudra. The more commonly seen are ‘Gyan Mudra’ (Mudra of Knowledge) where the tip of the index finger touches the tip of the thumb with the other three fingers kept straight and ‘Anjali Mudra’ (Mudra of Offering or Prayer) where the palms of the hands are drawn together at the heart. Gyan Mudra focuses the mind and helps with meditation while Anjali Mudra also helps with concentration.
A traditional Indian greeting and gesture of respect, it means ‘the spirit within me honours the spirit within you’. Accompanied with ‘Anjali Mudra’, most yoga teachers close their classes with ‘Namaste’. Please don’t worry, you have not just joined a cult! You are simply acknowledging your efforts and the efforts of others.
So there you have it! The tip of the iceberg that is ‘yogi speak’, these hints will hopefully get you through the introductory phase of yoga classes so go forth and enjoy with a new found sense of yogi smugness!