Ever wondered what all of the weird words used in a yoga class actually mean? Here is a very brief yoga dictionary, or yoga for dummies if you will. Yoga teachers and pros this one is probably not for you (way too basic) but please leave comments below to enlighten us others even more if you want.
Asanas – simply means yoga postures.
Ashram – yoga school or center.
Ashtanga yoga – in my opinion ashtanga requires a lot of strength but not that much flexibility (compared to some other classes at least). In ashtanga the classes usually follow exactly the same postures every time, which is why I find it a bit boring sometimes. Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga principles but was made popular in the West in the 1970’s.
Aum (om) – you have probably chanted om in the beginning or end of a class. Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is said to create a vibrational frequency or harmony in the body.
Ayurveda – this is the Vedic science or the sacred health or medicine.
Drishti – a Sanskrit word for point of focus. In yoga drishti often means where to keep your gaze whilst in a posture.
Chakras – these are the 7 energy points along the spine n the body. Several practises, but especially kundalini and reiki, aims to balance the chakras so they are not blocked, under- or over-enegergised.
Iyengar yoga – I’m sure Iyengar yoga can be tough but in my experience it’s usually more for people recovering from injuries. It’s a great class to take to help with alignment but if you are expecting a sweaty ashtanga class you will be disappointed. Expect to use a lot of props.
Jivamukti yoga – jivamukti translates as ‘liberation while living’ and integrates spiritual elements with a physically demanding yoga practice. It was developed in 1984 in New York City by Sharon Gannon and David Life. Expect chanting and references to ancient scriptures.
Kirtan – kirtan classes usually contains chanting in a call and response format and sometimes classical Indian instruments. Like Jivamukti and Kundalini this is a great choice for anyone looking for a more meditative or spiritual aspect of the class.
Kriya – a kriya is an exercise set, commonly used in for ex. in Kundalini yoga. It means ‘work’ or ‘action’.
Kundalini yoga – kundalini yoga was introduced by Yogi Bhajan in 1969 as ‘the mother of all yogas’. The aim is to awaken the kundalini energy within you that is located at the base of the spine. Meditation is a very important element of kundalini and it’s probably one of the most spiritual forms of yoga. I never really enjoy all the elements of a kundalini class (such holding weird mudras and doing breath of fire for 11 minutes straight) but I usually feel amazing the next day. Kundalini teachers are usually in white robes and head wraps.
Mantra – this is a prayer song. It can be used in any yoga class but more often in jivamukti or kundalini.
Mudra – this usually means how your hands are positioned. Holding your hands in the prayer position (anjali mudra) would for example be a mudra.
Prana – translated as air, breathing, spirit, life, vital force or energy. This is what in Martial arts is refer to as ‘Chi’.
Pranayama – breathing control. This is very commonly used in most forms of yoga in one way or another.
Restorative yoga – speaks for itself, this is a very relaxed form of yoga, great for stretching out muscles and de-stress. Sometimes restorative yoga classes are referred to as Hatha or Yin yoga.
Sankalpa – you may have heard your yoga instructor ask you to set an intention or sankalpa during a class. For a much longer (but really good) explanation check out this article.
Vinyasa flow – This actually isn’t really a form of yoga, although many studios name classes this. A Vinyasa flow class is usually a dynamic flowing style of yoga, and it can vary a lot depending on the teacher. An ‘Open level’ Vinyasa class means that poses can be adapted to suit the level of the practitioner. For someone who is new to yoga, a beginners or open level Vinyasa flow class is great place to start.
Yin yoga – a relaxing yoga focused on letting go. Sometimes classes are called ‘Yin and Yang’ and that usually means they start with a tougher Yang part, followed by a relaxing Yin bit.
Yoga nidra – ‘yogic sleep’. Read more about it here.