Common yoga phrases and their meanings
So you’re ready to start taking yoga, but the teacher keeps saying things like “let’s get centered” and “press into your downward facing dog” - you might be asking what on earth do these things mean? And how do I do that?
Yoga can be intimidating for sure. You start taking a class and it seems like everybody knows what to do even though the teacher said one or two words, which weren’t very explanatory.
I get it, I have definitely been there. I have spent many a yoga class looking around the room trying to figure out where to put my foot and why I should put my foot there.
So I put together a guide on what a lot of these terms mean so you can feel confident taking a class online with me or in a yoga studio.
This means to bring your awareness inwards, to stop thinking about your grocery list, what time you have to be at the dentist on Thursday, and wondering if your husbands' coworker remembers that super embarrassing and awkward half hand shake you gave him because you instinctively held out your hand to shake it but then remembered we’re in a pandemic (so germs), but he went for it anyways, so everything was just really awkward. Stop thinking about all of that. Let all of that go until after your yoga practice. Some ways to help you get centered are to do a mental body scan, which is focus on what you’re feeling in every part of your body from your toes to your nose. Another way to get centered is to focus on the breath (see below).
Focus on your breath
It sounds easy enough, but there are so many layers to this. To focus on your breath really pay attention to how it feels in your body, your muscles, your bones, to breath in and breath out. You can also focus closely on the air as it enters your nose or mouth, and then exits. Another way to focus on the breath is to imagine your breath going into your mouth/nose, down into your lungs and then spreading onwards to another part of your body.
Savasana (sounds like shuh vah sah nah)
This is your resting pose. It looks different for everyone depending on what let’s you feel safe and supported as you rest and recover from your yoga practice. The goal is to move into that waking sleep state (kind of like right when you wake up in the morning), without actually falling asleep. You could be lying on your back or stomach or side, you could be seated in a chair, you could have legs straight or knees bent. Whatever feels most restful and supportive for you.
Root to Rise
This has two meanings in my perspective. One is literally to press into your feet as you move into a standing position. To build a strong foundation that will provide you with balance as you stand up. I also take it to mean that in order to grow, and to move forward with the challenges of everyday life, we need to get rooted (see below).
Like a tree? Yes, like a tree. Trees are able to grow to their enormous height because they have enormous roots spreading out beneath them to support them. Which means for us we need to take action to support ourselves. This means so many things including reaching out to others for help when you need it. Taking the time to rest when you need it. Doing things that you LOVE doing like painting or reading or baking, and knowing that these things are not a waste of time, but are feeding your soul so you can handle hard times. When you’re stressed do something tactile to connect you with nature like walking around barefoot, running your hands under water, wiggling your toes in dirt or in sand. We are so disconnected from the earth that connecting back to her can give us perspective.
Down Dog/Downward Facing Dog
This is one of the most commonly used yoga poses. It is often used as a resting pose in vinyasa classes, however, that is deceiving because in my experience it is not necessarily restful. Your hands are placed at the top of your mat, shoulders width apart. Your feet are at the bottom of your mat, and your hips are lifted towards the corner where the wall meets the ceiling behind you. Your body essentially makes a triangle shape. There's a lot behind downward facing dog from the history and philosophy behind the pose, how to press into your hands so that you avoid putting too much pressure in the wrists, and a number of variations so that you can find the right downward facing dog for your practice. It's important to know that just because a teacher says press into downward facing dog, that does not mean you need to go to down dog. When I notice my breathing is fast, I like to sit back into child's pose, or maybe place my knees on the ground for table or puppy pose.
Vinyasa is a type of yoga where a lot of emphasis is placed on breathing. In this type of yoga, you breath with each movement. It doesn't necessarily have to be one breath for each movement (although many . Some people practice that way, and some people don't. I like to take a few breaths in each pose. The important thing is that you move your body in a way that matches your breath. For example, when you twist your body your lungs have less space to expand. It would make sense then for me to exhale when I twist (compress my lungs), and inhale when I untwist. As I untwist I am creating more space for my lungs, so I would inhale. Vinyasa also allows us to focus on our breath, which is our life force (see pranayama).
Pranayama is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga (see below). It is essentially the practice of controlling the breath. Prana can be translated to life force, and ayama can be understood as to extend. Essentially drawing out or extending the life force. Our life force is our breath, the oxygen we take in to live, and pranayama is controlling that force. We can use our breath to regulate our emotions. There are a number of different pranayama practices (for example Ujjayi Pranayama and Nadi Shodhana Pranyama) that we use in asana (see next definition). We can also use them throughout the day, even when we're not practicing asana. When I'm feeling particularly anxious, I practice 2:1 breathing - exhaling for twice as long as I inhale.
Asana Asana is a word thrown around a lot - it is essentially the posture aspect of yoga, one of the eight limbs. This is what most people think of when they think of yoga, for example tree pose, down dog, or warrior II. However, posture is only one of eight parts of yoga. The postures help us to prepare our bodies to meditate for a long time. Essentially, we want to be able to sit still for extended periods of time and to be comfortable in our bodies doing so. To do that, we practice asana so that we build up the strength, flexibility, and endurance to meditate.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
When somebody says that they practice the eight limbs of yoga, or if a yoga studio says that it is guided by the eight limbs of yoga, that means that they are working on adhering to the elements outlined by Patanjali that make up yoga and go beyond movement in a yoga studio or on your yoga mat. These eight limbs are:
Yamas (moral guidelines)
Asana (physical posture)
Pranayama (breath control)
Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
Dharana (concentration of the mind)
Samadhi (union with the divine)
This is a brief introduction to the vast world of yoga and all of the terms you will come across. If you hear a word or a phrase and would like to learn more, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be sure to put together a new post with new terms!
If you're ready to take the leap and start your yoga practice, you can sign up here. I have a library with a number of accessible yoga practices including standing yoga classes, chair yoga classes, and reclined/mat yoga classes for you to choose from.