Asana? Ujjayi? All the Yoga Terms You Should Know Before Your First Class
Yoga class flowing into an upward-facing dog pose
We understand how intimidating it can be to take a yoga class. What if everyone is a former gymnast/dancer (or worse, a current gymnast/dancer)? What if you get lost because you don’t know the moves? What if it’s just really hot?
We’ve taken plenty of yoga classes in our time and can reassure you that it truly is easy to just jump into a beginner’s class. But to help put you at ease a little more, we created this quick glossary to common yoga terms. Chances are, you won’t even hear most of these yoga words, but if you do, you’ll be prepared.
Basic Yoga Terms
Traditionally, asana is defined as a “comfortable seat” in Sanskrit but when you hear it nowadays in modern yoga classes, asana generally refers to yoga poses. For instance, downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana in Sanskrit) is a key asana in many different types of yoga.
There’s a reason that this word has become almost a cliche when it comes to health and wellness. Yoga instructors will ALWAYS say it at the end of class as a calm, respectful way to conclude the day’s practice and say goodbye to students. Students say it back, and the class ends. Press your palms together and bow your head while saying it.
This refers to the practice of controlling your breath. Often in yoga, you’ll be told to breathe in slowly and deeply, inflating your stomach while you inhale. It helps promote mindfulness.
Ujjayi breath (ujjayi pranayama) is a breathing technique known as ocean breath, probably for the sound that it makes. To do it, breathe in and out deeply through your nose with your mouth closed. While you exhale, pretend like you have a mirror in front of your closed mouth that you’re trying to fog up.
The diaphragm pushes air from the nose with a powerful, controlled rush—if you do it correctly you’ll make a whispering sound, like the ocean, in the back of your throat. These breaths help physically warm up the body and serve as a rhythm section to accompany the changing poses.
This is a soft, focused gazed meant to help you concentrate and focus on the intentions you set for your practice. You may hear your instructor tell you to find your drishti while you’re in a specific pose.
Yoga class resting in child's pose
Basic Yoga Poses
Chaturanga Dandasana, simply called chaturanga, is a common movement in Vinyasa, CorePower Yoga, and Ashtanga yoga. It begins with your body in a high plank position. Next, you bend your elbows and slowly lower yourself toward the ground and into a low plank. From there, you’ll drop your body all the way down onto the mat. If you’re doing a sun salutation, you’ll press your body into an upward-facing dog.
Downward-facing dog, often shortened to “down dog,” resembles a dog’s playful bow. To do it, plant your hands and feet flat on the ground while sticking your butt into the air. Your body will look like an inverted V.
So what’s up dog? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Up dog happens when you lift your chest to the sky while lying on your stomach and extending your elbows.
The sun salutation is sequence of poses fundamental to vinyasa yoga. Practitioners start and end standing, flowing through a chaturanga in one fluid motion. Variations on the sun salutation all serve as a warm-up exercise.
This is a resting pose that helps stretch out your back while relaxing your muscles and centering you during your practice. People often go into child’s pose if they need to take a break during yoga class.
To do it, sit with your legs tucked under you and your knees spread apart. Slowly bring your upper body toward the mat and touch your head to the mat. Your arms can either be extended in front of you or tucked behind you.
This name is so much nicer than its English counterpart: corpse pose. Despite its name, this is one of the nicest poses that exists in yoga because it just requires you to lie still on your back with your arms slightly extended out and your palms up. It’s typically used at the end of a class to help wind you down after your workout.
Yoga mats, blocks, and straps
Blocks, Bolsters, and Straps
These are props that help support, cushion, and stretch the body during yoga. They’re often used by people with body aches and limited mobility or flexibility. However, they can also be used by people who need a little extra help executing a difficult pose. For instance, if you’re attempting to do the splits, you can use two yoga blocks as an extension of your arms while you lower your body closer and closer to the ground.
These are special grippy socks designed to prevent slipping and sliding during a warm yoga class. They’re also ideal for anyone with sweaty feet or anyone who doesn’t want to go barefoot in class.
Eye pillows are commonly used in restorative yoga classes. They’re filled with things like flaxseed and buckwheat hulls and add a pleasant weight when draped on tired, closed eyes.
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