Have you ever walked into a yoga class and felt like the rebel teenage student that forgot to take Sanskrit as a pre-requisite?
First time yoga students might be wondering when every else had the time to become fluent in the language over night. It’s as if we’ve walked through a portal to India where hello has been replaced by namaste and We’re suddenly told to ground down through our Muladhara Chakra whatever that is?!
Well as a yoga teacher myself I can defend our sudden bilingual habits by saying that, as is often the case with languages, some things simply don’t translate into English accurately. Using the Sanskrit terminology is also a nice way of keeping some of the ancient yoga traditions alive in. Especially when yoga is turning into quite a modern western adaptation.
Understanding what the teacher is talking about is pretty useful in attending a class. So here is a short glossary of some of the more common words that you’ll hear teachers throwing about.
“The divine in my honours the divine in you”
It’s essentially how we greet each other in class. It’s different to simply saying hello because it serves as a reminder that a yoga class is a time out from the busy-ness of life and into a sacred space and time with yourself in calm and quiet.
Yogic traditions have many diverse forms of devotional practices including Aarti (ceremony), prayer and kirtan (devotional singing). Although we don’t find these practices in studios nearly as commonly as we find asana (the physical practice of yoga), they actually form a big part of a yogic lifestyle. Yogic scriptures say the fastest route to God is through bhakti.
This is another less common but equally important part of a yoga practice. These exercises manipulate the breath in different ways that the direct the prana (life force energy) to move through the body differently resulting in many health benefits and a calm mind that is open and ready for meditation. These deep breathing exercises make us feel light, expansive and natural high.
(Life force energy)
This is one of those that can sound a little woo-woo BUT give it a chance because it is in fact backed up by science. We breathe to take in oxygen (duh) and oxygen is needed for the mitochondria in every single cell to make energy. Yoga, Tai Chi, Pranayama – they all cause prana to move through the body more effectively.
In yogic scripture this is said to be the sound of the universe. In a slightly less woo-woo way of speaking it is the constant movement and frequency vibration of every atom in creation. Quantum physics has shown us that all matter is actually flashing in and out of existence, it is this flashing or vibrating that om relates to. So when we chant om during a class we are acknowledging and tapping into that basic frequency that manifests as life.
It’s as simple as that. It is often repeated in sets of 3 to represent peace in
body, mind and spirit or thoughts, words and actions.
This word refers to the “wheel” or “energy centres” in the body. Both the ancient Indian and Chinese systems view the energy or prana (or chi in Chinese) as moving through our bodies through nadis (or channels). Where these channels meet at particularly powerful centres called chakras. There are thousands of nadis and many chakras but there are said to be 7 main ones in the body, each one housing particular qualities. For example the anahata (heart) chakra is where our qualities of the heart come from; love, forgiveness, compassion, understanding etc.
This is the most basic principle on which all yogic teachings are based. It asks us to live in a way that doesn’t harm any other being. Students of yoga are encouraged to view all areas of their lives and make any changes necessary to remove harm from others this includes the way we speak to others, our actions, our food, our transport and the most subtle but important of all, the way we think about others.
This refers to boundaries or locks in the body. You may hear your teacher asking you to “engage Mulabhanda”. This is the lock/boundary of the perineum or pelvic floor (in both men and women). You engage it by contracting the muscle that holds in your pee. Not the prettiest of pictures but it does have a use! There are a few bandhas in the body. These are engaged to activate chakras nearby or to hold in or seal energy accumulated in a previous exercise.
“The Lord’s Song”
This is one of the fundamental scriptures from India and upon which most of its philosophical teachings are based. It is a section from an even larger scripture called the Mahabharata. The story depicts Krishna (God) and a devotee Arjuna discussing yoga on a battlefield. It is a rich story with teachings on karma yoga (action and service) and bhakti yoga (devotional practices).
Heard a word in class that you want help translating?
This is really just the tip of the iceberg. Sanskrit is an incredibly rich language, and according to linguists it is THE oldest language in the world from which all other language evolves.
If you liked this article comment below and we can write a follow-up post with lots more interesting words. But for now, we hope you’ll be able to join one of our classes without any bewilderment.
We are honoured to house many different teachers and different styles under one roof. If you’re new to yoga we recommend you try them all to see which style resonates best. Click here to check out our yoga timetable.
See you on the mat!