Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Often when you eat, sleep, & breathe yoga like we do, you forget that not everyone gets the whole yoga jargon that we, as teachers, spew on the regular. With loads of mysterious words and cues like ‘savasana’, ‘third eye’, ‘inhale to lengthen, exhale to deepen’…what the heck are we talking about? If you’re a beginner or perhaps a seasoned vet too embarrassed to ask, see the below cheat sheet to figure out the secret language and terminology of our whacky yoga tribe.
Yoga as a Practice
As yogis, we refer to the work we do on our mats as our yoga practice. The reason we use this precise word is because our bodies, minds and souls are constantly evolving. Every day that you show up on your mat, you are different. Your body may physically feel different, perhaps your mind is consumed with anxiety…whatever the difference is you are constantly trying to improve. No one is ever an expert at yoga, most of the Eastern Gurus would agree. We are ever changing, what we need from our practice is ever-changing. How could one ever master him or herself?
Open Your Third Eye
You want me to what now? When you’re already a bit hesitant saying “yes” to yoga, it likely is a little off-putting to hear this strange direction thrown at you in class. The third eye, located (metaphysically, some say) behind the area in between the eyebrows. Hindus and Buddhists often think of the third eye as a gate to higher consciousness. We use the third eye in yoga to act as a focal point for balancing & meditating, a center for concentration throughout our practice, and a gateway to enlightenment.
You can’t step foot in a yoga studio without hearing the word ‘savasana’ sprinkled throughout your class. Well, you can continue to watch the herd, or we can just give you the scoop. You know how naps are just the absolute best? Imagine a nap disguised as fitness. Savasana in sanskrit translates to “dead body” or “corpse” pose. We use savasana as a mini-rest, usually 30 seconds to a few minutes, to bring the breath back to a normal rhythm, reconnect with the body, refuel our energy supply and feel the comforting support of the mat and floor beneath us.
Inhale to Lengthen, Exhale to Deepen
No matter which pose or series of poses you flow through in yoga, the rule is fairly consistent: on every inhale we want to lengthen our body by stretching up and out of the waist, actively lengthening the spine. Once we can find length and space in the body, that is when we can really move deeper into our posture, either twisting further, bending deeper into a stretch, or so on. So, next time you hear this yogi classic, just breathe on through it.
Square the hips/shoulders
“Hi, I’m so and so. I’m pretty sure I signed up for yoga, not a geometry class!” But fear not, sweet readers, we’re here to solve this riddle and keep you from the glaring eyes of your yoga teacher. When you’re directed to ‘square’ your shoulders or hips in yoga, it is meant in relation to the front mirror, front of the room, or easier yet, front of your yoga mat. If your shoulders or hips are placed parallel to the front of your mat, you might imagine drawing a square using the top of your mat as the top line and the distance between both hips or shoulders as the bottom line. Did we just confuse you more? Sorry! Google it.
Set An Intention
At the beginning of many yoga classes, the teacher might begin with some pranayama, or breathwork, inviting you to set an intention for your yoga class. If you’ve never set an intention for your practice, know that it is what you want it to be. Just as your practice is your own. Some may use the intention to recite a spiritual or religious mantra, others use the intention setting time to conjure a word or phrase that they want to emulate (such as ‘gratitude’ or ‘patience’), while others may choose to dedicate their practice to a person who is meaningful to them. An intention can be used as a tool for when you begin to lose concentration, become frustrated, or confused- pulling your focus back to the mat and your practice. Other times, your intention might be so powerful, it stays with you for your entire class as a powerful & motivating force.
Hopefully having a little bit of background on these interesting sounding words and phrases can alleviate some anxiety when entering your next (or first!) yoga class. Just remember, there is no best in yoga. It is not a competition, instead a journey within to discover who you are at your core. Prepare yourself to enter class with an open mind and an open heart- your best is always enough.