Learn to speak…yoga

The basic vocab you’ll need to communicate (and look cool) during your first yoga class or in any future situation where the yoga-obsessed can be found.
Yogis at Wanderlust, a festival that serves as the ultimate yoga gathering. (Photo: Facebook/Wanderlust)


Lots of fitness and wellness worlds come with their own complex languages. Here, we teach you the basic vocab you’ll need to communicate (and look cool) during your first yoga class or in any future situation where the yoga-obsessed can be found (dinner parties, work water cooler, etc).

If you really want to be fluent in yoga, you could start by learning Sanskrit, but who has time for that? Plus, Indian gurus didn’t have words for “Lululemon” or “kombucha.”

So we asked Nicole Katz, owner of the gorgeous Chelsea studio Yoga 216 (which just celebrated its first birthday), to help us translate some of the most common terms and phrases you’ll encounter during class—both ancient and modern.

Want to learn to speak yoga? Here are the key terms you’ll need to know:

Nicole Katz
Nicole Katz (Photo: Yoga 216)

Namaste: Katz calls this the “yoga version of Aloha.” It literally means something along the lines of “the divine light within me bows to the divine light within you.” But it’s used in lots of ways, like as a greeting and at the end of classes. You generally say it while bowing forward with your hand together in prayer. “I like to think of it as the sweet perfect part of me says hello to the sweet perfect part of you,” says Katz. “It says everything about the real goal of the culture.”

Third Eye: No, yoga will not give you a deformity. This is a word for the area right between your eyebrows (or right in the middle of your forehead) and teachers will tell you to do things like put your hands there or send your energy there. “It’s the location of a chakra that’s really important, that is related to higher intellect and heightened seeing,” Katz explains. Which brings us to…

Chakra: Doesn’t it sound like something you’d be able to shake? Nope. Theses are major energy points in the body and there’s a whole system of them yogis refer to. (Seven, in fact.) “Think of them as waterwheels, but there isn’t any water, there’s energy,” she says. Blocked chakras point to an area where your health (mental, physical, energetic) is out of whack. “One of the goals of yoga is to make all of the chakras spin evenly so there’s a balanced flow of energy.”

Toxins: The only thing you need to know is that this can mean anything in yoga, and often means nothing. There’s no understanding it. Trust me.

Yogis really love quotes! Like this one, at Yoga 216. (Photo: Yoga 216)
Yogis really love mantras! Like this one, at Yoga 216. (Photo: Yoga 216)

Vinyasa: The most popular kind of yoga in the West. If you’ve walked into a random studio and taken a class, it was probably this kind. “It just means that you’re pairing breath with movement.”

Asana: Just another word for a pose. Downward dog is one. So is triangle. There’s a word for it because (newsflash!), there are other limbs of yoga that don’t involve moving your body. “I think I was practicing for eight years before someone brought up that asana was only one limb.”

Pranayama: This means breathing! Another way to move energy around that doesn’t involve your hamstrings. There are lots of different kinds, but the most common is ujjayi, which sounds like Darth Vader breathing, for real.

Savasana (AKA corpse pose): This is where you lay down at the end of class and don’t. move. (Hence, corpse.) “It’s literally the time when you allow the body to absorb the practice and send the energy where it needs it,” Katz says.

Kombucha: A probiotic tea yogis are obsessed with. Many grow it at home using something called a SCOBY. On the other hand, if they’re drinking something green, it’s probably green juice.

Lululemon: The modern yogi’s temple. It’s not just a place to buy yoga pants. It’s a place to buy yoga pants while talking about yoga, living yoga, breathing yoga, and convincing yourself it’s not about pants at all. —Lisa Elaine Held

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