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A Guide To Yoga Words: Gentle & Accessible Version

Updated: Jan 6




I love making yoga accessible, and the more I teach, the more I realize the value of speaking about it in an accessible way.


Yoga has a long history, and amazing traditions, so it’s never my goal to ignore that. But I also don’t want newcomers to yoga to feel intimidated.


So today, I am breaking down some of my favorite yoga words A-Z.


Where did yoga words come from?


If I say Gomukhasana in a yoga class, those brand new to yoga might not know what that means … but what if I say cow-face pose?


That might not be easy to figure out either if you haven't done a lot of yoga! 


Most yoga terms we use in classes come from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. Yoga teachers today often use Sanskrit terms and their English translations in class.


So first, don’t be intimidated by yoga words - look for beginner level classes where teachers will know it may be your first time there and teach accordingly.


Plus, your teacher will demonstrate any poses, and give you additional cues to keep you safe. Most yoga poses are also really adaptable, so if you have movement limitations, let your teacher know.


Yoga Words: An A - Z Guide


OK, let’s jump in to some of my favorite yoga words, and ones that you will hear frequently when I teach.


(NOTE: Many of these are just English terms, but have a special meaning when used in yoga.)


Anxiety


I talk about anxiety in my classes because I have lots of experience with it. I even created an Insight Timer course about it


Yoga can be helpful when you have anxiety - especially classes that allow you to breathe slowly. Here are a couple of yoga classes from my YouTube Channel to help with anxiety:






Asana


Asana means a yoga pose or posture. Sometimes I also use the word “shape,” in my classes.


Balance


Don’t worry if you don’t have perfect balance - that’s not a prerequisite to yoga. It’s one of the things that will improve as you practice.


(One way to help in postures that require balance is to set a Drishti - see below!)


Body Scan (Or Body Scan Meditation)


A body scan is a mindfulness meditation where a teacher will lead you through a relaxing practice of “scanning” your body for discomfort or tension and help you release both. It’s super calming and great before bed!


Here is a body scan for restless nights:



There is also a version without background music if you prefer:



'Breathe Into'


This confused me when I first heard this term. Yoga teachers will say “breathe into your back,” or “breathe into your hips.” 


This sounds kind of tricky, right?


I find the best way to “breathe into” an area is to use imagery. Imagine that space filling up with light. Or imagine it filling like a balloon.


The whole idea is to focus on that part of the body, breathe and be still.


So don’t be intimidated by this phrase. Your teacher will guide you through what to do.


Breathwork


Breathwork is an amazing tool we use in yoga. I like to think of it as conscious breathing.


Of course your body is breathing all the time, but breathwork (also called pranayama, below) is controlled breathing. Breathwork techniques can help you relax, but they can also bring energy.


Just remember that breathwork is a practice and it can take some time to get the hang of certain types of yogic breathwork. When in doubt, pause from the practice and return to your regular breath.


Here is a calming breathwork practice to try:




Chair Yoga


Chair Yoga! I adore it.


And yes - it is absolutely possible to get a great stretch and build strength while seated in a chair.


This yoga practice is perfect for those with mobility limitations or if you’re looking for a way to move a bit from your desk.



Join me for a chair yoga practice here:




Chakra


You may hear yoga teachers talking about Chakras, like "Third Eye Chakra" or "Solar Plexus Chakra." 


Don’t freak out. These terms are just referencing energy centers in the body.


Chakras are believed to correspond with certain organs and nerves, and to impact our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.


We also use the principle of Chakras in the practice of Thai Yoga Massage. (There’s more on Thai Yoga Massage below.)



Supported Child's Pose. This posture is so grounding!



Child’s Pose


I once had someone tell me that when I was feeling overwhelmed, to stop and drop into child’s pose.


Child’s pose is such a grounding posture, as it brings your head down close to your mat.


Child’s pose is named after how babies float in the womb, with their legs tucked up against their chest. Of course, in yoga, we can’t float, but we can still practice this peaceful posture by balancing on the shins and bringing our torsos down to rest on our thighs. (Knees can be wide or close together.)


Next time you feel overwhelmed, try child’s pose and see if it helps you reset.


Couch Yoga


Sure! This is absolutely a thing.


I mean ... I made a whole video about it!




Cushion


This word has an extra bonus meaning if you do yoga with me!


A cushion is a prop you sit on during yoga or meditation.


But, when you practice with me, it can also mean the cushions off your couch!


Like I said, I love to make yoga accessible, so here is a guide to yoga prop alternatives and how to use items you already have if you don’t have access to traditional yoga props.





Downward Dog


Downward Dog is a common yoga pose that you’ve probably seen. Your body makes a V-shape, and you support yourself with your arms and legs, with your hips lifted.


Downward Dog is a great pose for all-over strengthening. 


But have you ever wondered how to move out of Downward Dog into other postures? Experienced yogis can make it look easy, but it can involve a lot of coordinated movement. I break it down in this video:




Drishti


Think of Drishti as a focal point or “yogic gaze.” During balance postures, it can be helpful to focus your eyes on a point in the distance and hold it there.


But don’t worry if balance poses are tricky at first. (See Balance, above.)


Evening 


Evening is the perfect time for yoga. Yoga can help you transition from the busyness of the day into a calmer place, and prepare for sleep.


Try this bedtime yoga class and unwind with my dog Chili and me:




Fascia


We talk about fascia a lot in Yin Yoga (see below).


Fascia is our connective tissue. I’ve heard it compared to the part of the orange, under the peel, that keeps the orange together.


Fascia can hold tension, pain and even trauma, and Yin Yoga is a great way to help stretch your fascia, through longer held postures.


Try a Yin Yoga class with my pup Chili and me:




Or join me for a live Yin Yoga class on Insight Timer.


Flow


You may hear the word flow a lot in connection with yoga, especially in more active classes, where we move from one posture to another to another.


Some classes are even called Yoga Flow classes or have the term flow in the description. 


Flow is meant to help you coordinate your movements with your breathing. This type of Yoga can be very centering. 


I teach a live Slow Flow yoga class on Insight Timer each week.


Here is a gentle, uplifting yoga flow class that you can do anytime:




Gentle


Gentle is basically one of my guiding principles when it comes to yoga. You’ll frequently hear me say in class, “listen more to your body than you do to me.”


Yoga doesn’t have to be intense or super-bendy, and it shouldn’t be painful. 


Let yoga be a gentle way to connect your mind, body and spirit. Yay for gentle!


Guided Relaxation


Guided relaxation is the best. Essentially, this is a form of meditation, but the goal is to quiet your mind and relax your body.


Guided relaxation is great before bed, and can also be a helpful reset when you can feel your body holding onto stress.


Practice guided relaxation with me here:




Hands-Free Yoga


Did you know it’s entirely possible to practice yoga hands-free?


This is helpful for people with hand or wrist injuries. In fact, when looking for classes, you can also search "wrist-friendly yoga."


(Always let your yoga teacher know if you have hand or wrist injuries, so they can help you practice without having to support your body with your hands.)


Try a hands-free yoga class here:




Chair yoga can also be a great hands-free yoga option:




Hips


I’ve heard hips referred to as “junk drawers for our emotions.”


If you deal with tight or grumpy hips, or even a sore low back (it’s all connected!) it’s very possible that you’ve got some stored emotion stuck in your hips.


Yin Yoga is especially helpful for this. Longer-held postures can help to release the muscles in the hip area, but be warned - releasing your hips can also release some feelings.


It’s not abnormal to feel some emotion while doing hip stretches.


Here is a Yin Hip Class to Try at Home:




Iliopsoas


If you have a tight lower back, tight hips (see more about hips, above), leg discomfort or even PMS or bladder issues, you might be dealing with a tight iliopsoas.


The iliopsoas muscle is the major muscle in your hip flexor and when it’s cranky, it can cause a lot of problems.


But yoga can help! (Read more about hips, above, and lower back, below.)




Legs Up The Wall


Some yoga poses really are just what they sound like!


Legs Up The Wall is a restorative pose that is calming, centering and can even help with lower back pain, headaches, leg pain and lymph flow.


(Learn more about Wall Yoga, below.)


And do a whole wall yoga class with me here:




Lotus


Do you see Lotus pose (sitting cross-legged on the floor with one foot on top of the opposite thigh) and think - NOPE. 


Not going to happen. 



Don’t worry!


You do not have to be able to do Lotus pose or even feel comfy sitting with your legs crossed to start yoga.


In fact, all bodies are different, and sitting cross-legged is not a natural fit for everyone. There are always options, I promise!


(P.S. Truth from a yoga teacher - sitting cross-legged isn’t my favorite!) 


Lower back pain 


A lot of people come to yoga because of persistent lower back pain


Lower back pain is such a common reason to start yoga, that I have a whole post on yoga for lower back pain for beginners.


And I made a yoga for lower back pain video too:




Mat


Do you NEED a mat to start yoga?


Not necessarily. Check out these alternatives, or try a blanket or towel.


You can even do yoga from bed or on the couch.


Mantra


You may have heard of mantras, but what are they really? And why do we use them in yoga and meditation?


Repeating a mantra (silently or out loud) can be a terrific way to get centered, and keep the squirrely thoughts from taking over.


Simple yoga and meditation mantras can include phrases like:


  •  “I am here.” 

  • “I am centered.” 

  • “I am grounded.” 

  • “I am in my body.” 

  • “I welcome peace.”

  • “I welcome rest.”

  • “I call in healing.”

  • “Be here now.”

  • “Inhale; Exhale.”


Learn more about mantras and find more mantra examples here.


Meditation


Oh meditation. This is such a wonderful part of yoga, and often overlooked in favor of bending and stretching.


But I’m here to tell you, meditation is THE BEST.


There are so many benefits to meditation, that I could write a few posts about it!


But for now, I will say that meditation can help with anxiety, overwhelm, stress, getting to sleep, focus and just about anything else you can think of.



Mindfulness


I’m going to let Jon Kabat-Zinn, “the godfather of mindfulness” take this one.


He says:

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”

We can also think of mindfulness and slowing down, paying attention, listening to ourselves and otherwise connecting with our thoughts instead of letting them take us on a journey we don’t need to travel.


Namaste


For centuries, yoga teachers began and/or ended yoga practice with the word Namaste.


I like to end my yoga classes wishing everyone “Peace.”



Nidra


Nidra, or Yoga Nidra is the practice of yogic sleep.


It’s deeply relaxing and restorative, and fans of this practice say that 45 minutes of yoga nidra can feel like hours of traditional sleep.


I have some yoga nidra classes on Insight Timer. Here is one just for beginners to the practice of yoga nidra.


Om


Be honest …


Do you worry that yoga will require ... chanting? 


Lots of people let yoga traditions keep them from trying yoga, but not to worry - not every yoga class includes saying Om outloud.


Chanting Om is more common in certain styles of yoga, and I don’t find myself using Om in my classes very often.


But if you want to learn more about the symbolism and history of Om, this article will help.


Options


Options - hooray! 


I LOVE to provide lots of options in my yoga classes.


I want to make yoga as accessible as possible, so I like to offer options in case anyone in my class has joints that might be causing them trouble, sore spots, or injuries.


You can do yoga, even if you have issues with mobility and range of motion.


Give this Yoga For People Who Can't Do Yoga class a try:




Pigeon


My VERY FAVORITE yoga pose.


OK, not really. 


But I am including this term to remind you that even yoga teachers don’t necessarily love every single pose. 


It’s OK.


That’s why I like to offer options, above! 


(P.S. Pigeon pose is called Swan in Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is a specific type of yoga practice, and many of the poses have different names in Yin classes than they do in other types of yoga classes. See more at Yin, below.)


Pilates


So how do yoga and pilates connect?


Well, they definitely have some things in common, like working on a mat, using your own body to build strength, and a focus on the importance of flexibility. 


And … I teach both!


If you want to give Pilates a try, check out my Yoga Pilates Flow video:




But, Pilates is also a unique practice, so I have lots of videos covering Pilates basics like Pilates breathing and Pilates spine alignment on my YouTube channel.


Pose


See Asana, above. You might also hear "posture" used instead of pose. I also like to use the word “shape.”


Prana


Prana means “life force” in yoga. It can also mean energy and even breath. 


Prana flows within us, and yoga helps it keep flowing. So does Thai Yoga Massage. (See more about Thai Yoga Massage below.)


It’s believed that prana and keeping it moving in our bodies can help with wellbeing, healing and peace of mind. You might also hear the term prana used in relation to chakras, above.


Pranayama 


See breathwork, above.


PWYC


PWYC stands for Pay What You Can.


And that means just what it sounds like. It’s so important to me to make yoga as accessible as possible. 


So check out my Pay What You Can page, and learn more about why I offer yoga this way, and how you can take part in the community support of Pay What You Can Yoga.


You can also take part in my donation-based classes on Insight Timer. If you are able to donate, you can donate right through the Insight Timer platform.


Thank you for paying what you can, and supporting this way of teaching yoga! It means so much to me!


'Quiet the Mind'


You may hear yoga and meditation teachers encourage you to “quiet the mind.” 


But what does that actually look like? What does it feel like?


It’s estimated that most of us have around 60,000 thoughts per day. Whew! This is why our brains sometimes feel like pinball machines.


So quieting our mind can mean focusing on breathing, using a mantra (above) or simply being in our yoga practice.


Lots of people feel intimidated that yoga and meditation require you to be able to easily find stillness AND silence all the thoughts in your head.


That’s not the case, I promise.


But yoga and meditation can help you with those things. 


That’s why we call yoga and meditation practices


The goal can be to gently work toward quieting your mind. It’s not a prerequisite.


REST


One of my favorite classes to teach is my Saturday evening online REST class on Insight Timer.


If you think you can’t do yoga, if you don’t have any fancy props, or if you just need a REST (don’t we all?!), I hope you’ll join me!


If you can't make it live, you can try my REST class on YouTube:




Restorative


Restorative yoga is a type of yoga that allows for restful postures and gentle stretches. It helps open your body, and allows you to stretch in a passive way.


Restorative yoga often uses a lot of props. (Don’t worry - I have you covered with yoga prop alternatives.)


Restorative yoga is great for beginners and those recovering from an injury.


Look for “restorative” in yoga class descriptions if you are looking for a slow and peaceful class.


Here is a Restorative Yoga Class I offer on my YouTube Channel:





Shavasana


Shavasana (or Savasana) refers to final resting pose in yoga. You might also hear it called “corpse pose,” because it isn’t very active. But that’s the whole idea!


Shavasana is a time to rest and soak in your yoga practice.


Lots of times, yogis will jump up out of a quick Shavasana because how important can it possibly be to lie still? 


But Shavasana is so beneficial. 


Imagine running out of a pedicure with your polish still wet.


What was the point of getting a pedicure at all?


That’s what it’s like to spend time doing yoga, only to skip Shavasana.


I know it can be hard to spend time in stillness and silence, but Shavasana is an important part of your yoga practice. If you can’t stay in stillness the entire time, it’s OK, but keep working toward sticking it out in Shavasana.


You may be surprised what a powerful posture Sahavasana really is.


Supported Shavasana. Try hard not to skip this final resting pose. It helps you to 'soak in' the rest of your practice.


Shape


See Pose and Asana, above.


Twists


Twists are so beneficial! 


Twists in yoga bring increased blood flow to the spine, can help digestion and massage internal organs.


Plus, they feel amazing! (Especially supported twists, which we do frequently in my classes!)


Try twists in my Slow Flow Yoga Class here:




Thai Yoga Massage 



Thai Yoga Massage combines elements of massage and yoga through assisted stretching, palming, thumbing and working with your body’s prana (see above.)


I offer Thai Yoga massage locally, and often use elements of it in my classes.


Learn all about Thai Yoga Massage (and why I think it's such a potential game changer for so many people) in my blog post here.


And try some DIY Thai Yoga Massage in this class:




Uplifting


Most of us have probably heard that yoga can be calming, relaxing and grounding. And, we know it can also be a workout, depending on what kind of yoga we do.


But I like to talk about how yoga can be uplifting


Yoga is a great way to turn around a crummy day, to get a deep breath, to reset …


If you feel down or sluggish, yoga can give you a boost.


Try a gentle uplifting yoga flow with me here:




Wind-Down


When you read the words "wind-down," did you notice anything happening in your body or mind?


If you are like me, the idea of winding down often brings a feeling of:


“Yes - I’d like to do that now, please!”

Yoga is great for winding down at the end of a busy day, a hard day or just a long day.


Join me for a wind-down practice here:




Wall Yoga 


Wall yoga is just what it sounds like - using a wall for support while doing a variety of calming yoga poses.


Using a wall helps us to get our legs above our heart, which can feel so calming (check out Legs Up The Wall, above).


Need a slow, gentle, calming practice?


Try Wall Yoga with me!




Yes!


Yes, you can do yoga!


This is your pep talk and permission slip and me cheering you on!


And if you think you can't do yoga, this class is for you:




Yin


Yin Yoga is one of my favorite styles of yoga. I teach a Yin class live on Insight Timer every week.


Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga that involves passive holds and staying in postures for 3 to 5 minutes (or more!)


Yin Yoga stretches the fascia (above), and can feel like a moving meditation.


Yin is relaxing, gentle and we often use props, but don’t worry if you don’t have traditional yoga equipment. I often use the pillows of my bed and a few blankets when I teach Yin.


Find balance and harmony through a yin class with me and my dog Chili:




Zen


Most of us have heard the term Zen. It’s often used to mean kind of blissed out and calm.


But, the word Zen comes from Buddhism and means enlightenment.


Now - you absolutely do not have to practice Buddhism to do yoga, and none of us should expect to reach enlightenment overnight.


But I am here to tell you, that with continued practice, yoga can absolutely bring calm, peace, centering and a lovely feeling of contentment.


Slow down with me, breathe and let's practice find a bit of everyday Zen:




My Favorite Yoga Terms


If these yoga terms resonate with you, I think you will really enjoy practicing yoga with me! 


These yoga words help sum up my style and approach to yoga, which is all about making it accessible and enjoyable, while helping you build a practice that you can come back to again and again.


Take a peek at my live teaching schedule here (online and in-person classes). I also have a growing library of Yoga, Meditation, Body Scan, Pilates and Guided Relaxation classes on my YouTube Channel.


Plus, I also offer recorded meditations, yoga classes and meditation on Insight Timer.


I hope you’ll join me for a yoga class soon!


Peace.







































































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