Debunking the language of a yoga class for beginners.
Ok so you’ve bought the mat, you’ve dusted off the gym clothes and you’ve just about got to grips with the difference between a Downdog and an Updog, but there’s one small problem; you’re still not 100% sure what your yoga teacher is on about!
Many students when they begin their yoga journey may be overwhelmed by the use of yoga vocabulary coming from their yoga teacher’s mouth in class time. Tailbone tucking, core engaging and knee cap lifting, not to mention chakras, dristis and the infamous OM!
In this article I aim to debunk some of the mystery surrounding some of the most common yogic terms that you will encounter in class and spread a bit of light on the basic language of yoga.
So let’s start with some of the common cues
- Tuck your tailbone: many people have a strong curve in their lower back – lordosis of the lower spine – which involves them sticking their bums out further than they should. By drawing your coccyx in line with the rest of your spinal vertebrae, stacking them one on top of the other, you help to protect from back pain in the lower back and protect it in many poses. This simple tucking of the pelvis will also give you an amazing posture, encouraging you to draw your stomach in instantly cutting inches off your figure.
- Retract your shoulders down your midline: in poses such as cobra and Updog you want your shoulders to be rolled down away from your ears creating space around your neck. If you imagine your spine as your midline on the back of your body, then you should feel a movement whereby your shoulder blades move together and down your back toward the centre of your backs midline. This is turn will open your chest and your heart.
- Draw your navel to your back: you may hear this in a pose such as upward facing dog and is a cue for you to draw you stomach in, engaging your core muscles and creating space around your ribs for the breath to flow in and out of.
- Draw your kneecaps up: this means squeezing – otherwise known as engaging – your thigh muscles so as to give you more stability. The act of doing this literally lifts your kneecaps. Stand up and have a little experiment now to see if you can notice this sensation.
What is this Mula Bandha that my teacher keeps referring to?
Bandha means ‘lock’ or ‘bind’ in Sanskrit and represent areas in the body where we contract certain muscle groups to create an energy lock, making our practice stronger, locking energy into our practice and making it more graceful.
There are 3 Bandhas; the Mula Bandha, which is connected to the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles in turn toning the pelvic organs. It stimulates the first two chakras (we’ll get to that in a bit!).
The Udyana Bandha refers to the energy lock just below your solar plexus and is said to send the energy back up through your body and tone and massage your abdominal organs. Think gym abs without ever having to do a sit up! This lock works with the 3rd chakra.
Jalandhara Bandha is the throat lock and controls the flow of energy in the nerves and blood vessels of the neck. This Bandha helps regulate the circulatory and respiratory systems and to balance the thyroid and metabolism. The 5th chakra is activated by this Bandha.
So that leads to my next question; what is a Chakra?
Chakra stems from the word for ‘wheel’ or ‘cycle’ in Sanskrit and refers to the 7 main energy points throughout our body. Often depicted as spinning wheels of different colour light along the central channel of the body, the base or root chakra starts deep within our pelvis and the 6 others extend all the way up to the crown of the head.
Chakras are defined by being the crossing point of the nerve plexus which the body’s prana (life force) travels through, and when out of balance are said to effect different aspects of our lives. For example an imbalanced root chakra may leave you feeling ungrounded in your life, whereas the 3rd chakra is considered to be connected to your self-esteem and creativity.
Each chakra is represented by a name, colour, element and a sound known as a mantra such as ‘lam’, as well as governing certain aspects of our personality and sense of being.
And a Dristi?
This one’s a bit more simple! A Dristi is simply the yogic word for a gazing point. Steaming specifically from Astanga yoga, whereby every pose uses one of 9 prescribed gazing points to accompany the posture. These 9 focus directions are; the tip of the nose, the 3rd eye ( the area between your eyebrows, started at metaphorically in meditation), the hand, the navel, the big toe, the direction of a twist, the thumbs, and into infinity!
The use of a Dristi helps us focus, bringing us more stability in standing poses or deeper concentration into melting into the pose in forward bends. There are also varies Dristi exercises that can be practiced without asana (yoga poses), which help us to focus and calm the mind from the distractions of modern life which oversaturate our eyes everyday; think advertising, social media, television.
So finally, why OM?
You will often hear yoga classes open and closed with the chanting of the sound OM. An ancient mantra and symbol in Indian spirituality, the sound of OM encompasses all sounds in human language. Pronounced AUM, this ancient spiritual sound represents the 3 Fold Division of Time; A – is the waking state, U – is the dream state, M – is the state of deep sleep.
It is also said to have further trinities of meanings: the heavens, earth, and the underworld; along with invoking the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (aka creator god, sustainer god, and destroyer god).
The vibrations created by the chanting of OM are said to master up the sound of the universe and is often followed by the Hindi word Shanti (peace) repeated three times to finish a yoga class. “When we sound OM together, we’re aligning body/mind/spirit; we’re aligning with one another; we’re aligning with the universe because it’s the sound of the universe and we’re referencing something real,” says Bhavani Lorraine Nelson.
Now if this all sounds like a bit much to get your head around for the minute then that’s totally fine. But one things for sure, there is something very unifying and peaceful about chanting slowly the sound OM using the very last drop of your breath for creating the vibrations. And if you don’t believe me, just find a quiet place to sit, shut your eyes and try it. Find out what the sound feels like to you by chanting it several times in a row from the depths of your stomach, letting it vibrate and resonate in your entire being You never know you might even discover something new from it!