Before heading into your first Vinyasa yoga class, there are a few common phrases that you will be glad you’re familiar with. Each class, teacher, and studio will vary widely in its experience, but it never hurts to know these universal terms.
A note about Sanskrit
Several of these phrases are in Sanskrit and your teacher will likely use some of the Sanskrit names for poses. Sanskrit is an ancient language upon which many Eastern languages evolved. It is the language in which yoga was originally documented, so while there might be variations of the English names of poses (like Warrior III or Airplane), a pose’s Sanskrit name is universally recognized by yogis in all languages (Virabhadrasana III).
The big one! “Vinyasa” has lots of meanings and significance. First, it is the name of a style of Yoga – possibly the one you’re signed up for! Other styles you might’ve heard of are Bikram, Iyengar, and Ashtanga. Vinyasa’s literal meaning in Sanskrit is “to place in a special way” indicating the “flow” style of yoga. Its defining characteristic is a short sequence of poses that link other sequences together. This sequence is also referred to as your Vinyasa or flow, and the most common version is High Plank > Low Plank > Upward Facing Dog > Downward Facing Dog. The teacher might cue you to “step back to plank and go through your Vinyasa” which means to go through that small set sequence.
The physical practice of yoga, Asana, is one of 8 limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s 8-Fold Path philosophy. Pranayama is another limb, which involves breathing exercises. Our “Prana” is our breath, our vital life force. Various types of breathing practices, such as square breathing, Ujjayi breath, and Kapalbhati (Breath of Fire), are Pranayamas. Your yoga practice might begin or end with a Pranayama.
“Set an intention”
Your time in a yoga class is a perfect time to practice mindfulness. At the beginning of your class, you might be encouraged to set an intention for your practice. The goal is to pick an idea, a feeling, or anything that you can bring your focus to throughout the flows. The teacher might suggest one as part of the theme of the class, or you can choose your own. Here are some of my favorites intentions or focal points:
- Gratitude to my body and my fellow yogis
- Finding strength in every pose
- My breath
- Keeping my attention on my own body and not my neighbor yogis
- Challenging myself into doing difficult things, mentally & physically
- Mixing up variations of some foundational poses
- Very intentional alignment in poses
“Inhale into…” / “Exhale and…”
Okay, you probably know what it means to inhale and exhale. But, specifically in vinyasa yoga, you will be instructed to breathe. A lot. We do a lot of flows “breath to movement” so the teacher will cue to inhale into a pose and then exhale into the next pose. This helps us remain mindful of our breathing and assists us into the fullest expression of the postures. Generally speaking, you will inhale into an open or upward pose and exhale into a compressed, folded, or downward pose.
About 5 minutes before the end of your class, your teacher will cue you into Savanasa, whose English name is Corpse pose, where you lie on your back with limbs outstretched. This pose is part of your final relaxation and is the culmination of your yoga practice. Take this time to recenter on the intention you set at the beginning of class, focus on your breath, or do a body scan to relax every part of your legs, torso, arms, and head. You are stilling your mind and your body to rest and recharge.
Om (or other chants)
This will vary significantly by studio, class type, and teacher, but is a good one to know ahead of time. While chanting is not uncommon during a yoga class, most classes that I’ve taken and lead do not include chanting or very much of it. One chant that I have done a few times in class is “Om”. The meaning of “Om” is quite extensive, and this article does a good job of summing it up! Your teacher might cue for the class to collectively chant 1 Om together, which they will lead.
This is the traditional phrase spoken at the end of a practice. It is another Sanskrit term that has many translations. The one that resonates with me the most is “the light in me sees & honors the light in you.” To close the practice, your teacher will bow to you and say Namaste. It is traditional that the students will bow and say Namaste in return.
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