I often think about how confusing it must be to walk into a yoga class for the first time and realize you have no idea what people are talking about. I’m not just talking about the Sanskrit (but here’s a guide to common Sanskrit words) but the jargon that often comes up in conversation without much explanation that can make beginning yoga students feel like outsiders. Often, it’s not even the teacher that sounds like she’s speaking a foreign language, but the students, who are so immersed in their yoga practices they might not even realize that they’re using language that most people outside of the yoga community would not understand. After more than a decade of yoga practice, I still occasionally find myself rushing straight home from a yoga class so I can Google something someone referenced before class. I know I’m not alone because friends who know I write about yoga contact me regularly to ask me about things they heard in class. Here’s a short list of some of the confusing yoga class jargon that has most recently come onto my radar.
1. “Hot yoga aggravates my pitta.” Ayurveda is yoga’s sister science, and, like yoga, it seems to be growing exponentially in popularity. I could easily write a separate blog post all about the words used in Ayurveda, but the most important are the three constitutions, vata, pitta, or kapha. While we each have a combination of the three constitutions, usually one or two will be dominate. It’s a good practice to tailor your asana practice, diet, and lifestyle to help bring your dominate constitution into balance. In other words, if your pitta dosha is dominant, you might already have lot of internal heat, so a heated class might not be the best choice.
2. “Happy full moon!” No, I’m not talking about sheer yoga pants… I’m talking about the actual moon–you know, that big round rock that glows on clear nights? But what impact does the moon have on the practice of yoga? And why do yoga students seem to celebrate every time the moon is full? In the Ashtanga tradition, full moon and new moon days are holidays from asana practice. In other traditions, the full moon represents a new beginning and a time to reflect.
3. “Mercury is in retrograde.” I know very little about astrology, but because I’m a yoga student, I know that when Mercury is in retrograde it means communication is a bit more difficult. (Just watch this funny video if you’re still not sure what that means.) Honestly, I don’t know how astrology and yoga are connected other than a lot of people who practice yoga are also into astrology.
4. “If you’re on your ladies’ holiday …” This is just pretty language for a woman’s period. Many yoga traditions call for women to back off a bit during their menstrual cycle and abstain from inversions.
5. “My second chakra is out of alignment.” Chakras are centers of energy. Each of the seven chakras is associated with functions of the body and life. Depending on the style of yoga you practice, you’ll either hear about chakras constantly or practically never. Kundalini Yoga, for example, is all about clearing each of the chakras so that the energy can raise from the base of the spine all the way up through the crown of the head. In other traditions, certain yoga poses correspond to various chakras.