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How to Speak the Language of Yoga in Mind-Body Workouts

In Sanskrit — the language of Yoga — the accents are not in the traditional English positions of second or third syllables, so watch your automatic responses when you say these aloud. You may hear these said different ways, but try to let the words sort of roll off your tongue in one fell swoop without a huge emphasis on any syllable.

And let all the syllables lengthen gracefully rather than grind or swell to stops as is common in English.

  • Asana (ah-sah-nah): This literally means “posture.” A posture can be standing; it can be sitting, but it is a stationary posture.

    In Yoga, a descriptive Sanskrit word is tacked onto the front of the word “asana” to create a specific posture. For example, one you see early and often in this book is “tadasana” (tah-dah-sah-nah). In Sanskrit, tada means palm tree, which is a tall, stately tree. And that’s what tadasana is: a tall stately posture (called Mountain Posture in its English translation).

  • Chakra (tshah-kra): Actually spelled “cakra” despite the common English addition of an “h,” a chakra is a center of energy between the top of your head and the base of your spine. Chakra literally means “wheel.”

    Think of these centers of energy as little pinwheels. If the wind stops or you hold an end of one tip, it stops turning or turns very slowly. Same with your energy centers, which are thought to be wheels that whirl actively — unless your energy is blocked.

  • Mudra (moo-drah): A mudra is normally a hand gesture added to a posture. However, it’s not just any hand gesture, but rather one that is said to “seal” or “lock” the life energy inside the body. It is said that when the life energy escapes, it can cause ill health and unhappiness. “Namaste,” is a mudra.

  • Namaste (nah-mah-stay): Whether you want to find a spiritual balance through Yoga or you just want to work out, you use namaste. It is a simple prayer-like position with your hands in front of your breastbone, thumbs touching the breastbone, fingers and palms pressed together, and elbows high. Many asanas or vinyasas start or finish with a position that includes namaste.

    Perhaps you’ve been in traditional exercise classes where everybody applauds at the end? Well, in Yoga, you find a quick moment of quiet with your hands in namaste, then all students bow slightly toward the teacher and say, “Namaste” as the teachers also bows slightly in return saying, “Namaste.”

    It translates loosely as “May the divine light be with you” or “I salute the divine light within you.” A nice parting word, blessing, and thank you, don’t you think?

    If you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your forearms, even putting your palms and fingers together may be a painful stretch. Don’t force it! Instead, just interlace your fingers in some way at your chest so you can still get the energy connection. You can also lower your elbows with your palms together, too.

  • Pranayama (prah-nah-yah-mah): As one word, this means “breath control.” Controlling your breath helps you concentrate and boosts your health. This word stems from “prana,” which means “life force” or “life energy.” You help your life force and energy flow smoothly without hurdles and bumps by using good breath control.

  • Vinyasa (vee-nyah-sah): This means “sequence” and is used quite a bit in certain styles of Hatha Yoga where smoothly linking together asanas into a vinyasa is a basic tenet of the practice. No matter what style you practice, try linking together your asanas (postures) for flow.

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