I Speak Yoga: Demystifying 3 Phrases That May Confuse You in Class


Have you ever found yourself in a yoga class where the teacher’s cues sound like a foreign language that is not Sanskrit? Your body is on the mat, but your brain gets tripped up by the teacher’s yoga-speak, jargon, or transitional instructions. Some yoga poses or transitions seem to come in and out of fashion or may be more prevalent at some studios (some of which even create their own signature name for a classic pose) than others. Here are “translations” for three phrases you might encounter in a yoga class.

“Take a Vinyasa”

As a stand-alone word, “vinyasa” means “to place in a special way.” More commonly, the word “vinyasa” is used to describe a style of yoga that connects the practitioner’s breath and movement. So what does it mean when a teacher says “Take a vinyasa”? This option is usually offered when a student is in downward facing dog. While you may choose to rest in dog or child’s pose, by offering you the chance to “take a vinyasa,” your teacher is inviting you to add a classic transition by moving from downward facing dog into plank, chaturanga, upward facing dog, or cobra, and back to downward facing dog.

“Flip Your Dog”

Popularly known as “wild thing” or sometimes “rock star pose,” its Sanskrit name is camatkarasana, which actually means “miracle pose” or “surprise pose.” This pose looks somewhat like a one-handed full wheel, with the lifted arm stretched overhead to deepen the heart opening. If you’re in a particularly flowy vinyasa class, or if the teacher has prepped the class for backbending, the option to “flip your dog” may feel very inviting—if you know what that term means!

“Draw Your Navel in Toward Your Spine”

Granted, this is a weird one if you are simply listening for the next pose name or don’t spend much time contemplating your belly button. But it’s a great cue if you know what it means! You’re likely to hear this cue during poses in which core engagement is particularly important, such as inversions. Try this: Sit up tall and inhale. Exhale completely but don’t inhale another breath. Instead, while holding your breath, use your abdominal muscles to pull your belly in. Retain your exhalation for as long as you can so you can feel where your navel is in relationship to your spine. Inhale when you need to and return to your natural breath pattern. Drawing your navel in toward your spine is a great cue to help you remember to engage your abdominal muscles.

Yoga in a group class can rely heavily on the instructor’s languaging and teaching style. Whether you’re new to yoga or have been practicing for years, you will probably encounter moments during classes when the teacher’s instructions don’t immediately resonate with you. If this happens, feel into where you are in your practice and consider whether or not you need this cue. If it serves you, take it! But if the extra instruction feels like “noise,” listen to it for a moment and then let it go.

These three sometimes confusing phrases are just a starting point—the list goes on! What are some other puzzling cues you've heard during a yoga class?

About the Teacher

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Karen Shelley
Karen Shelley is a Brooklyn-based yoga instructor who leads group classes throughout New York City and... Read more