Our mother tongue shapes the meaning of our existence in this world. Though the felt sense of being alive in the present moment can’t be intellectualized, the terms we use connect us by creating a shared experience.
linked through language
I began practicing yoga in college. Despite my skepticism that yoga was for ungrounded mystics, I decided to give it a whirl. I mean, hey, yoga transformed Madonna’s mind and body so why not? After a handful of classes, there was something from within that kept pulling me back to my mat. The dimly lit cocoon of our yoga studio was a space where I could return home to myself, shedding the social mask I wore each day. There was no performance, no expectation – just me and my mat.
My instructor kept using these foreign words to explain the postures and breathwork taught in class. Initially, I felt a natural resistance to these strange, Sanskrit words. Now, over a decade of practicing yoga and meditation has brought me a deep sense of gratitude for the language created to describe what feels…well, indescribable.
Language is the connective tissue between humans, helping us become bonded through shared inner and outer experiences. I see this in my office each day. When I teach clients terms to describe their body positions, emotional responses and various levels of consciousness, we’re co-creating an experience. For example, when I ask a client to connect to their prana, they know I’m speaking about their breath – the life force that nourishes the body. We’re using an external term to describe an internal experience.
I’m by no means a Sanskrit scholar but here are 24 basic translations of mindful terms I often use with clients and in workshops:
Asana: Originally, a sitting or seated posture used for meditation. Hatha yoga developed this practice into a series of postures.
Body Scan: The first formal mindfulness technique taught in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Body scanning entails quietly lying on one’s back while focusing attention on various regions of the body, starting with the toes, moving to the crown of the head.
Chakra: Our energy center system, composed of seven chakras (root, sacrum, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown), each of which is associated with a color, element, syllable and significance.
Compassion: The feeling that arises when confronted by another’s suffering. Compassion reflects the wisdom of being connected to other beings through the universal experience of suffering.
Gatha: A small poem that’s recited in combination with mindful breathing to deepen your awareness.
Heartspace: The epicenter of feeling that lives in in our chest, where we experience love, compassion and connection to other beings.
Ishvara-Pranidhana: Surrender, one of the three essential elements outlined by Patanjali for achieving “union in action”, action that is clearly aligned with one’s authentic sense of self.
Kriya: A series of postures, breath and sound that work towards a specific outcome, an outward physical expression.
Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta): The practice of cultivating a loving acceptance of self and others.
Mantra: The Sanskrit word for “sacred utterance” that is repeated in meditation – a repeated sound, syllable word or phrase.
Mindfulness: Upholding intimate awareness of the present moment without judgment.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): A mindfulness-based program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. This program merges mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga to help individuals reclaim their minds and bodies to relieve suffering.
Mindfulness Meditation: The sitting practice of becoming more aware of what is already true, moment to moment. Mindfulness meditation utilizes body sensations and breathwork to anchor our awareness in the here-and-now experience.
Mudra: A yogic hand posture.
Prana: The energy of the universe we’re all connected to through breath — our Life Force.
Pranayama: Breath control, consisting of conscious inhalation, retention and exhalation.
Samadhi: The state of complete self-actualization / enlightenment.
Savasana (Corpse Pose): The final relaxation asana.
Shanti: Peace (often repeated three times in a row).
Sutras: The classical text from the yoga school of Indian philosophy. The most famous is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Svadhyaya: Self-study, one of the three essential elements outlined by Patanjali for achieving “union in action”, action that is clearly aligned with one’s authentic sense of self.
Tapas: Willful practice, one of the three essential elements outlined by Patanjali for achieving “union in action”, action that is clearly aligned with one’s authentic sense of self.
Ujjayi Breath (Ocean Breath): A pranayama breath technique created by moving the glottis as air passes in and out. The technique creates a soothing ocean sound and vibration in the throat.
Yoga Nidra: A sleep like state yogis report during meditation. This lucid sleeping is a deep state of relaxation while maintaining full consciousness.
With Compassionate Peace,