Top 4 Weird Yoga Terms Explained

So, I’m not a yoga instructor and I don’t play one on TV. My poses aren’t even all that impressive (I know that’s not the point). But, I have been practicing yoga for many years now and I’ve been to lots of different studio classes, one yoga retreat, and one ashram. I think this puts me on solid ground, as a lay person, to explain some weird yoga terms that get bandied around in classes as though everyone is supposed to know them. I’m not talking about the names of the poses themselves, although I urge you to check out this article from Yoga Journal for more, if you are interested. This post is about a few yoga terms that are just a tad more obscure.

**These are in no way explanations according to the Yoga Sutra.**


Translation = fancy breathing exercises. The breath is considered our vital life force in yoga and controlling, directing, or channeling it is an essential part of the practice. I particularly like Alternate Nostril Breathing and Lion’s Breath. Sometimes a yoga instructor will begin or end a practice with pranayama as a way of either preparing for or sealing the practice. Ujjayi breath (sometimes called Victorious Breath or Hissing Breath) is a sort of pranayama where you close off part of your throat and make an audible breathing noise. I’ve gotten so accustomed to breathing this way now that I drop into it naturally whenever I’m asked to take a deep breath, which can be a problem when I’m doing my Calm meditation on NJ Transit.

Normal people tip: There is one type of pranayama called Skull Shining Breath where you quickly exhale short, sharp breaths from your nose. Use a kleenex first.  

Yoga Nidra

Translation = fancy sleeping. They lull you to sleep with a guided meditation. It’s meant to be a deeper form of relaxation than normal sleep and IT IS. If you can find a restorative class that ends with Yoga Nidra you will emerge in a state of blissful relaxation that is beyond belief.

Normal people tip: If you snore, as I do, try not to jump in alarm when you are awakened by the sound of your own snoring in a room full of strangers. You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last.


Translation = fancy staring. You pick something on the floor or in front of you to stare at while you hold yourself in a contorted position.

Normal people tip: Yogis will say that your drishti will help you to hold complicated tree poses with the sort of calm stillness that you see in magazines. In fact, you will still fall down because you are getting old and your balance isn’t great, but the dristhti helps.


Translation = fancy hand gestures.

You know this one:

This is a mudra. There are many, many mudras, but that is the main one you need to know.

Normal people tip: Teaching your kids these mudras and some breathing exercises is a great way to develop serious street cred with crunchy types. I was at a birthday party recently and saw this kid get up to the top of a slide, strike a Shuni Mudra, take a deep breath and go down the slide. Whoa.

What yoga terms seemed intimidating to you when you first started practicing?