Welcome to Part 2 of our yoga vocabulary lesson, in which we will talk about the yoga body parts. (See Yoga Vocabulary: Non-English Words for Part 1.)
When you’re in class, the yoga teacher will refer to various parts of your body to help you figure out where to put those parts and how to move them. Sometimes this is easy, with words like “arm” and “leg”. Other times, however, the teacher might use words you didn’t learn when you got a C in your college anatomy course, or other words that are more unique to yoga instruction. Here’s a quick refresher on some yoga body parts you’ll probably hear referenced in class.
This is referring to the crown of the head, the very top, and we yoga teachers talk about it a lot. You’ll hear instructions like, “Lift the crown of your head” or “Lead from your crown” or, my favorite, “Imagine a string on the crown of your head…”
Another common reference: these are the bones you, well, sit on. If you sit (with good posture) on a hard bleacher seat long enough, it’ll probably start to get uncomfortable because you’re feeling these bones against the seat. When you were a kid and you sat on your mom’s lap, if she ever put you down because you had a “bony butt”, these are the bones that were digging into her leg.
In general, when we’re in seated postures in a yoga class, we’ll be sitting up tall on the sit bones.
The official name for the breast bone. I cue with this word and the word “heart” interchangeably. For example, “Bring the sternum/heart forward.”
This is the very bottom of your spine, the last five vertebrae that form a triangle-shaped bone. You’ll hear cues like, “Place the block under your sacrum.”
This is the group of muscles that flex the hips (lift the knee). They tend to be weak and short in people who spend a lot of time sitting; you’ll feel them stretch when you do poses like high and low lunge.
Your teacher might reference them as a place to feel a stretch during certain poses.
This is referencing the third-eye chakra in the subtle body. On your physical body, this is the spot between your eyebrows.
Fairly obvious: the space in front of your heart/sternum. You might hear the teacher ask you to bring your palms together at your heart center.
Okay, this isn’t a body part, but it is something your body parts do that is important in yoga. Many poses specifically require an external or internal rotation of your leg. For example, in Warrior 2 we’re externally rotating the legs. If you’re in Warrior 2 with the right leg forward, and your right knee starts to lean to the left, you need more external rotation to get it lined up again. If you sit on the floor and let your legs relax so that your feet fall to the sides, that is external rotation.
In Warrior 1, you’ll find it easier to keep your hips square to the front of the mat if you are internally rotating your back leg.
An exercise I like to teach for internal and external rotation–not just to build strength, but also to become aware of what it feels like and what muscles activate when you make these movements–is to lie on your back with your legs straight up. Keeping them straight and strong, rotate them internally as strongly as you can, so that your knees point toward each other. Then externally rotate, so that the knees turn away from each other.
For more about getting ready for your first yoga class, try these: