6 Yoga Terms, Decoded

Yoga Man On Beach

“Now melt your heart toward the ground,” instructs your yoga teacher as you bow sto­ical­ly into a down­ward fac­ing dog. Melt your heart? What does that even mean?

The world of yoga can some­times seem like it’s taught in a secret lan­guage. Of course, the San­skrit words are usu­al­ly unfa­mil­iar, unless you hap­pen to be flu­ent in Sanskrit—but even words and terms in plain Eng­lish can be con­fus­ing. Here’s a guide to some of the most com­mon yoga lin­go, and what your teacher real­ly means when they’re ask­ing you to fold forward.

A pic­ture of a pup­py cud­dling with a baby—now that can melt your heart, but it’s not what your yoga teacher means when they tell you to melt your heart. Melt­ing real­ly means relax­ing, or eas­ing any ten­sion. So when you’re instruct­ed to “melt your heart”, what it means is to let go of any ten­sion in your chest area.

You’ll often hear about mus­cle areas or body parts “melt­ing” in a restora­tive class. Try loos­en­ing your mus­cles in the tar­get area, allow­ing your body weight and grav­i­ty to do all the work. You’ll be “melt­ing” in no time!

Breathe Into
Cer­tain yoga pos­es bring “heat” (read: that uncom­fort­able feel­ing that hap­pens when your mus­cles are work­ing extra hard) to spe­cif­ic areas of the body. Any­one who’s ever held a swan pose for a lit­tle while knows what I’m talk­ing about—so what does it mean when your teacher advis­es you to “breathe into your hips.”

You’re usu­al­ly advised to “breathe into” an area that a cer­tain pose places a fair bit of stress on. Shift your atten­tion to the burn­ing body part, and take a deep, full breath. Feel your chest expand, and pic­ture that expan­sion extend­ing all the way into the tight mus­cle area. Believe it or not, these motions can make a “burn” feel quite satisfying.

Fold For­ward
You’re used to fold­ing a piece of paper, but what about fold­ing your body? In fact, the paper fold­ing anal­o­gy is quite help­ful in under­stand­ing how “fold­ing” for­ward is dif­fer­ent than just bend­ing for­ward. When you fold a piece of paper, it creas­es neat­ly. Both sides of the paper remain straight. Now, think of your body as the paper, with your waist as the crease. Both “sides” of your body (your low­er body and your upper body) should remain quite straight, espe­cial­ly your spine. You’re not round­ing, you’re folding!

Fold Forward

You’ve been told to avoid crunch­ing into your low­er back, and you’d be per­fect­ly will­ing to abide—if only you knew what crunch­ing meant! “Crunch­ing” is the feel­ing of col­laps­ing: think of a car crunch­ing in a col­li­sion. The met­al rip­ples, com­pact­ing into itself. This is some­thing you want to avoid in yoga.

Focus on remain­ing long and cre­at­ing space. If you feel like you’re “crunch­ing” in your low­er back, ease off a bit, and cre­ate a longer back. Arc through­out your entire spine instead of “crunch­ing” at the base. You might not get as deep into your back bends this way, but it’ll be much bet­ter for your body.

Hon­or­ing your body—does that involve a sacred prayer? When you’re remind­ed to “hon­or your body”, it real­ly means to take a moment to feel what’s going on inside (often, inside your mind). If you’re gasp­ing your air try­ing to achieve a bind, you’re prob­a­bly not doing your body any favors.

Hon­or­ing your body is about accept­ing lim­i­ta­tions and work­ing slow­ly and delib­er­ate­ly, not just doing some­thing because the per­son on the mat next to you is doing it. It’s about being in tune with what’s going on inside of you.

Third Eye
At last count, you only had two eyes, right? The “third eye” you hear about refers to the area more or less between your eye­brows. It’s a ref­er­ence to a chakra (or ener­gy point), which is said to pro­vide per­cep­tion beyond your ordi­nary sight. When you’re told to do any­thing per­tain­ing to your “third eye” (“press your third eye into the ground”), focus on that area in the cen­ter of your forehead.