Bandha What? Your Essential Guide to Strange Yoga Vocabulary

Have you ever gone to a yoga class and felt like you are attending a language school instead? Or perhaps you tried to ask your yoga instructor a question and in return you received an answer peppered with so many strange yoga vocabulary you are wondering if he is still speaking to you in English. Here are 5 most commonly used words in a yoga class and what they could mean to you in helping to improve your movements in the next yoga class.

1. Bandhas

Sometimes in a yoga class you will hear the teacher say things like “engage your bandhas” or “lock those bandhas!” If you are new to the class you might be thinking “lock what??”

Bandhas literally mean “to lock” or “to tighten” in Sanskrit. There are generally 3 locks that you are required to activate while doing specific poses:

  1. Mula Bandha or root lock
    The way I explain this when asked by some students is to imagine that you are stuck in rush hour traffic jam in the middle of KL, you need to pee and the nearest petrol station seems like miles away. The muscles that you use to hold what is threatening to come out from you are exactly the muscles engaged in Mula Bandha.By engaging and holding this muscles in a yoga class (not because you need to pee in a class… hopefully!) will create more stability in standing poses – especially in poses which requires you to stand with legs apart or with only one leg on the ground.

    Source: Tim Feldman
    Source: Tim Feldman
  2. Uddiyana Bandha
    Udiyyana in Sanskrit means “to fly up” or “to rise up”. It requires the person to pull in the abdominal muscles in towards the spine. While practicing yoga movements, Udiyyana Bandha is believed to move the energy upwards resulting in lighter movements into poses like handstands.
  3. Jalandhara Bandha or throat lock
    Just as the name suggests, this works around the area of the throat, controlling energy flow to the nerves and blood vessels around the neck area. And no, it does not mean ‘constrict your throat and hyperventilate’. Rather it is typically engaged during a breathing exercise to gently encourage brief moments of breath retention as a means to regulate or safely slow down the heart rate.

 2. Pranayama

In a well-rounded class, you will sometimes hear the teacher say something like “we will begin/end our practice today with a pranayama”. Prana..what you ask?

Pranayama refers to breathing exercises, and in Sanskrit it is sometimes translated as “extension of the life force through the breath”. Breathing is as important as the movements that are performed during a yoga asana practice. It also has a lot to do with controlling and harnessing the energy within so that it is sustained throughout the entire 1-hour or sometimes a 3-hour practice.

 3. Gazing point (Drishti)

When I am teaching certain yoga poses in my class, I would often remind everyone to pick a point that does not move in front of them and gaze at that point while holding the pose. Especially in poses that require balance and a quiet focus, choosing to gaze at a point ahead that does not move allows you to withdraw from your surroundings and eventually achieving better balance that way.

In certain methods of yoga such as Ashtanga yoga, specific gazing point is prescribed for each poses. Some of these points range from gazing at the tip of the nose, at the big toe to focusing on the third eye (center of the forehead).

 4. Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

Sun Salutation in a Nutshell | Source:
Sun Salutation in a Nutshell | Source:

In a typical hatha yoga class, you will begin by performing a few rounds of sun salutation. Though the term first originated from the practice of  saluting the Hindu sun deity, it is now performed as a method to warm up. It helps prepare the muscles in your body so you can perform other poses safely during a yoga practice. There are currently variations of sun salutation practised according to the method and lineage of yoga that a student follows.

 5. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

When I first started my yoga journey, Savasana or Corpse pose used to be the most awaited pose in the entire session. Not only does it signal the end of sometimes long, hot and sweaty session, it also requires the least physical effort. Much like the name suggests, this is when you are required to lie down on your mat, close your eyes and stay still until the soothing voice of your teacher gently lulls you back to consciousness.

Don’t be fooled by the ease of this pose though, because it is also one of the most mentally challenging pose to hold as this is often the time when the chatter in your mind starts to take its own center-stage, either berating yourself or putting your system in anxiety overdrive because you think you might have forgotten to turn off the stove before leaving your house earlier.


Any other yoga jargons you’d like us to demystify? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page and we’ll get right back at ya!


Written by: Nabilla Sharil, a registered yoga teacher and founder of MindBodyBreath Malaysia. Questions? Just drop her a message at

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