Whether you're brand new to yoga, or have been practicing for years, chances are you've heard an instructor mention a body part you don't quite remember from high school anatomy class. This post explains some of the most common terms that may have you scratching your 7th chakra.
Chakras. Complex volumes have been written about chakras, and it would be far beyond the scope of this blog post (or this blog writer) to delve into anything beyond a most basic definition. Essentially, chakras (there are 7 of them) are energy channels, aligned in a column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. I have also heard chakras defined as organs of the spiritual body (as opposed to the physical body), to explain that each chakra is believed to fulfill specific physiological functions. The diagram on the right (again, thanks Wikipedia!) shows each chakra and its associated color (yep, each one has its own color, which you may be asked to visualize when meditating on or "opening" that specific chakra in class). Yoga postures, meditation, and visualization are often used to open various chakras, allowing the energy to flow more freely throughout the body.
Sacrum. While the sacrum is an actual body part, it's not one we hear much about in our day-to-day
lives. But the sacrum may just be the most mentioned body part in yoga class. The sacrum is the large, triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity, where it is inserted like a wedge between the two hip bones (thanks, Wikipedia, for that succinct description and for the image to the right, in which the sacrum is in the center). So why do we talk so much about the sacrum in yoga class? There are two primary reasons:
The sacral chakra (see above) is an important emotional center and is tied to attachment issues, timidity, emotional volatility, trust issues, and more. If your sacral chakra is unbalanced/out-of-whack, you can end up disconnected and cold, or needy and emotionally dependent (hint: tell someone you know who is acting this way, "hmmmm...seems like you may have an unbalanced sacral chakra." Let me know how it goes). We work in yoga class, through postures (like hip openers) and visualization, to keep energy flowing in this area.
A lot of lower back pain (a common reason people come to yoga class in the first place) is tied to the sacral region, specifically the area where the sacrum and the pelvis join.
Sitting bones/setting bones/sit bones/sits bones (and so on). These are the ischium bones in your pelvis, which create those two bony protrusions on the underside of your seat (called the ischial tuberosities). Because most (all) of us have some nice flesh (fleshy parts, we like to call them in yoga) surrounding the sitting bones, they can sometimes be hard to feel. When we take a seated posture in yoga, we want to be sitting directly on the sitting bones, which means we need to move the flesh (with our hands) away from the seat, tip the pelvis forward, and connect those bony protrusions with the mat. This offers the best support for the low back and contributes to good posture in and out of class.
Heart. In yoga, when we talk about the physical heart (heart openers, heart center, back heart, etc), we aren't talking about the organ that pumps blood through your body, but about your spiritual heart, a region of the body, generally the entire thoracic cavity, which is surrounded by the rib cage and includes your diaphragm, lungs and, of course, your heart. A couple of specific "heart parts" you may hear about in yoga class (and probably nowhere else) are:
Heart Center. When we refer to the heart center in yoga class, we are not talking about your actual heart (over there on the left side of your chest), but rather the center of your chest, the breastbone. You will frequently hear your teacher say "hands in prayer at heart center," which simply means to press your palms together with your thumbs pressing gently against your sternum.
Back Heart. When the teacher tells you, for example, to "breathe into your back heart," he is referring to the thoracic portion of your spine and surrounding tissues and ligaments.
Third Eye. Didn't know you had three eyes, did you? In yoga, the third eye is not the "eye in the back of your head," you use to keep an eye on the kids, but is an "inner eye" we all have which provides perception beyond ordinary sight. References to the third eye in yoga class remind us that we have inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. Your third eye is located between your eyebrows, so if you're asked to join your hands in prayer and touch them to your third eye (or to turn your gaze toward your third eye), that's where you're headed. It's also worth mentioning that the third eye is one of the 7 chakras (see above), the center of wisdom and knowledge.