Grab your mat and settle yourself into a nice comfortable seat! It's time for the last article in our three-part guide to doing yoga classes in Japanese.
In the first article, I talked about some challenges of doing a Japanese-language yoga class. In the second, I introduced so much vocabulary for body parts, directions, and poses you probably need to do some yoga just to stretch out the crick in your neck you got from scrolling through it all. But there are still some words we haven't covered yet, namely the ones that actually do the very important work of describing actions and movements: verbs.
What was tricky was there are often several different verbs that express the same kind of motion you're verb-ing.
What I found tricky about learning the verbs I heard in yoga classes wasn't that they were particularly hard words to remember (unlike all those words for bones), or that I hadn't ever encountered them before (again, unlike all those words for bones), or that I couldn't understand what they meant in the moment (unlike … some of those words for bones). What was tricky was there are often several different verbs that express the same kind of motion you're verb-ing. Of course, this is true in English, too. For example you could say "bend your back" — or you could say curve, bow, arc, or arch your back instead. But variety is the spice of life, and what a variety of verbs we have to explore today! It is unquestionably a spicy life we are leading.
We'll cover a prodigious amount of these verbs in this article, but first we'll review some verb forms and look at how verbs are used in yoga classes. We'll also cover some katakana words (which often function as verbs) and a sprinkling of onomatopoeia (which can give additional info on how you should do a verb). It's certainly a lot of vocab, but I definitely don't expect you to learn these words all at once before attempting even one little downward dog. In the first article and second article I discuss some strategies for how to use these vocab lists and learn key words. And, as in the second article, at the end of this article I'll suggest five words to study to help you get started. I hope these lists help you feel prepared to try some yoga classes in Japanese and that you refer back to them as you continue your yoga journey. Now, let's get moving!
- Verb Forms
- Verbs for Yoga Movements
- Bending, curving, curling up
- Drawing close, getting closer, bringing closer
- Extending, lengthening, stretching
- Lowering, bringing down
- Moving, carrying out, repeating
- Placing, putting, arranging, reaching
- Raising, rising, bringing up, lifting up
- Releasing, unraveling, loosening, returning
- Twisting, crossing, entwining
- Breathing, feeling, resting
- Other Verbs
- Katakana Words
- Take 5: Five Pocket Words for Ready Reference
- Ready to Dive into ダウンドッグ？
Before getting into the lists of verbs, let's first take a look at the ways you might hear verbs used in your Japanese yoga classes. While every instructor will have a different style of speech, the forms of verbs they use tend to be similar because what they are asking you to do — to move through a series of established poses — tends to be similar. There are a few verb forms and patterns in particular that you will hear pretty frequently, so being familiar with these will give you a good head start. We'll take a look at the て form, ます form, and ましょう form, and the compound verb form 〜ていく. In yoga classes, each of these tends to be used as a way to guide you through movements and poses, but knowing the nuances of each form will help you have a better grasp of what is happening or what is about to happen next.
The て form is often used for describing sequential movements. So, when you hear て-form, you can expect to hear instructions for another movement to follow after.
- 肩を 回して…
- Circle your shoulders, and…
The ます form is a polite form. Instructors use it to explain movements step-by-step (either what they're about to do or what they're currently doing) in a professional tone.
- 両手を 下ろします。
- Lower your hands.
The ましょう form is the volitional form of the ます form. Instructors use it to encourage doing the same action in a professional, yet friendly tone.
- 胸を 起こしましょう。
- Let's raise our chests.
〜ていく is a combination of the て form and the verb 行く (to go). Although you may not run into this pattern as often in your regular Japanese studies, yoga teachers (and fitness instructors in general) use 〜ていく pretty frequently. Just like regular verbs, you will also typically hear the compound verb 〜ていくconjugated into the て form, ます form, or ましょう form, as in 〜ていって, 〜ていきます, 〜ていきましょう.
Just like the other forms so far, teachers use 〜ていく to instruct their students to do something, usually a movement. However, the nuance behind 〜ていく implies that the movement will happen gradually.
- 上体を右に 傾けていきます。
- (Gradually) tilt your upper body towards the right.
Other Verb Forms
Of course you'll hear instructors use other verb forms as well. The list below includes some additional verb forms and grammatical patterns that you might also hear from time to time in your yoga classes.
Relax your legs.
(Literally: Let your legs relax.)
While keeping your arms up…
| 息を 吐きながら…
Let's shake out our feet (and shake out other body parts, too).
Verbs for Yoga Movements
Now that we have a better idea of how verbs are used in yoga classes, let's jump into the lists of verbs! As I mentioned earlier, sometimes there are several different verbs that express similar actions, so rather than listing them alphabetically, the verbs are organized by movement. I've also included example sentences for each verb. These are based on sentences in actual yoga lesson videos, so I hope the examples give you a sense of how the words are really used and what you can expect to hear in yoga classes.
Bending, curving, curling up
|to bend forward
Stretch your arms and bend forward.
|to bend; to curl
Bend your knees.
|to make round; to curl up
Round your back and…
Drawing close, getting closer, bringing closer
|to approach; to draw near; to get close
| 肘と 膝を近づけます。
Bring your elbows and knees close together.
|to draw; pull something towards oneself
Draw your shoulder blades together.
Let's grab our right wrists and pull.
| 仰向けに 寝て、 両膝を抱えます。
Lie down face-up and hug both knees.
Extending, lengthening, stretching
|to extend; to stretch
(Gradually) lengthen your spine.
|to extend; to stretch
Let's feel the strech.
|to spread; to expand
Spread your legs wide, and…
Lowering, bringing down
|to bring down; to lower
Once you put your hands down on the floor…
Lower your butt, then — child's pose.
|to fall; to fall down
Fall forward gradually.
|to bring down
Bring both knees down to the right.
|to pull down
Pull your shoulder blades down, and…
Moving, carrying out, repeating
Let's start moving the pelvis as well.
|to perform; to do; to carry out
Take some relaxing breaths.
(Literally: Do some relaxing breathing.)
Repeat this sequence once again.
Placing, putting, arranging, reaching
|to put; to place
Once you put your left foot on the mat…
|to align; to arrange
Align both feet at the top of the mat.
Put both hands on the floor, and…
|put something together;
to match (rhythm)
Put your hands together in front of your chest, and…
Raising, rising, bringing up, lifting up
Begin to raise your upper body slowly.
Hold your right foot in the air.
(Literally: Float your right foot.)
|to pull up
Pull in the pit of your stomach
(Literally: Pull up the pit of your stomach.)
|to lift up
Lift your chin up and…
|to look upward
Look diagonally upwards
Releasing, unraveling, loosening, returning
Hug your knees… and release both hands.
|to let out
Let's let out all the tension in our bodies.
|to undo; to untie; to unfasten
Unfasten your fingers.
|to soften; to loosen
Let's begin to loosen our hip joints.
|to loosen; to relax
| 首の 後ろを緩めましょう。
Let's relax the back of the neck.
|to put back; to return
Put your left foot back in its original position.
Twisting, crossing, entwining
We'll entwine our fingers, and then let's stretch our arms.
|to cross (legs or arms)
Put your right foot on your left thigh and cross your legs.
Let's twist our waists to the right.
Twist your spine to the left.
Breathing, feeling, resting
Inhale through the nose and…
Exhale slowly from the mouth.
Please feel the stretch.
Rest in child's pose.
Let's grab our shins with both hands.
|to open; to spread out
Open your chest and…
|to turn something toward
|つま 先を 天井に向けます。
Turn your toes towards the ceiling.
|to face toward
Press your chest into the mat, and…
(Literally: Sink your chest into the mat, and…)
Tilt your upper body forward.
In yoga classes you'll also likely hear katakana words (English loanwords) used here and there. I've included some of the most common words below. Regardless of what part of speech the words are in English, they function as nouns in Japanese. However, these katakana words are often accompanied by the verb する, meaning "to do," and thus used as verbs. Note that in some cases, as in a few of the example sentences below, する may be omitted, but the katakana word is still functioning as a verb.
Push against the floor with both hands and…
Breath out and relax.
Slide your hip towards the right.
Twist your upper body to the left.
Float your right foot up and keep it there.
Stay as you are and hold your breath.
(Literally: Change feet.)
Adverbs play an important role in explaining how to do a movement. Here are a few adverbs you'll commonly hear in yoga classes.
|足の 裏で 大地をしっかりと 踏みます。
Step (and hold onto) the ground firmly with the soles of your feet.
Raise your body slowly.
Let's lift our right arms up high.
Lengthen your spine in a straight line and…
Lift your right foot (so that it's) even with the floor.
Japanese is known for having a wide variety of onomatopoeia. In English, we often think of onomatopoeia as words that represent sounds, like "bang" or "hiss," but in Japanese onomatopoeia can also describe conditions, movements, and feelings. In yoga lessons, instructors will use onomatopoeia to help students intuitively understand the sense and feel of movements, and thus how to execute them.
When describing movements in yoga instructions, onomatopoeia are used as adverbs and paired with 〜と. For example, ぎゅっ is an onomatopoeic word that expresses tightness or firmness. If you want to use ぎゅっ with にぎる, a verb meaning "to squeeze," you need to add と and say ぎゅっとにぎる (squeeze tightly).
In yoga lessons, instructors will use onomatopoeia to help students intuitively understand the sense and feel of movements, and thus how to execute them.
One last thing to note is that you may hear slightly different versions of onomatopoeia. These variations are usually somewhat similar sounding, with just a few slight differences. For example, ぐるっ is an onomatopoeic word used for describing movements like spinning or making circles, and there are several different versions of this word that can be used interchangeably, including ぐるぐる, ぐるーっ, and くるっ. It's pretty easy to sense that these are related to ぐるっ, right? The first variation, ぐるぐる, uses repetition, which may indicate doing something again and again. In the second, ぐるーっ, the vowel sound is lengthened, which implies a sense of continuation. And in the third variation, くるっ, the voiced sound ぐ is changed to the unvoiced く. Onomatopoeia with voiced sounds have a sense of being louder, rougher, or more intense than those with unvoiced sounds. So if your teacher uses くるっ when she says to circle your arms, you might make tight, more controlled circles than if she used ぐるっ — in which case circle your arms with wild abandon. Beyond these three, there are other types of variations that you might hear, so while the list below only covers one version of each onomatopoeia, keep in mind that you may come across different variations of these, too! For many, many more examples of Japanese onomatopoeia and information about their formation and variations, check out Kristen's article Japanese Onomatopoeia: The Definitive Guide
|making circles; with a circling motion
Rotate your shoulders like you're making circles.
Draw shoulder blades together tightly towards the center.
|in a dangly way
Lower your hands to your sides and let them dangle.
|with a swinging or swaying motion
Lift your hands and legs and shake them with a swinging motion.
Let your left leg float up effortlessly and…
|all at once; with a thump
Loosen up your shoulders all at once.
Take 5: Five Pocket Words for Ready Reference
Now, we've covered so much vocabulary just in this article, you might not be sure where to start. With that in mind, I want to help you get a jumpstart with five Pocket Words. As I introduced in the second article, Pocket Words are a few words I chose from this article that I think would be most helpful to be familiar with. You can either study them before you get started, or put them in your pocket and refer to them if you need to during a lesson.
|to bend forward
|to extend; to stretch
Ready to Dive into ダウンドッグ？
お疲れ様でした！Now that you've bent, stretched, floated, and entwined your way through this list of words, I hope you're feeling ready to give yoga lessons in Japanese a try! While we certainly didn't cover all the verbs and onomatopoeia you might encounter in Japanese yoga classes, using these lists as a study guide and reference will give you a good foundation.
But let me stress again that you should not stress about knowing all of these words immediately. Knowing a few will certainly help — you can start with the Pocket Words I've suggested, or choose one word from each section. Then, just go with the flow. As you do more lessons, you'll likely hear your instructor using these words and be able to reinforce your vocabulary. At the same time, you'll start to pick up some unfamiliar words. When you do, come back after class and use this article as a reference — see if you can find those words you weren't familiar with, and start the process again: you'll strengthen your vocabulary while smoothing out your vinyasa!
Lastly, I've written some other articles for fellow Japanese learning yogis, so if you haven't read my previous articles, please go have a look on the Learn by Doing! Vocab to Jumpstart Your Japanese Yoga Journey page too!
Best of luck on your Japanese and yoga journeys! It can be intimidating to start doing something using your Japanese, but I hope this series gives you the step up you need to get started. I'm cheering for you!