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    Japanese Vocabulary for Yoga: Movements Explore a Variety of Verbs to Help You "Bend," "Extend," "Entwine" and More

    Viewing under Learn by Doing! Vocab to Jumpstart Your Japanese Yoga Journey

    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!

    Prerequisites: This article assumes you already know hiragana and katakana. If you need to brush up, have a look at our Ultimate Hiragana Guide and Ultimate Katakana Guide.

    Verb Forms

    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.

    て form

    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.

    • かた まわして…
    • Circle your shoulders, and…

    ます form

    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.

    • 両手りょうて ろします。
    • Lower your hands.

    ましょう form

    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.

    • むね 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.

    • 上体じょうたいを右に かたむけていきます。
    • (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.

    Verb Forms Examples
    Causative form あしをリラックスさせます。
    Relax your legs.
    (Literally: Let your legs relax.)
    〜たまま うでを上げたまま…
    While keeping your arms up…
    〜ながら いき きながら…
    While exhaling….
    〜たり 足を らしたりしましょう。
    Let's shake out our feet (and shake out other body parts, too).

    Verbs for Yoga Movements

    woman doing various 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

    Japanese Reading English Examples
    前屈する ぜんくつする to bend forward 腕を ばして、前屈します。
    Stretch your arms and bend forward.
    to bend; to curl ひざを曲げます。
    Bend your knees.
    丸める まるめる to make round; to curl up 背中せなかを丸めて…
    Round your back and…

    Drawing close, getting closer, bringing closer

    近づく ちかづく to approach; to draw near; to get close ひじ ひざを近づけます。
    Bring your elbows and knees close together.
    引き寄せる ひきよせる to draw; pull something towards oneself 肩甲骨けんこうこつを引き寄せます。
    Draw your shoulder blades together.
    引っ張る ひっぱる to pull 右の 手首てくびをつかんで引っ張りましょう。
    Let's grab our right wrists and pull.
    抱える かかえる to hug 仰向あおむけに て、 両膝りょうひざを抱えます。
    Lie down face-up and hug both knees.

    Extending, lengthening, stretching

    伸ばす のばす to extend; to stretch
    (Gradually) lengthen your spine.
    伸びる のびる to extend; to stretch
    伸びを かんじましょう。
    Let's feel the strech. 
    広げる ひろげる to spread; to expand 両足を大きく広げて…
    Spread your legs wide, and…

    Lowering, bringing down

    降ろす おろす to bring down; to lower 両手を ゆかに降ろしたら…
    Once you put your hands down on the floor…
    下げる さげる to lower しりを下げて、チャイルドポーズ。
    Lower your butt, then — child's pose.
    倒れる たおれる to fall; to fall down 少しずつ前へ倒れていきます。
    Fall forward gradually.
    倒す たおす to bring down 両膝を右の方へと倒します。
    Bring both knees down to the right.
    引き下げる ひきさげる to pull down 肩甲骨を引き下げて…
    Pull your shoulder blades down, and…

    Moving, carrying out, repeating

    動かす うごかす to move 骨盤こつばんも動かしていきましょう。
    Let's start moving the pelvis as well.
    行う おこなう to perform; to do; to carry out おだやかな 呼吸こきゅうを行います。
    Take some relaxing breaths.
    (Literally: Do some relaxing breathing.)
    繰り返す くりかえす to repeat この ながれをもう一度繰り返します。
    Repeat this sequence once again.

    Placing, putting, arranging, reaching

    置く おく to put; to place 左の足をマットに置いたら…
    Once you put your left foot on the mat…
    揃える そろえる to align; to arrange マットの 前方ぜんぽうで両足を揃えます。
    Align both feet at the top of the mat.
    つく   to put 両手を床について…
    Put both hands on the floor, and…
    合わせる あわせる put something together;
    to match (rhythm)
    Put your hands together in front of your chest, and…

    Raising, rising, bringing up, lifting up

    起こす おこす to raise ゆっくり上体を起こしていきます。
    Begin to raise your upper body slowly.
    浮かす うかす to float 右足を浮かせます。
    Hold your right foot in the air.
    (Literally: Float your right foot.)
    引き上げる ひきあげる to pull up みぞおちを上に引き上げます。
    Pull in the pit of your stomach
    (Literally: Pull up the pit of your stomach.)
    持ち上げる もちあげる to lift up あごを持ち上げて…
    Lift your chin up and…
    見上げる みあげる to look upward ななめ上を見上げます。
    Look diagonally upwards

    Releasing, unraveling, loosening, returning

    解放する かいほうする to release 膝を抱えて…両手を解放します。
    Hug your knees… and release both hands.
    抜く ぬく to let out 体の力を全部抜きましょう。
    Let's let out all the tension in our bodies.
    ほどく   to undo; to untie; to unfasten 指をほどきます。
    Unfasten your fingers.
    ほぐす   to soften; to loosen 股関節こかんせつをほぐしていきましょう。
    Let's begin to loosen our hip joints.
    緩める ゆるめる to loosen; to relax くび うしろを緩めましょう。
    Let's relax the back of the neck.
    戻す もどす to put back; to return 左足を もとのポジションに戻します。
    Put your left foot back in its original position.

    Twisting, crossing, entwining

    絡める からめる to entwine ゆびを絡めて腕を伸ばしましょう。
    We'll entwine our fingers, and then let's stretch our arms.
    組む くむ to cross (legs or arms) 右足を左ももにかけて足を組みます。
    Put your right foot on your left thigh and cross your legs.
    ねじる   to twist ウエストを右へねじりましょう。
    Let's twist our waists to the right.
    ひねる   to twist 背筋を左へひねります。
    Twist your spine to the left.

    Breathing, feeling, resting

    吸う すう to inhale はなから息を吸って…
    Inhale through the nose and…
    吐く はく to exhale 口からゆっくり吐きます。
    Exhale slowly from the mouth.
    感じる かんじる to feel 伸びを感じて下さい。
    Please feel the stretch.
    休む やすむ to rest チャイルドホーズで休みます。
    Rest in child's pose.

    Other Verbs

    つかむ   to grab 両方りょうほうの手ですねをつかみましょう。
    Let's grab our shins with both hands.
    開く ひらく to open; to spread out 胸を開いて…
    Open your chest and…
    向ける むける to turn something toward つま さき 天井てんじょうに向けます。
    Turn your toes towards the ceiling.
    向く むく to face toward 上を向きます。
    Face upwards.
    沈める しずめる to sink 胸をマットに沈めて…
    Press your chest into the mat, and…
    (Literally: Sink your chest into the mat, and…)
    傾ける かたむける to tilt 上体を前に傾けます。
    Tilt your upper body forward.

    Katakana Words

    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.

    プッシュ ぷっしゅ push 両手で床をプッシュして…
    Push against the floor with both hands and…
    リラックス りらっくす relax 息を吐いてリラックスします。
    Breath out and relax.
    スライド すらいど slide お尻を右にスライドさせます。
    Slide your hip towards the right.
    ツイスト ついすと twist 上体を左側へツイスト。
    Twist your upper body to the left.
    キープ きーぷ keep 右足を浮かせてキープします。
    Float your right foot up and keep it there.
    ホールド ほーるど hold そのまま呼吸をホールド。
    Stay as you are and hold your breath.
    チェンジ ちぇんじ change 足をチェンジ。
    Switch feet.
    (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.

    優しく やさしく gently 優しく息を吐きます。
    Exhale gently.
    しっかり   firmly 足の うら 大地だいちをしっかりと みます。
    Step (and hold onto) the ground firmly with the soles of your feet.
    ゆっくり   slowly ゆっくりと体を起こします。
    Raise your body slowly.
    高く たかく high 右腕を高く持ち上げましょう。
    Let's lift our right arms up high.
    まっすぐ   straight 背筋をまっすぐに伸ばして…
    Lengthen your spine in a straight line and…
    水平に すいへいに horizontally, even 右足を床と水平に持ち上げます。
    Lift your right foot (so that it's) even with the floor.


    Japanese onomatopoeia for yoga

    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

    ぐるっ making circles; with a circling motion 両肩をぐるっと回します。
    Rotate your shoulders like you're making circles.
    ぎゅっ tightly 肩甲骨をぎゅっと 中央ちゅうおうに寄せます。
    Draw shoulder blades together tightly towards the center.
    だらーん in a dangly way 手をだらーんと よこに下ろします。
    Lower your hands to your sides and let them dangle.
    ぶらぶら with a swinging or swaying motion 手足を持ち上げてぶらぶら ります。
    Lift your hands and legs and shake them with a swinging motion.
    すっ effortlessly; quickly 左足をすっと浮かせて…
    Let your left leg float up effortlessly and…
    すとーん all at once; with a thump 肩の力をストーンと抜きます。
    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.

    前屈する ぜんくつする to bend forward
    伸ばす のばす to extend; to stretch
    吸う すう to inhale
    吐く はく to exhale
    きゅっ   tightly

    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!