79 Yoga Words and Sanskrit Terms to Know for Class • Yoga Basics
Namaste. Prana. Vinyasa. Om. Ujjayi. These yogic words are common to most yoga classes, but knowing all of the yoga jargon can be intimidating for beginners. Most yoga instructors guide their classes through sequences using both Sanskrit–the classical Indian language used in yoga–and the English translations for the common yoga terms. All of this yoga lingo can be intimidating and confusing to people who are new to their practice. Learning new movements and breathing techniques is difficult enough when adding another language to the mix. But, don’t worry! With consistent practice, students will naturally learn many of the Sanskrit meanings and yoga words as they progress further in their practice.
If you’re not quite there yet or could use a refresher, here are a few common yoga vocabulary words, in the original Sanskrit with their English translations, that you may hear in any yoga class. We will briefly explain the meanings of these yoga words and the context to which one usually finds these yogic terms used.
The top 15 yoga terms to know
If you are a beginner, there are about fifteen common yoga terms to know before your first class. After a few classes you can come back to this list of terms to slowly build up your vocabulary and understanding of the practice. We’ve highlighted in green the most common terms below to quickly get beginners up to speed.
79 Common yoga words used in yoga classes
Study this long list of yoga lingo to use your new Sanskrit knowledge in your next yoga class! Try to learn one or more of these for each class you take to slowly build up your vocabulary.
Abhyasa (ah-bee-yah-sah) – Defined as “constant exercise,” this describes a willful, focused and engaged spiritual practice.
Adho (ah-doh) – Translated as “downward”, as in Adho Mukha Svanasana for downward facing dog.
Ahamkara (ahan-ka-ra) – The “I-maker” or the yogic concept of ego, which is seen to could the mind and must be transcended to achieve enlightenment.
Ahimsa (a-him-sah) – Practicing non-violence or non-harming towards all living things. Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas, or moral codes listed in the Yoga Sutra.
Ananda (a-nun-dah) – An ecstatic state of complete bliss and love.
Apana (ah-pan-nah) – This vayu or internal “wind” is the second-most important of the five types of prana in Hatha Yoga and Ayurveda. Located at the pelvic floor, it regulates the outward flow of prana from the body and governs the elimination of physical wastes and toxins from the body.
Ardha (ar-dha) – Translates to “half,” as in Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon Pose
Asana (a-sa-na) – The physical yoga poses in hatha yoga. Each yoga pose name in Sanskrit ends with asana.
Ashram (ash-rem) – A yoga hermitage or a school of yoga.
Ashtanga (ash-tan-ga) – Translated as “eight-limbed yoga,” this is the eight-limbed path described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. These eight stages build upon each other and lead the practitioner to a state ofenlightenmentt or samadhi.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) – This challenging and athletic system of hatha yoga was popularized during the 20th century by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
Atman (aht-muh-n) – The transcendental and eternal Self or indwelling spirit.
Bandha (bahn-da) – An energetic lock or seal in hatha yoga, requiring a contraction of muscles and internal focus to constrain the flow of prana or energy. Bandhas are often used in pranayama to promote energy flow and maintain optimal health. The three main locks or binds used are Mula Bandha (root lock), Uddiyana Bandha (naval lock), and Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock).
Bhagavad Gita (buhg-uh-vuhd-gee-tah) – The oldest Sanskrit book on yoga that is embedded in the larger Mahabharata epic. This text contains the teachings on karma yoga, samkhya yoga, and bhakti yoga.
Bhakti (bahk-ti) – The practice of cultivating love and devotion directed toward the Divine.
Bikram (bick-ram) – This style of yoga is practiced in a heated room with a set sequence of asanas. The founder of this yoga school has been embroiled in multiple controversies so most yogis prefer to practice other styles of hot yoga.
Buddhi (boo-dee) – The highest aspect of the mind which is considered to be the seat of wisdom.
Chandra (chun-drah) – The moon, as in Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon Pose.
Chakra (chak-rah) – A swirling wheel of light and energy in the body. Each chakra is associated with a specific color, emotion, and elements. The most common chakras are the root chakra, heart chakra, and third eye.
Chaturanga (chat-u-ranga) – The yogi pushup movement used to move from plank to the ground.
Dharma (dar-mah) – The role, purpose, and path in life that leads one to truth, peace, and enlightenment.
Dhyana (dhya-na) – Meditation from a sustained state of mental focus and, the seventh limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga.
Drishti (drish-ti) – A focal point used in yoga to set your gaze and help with concentration, balance, and focus.
Duhkha (doo-kuh) – A bad space or a negative state of mind that leads to suffering or ignorance.
Dwi (dva) – The number Two; used in poses with names like Dwi Hasta Bhujasana, or Two Hand Arm Pose.
Eka (eh-kah) – The number One; used in many poses that focus on one limb, like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or One Leg Pigeon Pose.
Flow – See “vinyasa.”
Granthi (gran· thi) – One of the three “knots” or blockages in the central energy channel or nadi which prevents a full ascent of the serpent power to achieve enlightenment in tantra yoga.
Guna (goo-nuh) – One of the three main qualities or constituents of nature: tamas (inertia), rajas (overactivity), and sattva (equanimity).
Guru (goo-roo) – A spiritual teacher or leader who offers knowledge and guides one to the path of awakening and union.
Hatha (hah-tah) – The “forceful path.” Ha is translated to the Sun, and Tha, to the Moon. One goal of Hatha Yoga is to balance the sun and moon energy in the body.
Hasta (has-ta) – The hand (or arm).
Iyengar (eye-yen-gar) – One of the more popular styles of yoga, this tradition emphasizes detail, precision and alignment in the performance of asanas. It often makes use of props such as belts, blocks, ropes and blankets.
Japa (jah-pah) – The recitation of Sanskrit mantras or prayers, commonly used in Bhakti Yoga or mantra meditation.
Jnana (juh-nah-nuh) – The yogic path of knowledge and wisdom.
Karma (kar-mah) – The law of cause and effect. A yogi’s goal is to not accumulate any further karma in his or her lifetime.
Kirtan (kur-tan) – The devotional and ecstatic singing and chanting of hymns and mantras in a community gathering.
Kosha (koh-shuh) – One of the five sheaves or envelopes that surrounding the transcendental Self (atman) like Russian nesting dolls. Each kosha hides the one underneath and thus blocks its light and our awareness of their energy.
Kumbhaka (koom-bha-ka) – The holding or retention of breath used in pranayama practices.
Manas (man-uhs) – The rational aspect of mind, which is bound to the senses and processes basic information.
Mandala (muhn-dal-uh) – A circular geometric design that represents the cosmos and serves as an object of meditation and contemplation.
Mantra (man-truh) – A sacred Sanskrit sound or phrase, that has a transformative effect on the mind when used in meditation.
Maya (mah-yah) – The deluding or illusionary power of the mind’s projection of the world.
Moksha (mohk-shuh) – The “release” or freedom from the ignorance (avidya) of the true Self.
Mudra (mood-rah) – A hand gesture or bodily movement used in yoga practice to affect the flow of prana, life-force energy.
Namaste (nah-mah-stay) – A salutation said at the beginning or end of a class to acknowledge the inner light inside of all beings.
Nadi (nah-dee) – A channel of prana or subtle energy in the body. There are over 72,000 nadis in the body but there are only three main channels (ida-nadi, pingala-nadi, and sushumna-nadi).
Niyama (nee-yuh-muh) – The second limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system contains the five internal practices of Niyama (observance). The five Niyamas are purity (saucha), contentment (samtosha), austerity (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and dedication to the Lord (ishvara-pranidhana).
Om or Aum (ohmm) – The sound of this primary mantra represents the union of the entire universe. Om is often prefixed to many of the Sanskrit mantras and hymns.
Pada (pah-dah) – The foot or leg, as in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or One Leg Pigeon Pose
Patanjali (puh-tuhn-juh-lee) – An ancient Indian sage, scholar, philosopher and the compiler of the Yoga Sutra, who lived c. 150 C.E.
Prana (prah-nuh) – The life-force energy that sustains the body. Also one of the five internal winds or vayus.
Pranayama (prah-nah-yah-mah) – The control and mastery of prana or life-force energy through mindful breathing exercises like the ujjayi breath.
Pratyahara (pruh-tyah-hahr-uh) – A yogic technique of “sense withdrawal” that creates internal focus and introspection through shutting out the distractions created by the senses.
Ujjayi (u-jai-yee) – The ocean sounding breath or victorious breath. This is a popular type of conscious breathing or pranayama.
Utthita (oo-tee-tah) – This translates to “extended,” is included in asanas in which the body is extended or stretched beyond its regular variation.
Sadhana (sa- dha-na) – The spiritual practice, training or discipline that is used to progress a yogi towards accomplishing enlightenment.
Samadhi (suh-mah-dee) – The highest goal of a yogi is to reach this unitive state in which the meditator becomes enmeshed with the object or focus of one’s meditation.
Samsara (suhm-sahr-uh) – The inherent state of flux and change in our world that we find ourselves cyclically entrapped in.
Samskara (sam-ska-ra) – The subconscious patterned impressions that are created and hidden in the depth of the mind and serve as a source of suffering.
Savasana (sha-va-sa-na) – Translated as “corpse pose,” this is the final relaxation pose after a class that involves lying flat on your back with your arms and legs flopped out to the side.
Shala (sha-la) – Used interchangeably with “yoga studio” or “yoga space,” a Shala is is a dedicated space where people can gather to learn, study and practice together. In retreat centers this is usually a type of pavilion that provides a shaded, open meeting place.
Shanti (shahn-tee) – This translates to “peace” in Sanskrit. Shanti is a common mantra chanted or said at the beginning or end of class.
Satsang (sat-sang ) – This is defined as “in the company of truth” and is a gathering to hear an experienced or enlightened yoga teacher speak on a philosophical concept.
Shakti (shak-ti) – The feminine aspect of dynamic divine energy that has a yin/yang relationship with pure consciousness.
Supta (soup-tah) – This translates as “to recline” and is used in poses that involve a reclining position to begin with.
Surya Namaskar (sur-ya na-ma-ska-ra) – The Sun Salutations are a sequence of yoga postures and movements that flow from one to the next. There are several different variations of Surya Namaskar.
Sutra (su-tra) – This translates as “string or thread” and refers to a short rule, like a theorem distilled into few words or short sentence, around which teachings of ritual, philosophy, or other subjects are woven. “The Sutras” is commonly used as shorthand for Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Raja (rah-juh) – Meaning “royal or king” this term is used in asana names and is also a major path of Yoga.
Restorative – This term is sometimes used broadly to describe the energetic effect of specific poses or a sequence. It is used to describe a specific style of yoga that uses blankets and bolsters to support the body while holding postures.
Tantra (tan-truh) – A type of yoga that focuses on the internal energetic side of yoga, involving the use of chakras, mantras, and Hindu mythology.
Tapas (ta-pas) – The heat and intensity that is created by practicing austerity and self-discipline.
Vedas (vay-dahs) – The oldest of the yogic scriptures that comprises four main collections of the Rig Veda, Sama Yajur, and Atharva Vedas.
Vairagya (vai-rahg-yah) – The yogic practice of detachment and the attitude of inner renunciation of worldly goods.
Vinyasa (vuh-nyaa-suh) – A linked sequence of two or more asanas performed in a fluid motion and synchronized with the breath. The most famous vinyasa is the sun salutation. The literal translation is: “nyasa” meaning “to place” and “vi” in a “special way.”
Yamas (yahm-uh) – The five moral, ethical and societal guidelines for the practicing yogi. These guidelines are all expressed in the positive, and describe how a yogi behaves and relates to her world when truly immersed in the unitive state of yoga.
Yin – This Chinese term is used to describe a restorative type of asana practice that focuses on flexibility using long holding times of specific postures.
Yoga (yo-guh) – Sanskrit for “yoking” or “union,” this collection of different spiritual techniques and philosophies aim to unite the mind, body, and spirit. It has four main paths to choose from: Karma Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.
Yoga Sutras (yo-ga sut-ras) – One of the most popular Ancient Indian texts written by the sage Patanjali that describes a coherent and detailed philosophy of the practice of yoga.
Namaste yogis–we hope you loved this list of the common definitions of yoga terms and will find this list helpful in your study of yoga and Sanskrit. Is there something we forgot or did your teacher say something in class that’s not on our list? Let us know in the comments below!