Whether you’re an experienced yogi or a novice who has recently developed a fondness for the practice, the yoga terms that are used during class can be quite perplexing if you’re not familiar with them. Comprehending the “language” that yogis speak can help you unwind more as you engage in your practice, detach from your thoughts and focus on your physical movements, and truly detach from the outside world because you have a better understanding of what pose comes next.
If you wish to refresh your knowledge of yoga terminology or want to maximize your understanding before your next class, this is the ultimate resource for learning 25 of the most frequently used yoga terms that your instructor will definitely mention during practice.
Common Yoga Terms and Their Definitions
Posture, also known as “seat” in Sanskrit, is referred to as asana. It is pronounced ah-suh-nuh. In yoga, it can indicate either a seated meditation or a specific pose. If you practice hatha yoga (a slower-paced form that involves more stretching and holding specific poses for longer durations), asana refers to every distinct movement performed during a class, making it more of a concept than a single pose.
The term pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit words: prana, which means life energy, and yama, which means control. Its pronunciation is praa-nuh-yaa-muh. Pranayama refers to the breathing exercises in yoga that correspond with specific movements. It essentially involves regulating your breath. Your instructor will guide you on how to perform these exercises in class or, at the very least, direct you on when to exhale and inhale during certain movements and changes in poses.
If you have attended a yoga class, you have probably encountered the word “savasana” within the first few sessions. Savasana is formed by combining two Sanskrit words: sava, meaning corpse, and asana, meaning pose. This pose involves lying down very still with your arms and legs comfortably extended. It is pronounced shah-vah-sah-nah. Typically, this pose is performed at the end of a yoga session to promote relaxation.
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
Sun Salutation refers to a series of interconnected yoga poses performed in a specific sequence to warm up the body. Sun salutations are usually practiced at the beginning of class, in the middle to transition between two different movements, and even at the end as a way to cool down. To perform this flow, start in mountain pose by standing tall at the front of your mat with your feet together. Then, lift your hands overhead, reaching towards the sky, as you inhale. Exhale and fold forward, bending your knees slightly. Inhale to lift your torso halfway, gazing upwards. Exhale and step both feet back into a plank pose. Continue exhaling as you lower your body to the ground. Inhale to come into cobra pose or upward dog.
Breathe out when you push back into a position known as downward dog. Breathe in to pull your feet back towards your hands, resulting in a forward bend. Breathe out as you raise your head halfway. Breathe in to rise back up into a tall position, reverting to mountain pose.
The wheel or cycle
Chakra (shah-krah) in Sanskrit means wheel or cycle. It refers to the energy that centers in the body that’s associated with specific qualities and emotions. There are seven chakras in the body and certain poses can open up certain chakras.
The smooth flows between poses or asanas
Vinyasa (vin-ya-sah) refers to the smooth flows between poses or asanas. It is a flow or sequence of yoga poses, synchronized with breath. The energetic vinyasa practice is the opposite of hatha yoga, which focuses on holding poses for longer and elongating the body in certain positions.
Physical postures and breath control
Hatha Yoga (hah-thah yo-gah) is a branch of yoga that focuses on physical postures and breath control. As mentioned above, in hatha yoga, asana refers to each different movement completed during a class, so it is more of a concept than a specific pose.
The spiritual energy believed to be coiled at the base of the spine
Kundalini (koon-duh-lee-nee) is a name for the spiritual energy believed to be coiled at the base of the spine and awakened through yoga practice. It’s said that your kundalini awakens when you begin yoga, and this might feel like a pleasurable physical sensation throughout your body.
A common yoga greeting
Namaste (pronounced naa-muh-stay) is a common yoga greeting that translates to “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Typically, you can say namaste and bow at the same time at the beginning or end of a yoga class. Your instructor will likely end your yoga class by bringing hands to prayer at the heart and bowing and may or may not choose to say namaste with the bow.
The sacred sound and symbol representing the essence of the universe
Om (pronounced “ah-uu-mm”) is a sacred sound and symbol representing the essence of the universe in Hinduism and yoga. In Sanskrit, om is called pranava, which basically means “to hum.” Some yoga teachers may encourage chanting in class to help connect the mind to the body through voice.
When translated from Sanskrit, dhyana (dai-a-nuh), this word means “meditation,” but its meaning in yoga is so much more than that. In many different stages of yoga, the mind is actively focused on breathing patterns, movements, etc. But in dhyana, the mind is at rest; it is a meditative state that transcends reality.
The life force or vital energy in the body
Prana refers to the life force or vital energy in the body. This can be activated by inhaling and exhaling with intention.
Hand gestures or symbols
Translated from Sanskrit, mudra means “seal, symbol, or movement.” In yoga, mudras are hand movements used to guide the flow of energy during meditation and yoga. It’s pronounced “muh-druh.”
In Sanskrit, bind (pronounced “bun-dha”) means “lock.” When you transition into a yoga posture, binds encourage the circulation or movement of energy to assist in the relaxation of the parts of the body that are typically burdened by gravity. Popular binds in yoga include mula bind, which is referred to as the root lock or a contraction of the pelvic floor.
Focus point (“drish-tee”) is a point of gaze, used to maintain concentration during yoga poses. It can also aid in maintaining balance during poses like one-legged prayer pose.
Victorious (pronounced “ooh-jai-yee”) refers to a specific yogic breathing technique that involves narrowing the throat to create a gentle “ocean-like” sound. You can practice by inhaling and then exhaling with your mouth open to produce a resonant breathy sound that originates from the posterior part of the throat. You can close your mouth and still produce the sound because the breath is circulating in the back of the throat.
Child’s pose (pronounced “bala-sana”) is very prevalent in yoga practice and pertains to the state of rest where you are on your knees and the upper half of your body is folded over the thighs, allowing your head to make contact with the mat. It is also known as child’s pose, a position of repose in yoga.
Triangle pose (pronounced “tri-koh-nah-sah-nah”) is translated to trikonasana. It is a standing yoga pose where the legs are separated to form a triangular shape with the ground. Then, you incline to one side with straight, extended arms and direct the focus upwards.
Cobra pose (pronounced “boo-jung-gah-sah-nah”) is also referred to as bhujangasana. It refers to lying face down flat and raising the arms, chest, and head to create an upward arch, offering a generous stretch for your abdomen.
This is the Sanskrit word for downward-facing dog, which is a very standard pose in yoga practice. Adho Mukha Svanasana is pronounced “ah-doh-moo-kah shva-nah-sun-uh,” and it’s a great pose to help you release any tension in your back, shoulders, or even legs as you transition between yoga moves. The objective of this pose is to practice until you can keep your feet flat on the floor as you perform this pose.
Warrior Pose (pronounced “vee-rahb-hah-drah-sah-nah”) refers to the soldier stance, which is a set of stances that are customary in yoga practices. There is soldier 1, 2, and 3 stances.
Forward Fold (pronounced “ooh-tuh-nah-suh-nah”) was briefly mentioned when we discussed sun salutations. It is the pose where you bend forward with your knees slightly bent so your body folds over, bending at the hips.
This is likely the first yoga pose you ever tried when you were back in kindergarten and referred to it as “criss-cross applesauce.” Comfortable Seat (pronounced “soo-kah-suh-nah”) is a seated position in yoga with legs crossed while engaging your back muscles to sit up straight.
Dancer Pose (pronounced “nah-tah-rahj-ahs-ah-nah”) comes from the Sanskrit word nata, meaning performer, and raja, meaning monarch. Of course, we already know that asana means pose. You may have seen this ‘dancer’ pose in cheerleading competitions, in which the performer grabs one leg with both or one arm so that the leg is encircled behind the body.
Bliss (pronounced “uh-naan-duh”) translates from Sanskrit to “happiness.” In yoga, it refers to happiness, or a state of extreme joy often experienced in yoga and meditation as you continue your practice.
Getting well-acquainted with these yoga terms and definitions will allow you to delve deeper into your practice by understanding more of the significance behind each pose, movement, and breath. It’s helpful to comprehend in your mind what your body should be doing as your yoga instructor calls out the pose before demonstrating it.
Keep this list of definitions nearby the next time you practice, and see how quickly you begin to refer to each movement by its Sanskrit definition. It will happen a lot sooner than you think!