Yoga can feel a little overwhelming at first. All those pretzely positions seem impossible! There is even some confusion about what yoga really is. Is it an exercise program or a spiritual path? Granted, there is a lot of territory to explore and many options to consider. Personally, I hope you don’t turn away before you discover what yoga can mean to you and your life.
To make your introduction to yoga a little easier, here is a yoga vocabulary cheat sheet of sorts. This is NOT meant to be an in depth explanation of yoga. Instead, it will hopefully just help you navigate your introduction to yoga experience. Later, when and if the time is right for you, you can learn more by drilling down in any area that beckons you!
At a certain point, embracing the language of yoga can be part of the joy and charm of the yoga lifestyle. For some, it is a lifestyle that influences what you eat, how you move, and how you see the world.
Most of the words on this list are Sanskrit. They can seem complicated but after hearing them for a short while, you will likely feel more comfortable with most of them. If you’re curious, here is some good background information on the Sanskrit language.
If you want a little deeper understanding of the vocabulary in terms of how the different words relate to the yoga system of thinking, you’ll find some well-organized information on the panyoga.com site here. And, yogamovement.com has a nice description of the different yoga styles which I won’t get into much detail about here. Finally, here is a good list of yoga poses.
In the meantime, let’s take those small steps. Here is a list of commonly used words that you might encounter.
Ahimsa – nonviolence, non-injury. One of the yamas (restraints) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Ananda – bliss
Ananda yoga – Gentle, inward yoga that uses silent affirmations while in the asanas (postures). See article on Yoga Styles.
Anga – limb or category of the yogic path as defined in the Yoga Sutras. Includes asana, dharana, dhyana, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, samadhi, yama.
Aparigraha – nongreed. One of the yamas (restraints) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Ardha – half
Asana – seat or the physical yoga posture or pose. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Ashram – A quiet and special place where the principles of yoga and meditation are taught and practiced.
Ashtanga yoga – Physically challenging yoga to build strength, flexibility, and stamina also called power yoga. See article on Yoga Styles.
Asmita – Ego, individuality, I-am-ness.
Asteya – nonstealing. One of the yamas (restraints) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Avidya – ignorance which is considered the root cause of suffering
Ayurveda – life science – one of India’s traditional systems of medicine
Bandha – locks or holds. Although bandhas are not poses, they are important techniques for improving your practice. They increase deep core muscle strength and they also deepen your mind-body connection. There are three bandhas; mula (base), uddiyana (center), and jalandhara (throat). Engaging all three is called muha bandha.
Brahmacharya – Purity, abstinence, chastity. One of the yamas (restraints) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Chakras – wheels. Centers of radiating life force or energy located between the base of the spinal column and the crown of the head. There are seven chakras that store and release life force (prana).
Chitta – the mind.
Dharana – holding firm. This is the practice of concentration by holding the mind to one thing. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Dharma – life path focused on self-discipline and a life of responsibility and right action.
Dhyana – meditation or contemplation. The process of quieting the mind. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Drishti – view or sight. This is your focal point. Especially during balance poses it’s helpful to use a focal point in order to help with balance.
Guru – a spiritual teacher
Hatha yoga – Many yoga styles spring from hatha. It is the yoga of physical well-being, designed to balance body, mind, and spirit.
Isvara Pranidhana – devotion to God. One of the niyamas (disciplines) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Jattis – warm-up exercises.
Karuna – compassion.
Kirtan – a call-and-response devotional chanting. The singing is accompanied by musical instruments and drumming while the audience is encouraged to chant, dance and clap their hands.
Kriya – cleaning
Kundalini – the coiled and dormant ‘feminine’ energy that refers to the vast potential of psychic energy contained within everybody. It is normally symbolized as a serpent coiled into three and a half circles, with its tail in its mouth, and spiraling around the central axis at the base of the spine. See article on Yoga Styles.
Maha bandha – the great lock. While practicing breath retention, this technique combines all three yoga locks.
Mantra – a sacred sound or phrase that is chanted.
Mudra – a seal, gesture. Mudra is accomplished mostly through positions of the hands and fingers that have an influence on the energies of the person.
Namaste – The Hindu salutation translated as “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” It is a gesture used when you meet and when you are leaving someone. Often palms are held together in from of the chest while saying this. Although this hand gesture is similar to a gesture of praying, it isn’t used in the same way here.
Niyamas – Five restraints as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which provides yogis instruction on developing a strong ethical foundation by explaining what to do. The niyamas are purity, contentment, self-discipline, study of the sacred text, and living with the awareness of God. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Om or Aum – Mantric word chanted in meditation.
Patanjali – creator of Yoga Sutra
Prana – life, life force, breath
Pratyahara – withdrawing the senses in order to still the mind in meditation. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Pranayama– a practice of breath awareness to inner stillness. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Sadhaka – a student who strives for a goal.
Sadhana – accomplishing. This refers to the yoga practice itself and to all the life efforts involved in moving towards the goals of health, harmony and overall self-improvement.
Santosha – contentment. One of the niyamas (disciplines) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Sat – the ultimate reality, truth, being.
Satya -truthfulness and honesty. One of the yamas (restraints) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Saucha – inner and outer cleanliness. One of the niyamas (disciplines) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Savasana – an important posture that is known as the final relaxation position.
Svadhayaya – self-study. The work of inquiring into your own mine, your character, your belief systems, and the nature of spiritual journey One of the niyamas (disciplines) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Tapas – self-discipline or austerity. One of the niyamas (disciplines) defined in the Yoga Sutras.
Yamas – Restraints as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which provides yogis instruction on developing a strong ethical foundation by explaining what to not do. They are nonviolence; truth and honesty; nonstealing; moderation; and nonpossessiveness. See article on Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.
Yoga – yoke, join together, union. It is the science of uniting the individual soul with the cosmic spirit through physical disciplines (postures) and mental disciplines (meditation).
Yogi – a male or female person who practices yoga.
Yogini – a female person who practices yoga.
Yoga Sutra – Written by Patanjali in the 2nd century BC. Can be considered the yogi’s guide on how to be a good person.