With over a hundred yoga terms and definitions (with pronunciations), our yoga terms list below covers the most common yoga terms you’ll hear in class or throughout your yoga journey.
Our yoga terms dictionary covers all of the basic yoga terms for beginners, including modern yoga terms to yoga slang terms. It is in alphabetical order for quick and easy browsing.
Did You Know…
Most yoga terms stem from what language? The answer is Sanskrit, an ancient South Asian language that the original Yogis spoke and which many historic yoga texts were written.
Yoga Terms and Meanings
In Sanskrit, abhyasa is defined as “practice” or “constant exercise” in reference to a focused, determined, and engaged spiritual practice.
Ahamkara is the Sanskrit term for identification or awareness of the Self. In other words, it is the concept of “I-making” necessary for the mind to achieve enlightenment.
Ahimsa is the internal practice of compassion and non-violence in thought, action, or word. The concept of ahimsa is first and foremost applied towards other people. However, it can be extended to apply to oneself, all living beings, and one’s surroundings. Ahimsa is part of the first limb of yoga – Yamas, or moral guidelines.
Ananda was the name of one of Buddha’s principal disciples. Colloquially, this Sanksrit term is used to denote a state of absolute bliss.
In yogic philosophy, there is a concept of pancha kosha, which refers to five layers, or “sheaths” of the body. The fifth and innermost layer is known as anandamaya kosha, or bliss sheath (from Sanskrit ananda – “bliss”, kosha – “sheath”). It is an embodiment of joy, love, and peace.
In yogic philosophy, there is a concept of pancha kosha, which refers to five layers, or “sheaths” of the body. The first and most superficial layer is annamaya kosha, which sustains the physical body and supports the other four sheaths.
In yoga, the concept of vayu (translated as “wind” from Sanskrit) represents a flow of energy. The body is said to have five vayus, each with distinct energetic qualities. Apana is centered around the pelvic floor and is responsible for regulating the outward flow of prana (vital life force) from the body. In other words, the apana’s function is to eliminate waste from the body.
Although the term asana is commonly translated as “pose”, the original meaning of this Sanskrit word is “seat”. This dates back to when yoga was a more static practice focused on meditation and self-discovery. The modern interpretation of the word refers to the physical yoga practice and individual poses.
Ashram is a term used to describe a learning facility of yoga.
The word ashtanga refers to the principle of the eight-limbed path described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The concept of Eight Limbs of Yoga describes the steps on the route to enlightenment. This concept inspired Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which incorporates those principles into practice. Translated from Sanskrit, ashtanga means “eight limbs” (ashta – “eight”, anga – “limb”).
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
(ash-tahn-guh vuh-nyaa-suh yo-guh)
Ashtanga Vinyasa is a yoga style built on the principle of Eight Limbs of Yoga defined by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Ashtanga Vinyasa is a strictly structured practice that follows a set sequence of poses and includes chanting and breathing exercises. This physically challenging system dates back centuries, but in the 20th century, it was popularized in the West by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
In Hinduism, atman refers to the concept of an eternal Self, spirit, or essence.
Bandha is typically translated from Sanskrit as “lock”. It can be achieved by contracting muscles in certain areas of the body to constrain the flow of prana (vital life force). There are three main bandhas used in yoga practice: mula bandha (root lock), uddiyana bandha (navel lock), and jalandhara bandha (throat lock). In yoga, bandhas are utilized both in asana and pranayama practice.
Bhagavad Gita is the oldest Sanskrit text outlining different aspects of yoga practice. The book contains the teachings on karma yoga, samkhya yoga, and bhakti yoga.
Translated from Sanskrit, bhakti can be interpreted as “attachment”, “participation”, “homage”, or “faith”. To sum up, bhakti is the practice of cultivating love and devotion toward the Divine.
Bikram is a style of yoga that involves a set sequence of 26 asanas practiced in a heated room. The founder of this yoga practice has been involved in multiple ethical controversies, which is why many studios are changing how this style is marketed. Those that recognize the positive effects of this practice and want to continue have started referring to Bikram Yoga as Hot 26 or simply Hot Yoga.
Buddhi has a complex meaning. Roughly translated, the Sanskrit word budh means “to know” or “to be awake”. Buddhi refers to the state of awareness and wisdom.
Translated from Sanskrit, chakra means “wheel” or “cycle”. In yoga, the term chakra refers to energy centers, or plexi, in the body that regulates the flow of energy. There are seven major chakras located along the spinal column and culminating at the crown of the head: muladhara (root) chakra, swadhisthana (sacral) chakra, ajna (third eye) chakra, anahata (heart) chakra, manipura (navel) chakra, vishuddha (throat) chakra, and sahasrara (crown) chakra.
Chandra means “moon” in Sanskrit. Examples include Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) and Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutations).
Chaturanga can be broken down into Sanskrit words chatur (“four”) and anga (“limb”). In yoga, this term is usually used to describe Chaturanga Dandasana – a pose in which the body is held parallel to the floor in a low push-up position.
Dharma is a complex concept that can be roughly defined as the life purpose or the path that leads each person to truth, peace, and enlightenment.
Dhyana is a concept of contemplation or meditation. It is included as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Drishti refers to the focal gaze point, which in yoga is used to help the practitioner find concentration and balance. The term itself is directly translated as “eyesight” or “vision”.
Duhkha is a Sanskrit term that describes suffering, unhappiness, or pain. In a more metaphorical sense, it refers to the negative state of mind that leads to suffering or ignorance.
Dwi is a term usually featured in pose names, which translates as “two”. Examples include Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Two-Legged Inverted Staff Pose) and Dwi Pada Sirsasana (Yogis Sleeping Pose).
Eka is a term usually featured in pose names, which translates as “one”. Examples include Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) and Eka Pada Koundinyasana (Sage Koundinya’s Pose).
Granthi can be translated as “knot” or “doubt”. In yoga, this term denotes an obstacle or blockage that prevents energy flow through the central energy channel.
In Hinduism, guna is a term reserved for an “attribute of nature”. In Hindu philosophy, there are three gunas that exist both in the living and non-living worlds: tamas (“darkness” or “death”), rajas (“energy”, “passion”, or “birth”), and sattva (“equanimity”, “goodness”, or “light”).
A guru is a spiritual guide or teacher who possesses extensive knowledge that has the potential to lead others to enlightenment. Only a select few have been worthy of being considered a guru.
The term hatha can be translated as “force”. Subsequently, Hatha Yoga is a practice with a large focus on the physical postures, which “force” the body into meditation. Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term encompassing most modern types of physical yoga practice.
In yoga, the heart center is the space at the center of the chest, where the sternum bone is. It’s a useful cue to encourage practitioners to open their chests or bring their palms together in prayer mudra.
Iyengar is a style of yoga named after its founder, B.K.S. Iyengar. The style brought focus to yoga as a form of exercise, with a strong emphasis on alignment and performance. Other distinct characteristics of Iyengar Yoga include longer holds of each asana and extensive use of yoga props.
The Sanskrit term japa refers to the meditative recitation of mantras or a deity name. It is an ancient practice commonly used in Bhakti Yoga or mantra meditation.
Jhana is a Sanskrit term for “spiritual knowledge” or “wisdom”. It refers to self-realization, or divine knowledge, as opposed to the things you learn from experience.
One of the more commonly known Sanskrit words, karma, refers to the law of cause and effect. According to karmic beliefs, you can influence your life with your actions, essentially paying forward the things you want to achieve in return.
Kirtan is a Sanskrit word for “storytelling” or “narration”. Currently, the term is often used to describe a meditation practice or community gathering accompanied by music, singing, and chanting.
Translated from Sanskrit, kosha means “layer” or “sheath”. In the context of yogic philosophy, these layers surround the Self like a Russian doll, and each kosha is layered on top of the next. There are five sheaths, or koshas: annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya josha, vijnanamaya kosha, and anandamaya kosha.
Kumbhaka is the Sanskrit term for “breath retention”. This technique is commonly used in pranayama practices, in conjunction with meditation and some physical movement.
(koo n-dl-ee-nee yo-guh)
Kundalini is a type of yoga with a heavy focus on chanting, meditation, movement, singing, and breathwork. The Kundalini practice is centered around the belief that these actions can awaken sacred Kundalini energy coiled at the base of the spine. As it starts to unravel, the energy can move across the seven chakras located along the spine and culminating at the crown of the head.
The term manas refers to sensory processing, sometimes defined as the “sensory mind” or “sixth sense”. Although it’s not solely tied to any one sense (smell, sight, sound, touch, or taste), it overlooks and processes all senses.
The word mandala translates as “circle” or “center”. Colloquially, mandala refers to symmetrical circular geometric designs that serve as a means to focus attention.
Manipura is one of the major body chakras. Manipura chakra is located at the solar plexus and is also known as the navel chakra. When it is depicted, it is yellow, and it represents the qualities of clarity, self-confidence, bliss, self-assurance, knowledge, wisdom, and the ability to make correct decisions.
In yogic philosophy, there is a concept of pancha kosha, which refers to five layers, or “sheaths” of the body. The third layer is manomaya kosha. This sheath represents conscious thought and emotion.
Mantra is a sacred Sanskrit sound or phrase. Chanted or voiced at the right time, mantras are believed to have a transformative effect on the mind.
Maya is a Sanskrit term present in most Indian languages. The literal meaning of this word is “illusion” or “deceit”. In the yoga context, it refers to the illusionary power of the mind’s projection of the world.
The concept of moksha can be described as the “release” or liberation from the avidya (ignorance) of the true Self.
A mudra is a gesture or movement that can be incorporated into a yoga practice to channel prana (vital life force) in a certain way. The most commonly used mudras are gyana mudra, anjali (prayer) mudra, and dyana (meditation) mudra.
In yoga, the vital life force, or prana energy, is believed to flow throughout the body using channels, otherwise referred to as nadis. Although there are many channels in the body, there are three main nadis: ida-nadi, pingala-nadi, and sushumna-nadi.
Namaskar translates from Sanskrit as “greeting” or “salutation”. Namaskar can have many forms depending on the context. For example, you may greet your yoga teacher with a bow and anjali mudra or by saying namaste. This word is also well known as part of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) and Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutations).
Namaste is a well-known yoga phrase that literally translates as “I bow to you”. It is usually used as a greeting or an expression of gratitude at the end of the class, usually accompanied by a physical bow. However, it can also be used to express respect and adoration.
Niyamas are the second step on the path to enlightenment, as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. A niyama is an internal practice or observance that one must adhere to to be free of ego. The five niyamas include saucha (purity), samtosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishvara-pranidhana (devotion or self-surrender).
Om or Aum
Om or Aum is a mantra chanted at the beginning and end of yoga classes. The sound of this primary mantra is said to represent the union of the entire universe. Om can be chanted in isolation or as part of a longer chant (for example, Om Shanti).
Pada is a term usually featured in pose names, which translates as “leg” or “foot”. Examples include Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) and Eka Pada Koundinyasana (Sage Koundinya’s Pose).
Patanjali was an ancient Indian sage, scholar, philosopher, and the author of the Yoga Sutras, a yogic text still used as a guide to this day. Patanjali’s teachings include definitions of the core yogic principles, including the concept of Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Prana is the concept of the vital life force or vital energy that sustains us. It is possible to channel prana in a particular direction to achieve specific goals. To manipulate prana, you can engage bandhas (locks), practice pranayama (breathwork), as well as chant mantras, and position the body in different asanas.
Pranayama is the third limb in Patanjali’s eight-fold system on the path to enlightenment. The term comes from prana (“breath”, “vital force”) and ayama (“suspension” or “control”). The practice of pranayama includes various breathwork exercises that help the practitioner gain control over prana.
Pratyahara is the fifth stage in Patanjali’s eight-step system on the path to enlightenment. The concept of pratyahara can be defined as the “withdrawal of senses” achieved with intense focus. This technique allows the yogi to not be distracted by surroundings or intrusive thoughts.
Prioperception is a term for the awareness of movement and body position. This concept is also known as kinaesthesia.
Raja is a term usually featured in pose names, which translates as “king” or “royal”. Examples include Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) and Raja Bhujangasana (King Cobra Pose). Another way this term is commonly used is to describe the branch of yoga known as Raja Yoga. It’s a traditional school of yoga focused on philosophy and meditation.
This term is broadly used to refer to poses, sequences, or an entire style of yoga. Poses defined as restorative are typically characterized by being passive and non-intensive. A restorative class is characterized by a slow, gentle pace, an abundance of seated and reclined poses, as well as generous use of yoga props.
Root chakra, or muladhara, is one of the seven major chakras believed to channel the vital life force through the body. The root chakra is located at the base of the spine. It is depicted as a red circle or flower, and it supports the other six chakras.
Sacral chakra, or svadhisthana, is one of the seven major chakras believed to channel the vital life force through the body. Sacral chakra is located at the lower abdomen. It is depicted using the color orange and is associated with emotions and feelings, as well as expression of sexuality and sensual pleasure.
Sacrum is a large triangular bone in the base of the spine. It is comprised of five vertebrae that fuse together during adulthood.
Sadhana is a term that refers to the consistent spiritual practice, training, or discipline aimed at progressing towards enlightenment. It is a concept present across several spiritual disciplines, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.
The term Sahasrara refers to the crown of the head. Sahasrara chakra is the seventh chakra, associated with transcendence and enlightenment. It is represented by the color purple and is usually depicted as the “thousand-petal” lotus flower.
Samadhi is the eighth step in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and the ultimate goal of the yoga practice. Samadhi refers to a state of enlightenment, and absolute unity, in which the practitioner transcends to a higher being.
Directly translated from Sanskrit or Pali, the term samsara means “world”. However, the broader concept of samsara represents the fluidity of the world, the cyclical nature of existence, and rebirth.
The word samskara is a fusion of sam (“well thought out”) and kara (“action”). In Indian philosophy, samskara can refer to mental and psychological impressions. Samskaras are the basis of the karma theory, which dictates that any one person’s actions leave an impression or impact on the world.
Sanskrit is an ancient language of Southeast Asia. Although it is no longer used colloquially, Sanskrit still significantly influences people’s lives through yoga practice, Hindu philosophy, and Buddhist and Jainuist texts. In yoga, many things are referred to by their Sanskrit name, including yoga poses, types of yoga, and philosophical concepts. Sanskrit is also used for chanting or singing mantras.
The word satsang can mean “being in good company” or “being in the company of truth”. Translated from Sanskrit, the roots sat (“truth”) and sangha (“community”) form satsang – the concept of being present at a gathering of like-minded or enlightened people.
Savasana is a restorative yoga pose, usually cued at the very end of the class. Translated as “corpse pose”, this is the final relaxation pose that allows the body and mind to recover after a demanding yoga session.
Shakti is the concept of the divine feminine energy that has a dynamic relationship with pure consciousness.
Shala refers to a practice space and can be used interchangeably with “yoga studio” or “yoga space”. In the shala, the practice is not limited to yoga classes. It’s a dedicated communal space for learning and spiritual practice as a community.
This Sanskrit term translates to “peace”. Shanti is a common component of a mantra featured at the end of the class. Chanting shanti is said to manifest peace to all living beings.
Sit / Sitting bones
Sit bones are located in the lower part of the pelvis. The two sharp protrusions on the underside of the glutes are in contact with the ground when the person is in a seated position, like Easy Pose or Bound Angle Pose.
Supta is a Sanskrit term that translates as “reclined”. It is usually featured in pose names, especially seated poses performed in a supine position. Examples include Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle) and Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose).
Surya Namaskar is commonly known as Sun Salutations and directly translated as “greeting the sun”. Surya Namaskar is a sequence of yoga poses and transitions between them designed to be performed in the morning and prepare the body for the day. There are several different variations of Surya Namaskar.
A sutra is a Sanskrit term for rules or guidelines, although the literal translation is “string” or “thread”. In yoga, sutras are short teachings or rules that define yogic concepts and lead the practitioners on the path to enlightenment. One of the most famous yogic texts is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which defined the groundbreaking concept of Eight Limbs of Yoga, which is still heavily used today.
The term tantra means “loom”, or “weave”, referring to esoteric traditions that developed in India many centuries ago. Tantra yoga is a branch of yoga that focuses on the internal energetic aspects of yoga, including the use of chakras, mantras, and esoteric concepts from Hindu mythology. It’s a common misconception that tantra yoga is centered around sexuality. In reality, it’s a mindful and spiritual practice.
Tapas is one of niyamas (internal practices or observances). It represents the intensity that is created by practicing austerity and self-discipline.
The third eye is the space where the top of the nose meets the forehead. It is sometimes marked by a dip in the bone structure. In yoga, the third eye has a significant role. Some poses default the drishti to the third eye, and one of the key chakras is ajna chakra, located at the third eye.
Ujjayi describes a slow, raspy breath enabled by engaging jalandhara bandha (throat lock). It is a common technique in pranayama practice, often referred to as ocean breath due to its distinct sound.
Upanishad is an ancient collection of yogic texts of a religious and philosophical nature, written in India approximately between c. 800 BCE and c. 500 BCE. It had a significant effect on the development of the yoga discipline as we know it today.
Utthita is a term usually featured in pose names, which translates as “extended”. Examples include Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) and Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose).
Vairagya is the Sanskrit term for “detachment”. In the yogic context, it refers rejection of materialistic values and physical possessions.
The Vedas is a large collection of religious texts and one of the oldest yogic scriptures that includes four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda.
In yogic philosophy, there is a concept of pancha kosha, which refers to five layers, or “sheaths” of the body. The fourth layer of the body is the second innermost sheath called vijnanamaya kosha. This sheath embodies our intuition, wisdom, and perception.
Vinyasa refers to a modern style of yoga characterized by synchronizing breaths and movement via continuous flow. The most famous example of a vinyasa is Surya Namaskar. The literal translation from Sanskrit is “to move in a special way”, from nyasa (“to place”) and vi (“special way.”)
The first limb of yoga, and the first step on the path to samadhi (enlightenment), yamas are a set of moral, ethical, and societal guidelines for any practicing yogi. All guidelines are directed at bettering oneself and positively impacting the world. These guidelines include ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (right use of energy), and aparigraha (non-greed).
Yin Yoga is a restorative yoga practice that mainly features seated, prone, and supine postures. In this practice, poses are held longer than usual, allowing the practitioner to reach deep muscle tissue and relax the mind simultaneously. Yin Yoga creates space for meditation while the body is held in each pose.
Yoga is a multi-faceted discipline that includes physical practice, meditation, breathwork, and spiritual practices. The word yoga translates as “yoke” or “union”, which reflects the ultimate goal of the practice. With the ultimate union between the body, mind, breath, and the universe, the practitioner is able to achieve enlightenment. There are multiple branches of yoga, each with distinct characteristics and focal points.
Yoga Nidra is a practice that can be otherwise described as sleep yoga. In this practice, the practitioner enters a state of deep relaxation via guided meditation, which blurs the line between sleep and awakeness.
Yoga Sutras are the most famous ancient yogic texts written by Sage Patanjali. It defines many core concepts of yoga and provides a coherent and detailed account of yogic philosophy.
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