Mention Sanskrit in yoga teacher training and the students freak out a bit. But in order to understand yoga, you must study its root language. I can’t teach you about Sanskrit in one blog post, but I can provide loose translations for the most common Sanskrit words used in yoga.
I’ve included general terms, the most common Sanskrit terms, plus the eight-limbs of Patanjali.
general yoga terms
Centering– The beginning of class where you take a few minutes to breathe deeply and get your mind focused on the present activity.
Downdog/Downward-facing Dog– A pose/posture/asana where you look like an upside-down V. If you have a dog or cat, watch how they stretch after napping.
Gentle– Typically a style of hatha yoga focused on stretching and slow movement.
Lotus- The lotus holds deep significance in the yoga world. This flower rises up from the mud and breaks the water’s surface representing your movement from the dark to the enlightened.
Sun Salutation– A series of twelve poses used to generate heat in the body. Traditionally practiced as the sun rose, now used extensively in power and vinyasa styles of yoga.
Meditation– A practice of stilling your body and quieting your mind. Meditation can last anywhere from five minutes to thirty. Yoga frees your mind, best achieved through the practice of meditation.
Poses/Postures— The physical movement in Hatha yoga classes such as warrior one or tree pose. Used interchangeably along with asana.
Power- A style of Hatha yoga known for its vigorous and strength-building movement. Usually practiced in a heated room.
Restorative– A style of Hatha yoga that allows for complete relaxation. Typically postures are supported with blankets, bolsters and props and held for longer durations, anywhere from five to fifteen minutes.
Updog/Upward-facing Dog– The complementary stretch to downdog.
Yin yoga– A style of Hatha yoga where the postures are held in active stretch while the rest of the body remains relaxed.
Yogi- The term for someone (male or female) who practices yoga.
Yogini– The term for a female who practices yoga.
common sanskrit words
The beautiful and sacred language first transferred from teacher to student through chanting. Its earliest known writings appeared in The Vedas around 1500BCE. Each word in Sanskrit boasts several meanings based on the context of the word.
Chakra- Sanskrit word meaning “wheel.” Described as a circle of energy located along the spine of the subtle body.
Hatha- In Sanskrit means “moon-sun” and refers to the yoga of movement. Hatha yoga, comprised of breathing, postures, and meditation, is the most practiced form of yoga in America.
Namaste– Sanskrit phrase meaning “the divine light in me recognizes and respects the divine light in you.”
Mandala– A Sanskrit word meaning “circle.”
Mantra– A Sanskrit word meaning “mind instrument” such as a sacred sound or syllable, and used as a tool for meditation.
Om- A Sanskrit mantra considered the most sacred sound in the universe. May be chanted/sung at the beginning or the end of a yoga-asana class.
Prana- The energetic life force that we all embody.
Savasana– The last pose practiced in a yoga-asana class, also called final relaxation. Something like adult time out.
Vinyasa– A Sanskrit word meaning “beginning, middle, end.” However it’s used mostly to described a style of hatha yoga that has constant movement, flowing from pose to pose.
Yoga– A Sanskrit word meaning “to yoke, or unite.” In yoga we seek to unite mind, body, and spirit. In the Yoga Sutras, yoga refers to the ultimate union between you and God.
Eight-limbs of Patanjali
Ahimsa– Sanskrit word meaning “non-violence,” the number one guiding principle in yoga. Participants strive to practice non-violence in all parts of their lives–thoughts, words and deeds.
Yama– Sanskrit meaning “restraints” and refers to how you interact with the world around you.
Niyama– Sanskrit meaning “observances.” Ni loosely translates to your soul and refers to how you interact with yourself.
Asana– Sanskrit word meaning “seat.” Yep. Seat. Today we associate the word with the movement in classes like child’s pose or triangle.
Pranayama– Made up of two Sanskrit words, pran and ayama. Pran refers to your essence or “life force” and ayama means “extension.” To practice pranayama is to extend your life force.
Pratyahara– Sanskrit for “sense withdrawal.” In meditation, you seek to a space where distractions no longer bother you.
Dharana– Sanskrit for “concentration.” You must be able to practice both pratyahara and dharana to meditate.
Dhyana– Sanskrit for “meditation.”
Samadhi– Sanskrit for “bliss,” the internal state where you’re connected to your True self.