If you’re just starting out in the world of yoga, you’re most likely encountering certain words and phrases that are unfamiliar or completely foreign. Allow me to be the ambassador to your new world, and offer you a Yoga-to-English dictionary to help you better understand the yoga lingo.
It’s helpful to understand that many of the words used in Yoga are in fact a foreign language called Sanskrit. This language’s earliest known writings was in The Vedas (a freaking old Yoga text dating back to around 1500BCE).
Where a yoga word or phrase is in fact a Sanskrit word, I try to provide a loose translation because many of the Sanskrit words have multiple meanings.
Ahimsa– Sanskrit word meaning “non-violence,” and is the number one guiding principle in yoga. Participants strive to practice non-violence in all parts of their lives–thoughts, words and deeds.
Asana– Sanskrit word meaning “seat.” Yep. Seat. Today we associate the word with the movement in classes like child’s pose or triangle. It’s also the third of the eight-limbs of Patanjali.
Centering– The beginning of class or meditation where you take a few minutes to breathe deeply and get your mind focused on the present activity.
Chakra- Sanskrit word meaning “wheel.” Described as a circle of energy located along the spine of the subtle body.
Downdog– 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. Downdog is the human equivalent to these stretches. May also be called downward-facing dog.
Gentle– Typically a style of hatha yoga where the focus in more on stretching and slow movement.
Hatha- In Sanskrit means “moon-sun” and is the yoga of movement. This is the form of yoga most practiced in American. Hatha is made up of breathing, postures and meditation. Many teachers and studios use the term to describe a gentle style of class. However a power class is also hatha yoga because it involves breathing and postures.
Lotus- This image 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. There is lotus pose used during meditation, and the crown chakra Sahasrasra translates to “thousand-petaled lotus.”
Namaste– Sanskrit phrase meaning “the divine light in me recognizes and respects the divine light in you.” This is usually said at the end of a yoga-asana class.
Sun Salutation– A series of twelve poses used to generate heat in the body. Traditionally was practiced as the sun was rising, but today is a common practice in power and vinyasa styles of yoga.
Mandala– A Sanskrit word meaning “circle.”
Mantra– A Sanskrit word meaning “mind instrument” and is a sacred sound or syllable repeated over and over. A tool for meditation.
Meditation– A practice of stilling your body and quieting your mind. Meditation can last anywhere from five minutes to thirty. The aim of yoga is to free your mind and this is best achieved through the practice of meditation.
Om- A Sanskrit mantra considered the most sacred sound in the universe. Maybe be chanted/sung at the beginning or the end of a yoga-asana class, and has become synonymous with yoga.
Prenatal– A style of yoga designed for those who are pregnant but have never done any yoga postures before.
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 it’s 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, five to fifteen minutes.
Sacred space– The idea that when you practice yoga with a teacher in a space, that space becomes “safe” for you to be vulnerable, and that what happens inside a yoga class stays inside a yoga class.
Savasana– The last pose practiced in a yoga-asana class, also called final relaxation. Something like adult time out.
Updog– The complementary stretch to downdog. May also be called upward-facing dog.
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.
Yin yoga– A style of Hatha yoga where the postures are held in active stretch while the rest of the body remains relaxed and posture are held for longer duration. Popularized by Paul Grilley.
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.
Yogi- The term for someone (male or female) who practices yoga.
Yogini– The term for a female who practices yoga.