Yoga has a vocabulary all of its own. Chances are you’ve heard something like this in a class: “Focus your chitta on the manipura chakra.” This kind of yoga speak befuddles anyone who hasn’t seriously studied the ancient yogic texts, and that’s most yoga students.
A basic knowledge of yoga jargon is a big help in situations like these. Just because you don’t know Sanskrit doesn’t mean you can’t reap yoga’s rewards, but a few key words make all the difference when it comes to deepening your practice.
Familiarize yourself with these common Sanskrit words:
Agni– One’s internal fire.
Ahimsa– Non-violence in a broad sense- meaning not intentionally harming another being physically or emotionally, but also showing love for all.
Atma/Atman– The individual soul, spirit, or pure consciousness.
Aum– The universal mantra; the root sound of the whole universe.
Bandha– A technique in which the organs and muscles and contracted and controlled. This creates an energy lock which redirects the flow of prana to a specific area in the body.
Bhagavad Gita– A holy Hindu scripture which explains yoga through the dialogues of Lord Krishna and Arjuna.
Bhakti Yoga– The yogic path of devotion that develops the heart.
Brahman– The universal spirit.
Chakra– An energy center in the subtle body responsible for specific physiological and psychic functions.
Chitta– The mind in its total or collective sense, which thinks, concentrates, memorizes, and inquires.
Dharma– One’s duty and righteous path in life.
Guru– A spiritual teacher who removes ignorance and gives knowledge.
Hatha yoga– The science of yoga which purifies the entire physical body.
Karma– Literally meaning action, karma is the law of cause and effect.
Karma yoga– The yogic path of action; selfless service to others in order to expand the heart and destroy the ego.
Kriya– Cleansing process.
Kundalini– One’s divine cosmic energy which lies dormant in the lowest chakra of the spinal column.
Kundalini yoga– A branch of yoga which focuses on awakening the potential energy of the body and mind.
Mala– A garland used to count the number of mantras during japa (continuous repetition of a mantra).
Mantra– A subtle sound vibration, sacred thought or prayer.
Maya– The illusory nature of the physical world.
Moksha– The ultimate goal of yoga, moksha is liberation from the cycles of birth and death and from illusion (maya).
Mudra– A sealing posture which expresses or channels cosmic energy within the body and mind.
Nadi– The subtle channel in the pranic body through which energy flows.
Patanjali– The author of the Yoga Sutras and propounder of ashtanga yoga (eight limbed yoga, not the style of ashtanga yoga).
Prana– The vital energy source which sustains life and creation.
Pranayama– Breathing practices that increase prana in the body.
Rishi– A seer of truth.
Vedas– Ancient texts revealed to the sages and saints of India which explain every aspect of life, from supreme consciousness to worldly affairs.
Tantra– A science which expands the mind and liberates the inner consciousness from the physical.
Yoga– Literally meaning union, yoga is a science used to unite the body, mind and soul.
Yogi– An accomplished practitioner of yoga who has achieved internal union.
Armed with common yoga lingo, your practice will evolve from the purely physical to the more subtle- and that’s what yoga is really all about.
Iyengar, BKS. Light on Yoga. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers India, 2008.
Muktibodhananda, Swami. Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Bihar: Yoga Publications Trust, 1998.
Vishnu-devananda, Swami. The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.