A Beginners' Guide to Yoga Vocabulary

December 28 | Beginner Yogi | The Practice |

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Beginners Guide to Sanskrit Yoga Vocabulary

Namaste. Savasana. Ujjayi. These vocabulary words are common to most yoga classes, but can be intimidating for beginners trying to figure out what they mean in the moment. Most yoga instructors guide their classes through sequences using both Sanskrit -- the ancient Indian language used in yoga -- and the English translations for the words.

Sanskrit (Pronounced SAN-skrit) is one of the oldest known human languages, and it’s written form can be traced back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Sanskrit was believed to be created by the god Brahma, and then passed to sages who then passed it along to humans on earth. While most of us associate Sanskrit with India and Hinduism, this ancient language has been used in a variety of religious and literary texts for millennia and has been a great influence on many world languages.

Since the majority of yoga terms are Sanskrit terms—and since the translations can be wordy and complex—it makes sense to use the original terms in their beautiful original Sanskrit. Still, even with the mixture of languages used, hearing an unfamiliar Sanskrit word in the middle of class can feel overwhelming for some new students.

If you're learning yoga vocabulary or could use a refresher for common Sanskrit terms used in yoga classes, this guide will help. Here are some of the most common yoga vocabulary words in the original Sanskrit with their English translations and pronunciations. You’re likely to hear these terms in any yoga class, so it’s helpful to know what each word means and how to use it.

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Pronounced AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-nah-sah-nah.

More commonly known as Downward-Facing Dog, Adho translates to “downward,” mukha means “face” and svana means “dog.” Begin on all fours, then tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor so your body creates a V-shape. Stretch up through your sitting bones and press your arms and feet into the ground, while drawing your shoulder blades down your back. This is one of the most common poses in yoga and, while it eventually becomes a resting pose, it can be quite challenging when you’re first learning it.

Ananda Balasana

Pronounced An-AHN-dah Bah-LAH-sah-nah.

Meant to loosen your hips and calm the mind, this pose is known as Happy Baby Pose. You’ll often practice this pose at the end of an intense session. Lie on your back and bend your knees toward your belly, gripping the outsides of your feet with your hands. Open your knees to the sides of your torso and bring your knees up to your armpits. Ankles should be over your knees, with shins perpendicular to the floor. Gently push your feet toward your hands while you pull them down for resistance.

Anjaneyasana

Pronounced Ahn-jah-nay-ah-sah-nah.

Known as Crescent Low Lunge Pose, this pose helps stretch the thighs and groin while opening the chest. From Downward-Facing Dog, exhale, stepping your right foot between your hands, aligning your knee over your heel. Lower your left knee to your mat and slide it back with the top of your foot down until you feel the stretch in your left thigh and groin.

Ardha

Pronounced ARE-dah.

Meaning “half,” ardha is used in the names of certain yoga postures to indicate the intermediate, or less challenging, version of a pose. 

Ardha Chandrasana

Pronounced Are-dah chan-DRAH-sah-nah.

This pose, known as Half Moon Pose, helps build ankle and leg strength while improving balance. You’ll begin in Extended Triangle Pose (see Utthita Trikonasana below!), then bend your right knee, sliding it forward about a foot. Reach your right hand forward beyond your right foot’s baby toe. Exhale, then press your right hand and heel firmly to the floor, straightening your right leg and lifting your left leg parallel to the floor. Keep your left hand on your left hip or extend it skyward. 

Ardha Uttanasana

Pronounced Are-dah oot- tahn-AHS-un-nah.

Also known as Halfway Lift, begin in Standing Forward Bend (see Uttanasana below!), then press your palms into the floor beside your feet. Inhale and straighten your arms, straightening your spine away from your thighs. Then, lift your heart center forward, placing your hands on your shins.

Asana

Pronounced AH-sun-ah. 

An asana is a yoga pose or posture. The original Sanskrit names for yoga poses have "asana" as a suffix.

Balasana

Pronounced Bah-LAH-sah-nah.

Also called Child’s Pose, Bala means child in Sanskrit. This pose is a resting pose to reenergize. Kneel on the floor with big toes touching and sit back on your heels, bringing your knees to hip width. Exhale, laying your torso down between your knees and lengthening your tailbone toward your toes while the fronts of your shoulders touch the floor. Rest your forehead on your mat.

Bandha

Pronounced Bahn-DAH.

A bandha is a bind in yoga, meant to regulate and improve prana (life energy) flow within the body. There are four different types of bandha you may encounter in a yoga class, each meant to affect a different energy channel or chakra.

  • Jalandhara bandha: The chin lock, practiced by bringing your chin down toward your chest.
  • Mula bandha: The root lock, practiced by engaging your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Uddiyana bandha: The abdominal lock, practiced by pulling your abdominal muscles in and lifting your chest up toward the sky.
  • Maha bandha: Translated as the great lock, supreme lock or triple lock, this bandha is practiced by performing the other three bandha simultaneously.

Bhujangasana

Pronounced Boo-jang-GAH-sah-nah.

Bhujanga means snake in Sanskrit, so this is known as Cobra Pose. Lie face down with legs straight, pressing the tops of your thighs and feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders and hug your elbows to your sides. Inhale, lifting your chest like a cobra and maintain floor contact from your public bone through your legs.

Bitilasana

Pronounced Bee-tee-LAH-sah-nah.

Also known as Cow Pose, Bitilasana is usually paired with Cat Pose. For this pose, begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Start with a flat back and inhale, lifting your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, while your belly sinks to the floor. Exhale and come back to a flat back.

Camatkarasana

Pronounced Cah-maht-kah-RAH-sah-nah.

Camatkara means miracle or surprise, so this pose is creatively translated as Wild Thing Pose. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog, lift your left leg, then bring your weight to your right hand and roll onto the outside edge of your right foot, pushing up onto your left fingertips. Inhale and lift your hips, stepping your left foot back and placing your toes on the floor, bending both knees. Arch your back and lift your hips and chest higher until you’re in the full back-bend with your right foot solidly on the ground. Move your left hand through heart center, then reach back strong.

Chakra

Pronounced CHA-kra.

The chakras are the seven centers of spiritual power within the human body. Certain poses can access specific chakras and/or help align the energy ruled by that chakra. Each chakra is centered in a specific part of the body with an associated color.

  1. The root chakra (muladhara): Found at the base of the spine, it represents a feeling of being grounded. This chakra is red.
  2. The sacral chakra (svadhisthana): Found in the lower abdomen, it represents our connection to others and to new experiences. This chakra is orange.
  3. The solar plexus chakra (manipura): Found in the upper abdomen, it represents our confidence and sense of control. This chakra is yellow.
  4. The heart chakra (anahata): Found in the center of the chest, it represents our ability to love and find joy and acceptance. This chakra is green.
  5. The throat chakra (vishuddha): Found in the throat, it represents our ability to communicate and express ourselves. This chakra is blue.
  6. The third eye chakra (ajna): Found in the forehead between the eyebrows, it represents our ability to think, imagine, intuit and focus. This chakra is indigo.
  7. The crown chakra (sahasrara): Found at the very top of the head, it represents spiritual connection. This chakra is violet.

Chaturanga

Pronounced Chah-tour-ANG-ah.

One of the most common poses in most yoga classes, Chaturanga literally translates to “four limb.” In this pose, you’ll lower your body from plank until your elbows are in line with your shoulders, building strength throughout your upper body and core.

Dandasana

Pronounced Don-DAH-sah-nah. 

This pose, also known as Staff Pose, is meant to strengthen the back and improve posture. Sit with your legs straight in front of you, flexing through your ankles and pressing through your heels. Stretch straight up through your spine and press your hands into the floor.

Drishti

Pronounced DRIHSH-tee.

Though Drishti directly translates as “sight,” in yoga it refers to the practice of gazing at a specific focal point to help concentration during yoga poses or meditation. There are nine drishtis in yoga, and your instructors may direct you to a certain drishti for particular asanas.

Eka Pada

Pronounced Eh-KAH pah-DAH.

Eka pada means one foot or one-legged, so any posture preceded by “eka pada” indicates that one foot or one leg will remain to help stabilize or hold balance. Many beginner or intermediate versions of balancing poses will use the eka pada option.

Garudasana

Pronounced Gah-roo-DAH-sah-nah.

This pose is commonly called Eagle Pose because Garuda translates to “king of the birds.” This pose requires balance, flexibility, concentration and patience as you wind your limbs around each other while balancing on one leg to stretch your back, shoulders, hips and thighs simultaneously.

Halasana

Pronounced Hah-LAH-sah-nah.

Hala means “plow,” making this word translate to Plow Pose. In this inversion, your feet are behind your head with legs fully extended to keep a flat back. Your arms extend, clasped, behind your back to help stabilize you and provide support. Make sure you have an experienced teacher guiding you to do this pose correctly.

Hatha Yoga

Pronounced HATH-ah YO-gah.

This branch of yoga is what most of us think of when we think of yoga. Hatha yoga describes the physical aspects of the yoga practice, including asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control).

Iyengar

Pronounced I-YENG-gar.

Iyengar yoga is a slower style of yoga in which poses are held for longer periods of time. This is meant to help students feel how their muscles are working together during each asana, as well as identifying tightness and blockages. Iyengar usually utilizes props like blocks, belts, bolsters or chairs to help support the student’s muscles and aid in safe stretching.

Mantra

Pronounced MAHN-trah.

A word, phrase or sound repeated aloud or silently in order to aid concentration during meditation. The repetition of “Om” at the open or close of class is a common mantra.

Marjaryasana

Pronounced Mar-JAH-ree-Ah-sah-nah.

Translating to Cat Pose, this posture mimics a cat stretching. Begin on all fours with hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Gaze at the floor and exhale, rounding your spine toward the ceiling. Inhale and come back to a neutral, flat-backed position.

Mudra

Pronounced MU-drah.

A Mudra is a hand position that helps you maintain concentration and circulate energy during a particular asana or meditation. Pressing your palms together at heart center is a common Mudra, as is touching your thumb and forefinger to create a circle.

Namaste

Pronounced NAH-mah-stay.

Namaste is a greeting of respect and gratitude. Translated, it most closely means “the divine essence in me recognizes the divine essence in you.” Many instructors may begin and end class with Namaste, while holding hands together at heart center and bowing.

Om

Pronounced Aum.

This mystic word, considered to be the most sacred mantra in Sanskrit, is said to be the origin of creation the universal sound of consciousness and potential. Many yoga classes begin and/or end by chanting Om three times in unison.

Padmasana

Pronounced pod-MAH-sah-nah.

Padma means lotus, and Lotus Pose is one of the most iconic yoga poses there is. Sitting with legs crossed, you’ll lift each lower leg carefully until the tops of your feet rest on your opposing upper thighs, hands at heart center. This takes flexibility and open hips, so take it slowly. 

Parivrtta

Pronounced Pah-ree-VRIT-ah.

This word means “revolve” or “to turn around” and precedes the names of poses in which the torso is turned to the side for flexibility in the spine.

Paripurna Navasana

Pronounced Par-ee-POOR-nah nah-VAHS-ah-nah. Also known as Boat Pose, Paripurna means complete or full, while nava means boat. In this pose, you balance on your tailbone and sitting bones with legs extended in the air and arms stretched out in front of you, parallel to your legs or the floor. Your torso and legs create a V-shape, building strength in the abdominal muscles and hip flexors.

Prana

Pronounced PrA-nA.

Your life force or vital energy. We access our own Prana through yoga and pranayama, and we can balance our life energy through the chakras.

Pranayama

Pronounced Prah-nuh-YAH-ma.

Pranayama refers to awareness of breath and the ability to control one’s breath for a specific purpose. In yoga there are numerous breathing techniques, including ujjayi.

Salabhasana

Pronounced Sha-la-BAH-sah-nah.

Salabha translates to locust, so this word means Locust Pose. This small backbend builds strength in the back and preps students for deeper backbends. Lie on your belly with forehead to the mat and arms next to your torso, palms up. Firm your buttocks and on an exhale, lift your head, torso, arms and legs away from the floor. Reach out from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and stretch your fingertips actively back.

Salamba

Pronounced Sah-LAHM-bah.

This word, meaning “to support,” refers to any asana using arms, hands or another prop to support the body. Salamba can refer to balancing support, or support provided to avoid straining the body.

Salamba Sirsasana

Pronounced sah-LAHM-bah shear-SHAH-sah-nah. More commonly known as Supported Headstand, this pose should be guided by an experienced instructor. With your forearms on the floor and fingers laced behind your head, you’ll complete a headstand with your arms supporting your neck and providing balance.

Savasana

Pronounced Sah-VAH-suh-nah.

Savasana, or corpse pose, is the final posture in most classes. This resting pose provides space for the mind and body to relax and integrate the efforts of practice. This posture is seemingly simple but can be difficult for many as it requires complete stillness, in both body and mind.

Setu Bandha

Pronounced SET-too BAHN-dah.

Also called Bridge Pose, Setu means bridge and bandha means lock. In this pose, you create a bridge shape, starting with your back flat on your mat, arms at your sides with feet on the floor close to your sitting bones. Press through your feet and lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping knees over your heels and your core and buttocks engaged. Clasp hands beneath your pelvis and extend your arms toward your feet so you’re on the tops of your shoulders.

Shanti

Pronounced SHAHN-tee.

Another common mantra chanted at the beginning or end of yoga class, Shanti translates to “peace” in Sanskrit.

Supta

Pronounced Soup-TAH.

Poses that involve reclining begin with this word, which translates as “to recline.”

Tadasana

Pronounced TA-DA-suh-nah.

Also known as Mountain Pose, this pose seems simple, but requires strength and stillness. Lengthening the spine from the root of your sacrum up through your crown gives you strength while you root through your feet and relax your arms at your sides.

Ujjayi

Pronounced OOO-jah-yee.

Ujjayi is an energizing and calming breathing technique in yoga. To create Ujjayi breath, slightly constrict the back of your throat during inhalation and exhalation. This gives the breath an audible, oceanic sounding quality. Focusing on your ujjayi breath and linking your breath to movement can help improve your endurance and concentration through challenging flows. 

Ustrasana

Pronounced Oosh-TRAHS-ah-nah.

Translated as Camel Pose, ustra means camel. Kneel on the floor with knees hip width apart and press your shins and tops of your feet into the floor. Rest your hands on the backs of your hips with fingers pointing down. Lift your heart center toward the ceiling and lean back, rounding your spine until you can touch your hands to your heels. Keeping thighs perpendicular to the floor, lift from the front of the pelvis and heart center to extend your spine in the backbend, holding your heels.

Utkatasana

Pronounced OOT-kah-TAH-sah-nah.

Also known as Chair Pose, utkata means chair. Begin in mountain pose, then inhale arms perpendicular to the floor, exhale and bend your knees, bringing your thighs as close to parallel to the floor as you can. Keep thighs parallel to each other and allow your torso to lean forward over your thighs, countering your hips and pelvis as you sit lower as though sitting in a chair.

Uttanasana

Pronounced Oot-tahn-AHS-un-nah.

Also known as Standing Forward Bend, this pose is part of the popular Sun Salutation sequence. You’ll move from Tadasana, or Mountain pose, by bending at the hip and reaching toward the floor, keeping knees as straight as possible and bringing your hands to your shins or the floor.

Utthita

Pronounced Oo-TEE-tah.

This word, which means “extended,” is included in asanas in which the body is extended or stretched beyond its regular variation.

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Pronounced Oo-TEE-tah parsh-vah-cone-ah-sah-nah.

This Sanskrit name translates directly to Extended Side Angle Pose. You’ll begin with legs 4 feet apart, toes in line, raising your arms parallel to the floor on an exhale. Turning your left foot in slightly and your right foot out to a 90-degree angle, bend your right knee keeping it over your toes. Bring your left arm up toward the ceiling as your right arm comes down the floor in front of your right foot. Extend your arms and spine to keep from collapsing into your legs.

Utthita Trikonasana

Pronounced Oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-ah-sah-nah.

This Sanskrit name translates directly to Extended Side Angle Pose. You’ll begin with legs 4 feet apart, toes in line, raising your arms parallel to the floor on an exhale. Turning your left foot in slightly and your right foot out to a 90-degree angle, bend your right knee keeping it over your toes. Bring your left arm up toward the ceiling as your right arm comes down the floor in front of your right foot. Extend your arms and spine to keep from collapsing into your legs.

Vasisthasana

Pronounced Vah-sis-TAH-sah-nah.

Also known as Side Plank Pose, this arm balance builds core, arm and wrist strength. Beginning in Downward Facing Dog, shift onto the outer edge of your left food, stacking your right foot on top. Swing your right hand onto your right hip, turning your torso to the right. Support your body weight on the outside of your left foot and your left hand, keeping your left hand strong and slightly in front of the shoulder.

Vinyasa

Pronounced Vin-YAH-sah

The literal translation of Vinyasa is "to place in a special way", but it has much deeper meaning in practice. Vinyasa can refer to a flowing style of yoga that links breath to movement. Yoga Six classes are Vinyasa style, and our Vinyasa class is named for it. Vinyasa can also refer to the flowing sequence: high plank, low plank, upward facing dog, downward facing dog. 

Virabhadrasana I

Pronounced Veer-ah-bah-DRAH-sah-nah.

Known as Warrior One Pose, this foundational pose brings strength. Begin with feet 4 feet apart and reach arms straight toward the ceiling. Turn your left foot in slightly and your right foot to a 90-degree angle, heels aligned. Exhale and bend your right knee over the right ankle until your shin is perpendicular to the floor, reaching up strong with your arms.

Virabhadrasana II

Pronounced Veer-ah-bah-DRAH-sah-nah.

Known as Warrior Two, move into this pose from Warrior One by exhaling your arms down to your sides parallel to the floor and turning your torso to the right. Turn your head and look out over your right arm.

Virabhadrasana III

Pronounced Veer-ah-bah-DRAH-sah-nah.

Known as Warrior Three, move into this pose from Warrior One by lifting the heel of your back foot and shifting your weight over your front leg. Then push off the back leg and lift it until it’s parallel with the floor, stretching your arms parallel to the floor, too, and keeping your core strong, reaching through your toes and fingers.

Vriksasana

Pronounced Vrik-SHAH-sah-nah.

Vrksa means tree in Sanskrit, so you’ll likely hear this pose referred to as Tree Pose. This popular pose begins in Mountain Pose, but you’ll lift your right foot and bring it to the inside of your left thigh, near the groin. Bring your hands to heart center and balance here.

Yoga

Pronounced YO-gah.

While the literal translation is “bind”, Yoga is most commonly interpreted as meaning as “union,” referring to the union of body, mind and breath. While taking yoga classes, you’ll also experience the uniting spirit that is found among yogis.

Yogi

Pronounced YO-gee.

Yogi refers to a student who practices or studies yoga, and your instructors may refer to you as such. Once you’ve started taking classes, you can officially refer to yourself as a yogi!

You’ve Learned Some Basic Sanskrit Yoga Vocab What Next?

Now you’ve got a great head start on learning your Sanskrit yoga vocabulary! You may not be able to teach a class in Sanskrit quite yet, but with these terms you’ll be able to navigate your first several yoga classes without feeling completely confused and out of touch. As you continue to take classes, pay close attention to the repeated sounds and phrases you hear. Did you notice all of the Sanskrit names for poses end in “asana”? While you’ll certainly hear new Sanskrit terms as you continue to take different yoga classes with various instructors, you’ll soon discover that you can often patch together an understanding of what they mean with these terms as a solid base.

Don’t be nervous to start taking a new yoga class. Prep by reviewing your yoga vocabulary—maybe even practice saying some of these Sanskrit words—and get ready for a rewarding experience. And remember, if you ever have questions about terms, pronunciation or anything else, ask your yoga teacher! They’ll be happy to help you learn more.

Apply Your Knowledge!

Interested in using your new Sanskrit knowledge in class? Join us! Find a Yoga Six studio near you.

Feel like you have a good handle on the basics, but want to learn more? Enroll in Yoga Teacher Training now. You don’t have to be an expert yogi or even be ready to become a teacher. Yoga Teacher Training is a great way to expand your knowledge and learn more about the history, philosophy and practice of yoga.