Should yogis learn words from Sanskrit? The answer is a resounding yes – and the reasons why are multiple.
Firstly, language is a window into culture.
The original Yoga texts, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written in Sanskrit, and learning the nuances of this ancient language fosters the deep, cross-cultural communication that is necessary to appreciate the history and meaning behind the practice of yoga.
Second, Sanskrit is overflowing with beautiful words and wise meanings, which can teach non-speakers new perspectives on the world and transform our understanding of the self as practitioners of yoga.
Finally, the sounds and structure of words from Sanskrit are more effective for our practice. It is believed that the sound quality, vibrations, and harmonies of Sanskrit words have a certain physical and spiritual resonance that deepens our practice.
We’ve already written an article on the 132 Sanskrit yoga terms that every yogi should know. In this article, we’re giving you 25 words from Sanskrit with beautiful meanings to foster new perspectives.
25 Beautiful Words From Sanskrit Explained
Coming from the Sanskrit verb agam, meaning “to return,” “to attain” or “impending future.”
Agami is one of the three types of karma as laid out in the Vedas. It describes the power we hold in the present to bring about positive or negative future outcomes for ourselves, through the decisions or actions we take in each current moment.
In this sense, Agami karma is understood as “future karma” in that it reminds us that our future path is largely the result of our current actions, decisions and dedications.
Aham Prema (ah-ham preh-MAH)
Coming from the Sanskrit, aham, meaning “I” or “self;” and prema, meaning “affection” or “universal love”.A widely celebrated mantra commonly translated as “I am divine love,” aham prema reminds us that our true nature is love, kindness and peacefulness. It describes the divine power to love unconditionally that exists within each of us.
The mantra is believed to foster uncorrupted love that not only brings one closer to others but also supports yogis on their path to enlightenment – i.e. union with the Divine, the higher, true Self.
Repeated silently in thought or aloud, the sound vibrations of aham prema are thought to promote positive prana (our vital energy) in the body, foster self-love, love for others, and boost our powers for effective manifestation.
Derived from the Sanskrit himsa, meaning “to cause suffering,” and the negating prefix, a, meaning “un” or “not,” ahimsa can be translated as non-harm or non-violence.
This is one of the five yamas (“ethical observances”), which form the first limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path (see Ashtanga) as described in the Yoga Sutras. Living by the principle of ahimsa is believed a prerequisite to cultivating the equanimous mind, and reaching internal peace.
Mahatma Gandhi often used the phrase “ahimsa paramo dharma” meaning “the greatest duty of each of us is to reduce harm,” popularizing the concept of ahimsa in the West.
Yoga beginners are often encouraged to start their journey by studying the yamas and niyamas.
Directly translated as posture, or seat. Asana is the Sanskrit name for yoga pose of.
Asana is used as a suffix to most yoga postures e.g. Tadasana, Bhekasana, Savasana.
It is also the fourth of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs Of Yoga.
Atman is the self, the seer.
Non-dual teachings, such as the Upanishads, consider atman (the individual, the soul, you here on earth) to be a part of Brahman (the universe, all that is). However, there are dualist schools of thought that see them as distinct.
Many consider the goal of yoga practice to be the melting of Atman into Brahman (universal consciousness).
Coming from vidya, meaning “to understand”, “to know” or “to see clearly” and the negating prefix, a, meaning “un” or “not,” avidya can be translated as “ignorance”, “misunderstanding” or “delusion”.
A concept central to both Buddhist and Hindu texts, avidya captures something beyond the conventional, shallow understanding of ignorance. Instead, avidya describes the state of ‘unwisdom’ – the lack of experiential understanding of things as they truly are.
This concept of spiritual ignorance, fundamental misperceptions of the meaning of things, the world and our place in it, encourages us to work towards viewing things with equanimity, without allowing ego to delude our ability to see things clearly.
Coming from the sanskrit ayur, meaning “life” or “daily living”, and veda meaning “wisdom” or “knowledge”, Ayurveda can be translated as “wisdom for daily living”.
Originating in India over 2000 years ago, Ayurveda is an ancient medical tradition based on the Doshas.
Whilst scientific evidence of the effectiveness of ayurvedic techniques is mixed, many people find the central message of Ayurveda – to live according to balance and knowing your body and mind – to be immensely valuable.
Bhakti Yoga (bha-kti yo-ga)
Also known as Bhakti Marga, Bhakti Yoga is the yogic path of love and devotion.
It is the path of selfless love for love’s sake.
Bhakti yoga is practiced through singing, chanting, prayer, or worship of a deity within the Hindu canon.
Deriving from the sanskrit word bhava meaning “becoming”, “cultivating” or “development”, bhavana describes a meditative technique used to arouse certain qualities or states in the body.
Bhavana uses thought, visualization and imagination to manifest a particular internal state, often being used to set a tone for an individual or group meditation practice.
The word usually appears in compound phrases, used with another word that further describes the quality that is being cultivated – for example, metta-bhavana (metta meaning loving kindness). Standing alone, bhavana describes the general activity of ‘spiritual cultivation.’
Bandhas or ‘locks’ are energetic holds in the body aimed at controlling the flow of pranic energy.
They are kriyas in Hatha Yoga, techniques aimed at purifying the body. They are seen as internal mudras.
The three main bandhas are as follows:
- Mula Bandha:
- Definition: Also known as the “Root Lock,” involves contracting and lifting the muscles of the pelvic floor. It is located at the base of the spine, between the anus and the genitals.
- Purpose: it is believed to help control the energy in the pelvic region, promoting stability, strength, and balance. It is used to channel energy upward.
- Uddiyana Bandha:
- Definition: The “Upward Abdominal Lock,” involves pulling the abdominal muscles and diaphragm upward and backward towards the spine after exhaling completely.
- Purpose: It is thought to stimulate the solar plexus chakra and digestive organs, aiding in digestion and promoting the flow of energy through the body.
- Jalandhara Bandha:
- Definition: The “Throat Lock,” is performed by dropping the chin towards the chest, creating a gentle pressure on the throat by lowering the head and lifting the sternum.
- Purpose: It is believed to regulate the circulation of energy between the upper and lower regions of the body.
Translated as ‘wheel’, the seven chakras are pranic energy centers within the body. They are often represented as spiritual spinning wheels of light, and each of the chakras are associated with different attiributes.
- Root Chakra (Muladhara):
- Location: Base of the spine
- Color: Red
- Attributes: Grounding, stability, security
- Sacral Chakra (Svadhisthana):
- Location: Below the navel, lower abdomen
- Color: Orange
- Attributes: Creativity, passion, emotional balance
- Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura):
- Location: Upper abdomen, stomach area
- Color: Yellow
- Attributes: Personal power, confidence, self-esteem
- Heart Chakra (Anahata):
- Location: Center of the chest
- Color: Green
- Attributes: Love, compassion, harmony
- Throat Chakra (Vishuddha):
- Location: Throat
- Color: Blue
- Attributes: Communication, self-expression, truth
- Third Eye Chakra (Ajna):
- Location: Between the eyebrows, forehead
- Color: Indigo
- Attributes: Intuition, insight, spiritual awareness
- Crown Chakra (Sahasrara):
- Location: Top of the head
- Color: Violet or white
- Attributes: Connection to the divine, spiritual enlightenment, awareness
Yoga teachers will often theme yoga classes around the chakras or lead chakra-centered meditations.
The chakras were first mentioned in The Vedas, sacred Indian texts written from 1500 to 1000 BC.
Coming from the Sanskrit cit, meaning “to perceive”, citta holds slightly different meanings in Buddhist vs Hindu texts, however is used in both traditions to relate to the activity of the mind, perception, and thought.
In Buddhist texts, citta primarily represents one’s mindset – the quality and purity of one’s mental processes. In Hinduism, the concept of citta is similar, understood as the mental activities which dictate how the external world is perceived.
Overall, the concept of citta reminds us that the habit patterns of the mind and the internal environment they foster can change our perception of the outside world – peaceful thought processes make for more peaceful external conditions.
The seventh of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Dhyana refers to meditative absorption.
It is a very advanced stage of meditation which takes lots of practice to achieve. The eight limbs are often seen as a stepladder, each building a strong foundation for the limb which comes next.
The term “dhyana” is found in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture that delineates the four branches of yoga: Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, and Dhyana yoga. Within the text, Lord Krishna describes Dhyana yoga as the path of meditation.
Japa is the meditative repetition of a mantra.
Japa is practiced in Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Yoga philosophy.
It is often practiced along with mala beads, with a bead being passed through the fingers with each repetition.
Japa can be practiced aloud or the mantra can be repeated internally.
A Sanskrit term with many translations and uses, lila is most commonly understood to mean “play”, “amusement” and “spontaneity”.
This is not just any play, but “divine play”. The concept of lila is used to describe the creation of the universe by the gods, who did so in a spirit of spontaneity and play, sport rather than necessity or self-conscious goals.
With this, lila encourages us to see all aspects of the universe with lightheartedness – just as the world was created as a stage for lila, so it remains a space for spontaneity, creativity and playfulness.
In Sanskrit, mandala means “disc” or “circle” and describes not only the shape itself but also the quality of the shape, such as “wholeness, completeness, balance and symmetry“.
Mandalas are today primarily understood as the various geometric designs used in Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious ceremonies to symbolize the universe.
Mandala designs are usually highly intricate, featuring various shapes, forms, and colors, each symbolizing something particular. The intricacy of these designs is used to cultivate concentration during meditation, focusing on the small details acting to calm the mind and encourage present contemplation.
Mudra (mooh -dhrah)
Mudras, translated as ‘seal’, or ‘gesture’ are sacred hand gestures used to manipulate the flow of prana through the body.
They are often used in meditation or yoga practice.
Mudras are used in Yoga, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. There are 400 known hand gestures used across these philosophies.
Namaste derives from the Sanskrit word namas meaning “bow” or “salute”, and the informal, second person Sanskrit pronoun, te, meaning “you”.
Today, Namaste is used by Hindi and vedanon-Hindi speakers alike as a simple greeting, however, the etymology and traditional usage of the word reveal the deeper, spiritual reverence behind the phrase.
In Vedic literature, ‘namas’ it used to describe not the act of bowing itself, but rather what the act symbolizes. For example, Namas-kara is used to describe adoration, homage, worship, and salutation.
With this, Namaste is now widely understood to mean ‘I see and bow to the divine in you’. It’s a reminder to see the divine light and the dark in others without judgment, with acceptance and love.
Samadhi, translated as ‘completion’, is the last of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga and refers to a state of complete meditative absorption, or bliss.
Some sages claim to be in a permanent state of Samadhi, whilst most practitioners will often only experience flickers of this state in a lifetime.
This state is often seen as spiritual enlightenment itself, or communion with God.
Samadhi is known as Moksha in Buddhism.
Coming from the Sanskrit word sat, which means ‘being’, satya is commonly translated as meaning “truth” or ‘truthfullness”. The term stems from the notion of ‘being’ that nothing ‘is’ or exists in reality other than Truth.
Satya describes the virtue of being truthful and honest, not just in speech but also in actions and thought. One of the five Yamas (foundational ethical principles) in yogic philosophy, satya encourages honesty not only outwardly towards others, but also inwardly.
So, to live by satya is to hold true understanding of the world and situations internally. Rather than allowing emotions, ego, desire or aversions to mislead you, satya encourages you to use mindful discernment to be honest with yourself, too.
Pranayama is a collection of different breathing techniques commonly known as breathwork techniques.
Pranayama involves the manipulation of Prana (vital life force energy). Different techniques use the breath to energize, cool, calm, or reach altered states of consciousness.
Pranayama is the third limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs Of Ashtanga Yoga.
Commonly described in English as ‘withdrawal of the senses’, pratyahara is the fifth of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs Of Yoga.
It involves turning your attention inward during meditation and is the bridge between external and internal yoga practices.
A crucial spiritual virtue to consistent well-being, to achieve upeksha is to maintain mental and emotional stability amid all the fluctuations of worldly fortune.
Sometimes wrongly translated as indifference, upeksha is far more profound than a simple lack of interest or concern. Rather, upeksha describes an unshakeable steadiness of mind and freedom of perception.
It is believed that to dwell in upeksha, is to not be able to help but to have acceptance of situations, to feel unconditional love and compassion for others.
Coming from the Sanskrit root word vich, meaning “to sift”, “separate”, “discern, or judge”, viveka can be translated to the faculty of discernment.
Considered one of the first requirements on the path to spiritual enlightenment, viveka describes the ability to distinguish between truths and untruths, the eternal and temporary, the real and unreal, the indulgence and bliss.
As a spiritual practice of realizing truth, pursuing viveka is to pursue the ability to see things clearly without the cloudiness of ego, desire or aversion.
From Words From Sanskrit to The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali . . .
Now that you’ve got some beautiful words from Sanskrit under your belt, ready to learn more about the philosophies coming from this ancient language?