Yoga Words: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Yoga Terminology


As a yoga teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how the language often used in yoga can be both intriguing and baffling, especially for beginners.

If you’re new to yoga, you might have found yourself in the middle of a class, surrounded by yoga words and terms that seem foreign and, at times, overwhelming.

That is largely because common yoga terms use Sanskrit1 The Subtleties of Sanskrit. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2024, from words.

The purpose of this article is to demystify these yoga words with you and equip you with knowledge of some of the most common yoga words, so that the next time you step into a yoga class, you feel more confident and connected to the practice.

Understanding yoga terminology is more than just about following instructions; it’s about immersing yourself in the practice, understanding its roots, and appreciating its profound depth.

Let’s learn new yoga words together, making your yoga experience more enjoyable and fulfilling.

a woman in purple yoga clothes doing upward facing dog

introduction to Yoga and Its Language

Yoga, an ancient practice with roots stretching back thousands of years is traditionally rooted in Sanskrit, the classical language of Indian and Hindu philosophy.

Although Sanskrit is and should be used within the context of yoga, in many contemporary yoga settings around the world, teachers often use the official language of the territory, only strategically using Sanskrit here and there.

For example, I teach most of my classes and workshops in either English or Catalan2 Origins and History. (n.d.). Catalan Language., my mother tongue, and only sprinkle in relevant Sanskrit yoga words, especially in multi-level classes.

Understanding both the original Sanskrit terms and their translations and interpretations can deepen your connection to yoga, enhancing your practice both physically and spiritually.

Essential Yoga Words Every Beginner Should Know

When you go to yoga class, whether online or in person, you will hear some yoga words you may want to become familiar with.

Here are 15 essential yoga words that every beginner should know, and that you may hear in your next yoga class:
  • Asana: Generally translates to “pose” or “seat,” and it refers to the various physical postures or poses.
  • Pranayama3 What is Pranayama? | Ekhart Yoga. (n.d.). These are the breathing techniques. “Prana” means life force or breath, and “Yama” means control.
  • Drishti: A focused gaze used during asana practice to aid concentration and maintain balance.
  • Bandha: Internal energy locks or muscular contractions used to control and direct the flow of prana within the body.
  • Chakra: Energy centers in the body. Yoga practice often includes work to balance these centers.
  • Mantra: A word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Often Sanskrit phrases.
  • Mudra: Symbolic hand gestures used in yoga and meditation practices to direct your energy flow more intentionally.
  • Namaste: A traditional greeting or gesture of respect.
  • Niyama: The observances recommended in yogic philosophy. They include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to a higher power.
  • Yama: Moral restraints or ethical values in yoga philosophy. They include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-greed.
  • Vinyasa yoga: A style of yoga in which movements and breath are linked, creating a meditation-in-motion experience.
  • Kundalini: Refers to the primal energy or shakti believed to be located at the base of the spine.
  • Satsang: A gathering of people to discuss or meditate on philosophical or spiritual topics.
  • Om: Aka AUM, sacred sound and spiritual symbol sometimes chanted at the beginning and/or end of yoga sessions.
  • Samadhi: Samadhi is the highest state of meditation that one can achieve whilst in the physical body – complete meditative absorption.
  • Nadi: The nadis are intricate energy pathways that carry prana (vital life force) throughout the body.
  • Yin Yoga: A slow style of yoga where postures are usually held for at least 1 minute, sometimes even up to 20 minutes.
  • Hatha Yoga: Hatha Yoga is an ancient yoga system of 84 yoga poses in total. 
the word om against a yellow circle background

Yoga Poses and Their Names

The physical postures, known as asanas, often relate to Hindu and yogic philosophy myths.

Many of the postures carry a story, a deeper meaning that transcends the mere physicality of the practice.

In this section, we will share with you some of the most common yoga poses you may encounter in your first few classes, and that your teacher may sometimes name in Sanskrit.

This will enhance your yoga vocabulary and perhaps deepen your understanding and appreciation of the practice:

1# Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

annotated image of a woman doing yoga's mountain pose

Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, is foundational in yoga. The word “Tadasana” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Tada” meaning mountain.

The first pose in the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) sequence, it symbolizes strength, stability, and the enduring quality of a mountain, and it’s often used as a starting position for other shapes.

Tadasana helps in improving posture, balance, and calmness.

2# Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

annotated image of a woman doing chair pose

This yoga word comes from the Sanskrit word “Utkata,” meaning fierce or powerful.

This pose resembles sitting in an imaginary chair which implies an engagement of power and strength.

It builds endurance, strengthens the thighs and legs, and stimulates the heart and diaphragm.

3# Navasana (Boat Pose)

an annotated image of a man wearing black yoga clothes doing a boat pose

This pose mimics the shape of a boat; it’s about finding balance and staying afloat, symbolizing the ability to navigate through life’s challenges.

It’s significant for strengthening the core and improving balance and digestion.

4# Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing dog)

 an annotated image of a woman in black yoga clothes doing downward facing dog

It comes from the Sanskrit words “Adho” (downward), “Mukha” (face), and “Svana” (dog).

The pose resembles a dog stretching with its head down and back up.

It’s one of those yoga words you may hear a lot in certain yoga classes since it is a fundamental pose in many styles.

This asana is energizing, stretching the hamstrings, calves, and hands, and calming the mind.

5#Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)

an annotated image of a man in black yoga trousers doing goddess pose

Utkata Konasana, or Goddess Pose, derives from “Utkata” (fierce), and “Kona” (angle). This pose invokes the energy of a powerful goddess and embodies feminine4 Indries, M. (2022, March 28). An Empowering Yoga Practice to Cultivate Your Feminine Energy. Yoga Journal. strength, empowerment, and energy.

It opens the hips and strengthens the lower body, encouraging stability.

6# Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing a half moon pose

“Ardha” means half and “Chandra” means moon.

This shape is named after the moon, and it symbolizes calmness, beauty, and serenity.

In yoga, the Half Moon Pose is reflective of these qualities, aiming to bring balance and tranquility.

It challenges and improves balance, coordination, and focus, reflecting the moon’s influence on these aspects of life.

7# Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose)

an annotated image of a woman in monkey pose

This pose is named after Hanuman, the monkey god from Hindu mythology. It’s a powerful symbol of devotion and perseverance.

Monkey Pose is a split pose that signifies the giant leap made by Hanuman from the southern tip of India to Sri Lanka in the epic Ramayana5 Murphy, A. (2019). Ramayana. Asia Society.

This pose represents courage, faith, and the ability to take leaps of faith in life. It’s a deep stretch that enhances flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors.

8# Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing dancer's pose

This pose is named after Lord Shiva6 LoginUser, S. (2022, June 8). Lord Shiva: The Driving Force Of Yoga-Santosh Yoga Institute., known as Nataraja, the lord of dance in Hindu mythology.

The pose represents Shiva’s cosmic dance7 Shiva as Nataraja: The Cosmic Dancer. (n.d.)., symbolizing the universal cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death.

Natarajasana challenges your balance, concentration, and strength, reflecting the dynamic and powerful nature of the cosmic dance.

9# Bakasana (Crane Pose)

annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing crane pose

In various mythologies, the crane is often seen as a symbol of longevity, vigilance, and divine balance.

This pose reflects these attributes. It requires and develops a deep sense of focus, balance, and strength, mirroring the crane’s ability to stand still and alert for long periods.

10# Savasana (Corpse pose)

annotated image of a woman in corpse pose, savasana

Despite its simplicity, it’s one of the most challenging poses as it requires complete relaxation of your body and mind, it requires for you to just let go.

Symbolizing the death of the physical world and the rebirth into a spiritual existence, Savasana helps integrate the benefits of a yoga session and for mental relaxation.

Basic Yoga Philosophical Terms

If you still want a bit more, here are 3 important philosophical yoga words that you may want to become familiar with:

  • Ahimsa: This is the principle of non-violence. Ahimsa goes beyond the physical act of not causing harm; it encompasses a compassionate and empathetic attitude towards all living beings.
  • Satya: It encourages being truthful in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. It’s about aligning with one’s authentic self and interacting with the world sincerely and honestly.
  • Aparigraha: is a yoga word that teaches the importance of letting go of the unnecessary desire for material possessions and cultivating contentment with what one has. It encourages simplicity and living a life that’s not driven by material accumulation.
  • Ashtanga: It is a yoga style (Ashtanga yoga), but it also refers to the Eight Limbs of Yoga as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

To Close

Learning and understanding these yoga words can provide you with insight for navigating your yoga classes and also into the ethical and moral principles of the practice, offering you a guide to a more mindful and meaningful way of living.

Although most yoga classes are taught in modern languages, many yoga teachers choose to use Sanskrit yoga words throughout the practice, so it may be interesting to familiarize yourself with them.

As you incorporate these concepts into your daily life and yoga practice, you’ll likely notice a profound shift in your perspective and interactions with the world around you.

Now that you’ve learned some new yoga words, it may be time to learn some new yoga postures, check out our yoga pose library here:

Photo of author
Laia is an Afro-Catalan accessible and inclusive yoga & meditation teacher. She has trained in hatha, vinyasa, trauma-informed yoga, yin yoga, and restorative yoga and holds E-RYT 500 and YACEP accreditations with the Yoga Alliance. Additionally, she is a freelance writer and translator, publishing in Catalan, English, and Spanish. As a former professional athlete who lives with a chronic illness, Laia has gained valuable insights into the benefits of self-care and the importance of pausing and slowing down. She is dedicated to sharing accessible and sustainable practices of yoga and meditation to help people create a more harmonious life. Being a black and chronically ill individual, her mission is to empower non-normative yoga teachers to find their unique voices and develop tools to make wellness practices accessible to the communities they serve, thereby taking up space and creating a more inclusive and diverse yoga industry. Furthermore, as a writer and creative, she is passionate about supporting other creatives and innovators. She fosters a genuine community dedicated to finding balance while staying productive and inspired. Laia has developed unique techniques that intertwine yoga and meditation with writing, journaling, and other accessible methods to help each other stay creative and mindful.

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