Yoga is a lot of things to a lot of people, a complete lifestyle to some, simply a form of exercise to others. And to newcomers, it can be a little intimidating. The postures, the etiquette, the equipment, the language can all seem a little foreign, and that’s because, well, it is.
Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago and the Sanskrit language first used to describe it is still largely used in the practice today. While much of the practice in the West has taken on English substitutes — think Downward Facing Dog or Pigeon pose — a lot of the original terminology used to describe different aspects of it can be difficult to follow along with.
That’s why we’ve come up with a handy glossary of terms that you might hear when talking to a yogi or if you are new to a studio. You can use it to help you wade through the waters of yoga so at least you can sound like you know what you’re talking about. You know what they say, fake it till you make it!
Asana — posture. Asanas are the poses that you twist yourself into during class, which are only one part of the larger practice of yoga.
Ayurveda — the ancient Indian science of health.
Buddha — an enlightened one. “The Buddha” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, a spiritual teacher who lived, became enlightened and taught in India a long time ago.
Chakra — energy centre. Yoga asserts that there are seven chakras in the human body, and each is associated with a colour, element, syllable and purpose.
Dharma — truth; the path of truth.
Dosha — an Ayurvedic term to describe a physical body type. There are three doshas—pitta (fire), vata (wind) and kapha (earth).
Drishti — gazing point used during asana practice, it could be your inner third eye or a spot on the wall across the room to help focus your mind.
Guru — a spiritual mentor.
Karma — action; the law of karma is the law of cause and effect and is often misconstrued to something like “you get what you deserve”. It is, in fact, much more complex than that.
Kirtan — a community gathering involving chanting, live music and meditation.
Mantra — a repeated sound, syllable, word or phrase that is often used in chanting and meditation.
Namaste — a word used at the beginning and/or end of class which is most commonly translated to something like, “the light within me recognizes and honours the light within you.”
Om — the original syllable that is pronounced “A-U-M” and which is chanted at the beginning and/or end of many yoga classes.
Prana — life energy; qi.
Pranayama — controlled breathing exercises that include retention or quick successive breaths; can be used as a meditative practice.
Savasana — corpse pose. It’s the final relaxation performed at the end of every yoga class, no matter what style, that allows for the practice to integrate into the body.
Shakti — female energy.
Shiva — male energy; a Hindu deity.
Surya Namaskar — a system of yoga exercises performed in a flow or series often called Sun Salutations.
Sutras — the classical yogic texts; the most famous in yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Of course, there are many, many more terms but this should serve as a good jumping off point. We hope it helps! For more information on yoga, it’s origins and its current forms, there are countless texts, books, articles and videos available at large.