You are new to yoga and you hear your yoga teacher instructing the class, using words that you might have heard but do not understand. You are confused and unable to concentrate on your asanas. You wish you understood those terms, for a deeper class experience.
If this is you, then do read this article, which brings you 20 yoga terminologies which every yogi/ yogini must be aware of, to be able to capture the essence of the art. Here they are.
Pronunciation: [ A-bh-yaa-ss]
Meaning: Spiritual Practice
Abhyasa is one of the pillars of yoga practice taught by Maharishi Patanjali, to achieve the state of Yoga and bring the mind to a place of tranquility. Yoga means quieting the disturbance and chatter of the mind, which can be achieved by Abhyasa, and yoga’s other pillar, Vairagya ( non-attachment).
Pronunciation: [Ah- sun ]
The original interpretation of “Asan,” or “Asana,” or “Yoga posture” is a comfortable seated position which can be held still for lengthy periods of meditation. Other postures evolved to enhance the body functionalities. Today the term Asan or Asana finds itself to be a suffix for the Sanskrit names of each of the postures.
Pronunciation: [Aat- maa]
Atman is the Spiritual Self, or Spirit, which is infinite and superconscious; it is our true nature or identity. Sometimes, a distinction is made between the atman within an individual, and the “Parama-atman”, in the larger context including all of life and nature or the ultimate reality.
Meaning: Eight-limbed union
This literally means “eight limb yoga” or the “scientific path of yoga” as outlined by Maharishi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. A yoga aspirant is taught and directed to follow the eight steps laid out, to ascend his/her yoga-ladder, to develop himself/herself as a strong spiritual being. Patanjali’s eightfold steps of yoga are – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
Meaning: Ignorance, delusion
Avidya is the veil of spiritual forgetfulness, ignorance, or individual illusion. When we begin to question all that we consider “permanent” in life, we begin to understand the true beauty and meaning of life, the constant movement, change, and flux of life. We begin to lift that veil of Avidya, for the delusional state we have been living in.
In Sanskrit ‘Bandha’ means ‘to lock’, ‘to hold’, or ‘to tighten’. The term also refers to a lock in and of itself. In yoga , bandhas are performed by gently, but powerfully squeezing certain body areas, thereby trapping pranic energy or life force within for a stretch of time.The bandhas help us to regulate and control all our internal systems, be it hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, or others.
It is believed that in the subtle body or the pranic or energy body of a man, there are points where numerous pranic nerves criss-cross and meet. These intersections become dynamic centers of energy, also known as our “chakras”. Yoga says we have myriad chakras in our subtle body, but of these, there are seven main ones, namely Mooladhar, Svadishthan, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddhi, Agya, and Sahasrara.
Meaning: Consciousness Seal
“Chin” means consciousness in Sanskrit, and the purpose of this mudra is to remind a practitioner of his/her yoga goal, which is the union of the individual soul with the supreme soul. Mudra means seal, and it is an energetic and spiritual gesture that controls the flow of energy within the body. The “chin mudra” is formed by joining the tips of our index fingers and thumbs, keeping the other three fingers straight and placing the hands gently on our legs, with palms facing up, as we assume a seated posture. This hand posture creates certain psycho-neural finger locks and keeps us in a state of focused concentration.
Meaning: Gaze or focus
‘Drishti’, in Sanskrit, implies holding your focus or gaze internally while doing a yoga pose. Drishti is somewhat like a focal point in our head that allows us to balance our body and mind. Externally focussing the eyes, on any one point, while holding a posture, is a good way of building internal focus. Two yoga poses which use Drishti are Vriksasana, and the Warrior Pose.
Pronunciation: [haa-tha, or hutt]
Meaning: Forceful Yoga
The word “Hatha” means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga comprises of a set of physical exercises, and sequences of asanas that are designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open many of the body’s channels, especially the spine, for easy flow of energy within the body.
Meaning: Yoga of wisdom
Jnana Yoga, also called Gyana Yoga, is the yoga of true knowledge. Jnana yoga looks into the truth of our existence and life experiences. The full realization of this truth brings enlightenment. Inherently, some people are ‘Gyan-yogis’ and they do not like to do the physical yoga postures, but instead meditate and contemplate on the true meaning of life and they wish to use their intellect to clear the illusions of life. This is all well and good but Yoga warns us that our soul resides in the physical body so the body has to be strengthened and purified too. We need to develop wholesomely – physically, mentally and spiritually.
Meaning: Sacred utterance
Mantras are sacred sounds, hymns, or phrases like om, hum, or om namah shivaya, which all have a transformative effect on the mind of the person reciting it because the energies arising from this string of sounds is very potent and positive. Mantras are not like songs which we compose. It is believed that mantras are mystical sound energies which always existed in the universe. So the correct pronunciation of mantras is very important.
This is the condition of freedom from ignorance and the binding effect of karma. Freedom from being trapped in the physical body, freedom from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is also referred to as Mukti or Kaivalya.
Mudras are hand gestures or whole-body gestures that affect the energy flow of the body. The Indian classical dances use many hand-mudras. Yoga uses hand and body mudras to invoke a particular introverted mood or attitude. This deepens the performance of our asana practice. To improve our health, mudras also increase or decrease the different elements within us, the elements we are composed of – earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
Prakriti means nature at a multi-level, the next stage emerging from the previous one. Usually, Prakriti is infused with pure consciousness, which is called Purusha. Purusha literally means “man” and Prakriti, the female creative energy. The two opposing and complementary aspects, in everything.
Meaning: Life/breath extension
This word is the union of two Sanskrit words, Prana, which means fundamental life force, and Ayama which means control of . Pranayama is, therefore channeling or controlling life force. It is the fourth limb or anga of Patanjali’s eightfold path. More popularly, we refer to Pranayama as yoga breathing exercises.
Meaning: Bliss from transcending the mind
Samadhi Yoga happens when we transcend the mind, or cross the limitations of the mind and unite with our Divine Source. We can get a glimpse of Samadhi Yoga through conscious breathing (Pranayama) combined with simple yoga postures (Asanas). Yogis believe it takes any number of human lifetimes to achieve Samadhi.
Chanting “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” comes as an invocation of peace. Buddhist and Hindu traditions believe that chanting Shanti three times represents peace in body, speech, and mind.
Meaning: Thatness, principle, reality or truth
Tattwa also refers to the five elements of which we are composed and at the time of Tattwa also refers to the five elements of which we are composed and at the time of the death of the physical body, the body returns back to these elements, which are essentially nature. Yoga speaks of 5 tattvas, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether or Sky which in Sanskrit are called Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, and Akaash.
Meaning: Victorious breathing
This is a term often heard in yoga class. You perform the ‘Ujjayi breathing’ when you inhale deeply through your nose and exhale fully through your nose, in the process emptying your lungs completely of stale air. Though you breathe through your nose, you are supposed to tighten the throat area and breath as though the breath were going in and out through the throat. As we breathe like this, the breath makes a husky, throaty sound. Once we get the hang of it, it’s an immensely soothing way to breathe and very calming for our nervous system. It”s meant to steady you through breath work, enabling you to hold poses longer by concentrating on your breath.
I hope these 20 terms become a part of your yoga vocabulary and I hope you learn more with each passing day.
“Yoga does not remove us from the responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly on the ground of reality, armed with mental peace and spiritual strength.”