As you continue on your journey of discovery in yoga, you’ve no doubt probably come across a few terms that are unfamiliar to you, either from your yoga instructor, classmates or in books and magazines you might have read on the subject. Some terms might refer to yoga moves or poses, or they may refer to concepts particular to yoga.
Don’t panic if they are unfamiliar to you. Like many special practices, yoga comes with its unique terms that become familiar to yoga enthusiasts during their journey. Many of the terms (if not all) are Hindu in origin and might be difficult to grasp (or even pronounce) at first. But as you continue your yoga journey, these words and others will become clear and relevant to your life.
Below are a few terms that you may run across in the study of yoga. This list is, of course, in no ways a complete one, but it might provide a useful overview of the concepts of yoga.
Abhyasa means “practice” and refers to the constant spiritual yoga practice.
Acarlya refers to a instructor or guide, primarily one in religious areas, but it is also used in yoga.
Ananda is the state of bliss and ultimate joy. It gets its name from one of the most devout followers of Buddha.
Asana is the name of the actual poses in yoga, which are designed to promote a sense of well being and harmony of the mind and body. There are numerous asanas that promote different types of flexibility or mental relaxation.
Ayurveda is an Indian medical system that has a long tradition in the country. Despite the millions of practitioners worldwide, it is looked at as an alternative medicine by many doctors in the West.
Bhakti Yoga, or the “yoga of devotion”, is a major branch of yoga that focuses on forming a devotion to a personal form of God. Within Bhakti, there are three schools: Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism.
Bodhi means “awakening” or “enlightenment” and is the state of the awakened Buddha.
Buddha is the title given to a person who has attained enlightenment and ultimate inner peace. Is it the honorary title of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama.
Chakra means “wheel” and refers to the psycho-energy centers on the body. Buddhism yoga maintains there are five chakras on the human body, while Hindu yoga practitioners believe there may be seven or more.
Diksha is an initiation process given to those who gain insight into the hidden aspects of yoga. It may include the presentation of a mantra given by a guru of Buddhism, Hinduism or Jaimism
Goraksha was the founder of hatha yoga and was its first teacher. These days the name also applies to a person who has reached an upper level of yoga practice and has mastered some of the more difficult hatha yoga poses and practices.
Guru is an advisory and spiritual teacher.
Guru-Yoga is a theory in yoga that placed the guru at the center of a yoga practitioner’s learning process.
Hatha Yoga is one of the major branches of yoga that is highlighted by its combination of poses, body cleansing practices and breathing exercises.
Ishvara-pranidhana teaches practitioners to focus on restraint, self-control and dedication to their spiritual side.
Jnana-Yoga is a branch of yoga that focuses on obtaining knowledge and wisdom. The practice focuses on four distinct paths: development of a discriminating mind, the skill to remain dispassionate when needed, virtue and freedom from earthly bonds.
Kaivalya is the ultimate goal of yoga, to be free of the material constraints of the world and “isolated”. People in a kaivalya state are aware of everything around them but have the ability to stand apart from it.
Karma refers to an action of any kind and its subsequent effect on one’s life. Karma concerns the entire cycle of life, the causes and effects.
Krishna is the human form of the god Vishnu, whose teachings form the basis of the practice of Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavate-Purana.
Kumbhaka is a breathing exercise in which the lungs are filled with air. The practice is generally done while meditating or chanting.
Kundalini-shakti is the lowest psycho-energy center in the body and is key to full enlightenment. To activate the kundalini-shakti, the practitioner must awaken it and direct it upwards to the crown of the head.
Laya Yoga is a Tantric yoga process in which the energy of several psycho-energy centers of the body is gradually dissolved.
Mandala is a circular design that is created as a representation of the cosmos and is often used in meditation techniques.
Mantra means a sound or phrase that is sacred and has the power to induce a meditative state when chanted. Mantras are sounds or phrases, such as “om” or “hum” that are chanted. They are usually given to a student before undergoing a disksha.
Mantra-Yoga is yoga where a mantra is the primary means of meditation and path to enlightenment.
Marman is the area on the body where much of the physical energy is either concentrated or compressed and blocked.
Nada is an inner body sound that practitioners of nada yoga or kundalini yoga say can be heard during the practice. It is key to concentration and meditation.
Nyasa is the ability to fill certain areas of the body with the “life force” simply by touching or thinking about the areas.
Om is a phrase often referred to as the original mantra and is considered the “ultimate reality”.
Prana is the “life force” or “life breath” that yoga practitioners believe exists in all life on earth.
Prasada refers to a state of mental clarity and pure grace that is reached through meditation.
Recaka is a term uses in connection with meditative breathing and refers to the exhalation of breath and the control of the breath.
Samadhi is the unity of body and mind that is achieved through meditation. In this, the highest level of meditation, the waking, sleeping and dreaming mind are all working in harmony.
Samatva refers to balance and harmony in the mind.
Sat refers to the “ultimate reality”.
Siddhi is somewhat related to Sat in that it refers to spiritual perfection and reaching a state of ultimate reality.
Sushumna-nadi is the central area of life force in the body. It begins at the base of the spine and extends to the crows of the head.
Turiya is a state of consciousness that goes beyond the most common states of walking, sleeping and dreaming. It is frequently described as the human spirit in harmony with the human experience and is the focus of a great deal of meditation.
Upaya refers to the practice of compassion in Buddhist yoga teachings.
Veerasana, additionally referred to as the “hero’s pose”, is regarded as an essential pose for concentration and discriminative thinking.
Yoga is the practice of bringing into harmony the state of the body and mind, individual and universal consciousness. It unites opposing states within the body to reach a higher state of awareness.
WoYoPracMo refers to World Yoga Practice Month, a period in which yoga practitioners, both veteran and new, vow to practice yoga every day for an entire month. Many yoga studios offer special rates and sessions during this month and yoga practitioners help each other with motivation and support.