Getting to Know the Language of Yoga

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Whether you’re new to yoga or eager to deepen your practice, you can improve your understanding of yoga’s philosophical teachings by learning these 108 key Sanskrit terms. 

Originating in ancient India and considered to be one of the oldest languages on Earth, Sanskrit is still relevant to yoga practice today. Sanskrit is, quite literally, the language of yoga. Many of the chants you sing in kirtan, the mantras you silently repeat in meditation, and the terms you hear in yoga class are ancient Sanskrit words.

This Sanskrit glossary will help you comprehend and communicate philosophical concepts and subtle yoga practices that can be difficult to describe as concisely in English. If a word or phrase in a description appears in bold, it can be found under its own heading. The abbreviation "cf." is a Latin shorthand for "compare." 

Why did we choose 108 terms, you may ask? Because the number 108 has long been considered sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism. The definitions come from the late yoga, tantra, and Sanskrit scholar Georg Feuerstein’s work, which has been adapted with permission from the Traditional Yoga Studies' website, where you can find a more extensive glossary of Sanskrit terms.



Abhyâsa: practice; cf. vairagya

Âcârya (sometimes spelled acharya in English): a preceptor, instructor; cf. guru

Advaita ("nonduality"): the truth and teaching that there is only One Reality (âtman, brahman), especially as found in the Upanishads; see also Vedânta

Ahamkâra ("I-maker"): the individuation principle, or ego, which must be transcended; cf. asmitâ; see also buddhi, manas

Ahimsâ ("nonharming"): the single most important moral discipline (yama)

Ânanda ("bliss"): the condition of utter joy, which is an essential quality of the ultimate Reality (tattva)

Arjuna ("White"): one of the five Pandava princes who fought in the great war depicted in the Mahâbhârata, disciple of the God-man Krishna whose teachings can be found in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ

Âsana ("seat"): a physical posture (see also mudra); the third limb (anga) of Patanjali’s eightfold path (ashta-anga-yoga); originally this meant only meditation posture, but subsequently, in Hatha-Yoga, this aspect of the yogic path was greatly developed

Âshrama (sometimes spelled Ashram in English) ("that where effort is made"): a hermitage; also a stage of life, such as brahmacarya, householder, forest dweller, and complete renouncer (samnyâsin)

Ashta-anga-yoga, ashtânga-yoga ("eight-limbed union"): the eightfold yoga of Patanjali, consisting of moral discipline (yama), self-restraint (niyama), posture (âsana), breath control (prânâyâma), sensory inhibition (pratyâhâra), concentration (dhâranâ), meditation (dhyâna), and ecstasy (samâdhi), leading to liberation (kaivalya)

Asmitâ ("I-am-ness"): a concept of Patanjali's eight-limbed Yoga, roughly synonymous with ahamkâra

Âtman ("self"): the transcendental Self, or Spirit, which is eternal and superconscious; our true nature or identity; sometimes a distinction is made between the âtman as the individual self and the parama-âtman as the transcendental Self; see also purusha; cf. brahman

Avidyâ ("ignorance"): the root cause of suffering (duhkha); also called ajnâna; cf. vidyâ

Âyurveda, Âyur-veda ("life science"): one of India's traditional systems of medicine, the other being South India's Siddha medicine


Bandha ("bond/bondage"): the fact that human beings are typically bound by ignorance (avidyâ), which causes them to lead a life governed by karmic habit rather than inner freedom generated through wisdom (vidyâ, jnâna)

Bhagavad-Gitâ ("Lord's Song"): the oldest full-fledged yoga book found embedded in the Mahâbhârata and containing the teachings on Karma-Yoga (the path of self-transcending action), Sâmkhya-Yoga (the path of discerning the principles of existence correctly), and Bhakti-Yoga (the path of devotion), as given by the God-man Krishna to Prince Arjuna on the battlefield 3,500 years or more ago

Bhakta ("devotee"): a disciple practicing Bhakti-Yoga

Bhakti ("devotion/love"): the love of the bhakta toward the Divine or the guru as a manifestation of the Divine; also the love of the Divine toward the devotee

Bhakti-Sûtra ("Aphorisms on Devotion"): an aphoristic work on devotional yoga authored by Sage Nârada; another text by the same title is ascribed to Sage Shândilya

Bhakti-Yoga ("Yoga of devotion"): a major branch of the yoga tradition, utilizing the feeling capacity to connect with the ultimate Reality conceived as a supreme Person (uttama-purusha)

Bodhisattva ("enlightenment being"): in Mahayana Buddhist yoga, the individual who, motivated by compassion (karunâ), is committed to achieving enlightenment for the sake of all other beings

Brahma ("he who has grown expansive"): the Creator of the universe, the first principle (tattva) to emerge out of the ultimate Reality (brahman)

Brahmacarya ([sometimes brahmacharya in English] from brahma and carya "brahmic conduct"): the discipline of chastity, which produces ojas

Brahman ("that which has grown expansive"): the ultimate Reality (cf. âtman, purusha)

Buddha ("awakened"): a designation of the person who has attained enlightenment (bodhi) and therefore inner freedom; honorific title of Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who lived in the sixth century B.C.E.

Buddhi ("she who is conscious, awake"): the higher mind, which is the seat of wisdom (vidyâ, jnâna); cf. manas


Cakra (sometimes spelled Chakra in English) ("wheel"): literally, the wheel of a wagon; metaphorically, one of the psycho-energetic centers of the subtle body (sûkshma-sharîra); in Buddhist yoga, five such centers are known, while in Hindu yoga often seven or more such centers are mentioned: mûla-âdhâra-cakra (mûlâdhâra-cakra) at the base of the spine, svadhishthâna-cakra at the genitals, manipura-cakra at the navel, anâhata-cakra at the heart, vishuddha- or vishuddhi-cakra at the throat, âjnâ-cakra in the middle of the head, and sahasrâra-cakra at the top of the head 

Cit ("consciousness"): the superconscious ultimate Reality (see âtman, brahman)

Citta ("that which is conscious"): ordinary consciousness, the mind, as opposed to cit


Darshana ("seeing"): vision in the literal and metaphorical sense; a system of philosophy, such as the yoga-darshana of Patanjali; cf. drishti

Dhâranâ ("holding"): concentration, the sixth limb (anga) of Patanjali's eight-limbed Yoga

Dharma ("bearer"): a term of numerous meanings; often used in the sense of "law," "lawfulness," "virtue," "righteousness," "norm"

Dhyâna ("ideating"): meditation, the seventh limb (anga) of Patanjali's eight-limbed Yoga

Drishti ("view/sight"): yogic gazing, such as at the tip of the nose or the spot between the eyebrows; cf. darshana

Duhkha ("bad axle space"): suffering, a fundamental fact of life, caused by ignorance (avidyâ) of our true nature (i.e., the Self or âtman)


Gheranda-Samhitâ ("[Sage] Gheranda's Compendium"): one of three major manuals of classical Hatha-Yoga, composed in the seventeenth century; cf. Hatha-Yoga-Pradîpikâ, Shiva-Samhitâ

Guna ("quality"): a term that has numerous meanings, including "virtue"; often refers to any of the three primary "qualities" or constituents of nature (prakriti): tamas (the principle of inertia), rajas (the dynamic principle), and sattva (the principle of lucidity)

Guru ("he who is heavy, weighty"): a spiritual teacher; cf. âcârya


Hatha-Yoga ("Forceful Yoga"): a major branch of yoga, developed by Goraksha and other adepts c. 1000 C.E., and emphasizing the physical aspects of the transformative path, notably postures (âsana) and cleansing techniques (shodhana), but also breath control (prânâyâma)

Hatha-Yoga-Pradîpikâ ("Light on Hatha[-Yoga]"): one of three classical manuals on Hatha-Yoga, authored by Svâtmârâma Yogendra in the fourteenth century


Idâ-nâdî ("pale conduit"): the prâna current or arc ascending on the left side of the central channel (sushumnâ-nâdî) associated with the parasympathetic nervous system and having a cooling or calming effect on the mind when activated; cf. pingalâ-nâdî

Îshvara-pranidhâna ("dedication to the Lord"): in Patanjali's eight-limbed Yoga one of the practices of self-restraint (niyama); see also Bhakti-Yoga






Japa ("muttering"): the recitation of mantras

Jnâna ("knowledge/wisdom"): both worldly knowledge or world-transcending wisdom, depending on the context; see also prajnâ; cf. avidyâ

Jnâna-Yoga ("Yoga of wisdom"): the path to liberation based on wisdom, or the direct intuition of the transcendental Self (âtman) through the steady application of discernment between the Real and the unreal and renunciation of what has been identified as unreal (or inconsequential to the achievement of liberation)


Kali: a Goddess embodying the fierce (dissolving) aspect of the Divine

Kali-yuga: the dark age of spiritual and moral decline, said to be current now; kali does not refer to the Goddess Kali but to the losing throw of a die

Karman, karma ("action"): activity of any kind, including ritual acts; said to be binding only so long as engaged in a self-centered way; the "karmic" consequence of one's actions; destiny

Karma-Yoga ("Yoga of action"): the liberating path of self-transcending action

Kosha (“casing”): any one of five “envelopes” surrounding the transcendental Self (âtman) and thus blocking its light: anna-maya-kosha (“envelope made of food,” the physical body), prâna-maya-kosha (“envelope made of life force”), mano-maya-kosha (“envelope made of mind”), vijnâna-maya-kosha (“envelope made of consciousness”), and ânanda-maya-kosha (“envelope made of bliss”); some older traditions regard the last kosha as identical with the Self (âtman





Krishna ("Puller"): an incarnation of God Vishnu, the God-man whose teachings can be found in the Bhagavad-Gitâ and the Bhagavata-Purana

Kundalinî-shakti ("coiled power"): according to Tantra and Hatha-Yoga, the serpent power or spiritual energy, which exists in potential form at the lowest psycho-energetic center of the body (i.e., the mûla-âdhâra-cakra) and which must be awakened and guided to the center at the crown (i.e., the sahasrâra-cakra) for full enlightenment to occur

Kundalini-Yoga: the yogic path focusing on the kundalinî process as a means of liberation


Laya-Yoga ("Yoga of dissolution"): an advanced form or process of Tantric Yoga by which the energies associated with the various psycho-energetic centers (cakra) of the subtle body are gradually dissolved through the ascent of the serpent power (kundalinî-shakti)


Mahâbhârata ("Great Bharata"): one of India's two great ancient epics telling of the great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and serving as a repository for many spiritual and moral teachings

Manas ("mind"): the lower mind, which is bound to the senses and yields information (vijnâna) rather than wisdom (jnâna, vidyâ); cf. buddhi

Mandala ("circle"): a circular design symbolizing the cosmos and specific to a deity

Mantra (from the verbal root man "to think"): a sacred sound or phrase, such as om, hum, or om namah shivaya, that has a transformative effect on the mind of the individual reciting it; to be ultimately effective, a mantra needs to be given in an initiatory context (dîkshâ)

Mantra-Yoga: the yogic path utilizing mantras as the primary means of liberation

Mâyâ ("she who measures"): the deluding or illusive power of the world; illusion by which the world is seen as separate from the ultimate singular Reality (âtman)

Moksha ("release"): the condition of freedom from ignorance (avidyâ) and the binding effect of karma; also called mukti, kaivalya

Mudrâ ("seal"): a hand gesture (such as cin-mudrâ) or whole-body gesture (such as viparîta-karanî-mudrâ); also a designation of the feminine partner in the tantric sexual ritual


Nâda ("sound"): the inner sound, as it can be heard through the practice of Nâda-Yoga or Kundalinî-Yoga

Nâda-Yoga ("Yoga of the [inner] sound"): the yoga or process of producing and intently listening to the inner sound as a means of concentration and ecstatic self-transcendence

Nâdî ("conduit"): one of 72,000 or more subtle channels along or through which the life force (prâna) circulates, of which the three most important ones are the idâ-nâdî, pingalâ-nâdî, and sushumnâ-nâdî

Niyama ("[self-]restraint"): the second limb of Patanjali's eightfold path, which consists of purity (saucha), contentment (samtosha), austerity (tapas), study (svâdhyâya), and dedication to the Lord (îshvara-pranidhâna)


Ojas ("vitality"): the subtle energy produced through practice, especially the discipline of chastity (brahmacarya)

Om: the original mantra symbolizing the ultimate Reality, which is prefixed to many mantric utterances


Patanjali: compiler of the Yoga-Sûtra, who lived c. 150 C.E.

Pingalâ-nâdî ("reddish conduit"): the prâna current or arc ascending on the right side of the central channel (sushumnâ-nâdî) and associated with the sympathetic nervous system and having an energizing effect on the mind when activated; cf. idâ-nâdî

Prajnâ (“wisdom”): the opposite of spiritual ignorance (ajnâna, avidyâ); one of two means of liberation in Buddhist Yoga, the other being skillfull means (upaya), i.e., compassion (karuna)

Prakriti ("creatrix"): Nature, which is multilevel and, according to Patanjali's yoga-darshana, consists of an eternal dimension (called pradhâna or "foundation"), levels of subtle existence (called sûkshma-parvan), and the physical or coarse realm (called sthûla-parvan); all of nature is deemed unconscious (acit), and therefore it is viewed as being in opposition to the transcendental Self or Spirit (purusha)

Prâna ("life/breath"): life in general; the life force sustaining the body; the breath as an external manifestation of the subtle life force

Prânâyâma (from prâna and âyâma, "life/breath extension"): breath control, the fourth limb (anga) of Patanjali's eightfold path, consisting of conscious inhalation (puraka) retention (kumbhaka) and exhalation (recaka); at an advanced state, breath retention occurs spontaneously for longer periods of time

Prasâda ("grace/clarity"): divine grace; mental clarity

Pratyâhâra ("withdrawal"): sensory inhibition, the fifth limb (anga) of Patanjali's eightfold path

Purusha ("male"): the transcendental Self (âtman) or Spirit, a designation that is mostly used in Sâmkhya and Patanjali's yoga-darshana


Râdhâ: the God-man Krishna's spouse; a name of the divine Mother

Râja-Yoga ("Royal Yoga"): a late medieval designation of Patanjali's eightfold yoga-darshana, also known as classical yoga

Râma: an incarnation of God Vishnu preceding Krishna; the principal hero of the Râmâyana

Râmâyana ("Rama's life"): one of India's two great national epics telling the story of Râma; cf. Mahâbhârata


Sâdhana ("accomplishing"): spiritual discipline leading to siddhi ("perfection" or "accomplishment"); the term is specifically used in Tantra

Samâdhi ("putting together"): the ecstatic or unitive state in which the meditator becomes one with the object of meditation, the eighth and final limb (anga) of Patanjali's eightfold path; there are many types of samadhi, the most significant distinction being between samprajnâta (conscious) and asamprajnâta (supraconscious) ecstasy; only the latter leads to the dissolution of the karmic factors deep within the mind; beyond both types of ecstasy is enlightenment, which is also sometimes called sahaja-samâdhi or the condition of "natural" or "spontaneous" ecstasy, where there is perfect continuity of superconscious throughout waking, dreaming, and sleeping

Sâmkhya ("number"): one of the main traditions of Hinduism, which is concerned with the classification of the principles (tattva) of existence and their proper discernment in order to distinguish between Spirit (purusha) and the various aspects of Nature (prakriti); this influential system grew out of the ancient (pre-Buddhist) Sâmkhya-Yoga tradition and was codified in the Sâmkhya-Kârikâ of Îshvara Krishna (c. 350 C.E.)

Samnyâsa (sometimes spelled Sannyasa in English) ("casting off"): the state of renunciation, which is the fourth and final stage of life (see âshrama) and consisting primarily in an inner turning away from what is understood to be finite and secondarily in an external letting go of finite things; cf. vairâgya

Samsâra ("confluence"): the finite world of change, as opposed to the ultimate Reality (brahman or nirvâna)

Samskâra ("activator"): the subconscious impression left behind by each act of volition, which, in turn, leads to renewed psychomental activity; the countless samskaras hidden in the depth of the mind are ultimately eliminated only in asamprajnâta-samâdhi (see samâdhi)

Sat-sanga ("true company/company of Truth"): the practice of frequenting the good company of saints, sages, Self-realized adepts, and their disciples, in whose company the ultimate Reality can be felt more palpably

Satya ("truth/truthfulness"): truth, a designation of the ultimate Reality; also the practice of truthfulness, which is an aspect of moral discipline (yama)

Shakti ("power"): the ultimate Reality in its feminine aspect, or the power pole of the Divine; see also kundalinî-shakti

Shakti-pâta ("descent of power"): the process of initiation, or spiritual baptism, by means of the benign transmission of an advanced or even enlightened adept (siddha), which awakens the shakti within a disciple, thereby initiating or enhancing the process of liberation

Shiva ("He who is benign"): the Divine; a deity that has served yogins as an archetypal model throughout the ages

Sushumnâ-nâdî ("very gracious channel"): the central prâna current or arc in or along which the serpent power (kundalinî-shakti) must ascend toward the psychoenergetic center (cakra) at the crown of the head in order to attain liberation (moksha)

Sûtra ("thread"): an aphoristic statement; a work consisting of aphoristic statements, such as Patanjali's Yoga-Sûtra or Vasugupta's Shiva Sûtra

Svâdhyâya ("one's own going into"): study, an important aspect of the yogic path, listed among the practices of self-restraint (niyama) in Patanjali's eightfold yoga; the recitation of mantras (see also japa)


Tantra ("Loom"): a type of Sanskrit work containing Tantric teachings; the tradition of Tantrism, which focuses on the shakti side of spiritual life and which originated in the early post-Christian era and achieved its classical features around 1000 C.E.; Tantrism has a "right-hand" (dakshina) or conservative and a "left-hand" (vama) or unconventional/antinomian branch, with the latter utilizing, among other things, sexual rituals

Tapas ("glow/heat"): austerity, penance, which is an ingredient of all yogic approaches, since they all involve self-transcendence


Upanishad ("sitting near"): a type of scripture representing the concluding portion of the revealed literature of Hinduism, hence the designation Vedânta for the teachings of these sacred works; cf. Âranyaka, Brâhmana, Veda


Vairagya (“dispassion”): the attitude of inner renunciation, the counterpole to abhyâsa; cf. samnyâsa

Veda (“knowledge”): the body of sacred wisdom found in the four Vedic hymnodies that form the source of Hinduism: Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sâma-Veda, and Atharva-Veda; also the collective name for these hymnodies; cf. Vedânta

Vedânta (“Veda’s end”): the teachings forming the doctrinal conclusion of the revealed literature (shruti) of Hinduism; see also Upanishad; cf. Âranyaka, Brâhmana, Veda

Vidyâ (“knowledge/wisdom”) — a synonym of prajnâ

Vishnu (“Worker”): the deity who is worshiped by the Vaishnavas and who has had nine incarnations, including Râma and Krishna, with the tenth incarnation (avatâra)—Kalki—coming at the close of the kali-yuga

Vritti (“whirl”): in Patanjali’s yoga-darshana, specifically the five types of mental activity: valid cognition (pramâna), misconception (viparyaya), imagination (vikalpa), sleep (nidrâ), and memory (smriti)


Yama (“discipline”): the first “limb” (anga) of Patanjali’s eightfold path, comprising moral precepts that have universal validity (such as nonharming and truthfulness); also the name of the Hindu deity of death

Yantra (“device”): a geometric design representing the body of one’s meditation deity, used for external and internal worship

Yoga (“union/discipline”): the unitive discipline by which inner freedom is sought; spiritual practice, as practiced in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism; the spiritual tradition specific to India; the specific school of Patanjali (see ashta-anga-yoga)

Yoga-Sûtra (“Aphorisms of yoga”): Patanjali’s aphoristic compilation forming the source of Râja-Yoga, also called “classical yoga”

Adapted from Georg Feuerstein’s "Glossary of Yoga Terms" with permission from Traditional Yoga Studies (TYS).