Meet Me at Yoga | Sanskrit Glossary
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Sanskrit Glossary


Abhinivesha. Clinging to bodily life, the will to live.

Abhyasa. Practice, continuous effort.

Agni. The Ayurvedic principle of digestive fire, which is said to not only help digests food buy emotional and intellectual experience as well.

Ahimsa. Non violence to yourself and others. The first of Patanjali’s yamas and the foundation of the practice of yoga.

Ananda. Bliss.

Apana. The downward-moving prana in the body. Energy descends from the navel pit within the human body. Its sphere of influence is the abdominal region. Apana is said to regulate biological functions such as urination, defecation, and menstruation.

Aparigraha. Non greed, non hoarding, non acceptance of gifts. The fifth of Patanjali’s yamas.

Asana. Yogic postures. The third limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.

Ashtanga yoga. Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of Raja Yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. Also the name of a style of yoga propagated by Pattabhi Jois.

Asteya. Non stealing. The third of Patanjali’s yamas.

Atman. The Self.

Ayurveda. The ancient science of Indian medicine that includes dietary and lifestyle suggestions, body work, herbal remedies and even surgery.


Bandha. Literally locks, bandha involve muscular contractions that subtly alter the position of the spine, and are said to effect the flow of prana during certain yogic practices. See Mula bandha, Jalandhara bandha, and Uddiyana bandha.

Bhagavad Gita. A Hindu scripture, a portion of the great epic the Mahabharata composed perhaps 2400 years ago.

Brahmacharya. Continence. Sometimes interpreted as celibacy, but also less strictly understood as having integrity and following the other yamas in sexual relationships. Practically speaking, it means to have moderation in all things. The fourth of Patanjali’s yamas.


Chakras. Literally wheels, chakras are energy centers that yoga teaches run along the spine from the base (root chakra) to the crown of the head.


Dharana. Concentration, the sixth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.

Dharana. Concentration, the sixth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.

Dharma. One’s duty or destiny in life, and by extension one’s purpose and path.

Dhyana. Meditation, the seventh limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.

Dosha. Literally, that which goes out of balance. The Ayurvedic doshas are kapha, pitta, and vata. Each person is said to be specific balance of the three, which predisposes them to cehich also includes Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva.

Dukha. Suffering, pain, sorrow, grief. The opposite of sukha. Patanjali taught future suffering can be avoided.

Dvesha. Dislike, aversion.


Guna. Quality, characteristic, attribute. The three qualities (gunas) of nature: activity (rajas), inertia (tamas), and balance (sattva) that in yogic and Ayurvedic teaching are said to infuse everything.

Guru. A sprititual guide or teacher.


Hatha yoga. Literally “forceful” yoga. The yogic path that includes yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, mudras, and in some people’s definition, meditation as well. In the west, it has come to be used as a generic term for various styles of yoga that include the physical poses.


Ida. Postulated energy pathway, or nadi, running along the spine. Ida extends to the left nostril and is associated with relaxation and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Ishvara. The Lord. Ishvara is the term for God that Patanjali used in the Yoga Sutras.

Ishvara pranidhana. Literally “devotion to God”, metaphorically “giving up the illusion of being in control of what happens.” The fifth of Patanjali’s niyamas.


Jalandhara bandha. The chin lock, used, for example, in Shoulderstand.

Japa.Fingering mala beads while reciting mantra.

Jnana yoga. The yoga of knowledge which involves study of yogic texts as well as direct experience of practices including meditation.


Kapalabhati. Literally “skull-shining”. A breathing technique in which breath is forcefully exhaled and passively inhaled, at rapid rates. Also sometimes referred to Breath of Fire. See Bhastrika.

Kapha. The Ayurvedic dosha associated with water and earth. Characterized by inertia and stability.

Karma. Literally “action”, karma refers to the laws of cause and effect. In the yogic view, every thought, word, and deed creates karma and affects what happens later.

Karma yoga. The yoga of work, of selfless service. Karma yoga, as articulated in the Bhagavad Vita, is about giving your best effort and letting go of any attachment to what happens as a result.

Kosha. The sheaths or layers of human existence as postulated in yogic lore. The five sheaths include the physical, prana or life force, lower mind (manas), higher mind (buddhi), and bliss (ananda).

Kriya. Cleansing practices. Also used to specify yogic practice designed to have a specific effect. Patanjali defines kriya yoga, the yoga of action, as tapas, svadyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana, the last three niyamas.

Kumbhaka. Breath retention, usually done during pranayama. Holding can be done either after inhalation (Antara Kumbhaka), after exhalation (Bahya Kumbhaka), or both.

Kundalini. The “serpent energy”, said to lie at the base of the spine in yogic lore. when activated, Kundalini rises up the spine to the crown of the head.


Mala beads. Precursor to the Roman Catholic rosary, a string of beads to finger while chanting mantra.

Mantra. A word or phrase, often from a sacred text, chanted or said silently to oneself. “Om” is probably the most famous one.

Moksha. Enlightenment or liberation. The ultimate goal of yoga.

Mudra. Literally a “seal”. Various gestures and positions of the hands and body.

Mula bandha. The root lock. A subtle muscular contraction of pelvic muscles said to bring energy up the spine.


Nadis. Postulated energy pathways in the body, analogous to the traditional Chinese medical concept of meridians.

Nadi Sodhana. Alternate nostril breathing. The pranayama practice is said to balance the energy between the left and right nostrils and with that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. See Ida and Pingala.

Nidra. Sleep as in the guided meditation Yoga Nidra.

Niyamas. The “do’s” or personal observances. The second limb of Patanjali’s eight0limb system of yoga, which includes tapas, sauca, santosha, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana.


Patanjali. Compiler of the Yoga Sutras, the approximately 2000 years old collection of aphorisms that many consider the most important text on yoga.

Pingala. Postulated energy pathway or nadi running along the spine. Pingala extends to the right nostril and is associated with activation of the sympathetic nervous system, causing physical and psychological stimulation.

Pitta. The Ayurvedic dosha associated with fire. Characterized by intelligence, passion, and anger.

Prakriti. One’s inborn Ayurvedic constitution, kapha or vata-pitta, for example.

Prana. The breath or life force. Analogous to the Chinese concept of chi.

Pranayama. Yogic breathing exercises. The fourth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.


Rajas/rajastic. The quality of activity or restlessness. One of tthree gunas or qualities described in yoga and Ayurveda. See also Tamas and Sattva.

Raja yoga. “Royal” yoga is a synonym for the classical yoga of Patanjali.


Samadhi. The state of complete absorption. The eight limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga.

Samskara. Ingrained patterns or “grooves” of thought or behavior. In yoga, old samskaras are oercome by establishing new ones.

Sankalpa. The yogic tool of intention. Intention is what you plan to do, a promise to yourself, not what you hope will happen as a result.

Santosha. Contentment. The second of Patanjali’s niyamas.

Sattva. The quality of calm, clearheadedness, and balance. One of three gunas or qualities described in yoga and Ayurveda. See also Tamas and Rajas.

Satya. Non-lying or truthfulness. The second of Patanjali’s yamas.

Sauca. Purity, cleanliness. The first of Patanjali’s niyamas.

Sitali. Literally “cooling”. A pranayama done with the inhalation through a curled tongue.

Sthira. The principle of steadiness and firmness. Asana, Patanjali says, should be a balance of steadiness and case.

Sukha. Happiness or ease.

Sushumna. The postulated central channel or nadi through which prana or Kundalini energy flows up the spine from the root chakra to the crown of the head. In yogic teaching, sushumna is only opened when ida and pingala are balanced and breathing is equal between the two nostrils, as happens in meditation.

Svadhyaya. The traditional meaning was study and chanting of the scriptures. In more modern usage it means self-study. The fourth of Patanjali’s niyamas.


Tamas/tamasic. Characterized by inertia or dullness. One of three gunas or qualities described in yoga and Ayurveda. See also Rajas and Sattva.

Tantra. An ancient yogic path that stresses that enlightenment can come through the body, and not just by transcending it as is taught in the more ascetic, classical yoga.

Tapas. Fire, discipline, devotion. The third of Patanjali’s niyamas.


Uddiyana bandha. The solar plexus lock. Drawing up the abdomn inward and upward. This is best appreciated when done during breath holding after a complete exhalation.

Ujjayi. Victorious breath. A sound made by narrowing the vocal cords. This is a type of pranayama and is encouraged during asana.


Vata. The Ayurvedic constitutional type or dosha associated with air. Characterized by creativity, movement and indecision.

Vinyasa. A link or connection, to “place in a special way”. Vinyasa is the linking of the breath and movement. A flowing sequence. A style of hatha yoga in which practitioners flow from pose to pose with the breath.


Yamas. Moral injunctions. The first limb of Patanjali’s eight-limb system of yoga.

Yoga. The state of union. A technology of life transformation. Often referred to the practices, particularly asana, that comprise yoga.

Yogi. One committed to the path of yoga. Technically, the term yogin is used for a male practitioner, and yogini for a female, though the term yogi is sometimes used for either.