The main point of this section is to expose you to some of the major words/concepts/topics of the yoga tradition. This glossary is also an overview of what we will be learning during our 200-hr yoga teacher training. I have referred to this as “Basic Yoga Literacy 108” – the basic ideas that every yoga teacher would do well to be aware of, both for your own edification and growth, and also to be the most informed yoga professional possible.
Advaita (Ad-Vai-Tah) (literally, “not two”). The philosophy of non-duality found first in the Upanishads. The idea that in reality, Reality is only ONE, not two, as it appears to be. (Also, Advaita Vedanta. See Vedanta below.)
Ahimsa (Ah-Him-Sah). Non-harming. Non-injury. The first and most important moral principle of yoga.
Ajna (Agya). The third eye chakra. The guru or command center. The seat of intuition and wisdom. The seat of theBuddhi, or higher mind/intellect. Place to keep one’s drishti or focus in yoga practice.
Amrita (Ahm-Rita) (Literally, non-death.) Immortal/Immortality.
Ananda (Ahh-Nan-Dah). Utter joy. Bliss. Those who experience this in their body will often turn to a practice like yoga. Some get a taste of this while in Shavasana.
Anandamaya Kosha (Ahh-Nanda-My-Ah Ko-Sha. The Body of Bliss. The Bliss Sheath, which is the fifth of the 5 Koshas. Can be accessed through our yoga practice.
Anga (Ang-ah). Limb. As in “Ashtanga” and “Chaturanga.”
Aparigraha (A-Paree-Graha). Non-greed, non-hoarding, not coveting (one of the yamas).
Asana. (Ah-Sana) Literally: Seat, seated posture. Later, in Hatha Yoga, it became more connected with the more physical yoga postures.
Ashram. (Ahsh-Ram) A retreat or secluded place where one can immerse themselves in yoga 24/7.
Ashtanga Yoga (Ash-Tang-Ah Yo-gah). The 8-limbed path of yoga. Also known as “Patanjali Yoga,” “The Royal Path,” and “Classical Yoga.” Not to be confused with the modern style of yoga, also called “Ashtanga Yoga,” that was developed by TVK Krishnamacharya and his student, Pattabhi Jois.
Asmita (Ah-Smeet-Ah). Ego, individuality, I-am-ness. What yoga helps us to understand and use in a life-promoting way.
Asteya (Ah-Stay-Ah). Non-stealing (one of the yamas, the first limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga).
Atman (Aht-Mahn). The immortal soul, which ultimately is no different than “Brahman,” or the Absolute Self. Realizing this is what is referred to as “Self-Realization.”
Avatar (Ah-Vah-Tar). Descent of God into human form to awaken humanity. In the Hindu consciousness, Jesus was a great avatar, yet not the only one. Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and other great spirits down through the millennia have also been avatars, and there are some even living today.
Ayurveda (I-Yur-Vay-Dah). The Science of Longevity. India’s indigenous natural medicine (one of 2 indigenous systems, actually, but more well-known in the West). Sister science of yoga, and important for all serious yoga students to explore.
Bala (Bah-Lah). Child (as in Balasana, Child’s Pose). Like Jesus, my yoga teachers emphasize becoming as open and innocent as a little child.
Bandha (Bahn-Dha). Lock, bind. A way to lock in and pull up the energy generated through yoga practice. Traditionally also seen as a means of raising kundalini.
Bhagavad-Gita (Bah-Gah-Vad-Gee-Tah). (“Song of God.”). Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, gives the deeper teachings of yoga to Arjuna
Bhakti Yoga (BahK-Tee Yo-Gah). The path of devotion, using chanting, singing, worship. Losing oneself in love for the Beloved. Considered the quickest and easiest means of connecting with Source in this day and age.
Brahma (Brah-Ma). The Creator of the Universe. The first part of the Hindu trinity of Gods: Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, who govern Creation (Brahma), Preservation/Evolution (Vishnu), and Destruction (Shiva). (Not to be confused with “Brahman,” see below.)
Brahmacharya (Brah-Ma-Char-Yuh). Literally, the “conduct of Brahma.” The first of the four stages of life in Indian tradition, meaning the unmarried stage when one is fulling focusing on yoga study and practice. Some yoga lineages understand this to mean perfect celibacy (in thought, word, and deed), while others understand it more in the sense of continence – being moderate in the use of one’s life energy, particularly sexual energy.
Brahman (Brah-Mun) The Supreme Self, beyond all names, forms, limitations. The Hindu term for “God” with no human attributes.
(not to be confused with…)
Brahmin (Brah-Min). The priestly caste. The highest caste of the Hindu social order, responsible for preserving the Hindu way of life (Sanatana Dharma — see below).
Buddhi (Bood-Dhee). The intellect. The higher mind. That which helps us make conscious, wise, life-promoting choices.
Chakra (Chahk-Rah). Literally “wheel.” Chakras are psycho-energetic centers located in the subtle body which spin and radiate life force energy. Different traditions have different numbers of chakras (in the Buddhist tradition there are 5, for example), but in the West there are generally seen to be 7 centers that are located from the sacrum at the base of the spine to the crown of the head. (See Kundalini)
Chatur (Cha-Toor). Four. As in “Chaturanga,” or 4 Limbs (meaning 4 limbs touching the ground, the 2 hands and 2 feet).
Cit (Chit). Pure consciousness. The superconscious Ultimate Reality (see Sat-Chit-Ananda)
Citta (Chit-Ta). Mindstuff, ordinary consciousness (as opposed to “Cit”). The Yoga Sutras (1.2) defines yoga as ”yogash citta vritti nirodhaha” – the cessation of the fluctuations of the mindstuff is yoga.
Darshan (Dar-Shan). Seeing the divine. When we look into another’s eyes and truly see the divine within them, the same as within us, this is “darshan.” Going to see a yoga master is also called “receiving darshan.”
Deva (Day-Vah). (Literally “He who is shining”) A God, such as Shiva, Krishna, Rama, etc. Possibly the equivalent of a high angelic being in the western tradition.
Devi (Day-Vee). (“She who is shining”). A Goddess, such as Sita, Kali, Durga, Chandi, Lalita, etc. Possibly the equivalent of a high angelic being in the western tradition.
Dharana (DAH-Rah-Nah) From the word dhri meaning “to hold firm,” this is concentration or holding the mind to one thought, and is the 6th of the 8 Limbed-Path of Yoga (see Ashtanga Yoga).
Dharma (DAHr-Mah). Has many meanings. Law, righteousness, religion, the world order. What must be in place in order for the world to “go ’round.”
Dhyana (Deeyah-Nah). Meditation. The 7th of the 8 Limbed-Path of Yoga.
Doshas (Dosh-Ahs). The ayurvedic constitutions, of which there are 3: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Each person generally has one predominant dosha, and one secondarily dominant dosha. Some are tri-doshic, having an equivalent amount of each.
Drishti (Drish-Tee). Means both “gaze,” and where one fixes one’s gaze during yoga practice. For example, during a balance pose, one’s drishti might be at a point on the floor.
Dukha (Dook-Ha). Suffering, due to ignorance of our true nature. The first of the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths. (See Sukha).
Gayatri (Gaia-Tree). A prayer for enlightenment found in the Vedas. Called the “Mother of all Mantras.” One of the most revered mantras of the Hindu tradition. Recited by millions of Hindus to this day, generally at sunrise.
Guna (Goo-Nah). A fundamental idea in one of the six philosophical traditions of India, Samkhya, the gunas are the three fundamental operating systems or “tendencies” of Prakriti (universal nature). The three gunas are: sattva guna, rajas guna, and tamas guna. These three gunas are responsible for carrying out the entire work of creation, and are found in every part and parcel of creation, though in different combinations.. For us, they mean this: Tamas is the tendency toward laziness, torpor, lethargy, dullness. We can move from this state by using Rajas, the tendency of dynamism, movement, activity. Rajas itself can be then used to move into a state of Sattva, which is the tendency of clarity/lucidity, purity, balance. This is the state that a good to which a good yoga class will bring us.
Guru (Goo-Roo). Literally, “Heavy.” A spiritual teacher. The one who brings light to the darkness.
Hara (Har-ah). Epithet (name) of Shiva. Example from Kirtan: “Hara Hara Hara Mahadeva.”
(not to be confused with…)
Hare/Hari (Har-ay / Haree). Epithet of Vishnu (and also Rama and Krishna, avatars of Vishnu). Example: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama/Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Also: “Hari Bol!”
Hatha yoga (Hot-Ha Yo-Gah). Literally, “Forceful Yoga.” A major branch of yoga that was systematized around 1000 C.E. Symbolically, Hatha Yoga is the process by which the Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha) become conjoined, resulting in “yoga,” or unification (more on this later). Hatha Yoga is the umbrella term for almost all of the modern styles of yoga (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, etc.). It’s like saying “Martial Arts,” also an umbrella term which includes Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, etc.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Hot-Ha Yo-Gah Pra-Dee-Pee-Kah) ”Light on Hatha Yoga.” A Hatha Yoga manual from the 14th century by Yogi Swatmarama, one of the 3 works of Hatha Yoga that are considered classical.
Ida (Ee-Duh). One of the 2 main nadis, or energy channels, that winds around the Sushumna, or Central Channel. (See,Pingala).
Ishvara-pranidhana (Eesh-Vara Pranee-Dhah-Nah). Self-Surrender to the Divine (one of the niyamas). ”Not my will, but Thy will.”
Japa (Jah-Pah). The repetition of a mantra, often using prayer beads (see Mala).
Jaya/Jai (Jie-Uh/Jie). Jaya is Sanskrit, and Jai is the more modern Hindi word meaning the same thing, “Victory.” Perhaps the root of our modern interjection/exclamation, “Yay!” This word is often said before or after a great personage’s name: ”Gandhi-ji Ki Jai!” or “Jaya Hanuman!”
Ji (Gee). A term of respect/adoration/endearment added at the end of a person’s name. For example, Gandhi-ji (see above). (Note: This is the most common of several variants just as “Di” and “Ki.”)
Jnana (Gyah-Nah). Spiritual knowledge, Wisdom, “Gnosis.” This comes generally through a deep process of “self-inquiry,” often using the practice of neti-neti (see below), which involves the process of removing all that one is not so that one can see what is truly Real.
Jnana yoga (Gyah-Nah Yo-Gah). The path of knowledge or wisdom. The path of deep inquiry, of questioning everything and going beyond mere belief to KNOWING.
Karma (Kar-Mah). Literally “action.” Any action, and binding one only if done in a self-centered way.
Karma Yoga (Kar-Mah). The path of selfless action, selfless service. Acting without attachment to the outcome. Has come to mean “charity” these days, but is way deeper than that.
Krishna (Krish-Nah). An avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu the Preserver, who is believed to have lived about 5,000 years ago in ancient India. Perhaps most famous for being the chariot-driver of Arjuna in the popular scripture, the Bhagavad Gita(Song of God).
Popularly depicted either as a mischievous child (Balakrishna), or as a young man playing a flute and sometimes surrounded by his consort, Radha, or his gopis (beautiful young maidens charmed by his charisma).
Kriya. (Kree-Yah). From the same root as “karma,” meaning “action, work, doing.” Kriya, like most Sanskrit words, has many meanings. Generally it means “a cleansing,” “purification,” or any practice that purifies. Typical kriyas include laughing, crying, profuse heat and sweating, spontaneous asanas, pranayama, singing, moaning, howling, shrieking…In Kundalini Yoga (3HO style), a Kriya is a specific set of exercises done for a specific purpose. The term is also found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and is also the form of yoga taught in the Yogananda lineage.
Kundalini. (Koon-Dah-Lee-NEE) A cosmic energy in the body that is often compared to a snake lying coiled at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened. Kundalini is derived from kundala, which means a “ring” or “coil.” Can be awakened via yogic practices such as asanas, breathwork, by grace, or with the help of a teacher.
Lakshmi (also, Laxmi) (Lock-Shmee). The Goddess of wealth, abundance, prosperity, beauty. Also known as “The Kitchen Goddess” because her image is found in most Indian kitchens. The word “Sri” (SHREE) is often used in connection with her.
Lila (Lee-La) Play. The idea that everything is just the “Play of Consciousness” — the Play of the One (University) wanting to become two (Diversity) and re-experience the original Oneness again.
Mandala. (Mahn-Dala) A circular geometric design that represents the cosmos and the spirit’s journey.
Mala (Ma-lah). Prayer beads, rosary, which can be made from various substances – crystal, rudraksha, sandalwood, etc. Generally malas have 109 beads (108+1) and are used for japa (repeated recitation of a mantra).
Mantra (Mahn-Tra). A word or phrase that is repeated for the purposes of mastering the mind.
Maya. (My-Ah). Cosmic Illusion. The veil(s) that keep us from seeing what is Real, the true Self.
Mudras. (Moo-Drahs) Hand gestures that direct the life current through the body.
Nada (Nah-Duh). Sound. The Yoga of Sound (Nada Yoga), which is part of the Hatha Yoga tradition and which involves tuning in to specific sound vibrations in meditation.
Nadi. (Nah-Dee) Energy channel (meridian) in the subtle body that can become blocked through
Nadi Shodhana. (Nah-Dee Show-DAH-Nah) ”Cleansing the Nadis.” Any yoga practice can do this, but this often refers specifically to the practice of alternate nostril breathing.
Namasté (Nah-Mah-Stay). This is the modern, Hindi way of saying “The Divine within me bows to the Divine within You.” The more ancient, Sanskrit term is ”Namaskar,” as in “Surya Namaskar,” bowing to the sun (Sun Salutation).
Neti-neti (Ne-Tee Ne-Tee). Means “Not this. Not this.” In meditation, you gently dismiss thoughts, images, concepts, sounds, and distractions by applying the principle of neti-neti or telling yourself, “Not this. Not this.”
Niyamas (Nee-Yamas). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined five niyamas or observances relating to inner discipline and responsibility. They are purity, contentment, self-discipline, study of the sacred text, and living with the awareness of God.
Ojas. (Oh-Juss). Literally means “vigor”. According to the principles of Ayurveda, it is the essential energy of the body which can be equated with the “fluid of life”. Those who practice Ayurveda say that Ojas is the sap of one’s life energy which, when sufficient, is equated with a strong immune system and when deficient, results in weakness, fatigue and ultimately disease.
Om, or Aum. The Cosmic Hum, The Word, the Logos, the Creative Sound of God. A sound that brings intention into creative manifestation, hence the reason it is chanted at the outset of yoga classes. (Other names include “Pranava” and “Omkara.”)
Prana (Prah-Nah). Life energy, life force, or life current. We also like Yogananda’s description of prana as lifetrons. These finer-than-atomic energies have inherent intelligence, according to Yogananda, as opposed to atoms and electrons, which are considered to be blind forces. The Chinese call this life force chi.
Pranayama (Prah-Nah-Yah-Mah). Method of controlling prana or life force through the regulation of breathing.
Pratyahara (Prat-Yah-Har-Ah). Withdrawing the senses in order to still the mind as in meditation.
Raja (Rah-Jah). King, Royal. As in “Raja Yoga” – the Royal Path, aka Ashtanga Yoga, Classical Yoga, and Patanjali Yoga. Some of the most advanced of the Hatha Yoga postures have the designation “Raja” – Raja Bhujangasana (King Cobra), Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon).
Raja yoga (Rah-Jah Yo-Gah). The meditative path, leading to Samadhi. Synonymous with “Ashtanga Yoga,” “Classical Yoga,” and “Patanjali Yoga.”
Rama (Rah-Muh). Ancient King of the Indian city Ayodhya. Considered to be an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. Hero of the epic story, the Ramayana. Husband of Sita. Very popular deity/god in the Hindu pantheon, adored by millions worldwide.
Sadhana (Sod-Dana). Yoga practice, or a specific yoga practice, which could be anything. ”Taking care of my children every day is my sadhana.”
Sankalpa (Sun-Kalpah). Intention, Purpose. What is recommended before beginning your practice, or any particularly special activity.
Santosha (Sahn-Toe-Shah). Contentment (one of the niyamas).
Saraswati. (Sah-Ras-Wuh-TEE). Popular Goddess of learning and the arts. Consort of Brahma, the Creator.
Sat (Sot). What is real, because it is non-changing. As opposed to “asat,” that which is unreal — the world of changing phenomena.
Sat-Chit-Ananda (Sot-Chit-Ah-Nahn-Dah). Sometimes translated as “Existence Consciousness Bliss,” which has been referred to as our “true nature.” Satya (Sot-Yah). Truthfulness and honesty (one of the yamas).
Samadhi (Sah-Ma-Dhee). State of absolute bliss, superconsciousness, cosmic consciousness, at-one-ment, and many other names, because the state is indescribable.
Seva (Say-Vah). Selfless Service. (See, Karma Yoga)
Shakti (Shock-Tee). Divine energy Also, Kundalini energy (“Kundalini Shakti”), the energy at the base of the spine that is symbolized as a coiled serpent. Shakti expands through our yoga practice, mainly due to the release of blockages.
Shauca (Shau-Chah). Purity, inner and outer cleanliness (one of the niyamas).
Shiva (She-Vah). “Auspicious.” “Benevolent.” A major deity of the Hindu pantheon. Shiva was originally the god Rudra in the Vedic period. Shiva, like the many other Hindu gods and goddesses, has many names. Some of his more familiar ones are: “Mahadeva,” the Great God; “Mahayogi,” the Great Yogi; “Nataraja,” Lord of the Dance (of Destruction.) Shiva is also known as “The Destroyer” because he dissolves the human ego, bringing it back to its original unity. Shiva is generally seen to be the god most associated with Hatha Yoga, and in some cases, the original teacher of Hatha Yoga. Those who worship Shiva in India are known as “Shaivites.” Shiva is also the third part of the Trimurti, or trinity of gods, with Brahma (the Creator), and Vishnu (the Preserver).
Shodhana (Show-Dah-Nah). Yogic cleansing ritual.
Siddha (Sid-Dah). A yoga adept – someone adept at yoga. One who as acquired siddhis (see below). Also, a yoga master, a perfect master.
Siddhi (Sid-He). Yogic powers. The Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts talk about various special powers that emerge naturally through the practice of yoga, yet they also warn that these powers can be obstacles to the true goal of yoga.
Sri. (Shree). Title of reverence or respect for a great teacher, teaching, object, or symbol. Similar but not exactly analogous to the words “Sir” and “Sire” in English. Examples: Sri Krishna. Sri Karunamayi. Sri Chakra. Sri Vidya. One of my teachers is named “Shree Maa,” that being another way of writing “Sri.” ”Sri” also means “divine beauty.”
Sukha (Sue-Kah). Easy, comfortable, happy (as opposed to dukha, suffering). Usages: Sukhasana is simple cross-legged pose (“Indian-style”). “Sthira Sukham Asanam” is a key idea from the Yoga Sutras meaning that steadiness/stability and ease/comfort contstitute perfection in asana (posture, seat).
Svadhyaya (Swah-Dhyie-Yah). Self-study. The process of inquiring into your own nature, the nature of your beliefs, and the nature of the world’s spiritual journey (one of the niyamas).
Swami (Swah-Me). Title of respect for a spiritual master. Well-known Swamis: Swami Vivekananda. Swami Rama. Swami Muktananda. Swami Beyondananda : ) Etc.
Tantra (Than-Trah). This yoga uses visualization, chanting, asana, and strong breathing practices to tap highly charged kundalini energy in the body.
Tapas (Tah-Pahs) “Heat, Glow.” Self-discipline or austerity (one of the niyamas). When we heat our bodies through Hatha Yoga, for example, this is a purifying heat and so a form of tapas. Just remember, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the fire.
Tejas (Tay-Juss). Splendour, brilliance, light, clearness of the eyes , the vital power, spiritual majesty, dignity, glory, authority, the fire in opposition, ardour, efficacy, essence.
Ujjayi (You-Jie-ee) Breathing exercise that produces sound in the throat with the inhalation. Builds the prana, or life force. Quiets and focuses the mind. Used especially with Vinyasa styles of Hatha Yoga.
Upanishad (Ooh-Pon-i-Shod). “Sitting Near.” Scriptures that came after the Vedas in which the ideas of Vedanta (see below) and Yoga first really begin to be developed. The name “Upanishad” refers to how in the time they were written, young boys would go into the forest to learn at the feet of their master. Traditionally there are 108 Upanishads, but only some of these are considered major and referred to often.
Veda (Vay-Dah). Literally “knowledge” or “science.” The Vedas are the oldest and most venerable of all the Hindu scriptures, dating back at least 3-4 centuries. Perhaps analogous in their importance to the Bible of the Western canon/culture. From these, other vedic sciences developed, such as the science of “Ayurveda,” which is one of the oldest indigenous systems of medicine known to humankind.
Vedanta (Vedan-Tah). Literally, the “End of the Vedas.” The epitome of what the Vedas teach, their highest teaching, which is the idea of “Oneness.”
Vinyasa (Vin-Yah-Sah). Steady flow of connected yoga postures linked with breath work in a continuous movement. For example: Sun Salutation. Part of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition brought to the West through the teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya and taught primarily by his student, Pattabhi Jois. Now adapted (co-opted) by other styles of yoga, such as Power Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, etc.
Yamas (Yah-Mahs). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined five yamas or ways to relate to others — moral conduct. They are nonviolence; truth and honesty; nonstealing; moderation; and nonpossessiveness.
Yantra (Yahn-Tra). “Instrument.” “Machine.” Generally refers to sacred geometric patterns (“Sacred Geometry”; see also “Mandala”) that are used in meditation and for ritual purposes. The most well-known and revered yantra in the Hindu tradition is the Sri Yantra (also, Sri Chakra), specifically found in certain tantric schools in South India. A Sri Yantra is the centerpiece of the altar of my teacher, Sri Karunamayi, at her ashram in Bangalore, South India. Sri Karunamayi also encourages her devotees to do puja (worship ritual) to the Sri Yantra. Other well-known yantras are the shatkona(hexagram), and swastika (symbol of good fortune that was perverted by the Nazis). Coming from a Jewish background, when I first visited Karunamayi’s ashram, I was somewhat surprised to see images of the swastika within the shatkona (also popularly known as “the Jewish Star” or “Star of David”).
Yoga (Yo-Gah). Derived from the Sanskrit word for “yoke” or “join together.” Essentially, it means union. It is the science of uniting the individual soul with the cosmic spirit through physical disciplines (postures) and mental disciplines (meditation). Patanjali offers the best definition: “Yoga is the cessation of mind.”
Yogi (Yo-Gee). Someone who practices yoga, specifically a man, but sometimes applied to women.
Yogini (Yo-Gee-Nee). A female yogi. Today the yoginis are beginning to outnumber the yogis!
Z No Zs in Sanskrit, sorry, but you might want to catch some after all that, go get some rest. I’ll do the same, g’nite! zzzzzzz Seriously, please do the following Innercise…. INNERCISE: What did this all do for you? How did it make you feel? Excited to learn all these new words, or to become aware of ones you hadn’t heard before? Turned off by all of this foreign, esoteric language, and wondering what you signed up for here? Etc. And what words or ideas did you find most interesting here? Which words piqued your curiosity enough to want to explore further?