Brush Up on Your Sanskrit for Yoga

meditation pic If you practice any form of yoga, you have probably heard some of the basic Sanskrit words associated with the discipline, but do you know exactly what they mean? Many yoga instructors use both Sanskrit and English terms for poses and concepts, so if you’re new to yoga, you may be struggling to build your language skills at the same time you are learning a new routine. The definitions below may help both beginning and intermediate students become more comfortable with mixing one of the world’s ancient languages with their physical workouts.

To begin, there’s asana, which to most practitioners of hatha yoga means simply “pose” or “posture,” as in bhujangasana, or cobra pose. Literally, the word means “seat.”

Namaste is a word used as a respectful greeting, to begin and end a class. Usually said with the hands together at heart level with palms facing inward, it acknowledges the light and divinity that lives within each of us.

A mudra is a hand position, such as anjali mudra, the heart gesture. Mudra, which literally means “seal,” can also refer to a whole-body position.

The word prana refers to the energy or life force that flows through every living being. It can also refer to the breath as the physical manifestation of that life force. Pranayama is the practice of learning to control the breath by consciously inhaling, holding, and exhaling.

“Om” is the most commonly chanted mantra, used as a means of focusing the concentration and attention.

Ahimsa, yoga’s supreme doctrine of non-violence, refers to the practice of refusing to harm any living thing. According to the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, ahimsa means more than simply refraining from killing; it encompasses the notion of refusing to harm another through thoughts, words, or actions.