Sanskrit Glossary

You may be in a yoga class and hear the teacher using Sanskrit words for yoga poses (asanas) and concepts. This list should help you to understand some of the more commonly used terms.

Adho-mukha Face downwards.
Adho-mukha svanasana Downward facing dog pose.
Anga The body; a limb or a part of the body; a constituent part.
Apana One of the vital airs which move in the sphere of the lower abdomen.
Ardha Half.
Asana Posture The third stage of yoga.
Asta The number eight.
Astanga Yoga The eight limbs of Yoga described by Patanjali.
Aum Like the Latin word ‘Omne’, the Sanskrit word ‘Aum’ means ‘all’ and conveys concepts of ‘Omniscience’, ‘Omnipresence’ and ‘Omnipotence’.
Baddha Bound, caught, restrained, firm.
Bakasana Elbow balancing pose.
Balasana Child’s pose.
Bandha Bondage or fetter. It means a posture where certain organs or parts of the body are contracted and controlled.
Bhakti Worship, adoration.
Bhuja The arm or the shoulder.
Bhuja-pida Pressure on the arm or shoulder.
Bhujanga A serpent, a snake.
Bhujangasana Cobra pose.
Chakra Literally, a wheel or circle. Energy (prana) is said to flow in the human body through three main channels (nadis), namely, Susumna, Pingala and Ida. Susumna is situated inside the spinal column. Pingala and Ida start respectively from the right and left nostrils, move up to the crown of the head and course downwards to the base of the spine. These two nadis intersect with each other and also the Susumna. These junctions of the nadis are known as chakras or the fly-wheels which regulate the body mechanism.
Chandra The moon.
Chatur The number four.
Chaturanga Four limbs; a push-up position a few inches off the ground.
Chitta The mind in its total or collective sense, being composed of three categories: (a) Mind, having the faculty of attention, selection and rejection; (b) Reason, the decisive state which determines the distinction between things and (c) Ego, the I-maker.
Danda A staff.
Dhanu A bow.
Dharana Concentration or complete attention. The sixth stage of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali.
Dhyana Meditation The seventh stage of Yoga mentioned by Patanjali.
Dwi Two, both.
Dwi-hasta Two hands.
Dwi-pada Two feet or legs.
Eka One, single, alone, only.
Gu First syllable in the word ‘Guru’, meaning darkness.
Guru Spiritual preceptor, one who illumines the darkness of spiritual doubt.
Ha First syllable of the word ‘Hatha’, which is composed of the syllables ‘ha’ meaning the sun, and ‘tha’ meaning the moon. The object of Hatha-yoga is to balance the flow of solar and lunar energy in the human system.
Hala A plough.
Hasta The hand.
Hatha Sun/moon; balance.
Hatha-yoga The way towards realisation through rigorous discipline.
Janu The knee.
Jnana Sacred knowledge derived from meditation on the higher truths of religion and philosophy, which teaches a man how to understand his own nature.
Kapota A dove, pigeon.
Karma Action.
Karma-yoga The achievement of union with the Supreme Universal Soul through action.
Karna The ear; also one of the heros in the Mahabharata.
Karna Pidasana Pressure on ears pose.
Kriya An expiatory rite, a cleaning process.
Kundalini The Kundalini (kundala=coil of a rope; Kundalini=a coiled female serpent) is the divine cosmic energy. This force or energy is symbolised as a coiled and sleeping serpent lying dormant in the lowest nerve centre at the base of the spinal column, the Muladhara-chakra. This latent energy has to be aroused and made to ascend the main spinal channel, the Susumna piercing the chakras right up to the Sahasrara, the thousand-petalled lotus in the head. Then the Yogi is in union with the Supreme Universal Soul.
Mala A garland, wreath.
Mandala A circle.
Mantra A sacred thought or a prayer.
Matsya A fish.
Mudra A seal; a sealing posture.
Mukha Face.
Nama Name.
Namaste Commonly said at the end of yoga class by the instructor and the students.
One beautiful interpretation: I honor that place in you where the whole Universe resides. And when I am in that place in me and you are in that place in you, there is only one of us.
Nava A boat.
Nirodha Restraint, suppression.
Niyama Self-purification by discipline. The second stage of yoga mentioned by Patanjali.
Pada The foot or leg; also part of a book.
Padangustha The big toe.
Padma A lotus.
Parigha A beam or a bar used for bolting or shutting a gate.
Parighasana Lateral side stretch.
Paripurna Entire, complete.
Paripurna Navasana Boat pose.
Parivrtta Turned around, revolved.
Parivrtta Trikonasana Twisting triangle.
Parsva The side, flank; lateral.
Pasa A fetter, trap, noose.
Paschima West; the back side of the body.
Paschimottana Intense stretch of the back side of the body from the nape to the heels.
Paschimottanasana Seated forward bend.
Patanjali The author of the yoga sutras. The propounder of Astanga yoga. He put it on paper, so the world could experience it.
Pida Pain, suffering, pressure.
Prajna Intelligence, wisdom.
Prana Breath, respiration, life, vitality, wind, energy, strength. It also connotes the soul.
Pranayama Rhythmic control of the breath. The fourth stage of yoga.
Prasarita Spread out, stretched out.
Pratyahara Withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and sensual objects. The fifth stage of yoga.
Purva East, the front of the body.
Purvottana The intense stretch of the front side of the body.
Purvottanasana Pose of the intense stretch of the front side of the body.
Raja A king, a ruler.
Raja-kapota King pigeon.
Raja-yoga The achievement of union with the Supreme Universal Spirit, by becoming the ruler of one’s own mind by defeating its enemies.
The chief of these enemies are: Kama (passion or lust), krodha (anger or wrath), lobha (greed),moha (delusion), mada (pride) and matsara(jealousy or envy). The eight-fold yoga of Patanjali shows the royal road (raja-marga) for achieving this objective.
Ru The second syllable in the word ‘guru’, meaning light.
Salabha A locust.
Salamba With support.
Samadhi A state in which the aspirant is one with the object of his meditation, the Supreme Spirit pervading the universe, where there is a feeling of unutterable joy and peace.
San Six.
Sarva All, whole.
Sarvanga The whole body.
Sarvangasana Shoulderstand.
Sava A corpse, a dead body.
Savasana Corpse pose.
Setu A bridge.
Setu-bandha The construction of a bridge. Name of an asana in which the body is arched.
Siddha A sage, seer or prophet; also a semi-divine being of great purity and holiness.
Sirsa The head.
Supta Sleeping.
Supta Virasana Supine hero pose.
Surya The sun.
Svana A dog.
Tada A mountain.
Tadasana Mountain pose; standing tall.
Tan To stretch, extend, lengthen out.
Tapas Burning away impurities through self-discipline.
Tha The second syllable of the word ‘hatha’. The first syllable ‘ha’ stands for the sun, while the second syllable ‘tha’ stands for the moon. The union of these two is Hatha-yoga.
Tola A balance.
Tri Three.
Trikona A triangle.
Ujjayi A type of pranayama in which the lungs are fully expanded and the chest is puffed out.
Upavistha Seated.
Urdhva Raised, elevated, tending upwards.
Urdhva-mukha Face upwards.
Ustra A camel.
Ut A particle, denoting intensity.
Utkata Powerful, fierce.
Uttana An intense stretch.
Uttanasana Standing forward bend intense stretch.
Utthita Raised up, extended, stretched.
Vajra A thunderbolt, the weapon of Indra.
Vasistha A celebrated sage, author of several Vedic hymns.
Vira A hero; brave.
Virabhadra A powerful hero created out of Siva’s matted hair.
Virabhadrasana I Warrior I pose.
Vrksa A tree.
Vritta Fluctuation.
Yama The god of death. Yama ia also the first of the eight limbs or means of attaining yoga.
Yamas are universal moral commandments or ethical disciplines transcending creeds, countries, age and time. The five mentioned by Patanjali are:
non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence and non-coveting.
Yoga Union, communion.
Yoga-mudra A posture.
Yogi or Yogini One who follows the path of yoga.

Note: Many definitions in this glossary come from the book Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, which you can download here.

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