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Basic Yoga Terminology

author image Pilar Carrillo
Pilar Carrillo began writing about yoga and wellness in 2010 at her Down Dog Blog. She is a yoga instructor and member of the Yoga Alliance. Carrillo holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Cornell University.
Basic Yoga Terminology
Yoga practitioners in Virabhadrasana B, otherwise known as Warrior 2 pose. Photo Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Yoga utilizes stretching and controlled breathing for increased physical fitness, relaxation and mood balancing. Much of yoga terminology is Sanskrit; the word yoga means to yoke or unite. Many classes today are taught with a mixed usage of the Sanskrit terms and their translations. For a yoga novice, even the translated versions can leave the student wondering. You won’t need to know what king pigeon pose is before you take your first class, but you might want to know some other basic yoga terms to deepen your understanding.


The most common yoga prop is the yoga mat. If you have never taken a yoga class, you may not know that there are other props or tools to help you throughout the class. The yoga block can be used to modify poses when reaching the floor is an issue. Yoga belts or straps have many uses, such as aiding in reaching your toes and feet. You will find yoga blankets and bolsters for cushioning and support.

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Styles of Yoga

You can learn many different styles of yoga. Physical yoga practices fall under the umbrella of Hatha, a term meaning “sun and moon,” with the aim of bringing balance to the body and mind. A flowing and rigorous Hatha class is known as Vinyasa flow. One popular yoga in the West now is called Bikram. Named for its creator, Bikram Choudhury, this form of yoga consists of 26 postures and is done in a hot room.


Breathing techniques to build prana, or energy, are known as pranayama. This is an important aspect of the yoga tradition and a part of the physical practice. A commonly used pranayama in Western classes is known as ujaii breathing, which mimics the sound of the ocean by constricting the throat. This technique links the breath with movements.


The physical practice of yoga is known as Asana and consists of postures or poses. There are hundreds of different yoga postures, and they vary among the different styles and disciplines of Hatha Yoga. Teachers will often give the names of the postures in English, Sanskrit or a mix of the two. In a Vinyasa flow yoga class, the students are led through sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar. The series of postures can be repeated to build prana.

Om & Namaste

Some classes will be bookended by a unison “om.” This mantra, or sacred chanting syllable, is a considered to be a primordial sound of the universe. Following your last “om” of the class, the teacher may give the common salutation “Namaste.” “Namaste” literally means “I bow to you,” according to yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala of Yoga Journal.

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