10 Words to Know So You're Not So Confused in Yoga Class

Consider this your crash course in yogi lingo.
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What did your yoga teacher just say? Yoga instructors love to use Sanskrit and other "yogi lingo" in practice. And while it is a wonderful way to introduce you to yoga's origins, it can also break your flow as you distractedly ponder what in the world a "bandha" is.


But don't let the foreign words stop you from going to class. Here are the most commonly used yoga terms to know so you can stand in Tadasana without losing your dristi (focus).

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1. Pranayama

Pronounced: praw-nah-yah-mah

Translation: controlled breathing

Origin: Let's break it down: Prana refers to the breath, and yama means to control or hold something. Put those two together and you get controlled breath. But there's a deeper significance to practicing pranayama.

Ancient yogis used the breathing techniques to absorb and manipulate their energy. According to the book "Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha," the breathing techniques should not only be used to introduce more oxygen into the lungs, but to capture outside sources of vital energy, or life force.


What to expect in class?

Don't feel intimidated by this term. If you're taking a beginner or all-levels yoga class in the Western world, the teacher will most likely reference this term to help you learn how to breathe as you flow. The teacher may instruct a certain pranayama technique. For example, "ujjayi:" breathing in and out through your nose -- like you're making the sound of the ocean waves. This technique synchronizes your breath with the movement to harmonize your practice.


Read more: Types of Yoga Breathing

Bandhas can (and should) be held through nearly every yoga pose.
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2. Bandha

Pronounced: bahn-dah



Translation: a tightening or locking (in this case, of muscles)

Origin: Bandhas play a pivotal role in advancing your practice. There are four bandhas: mula (pelvic floor), uddiyana (abdomen into the rib cage), jalandhara (tucking the chin close to the chest) and maha bandha (holds all of them together).

What to expect in class?


If the teacher asks you to engage your bandhas, do these five steps:

  1. Take a deep inhale through your nose.
  2. Exhale all the air through your nose.
  3. Squeeze and hold your pelvic floor (like you're stopping yourself from peeing).
  4. Take a small inhale and engage your abdominal muscles.
  5. Take a full inhale and tuck your chin toward your chest (but not pointed down).


To be fair, this is a lot to take in. Don't put the pressure on yourself to master this on your first (or even 20th) yoga class, it will come in time.

3. Mantra

Pronounced: mawn-truh

Translation: repeating words or syllables


Origin: First used in the vedas (scriptures) by rishis (sages), mantras are believed to have spiritual powers to transform one's life. Today mantras are widely used in Western societies to teach the yogi or meditation practitioner how to control his or her mind and focus on one thing.

What to expect in class?

The teacher may begin or end practice with a mantra. Or she may suggest you set an intention in the beginning of practice and repeat this intention in your mind throughout class.


Any pose is an asana.
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4. Asana

Pronounced: ah-sah-na

Translation: posture or pose

Origin: Asana first appeared in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads (both holy Hindu scriptures like the Bible or Koran) to refer to the seated position for meditation. Today, asana is used to represent any yoga pose. Many poses are named after Hindu gods, religious figures, animals and mythological characters.

What to expect in class?

The teacher may use this term to replace the word "pose."

5. Vinyasa

Pronounced: vin-yah-sah

Translation: arranging something in a special way

Origin: Vinyasa has come to refer to one of the most common styles in the Western world, but it simply means a sequence of asanas (poses).

What to expect in class?

If you're in an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class, the teacher may say, "flow through your vinyasa," to instruct you to take a sun salutation at your own pace and will.


Read more: Which Type of Yoga Is Right for You?

Your sun salutation journey begins and ends with tadasana.
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6. Tadasana

Pronounced: tah-dah-sah-na

Translation: Mountain pose

Origin: "Tada" means mountain and "asana" (as you learned above) means pose. So when you're standing in Tadasana, you're standing tall like a mountain. This asana is the beginning and ending of each sun salutation: It grounds and centers the yogi on his mat.

What to expect in class?

When the yoga teacher asks for you to stand in Tadasana, Mountain pose or Samasthiti (three words for the same pose), come to the top of your mat with your spine tall, big toes touching and heels slightly apart. Stay rooted in all for corners of the feet and reach the crown of your head toward the ceiling as you lengthen your spine.

Read more: 11 Essential Yoga Poses Everyone Should Practice

This pose tests both your physical and mental strength.
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7. Utkatasana

Pronounced: oot-kah-tah-sah-na


Translation: Chair pose

Origin: "Utkata" means powerful and fierce, which stems from the history of India. Since most people in India must sit on the ground and only royalty sat on thrones, the yogi is uniting with royalty when in Utkatasana.

What to expect in class?

Prepare for your quads to burn! Inhale into Tadasana and raise your arms over your head. As you exhale, bend your knees so that your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Tuck your tailbone under and hold.

Read more: 13 Yoga Poses to Help You Be Less Klutzy

Image Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

8. Savasana

Pronounced: shah-vah-sah-nah

Translation: Corpse pose

Origin: For centuries ancient yogis practiced yoga to represent the celebration of life. You begin the practice born on your mat. Then you live life on your mat, conquering new challenges as you move from pose to pose. And you get to finish the practice celebrating the life you lived in stillness.

What to expect in class?

It's most yogis' favorite pose (you're done!), but also it can be the most challenging. This is the finale of your yoga session, and it allows your mind and body to gradually enter a relaxed state. When the teacher dims the lights and has you lie on the floor, close your eyes and place your arms by your sides.

Read more: 10 Yoga Poses for a Better Night's Sleep

9. Namaste

Pronounced: nah-mah-stay

Translation: a respectful greeting, "my soul honors your soul"

Origin: Also referred to as "namaskar," this word originated as a respectful Indian greeting. Hindus use it to begin and end a conversation (like saying "aloha" in Hawaii). Namaste is used to unite and honor all souls in a yogic and spiritual practice.

What to expect in class?

The teacher will likely end the practice with this one word. Simply replying "namaste" to the teacher is a sign of respect and gratitude.

Get to know this symbol well — you'll see it everywhere.
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10. Om

Pronounced: AUM (three sounds — "aah," "ooh," and "mmm")

Translation: The literal translation of "om" is vague. It can mean almost anything. Some translate "om" to represent the heavens, earth and underworld. Others resonate with the idea of "om" representing the waking state of all consciousness.

Origin: "Om" is considered one of the most powerful of all mantras. It was originated by rishis as they meditated. It was first meant to experience the feeling of the sound as it resonated through the body. It then transitioned into a harmonizing chant to begin and end a practice or prayer. Yogis chant "om" to manifest a superconscious state and draw awareness to their physical presence in the world and connect their emotions and thoughts.

What to expect in class?

Many yoga teachers like to begin and end the class with this chant. If so, instead of feeling silly, try to be open to the experience and recognize how harmonizing this sound may make you feel.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you feel more ready to conquer your next yoga class? Do you like it when instructors use yogi lingo, or would you rather they stick to layman's terms? Have you ever heard any of these words in yoga class before? Are there any other Sanskrit words you've heard in yoga class? Leave a comment below and let us know!


Yogi Lingo Cheat Sheet

Forgot a word or two? Use this as a reference.



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