Yoga lingo for beginners

If you don't know the difference between your sacrum and your sternum, mix up Chaturangas with chimichangas* and haven't a clue what Ujjayi is, this article on yoga terms is for you.

yoga lingo for beginners

If you’re new to yoga (or even if you’re not), you may have heard words in class that you don’t recognise. It might seem like your teacher is speaking in a language you’ve never heard. In fact, they probably are! The language of yoga is Sanskrit, which is the root of many Indian languages one of the oldest human languages of all. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the terms you’re likely to hear in class.

If, like me, you’ve had the experience of being instructed to “engage your Mula Bandha”, or to “lift and spread your sit bones” but not had the first clue what they are, or where to locate them, here’s a basic glossary of some of the things you might hear in your yoga class. Because let’s face it, holding tree pose is challenging enough, without trying to figure out what Vrksasana is at the same time!

(Vrksasana is Sanskrit for Tree pose).

Common yoga terms

1. Yoga

– to ‘yoke’ or ‘bind’ – often interpreted as ‘union’ (the union of breath, body and mind).

Watch: Why do we practice yoga? with Andrew Wrenn

2. Asana

– literally translates as ‘seat’ – but the more modern interpretation of the word denotes physical postures or poses.

3. Bandha

– internal muscular ‘locks’ that, when engaged,  support the toning and lifting of strategic areas of the body. The 3 major bandhas are:

  1. Mula Bandha –  the pelvic floor muscles
  2. Uddiyana Bandha – the abdominals up to the diaphragm
  3. Jalandhara Bandha – the throat

4. Chakra

– meaning ‘wheel’ – energy centres in the body located between the base of the spine and the top of the head.

We have seven – Sanskrit names are in brackets

  • the root – (Muladhara); base of the spine
  • the sacral (Svadhisthana) – lower abdomen
  • solar plexus (Manipura) – upper abdomen
  • heart (Anahata) – centre of the chest
  • throat (Vishuddha) – throat area
  • third eye (Ajna) – forehead, between the eyebrows
  • crown (Sahasrara) – the very top of the head

PracticeChakra series program

5. Chaturanga

– four limbed staff pose or low plank, requires arm, shoulder and core strength.

Chaturanga Dandasana
Chaturanga Dandasana

6. Core

– often thought of as the abdominal muscles. However, it’s more accurate to think of it like an apple core, running from the top of your head to the inner arches of your feet.

7. Downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

– one of the most common yoga poses, like an inverted ‘V’ shape.

8. Drishti

– focal point of gazing during meditation or yoga practice (useful during balancing poses!)

9. Hatha

– known as yoga for the physical body. In Sanskrit, “Ha” represents sun and “tha” represents moon. Hatha is the basic style of yoga that forms the basis for most styles of yoga, often used to describe slower-paced classes with no flow to them.

10. Heart centre

  • refers to the centre of the chest. You’ll hear the term used as an instruction – for example, “lift your heart centre“. It can also be used to describe the location of the heart chakra – Anahata.

11. Mantra

– a word, sound or phrase repeated either out loud (chanting) or in the mind – said to increase concentration while meditating. 

12. Mudra

Mudra - Yoga

– a hand position / gesture used to aid concentration, focus and connection to yourself during your meditation and asana practice. The most common are Anjali (pressing palms together at the heart) and Jnana (pronounced nyah-nah) (forefinger and thumb touching to form a circle, the other three fingers stretching away)  

  • PracticeAn introduction to mudras – Enhance the benefits of yoga by introducing Mudra to your practice – 15 min class with Francesca Giusti

13. Nadi

– the energy channels through which prana or life force flows. Pranayama uses the breath to direct and expand the flow of prana in our energy channels – the nadis.

14. Namaste

– roughly meaning ‘the light within me bows to the light within you’ and generally said at the end of a yoga class, bowing the head with palms pressed together at the heart.

15. Om

– (A-U-M) – a mantra usually chanted at the beginning and end of yoga classes. Om ia tiny word with a multitude of meanings – said to be the origin of all sounds and the seed of creation. Often quoted as the “universal sound of consciousness”.

16. Patanjali

– 2nd / 3rd BCE sage said to have compiled the Yoga Sutras, a guide or ‘instruction manual on how to live in order to advance along a spiritual path towards enlightenment.  

17. Prana

–  life energy; life force.

  • PracticeThe art of moving prana – learn to unite breathing and movement, in this yoga class with James Reeves.

18. Pranayama

– breathing exercises which clear the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and so the flow of prana – life energy.  

19. Sacrum

– a triangular-shaped bone in the lower back.

20. Savasana

– meaning Corpse pose – relaxation pose, typically practiced at the end of a yoga class.


21. Shanti

– meaning ‘peace’ – sometimes chanted in class.

22. Sit / Sitting bones

– part of the pelvis – the two bony protrusions on the underside of the buttocks that are most easily felt when sitting on a hard surface.

23. Sternum

– breastbone – long, flat narrow bone that runs vertically down the centre of the chest.

24. Surya Namaskar

– Sun salutations – a sequence of asanas. This dynamic yang sequence is a very popular sequence often used to warm up the body at the start of a yoga class.

25. Tailbone

– the little bone at the end of your spine. 

26. Ujjayi

– commonly translated as the ‘victorious breath’ or ocean breath because of the sound the breath makes at it enters and leaves a slightly constricted throat.

27. Upanishad

– a collection of yogic texts of a religious and philosophical nature, written in India probably between c. 800 BCE and c. 500 BCE.

28. Vinyasa

– movement linked with breath. Postures are strung together in a short or longer flow.

29. Yang yoga

– style of yoga that is more rhythmic, repetitive and energetic – great for building strength and fitness.

30. Yoga Nidra

Also known as “yogic sleep” or “effortless relaxation”, Yoga Nidra can be described as the conscious state between wakefulness and sleep. It invites a state of harmonious, restful being. From here, we can be healed, restored and awakened to our deepest, all-knowing, all-welcoming self. 

31. Yin yoga

–  series of long-held, passive floor poses that target the fascia and connective tissues in the body. We need a combination of Yin and Yang in yoga (as in life!) to keep us balanced and healthy.

*one is a yoga pose, the other is a fried burrito

Article updated: January 2021

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Kirsty TomlinsonKirsty moved to the Netherlands from the UK to work for EkhartYoga in 2015. She's done yoga training with Esther Ekhart and Julie Martin, and has done many courses in meditation, mindfulness and Yoga Nidra. Kirsty previously worked in publishing, graphic design and recruitment. Her role at EkhartYoga focuses on copywriting, editing and content creation.