Basubu’s go-to glossary for beginner yogis

Two women hold the Dhanurasana (bow) variation pose on a yoga mat in a beginner's yoga class.

Yoga is not for the faint of heart.

From pretzelling your body into painful poses to deciphering what Urdhva Mukha Svanasana and Tadasana mean mid yoga class, it’s enough to make you want to throw in the mat and call it quits.

But don’t!

We promise it’s well worth the effort, and with Basubu’s glossary of yoga terms for beginners, super simple.

So, take a deep breath in and let’s jump into some yoga lingo that’ll help you level up your practice in no time!

What are common yoga terms?

Whether starting meditation or yoga practice, there are some important yoga words you’ll need to add to your vocabulary to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Most words that you’ll find in yoga are derived from Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism.

Known as “the mother of all languages,” Sanskrit became a dominant language in India and is still spoken in parts of the country today.

These terms are often used throughout classes to introduce new yoga postures, poses or breathing techniques, so familiarising yourself with them is key to keeping up.

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Commonly known as the downward-facing dog pose, Adho Mukha Svanasana is a favourite in both the yoga and canine world.

This pose is often used to improve posture, circulation and stretch out stiff muscles.

Aham

In yoga, your “aham” refers to your ego or sense of self; I’m sure we all know someone with an inflated aham.

Ahamkara refers to a false or deluded sense of self. This relates more to our material bodies and the impermanent identity we create for ourselves.

Aham Brahmasmi means our authentic, spiritual self and connection to god and all things. The latter term can also be used as a chant or mantra during meditation.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is the concept of non-violence.

Himsa” is Sanskrit for “causing pain,” and “a” means “not.”

The principle behind the practice of Ahimsa is therefore a process of working to avoid inflicting any kind of harm on another living being.

Yogis incorporate this concept into their practice as a moral lodestar.

Akhroda

Akhroda refers to a lack of anger and aggression.

It is about practising not to react with anger, even in situations where anger is justified and requires psychic and spiritual discipline.

Ancient yogis believed that anger fogs the mind and that we need to rid ourselves of it to reach enlightenment.

Anahata

Anahata is the name of your heart chakra or heart space in yoga.

It is the energetic source of love, kindness and compassion for both the self and others.

It is associated with the element of air. Certain yoga poses stimulate and balance this heart centre.

Asana

While the original meaning of asana is “seat,” the modern interpretation refers to the physical practice of yoga poses.

Asana is also one of the eight limbs of yoga in the “Yoga Sutras of Patañjali,” which yogis combine with other spiritual elements and breathwork to reach a balanced state of spiritual, psychic, emotional and physical wholeness.

Ashram

An ashram is a Hindu spiritual centre or residence of a spiritual guide or yoga guru.

Life in an ashram is very simple and ascetic.

You can visit and stay at ashrams to learn more about yogic philosophy, principles and practices.

Yoga retreats and instructor training courses are also sometimes hosted at ashrams.

Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga is an exertive, disciplined style of flow yoga developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1940s.

Jois believed that yogis should master asanas before progressing to other aspects of yogic practice and designed Ashtanga with this in mind.

Classical Ashtanga follows a series of six asanas repeated in flowing movements combined with specific breathwork.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medicinal and healing practice that translates to “longevity” and “knowledge” in Sanskrit.

Ayurvedic philosophy is very much about the mind-body connection and about using nutrition and a positive attitude to promote balance, health and wellbeing.

Yoga and Ayurveda work together in Hinduism to keep the mind, body and spirit healthy and balanced.

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Bandha

Bandha is the yogic term for an energetic lock, bind or seal.

In physical terms, it means engaging certain muscles or muscle groups in the body.

Bandhas are used to direct the flow of energy in your body. They keep energy in one area and prevent it from entering others.

Today, many yoga instructors encourage students to engage their bandhas during asanas as these muscular contractions can help prevent injury.

Bhagavad Gita

The “Bhagavad Gita” is one of Hinduism’s core and most holy texts.

The Gita is over 5 000 years old and comprises 700 verses of Sanskrit scriptures. It forms part of the larger “Mahabharata,” an ancient Hindu epic.

Its core message is for humans to act in selfless and compassionate ways for the good of all society. It has greatly influenced yogic philosophy through this thinking.

Bhakti yoga

Bhakti yoga is the Sanskrit word for “spiritual devotion” or “love.”

In Hinduism, it means that leading a life devoted to loving and obeying a god will help lead to spiritual enlightenment or nirvana.

It harnesses the principle that the love of a godly power or figure leads to ultimate happiness and salvation.

Bhastrika

Bhastrika is a popular energising form of yogic breathwork that increases metabolism and clears the mind.

Bhastrika is also known as “bellows breath.”

This is because it relies on an abdominal pump action to send air inhaled through the nostrils out quite forcibly upon exhalation, like a blacksmith feeding oxygen to a fire with a set of bellows.

Bikram yoga

Bikram yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s and is also sometimes referred to as “hot yoga.”

Bikram yoga is a tough workout and is designed to rid the body of toxins and impurities.

Classic Bikram follows a fixed sequence of 26 postures and two specific breathing exercises conducted in a sauna-style room heated to 41 °C (105 °F) with a 40% humidity factor.

Brahman

Brahman refers to a state of oneness with the universe which one can obtain through the devoted practice of yoga, according to ancient texts.

It is an abstract concept that refers to the essence of all things or a kind of universal or supreme consciousness.

Brahman is also sometimes described as an absolute reality or truth, devoid of lies or illusions.

Chakra

A chakra is an energy centre or point in the body.

The word originates from the Sanskrit term, “cakra” which means “wheel.”

This is because chakras are believed to be swirling circular hubs of energy.

Seven main chakras trace the length of your spine. From the root chakra to the crown chakra, each one works to create a balanced body and mind through regular yoga practice.

Diksha

Diksha is an initiation ceremony performed by a yoga teacher or spiritual or religious guide to welcome a novice into their practice.

Oftentimes, the teacher or guru will bestow a symbolic gift, such as mantra or mala beads to the student and perform a ritual with words, movements or touch.

Dosha

Doshas are vital energies that circulate through our bodies.

There are three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.

Each is associated with different elements. Vata is connected with air and ether, pitta is fire and water, and the kapha dosha is connected with water and earth.

An Ayurvedic diet combined with yogic breathing and asana practice is believed to balance the doshas.

Drishti

In yoga, your Drishti is a focused gaze on a singular point or area that helps one maintain calm and balance in a posture.

The Sanskrit word translates to “vision,” and relates to attaining spiritual insight through your third eye.

The third eye is an invisible point located on the forehead that gives one mystical and spiritual insight.

Earthing

Earthing is a form of grounding which means connecting your bare feet to the earth to absorb free electrons from the earth’s magnetic field.

These electrons then act as antioxidants that prevent or block the development of harmful free radicals in the body.

Earthing is believed to help the body both prevent and fight disease, and is a common practice in forest bathing.

Eem Hreem Shreem

A popular confidence-boosting yogic chant or mantra that means, “I am the richness that I seek” or “my life is complete abundance.”

Repetition of this chant in yoga classes is believed to help students feel more empowered both physically and emotionally.

Forest bathing

Forest bathing is a popular form of immersive nature therapy.

It’s centred around spending time in a natural setting and tuning our core senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing completely into our natural surroundings. 

The natural therapy has been shown to improve wellbeing and offers several psychological and physical benefits.

Guru

In Hinduism, a guru is a spiritual teacher or guide who possesses the knowledge to lead students to moksha (enlightenment).

The role of a guru is to guide the spiritual progress of students by sharing their insights and wealth of knowledge.

Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga is a popular branch of yoga that we typically see in the West.

This type of yoga is characterised by its slower-paced poses that focus on flexibility, meditation and mindfulness.

Iyengar yoga

Iyengar yoga is one of the more common forms of Hatha yoga which makes use of props and physical postures to improve the alignment of the body.

Based on the eight limbs of yoga, Iyengar yoga focuses on structural alignment, timing and sequences to connect the body to the mind.

Jalandhara bandha

Jalandhara bandha is one of the three locks that are used in yoga practice to direct the flow of prana (life force).

Jalandhara bandha is derived from the Sanskrit word “jal” meaning “throat,” “dharan,” which translates to “stream,” and “bandha,” meaning “lock.”

To perform Jalandhara bandha, extend the neck to the sky and then gently drop the chin to the chest.

Jnana yoga

Meaning “knowledge” or “wisdom” in Sanskrit, Jnana yoga forms part of one of the four main paths to moksha (enlightenment).

Through meditation, self-inquiry and quiet contemplation, students embark on a journey of self-realisation to uncover the truth of life and their place in it.

Kundalini yoga

Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that harnesses the life energy found at the base of the spine.

Kundalini comes from the Sanskrit word “kundal,” which translates to “coiled energy.”

This form of yoga makes use of chanting, breathing exercises and asana (poses) to awaken this energy and bring it up through each of the seven chakras.

Mula bandha

Translating to “root lock,” Mula bandha is another type of lock which, you guessed it, activates the root chakra.

Commonly performed in meditation and yoga practice, Mula bandha contracts the pelvic floor and lifts it up towards the spine, moving the prana (life force) through the body.

Namaste

Even if you aren’t a yogi, you definitely would’ve heard the term “namaste.”

This is a traditional Indian greeting or salutation which means “the light within me bows to the light within you.”

In yogic practice, it’s often used at the beginning and end of yoga classes as a way of giving thanks and sending positive energy into the world.

Pranayama

Pranayama is the practice of breath regulation and a key component of yoga and meditation.

Pranayama involves a range of breathing techniques and exercises that harness and control our prana or life force.

Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar is a sequence of 12 yoga poses also known as sun salutations which are used to open and warm up the body.

Savasana

There’s nothing like a minute-long Savasana after a challenging yoga class.

Also called corpse pose, Savasana is a relaxation or meditation pose often practised at the end of yoga class to calm the body and mind.

Tantric yoga

Although mostly associated with wild sexcapades, Tantric yoga is a restorative form of yoga that combines multiple meditative and yogic practices.

Comprising asana, mantra, mudra, bandha (energy lock) and chakra (energy centre) work, Tantric yoga seeks to enhance spiritual growth and connection.

Tadasana

Also known as mountain pose, Tadasana is a standing asana practised in modern yoga.

Tadasana forms the foundation of most standing poses, making it a key pose in yoga classes.

Uddiyana bandha

Uddiyana bandha is one of the three body locks or bandhas in the classic asana pranayama practice.

Meaning “upward” in Sanskrit, Uddiyana bandha is performed by taking a deep breath in, drawing the naval into the rib cage and pushing the chest out to the sky.

Ujjayi pranayama

Ujjayi is a common breathing technique in yoga that is typically performed in asana practice.

This breathing technique is also known as ocean breath as it involves deep diaphragmatic breath work through the nose, which in unison, sounds like waves crashing.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Meaning “upward facing dog,” Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is a back-bending yoga pose in asana that is commonly performed in the sun salutation sequence.

Vinyasa flow

Vinyasa flow is a sequence of asana movements strung together with breathing techniques.

The most common vinyasa is the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation).

Yin yoga

Yin yoga is a restorative form of yoga that focuses on long-held floor poses that target connective tissue in the body.

Yoga sutras

The “Yoga Sutra” is a Sanskrit text written by the sage Patanjali in around 2000 B.C.E.

The ancient Indian texts outline the eight limbs of yoga and are considered to be the most authoritative text on yoga to date.

Yoga nidra

Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is a practice that uses guided meditation to reach a state of consciousness that is neither asleep nor awake, but right between the two.

Xena

In modern usage, “Xena” means a strong, physically confident woman.

Not strictly speaking yogic, we decided to add this wonderful word since through yoga, you are able to develop your inner Xena.

Men can also come to recognise, respect and revere their female Xenic counterparts without feeling intimidated.

With these common yoga terms in your back pocket, you’ll be able to explore the beauty and benefits of yoga without missing a step!

Whether you’re looking to dip your toe in a new practice or deepen your discipline in an existing one, Basubu boasts some of the best retreats in the world.

So, what are you waiting for?

Breathe in, breathe out, and book your next journey with Basubu.