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Natural Awakenings Atlanta


by Graham Fowler

Have you ever been stumped in yoga class by the jargon the teacher used? Or puzzled by some "Greek to me" term in a yoga book?

This short glossary of mostly Sanskrit and a few English terms is designed to help yoga practitioners who seek a deeper understanding of the language of yoga.

Some entries are phonetically spelled to clarify pronunciation. Some Sanskrit terms are anglicized by making them plural with an "s" at the end. Words in italics have their own glossary entries.

Yoga Asanas

Adho Mukha Svanasana  Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Vrksashasana   Handstand

Ardha Chandrasana   Half Moon

Bhujangasana   Cobra

Chatturanga Dandasana   Four-Limbed Staff

Dandasana   Plank

Dandasana   Staff

Dhanurasana   Bow

Halasana  Plow

Janu Sirsasana   Head to Knee

Kapotasana   Pigeon

Matsyasana   Fish

Matsyendrasana   Seated Twist

Navasana   Boat

Pacimottanasana   Forward Bend (seated)

Padottanasana   Wide Leg Forward Bend

Parivrtta Trikonasana   Revolved Triangle

Parsvakonasana   Extended Side Angle

Parsvottanasana   Intense Side Stretch

Purvottanasana   Reverse Plank

Salabhasana   Locust

Sarvangasana   Shoulderstand

Savasana   Literally, “corpse”; a restorative pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana   Bridge

Sirsasana   Headstand

Supta Matsyendrasana   Reclining Knee-Down Twist

Tadasana   Mountain

Trikonasana   Triangle

Urdha Mukha Svanasana   Upward Facing Dog

Ustraasana   Camel

Utkatasana   Fierce

Uttasana   Standing Forward Bend

Virabhadrasana Warrior (l, ll and lll)

Vrksasana   Tree


The Seven Major Chakras

Muladhara   Root; seat of kundalini, base of spine;

Svadhisthana   Sweetness; root of reproductive organ

Manipura   Lustrous gem; solar plexus

Anahata - Unstruck sound; heart, center of chest

Visuddhi   Purification; base of throat

Ajna   Command; "third eye" between eyebrows

Sahasrara   Thousand petal lotus; above the top of head


Relevant Yoga Terminology

Abhyasa  Persistent spiritual practice

Absolute, the            Beyond time and space; pure consciousness at the core of everything

Ananda    Bliss of one's essential nature; attribute of pure consciousness

Anava mala   Veil concealing awareness of our unbounded nature, resulting in belief in limitation and separation

Anubhava meditation        Effortless method of direct experience of deeper and deeper states of awareness (see samadhi) for personal and spiritual fulfillment

Asana       Seat; posture. The third of the eight limbs of Patanjali Yoga Sutra; yoga poses prepare the body for pranayama, meditation and healthy lifestyle.


Ashtanga yoga         Eight-limbed yoga; system based on Patanjali classical yoga. The limbs are are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.


Atman      The Self; the imperishable soul in a human being

Bhakti      Path of devotion

Bija           Seed

Centrifugal   The expansive outward movement of awareness through the senses, giving experience of the external world

Centripetal   Exquisite "hidden" inward current making inward movement of awareness both effortless and charming, as through anubhava meditation

Chakra     Center for reception, storage and distribution of prana; the seven most important ones are situated in the subtle body along sushumna nadi from the base of the spine to the crown of the head; located at junction point of physical and subtle body, at the convergence of the three main channels (see nadi).

Dharana  The sixth limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs; meditative practice of placing awareness on an object

Dhyana    The seventh limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs; meditative process of the spontaneous melting or dissolving of an object in consciousness, e.g., an image, body part or mantra.

Diksha     Process of initiation; from Sanskrit roots meaning “to give” and “to take away.” Diksha is given usually with a mantra; Anava mala is taken away.

Guna        Attribute; the three attributes of nature are sattva (purity, wisdom, orderliness); rajas (action, passion, restlessness); tamas (darkness, inertia, stability)

Guru         Remover of darkness; teacher. Ultimately, the true guru is within.

Hatha yoga   Yoga practice involving effort to join the sun and moon (see nadi); the use of physical postures, breath and other means of cultivating the state of yoga

Jnana        Intellectual study, knowledge, comprehension

Karma      The effects of past actions; “what goes around, comes around”

Klesha      Obstacle or hindrance to liberation

Kosha       Five sheaths that surround our essential nature, from subtlest to gross, culminating in the physical body

Kriya        Action; ritual; various practices to cultivate the state of yoga. Yoga Sutra describes three main facets of kriya yoga (see tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana).

Kula          Group of yogis who share initiatory practices

Kundalini      Latent primal shakti; evolutionary force

Mala         The impurity that veils one's ability to know oneself as unbounded; also a string of beads or seeds used to count repetition of mantras

Mantra     A sound vibration the effects of which are known. For meditation, mantras are either repeated audibly (japa) or silently (ajapa). Some are appropriate for recluses (such as monks), others are for people who desire both spiritual and worldly fulfillment (householders). Diksha (initiation) increases the virya or potency of mantra.

Meditation    A technique of refining the mind, going to or toward the source of prana, wisdom and life

Mudra      Seal; a gesture that contains, directs or circulates prana

Nadi         72,000 channels for distribution of prana in the subtle body

Namaste  A greeting meaning “honor “(namas) “to you” (te). Sometimes translated as “the light in me recognizes the light in you.”

Nirodha   Cessation; dissolving; settling. Verse 2, Pada 1 of Yoga Sutra: yoga chitta vritti nirodha: “Yoga is the cessation of the thought waves of the mind.” Not by effort and not by controlling the mind, but by allowing the awareness to naturally and spontaneously hone in on its own source (see centripetal; anubhava meditation)

Niyama    “Observance”; the second limb of Yoga Sutra; conduct that supports (and is a by-product of) spiritual evolution. The niyamas include shaucha, purity; santosha, contentment; tapas, fire of purification; svadhyaya, self-study; and ishvara pranidhana, surrender to the indwelling omnipresence.

Nyaya       Logic; a teaching; principle that supports understanding

Ojas          Luster; spiritual energy; vital essence at the subtlest level of physiology

Para         The supreme transcendent

Prakriti   The material world, comprising the three gunas; in humans, the body, mind, and emotions

Prana       Intelligent life force at the basis of all functions in the body and mind

Pranayama The third limb of Patanjali Yoga Sutra's Eight Limbs; control or expansion of life force (see prana); breathing techniques (utilizing rechaka, inhalation; kumbhaka, retention; puraka, exhalation); also, the spontaneous suspension of breath accompanying deep states of meditation

Pratyahara   The fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs; introversion of senses from their objects. Accessible spontaneously and effortlessly through centripetal practices

Pure consciousness             The innermost perfect stillness at the core of everything (see purusha, turiya)

Purusha   Universal Self; Depending on context, can be individual soul or unbounded Absolute. (see pure consciousness)

Relative   Subject to change; everything in the manifest world (see prakriti)

Sadhana  A program of regular spiritual practice

Samadhi        The highest of eight limbs of yoga; pure consciousness; has many levels, but two main categories: 1) samprajnata “with seed,” samadhi co-existing with subtle level of mental activity; 2_ asamprajnata, pure awareness aware of itself only. These states cannot be attained through effort but are available through effortless practice, revealing the inner current of awareness (see centripetal, anubhava meditation).

Samavesa nyaya      The principle of “dyeing of the cloth” compares repeatedly alternating regular meditation with life-supporting activity to dyeing cloth and drying it in the sun. What doesn't fade is colorfast. Freedom is gradually stabilized in daily life.

Samskara                  Unconscious mental pattern; latent impression from previous experience. Meditation “roasts the seeds” of samskaras. Roasted seeds do not sprout.

Sat chit ananda        Absolute bliss consciousness; beyond all the layers of conditioning, our essential nature

Shakti      Power; energy; force of nature; change; peace; equilibrium

Shiva        The all-pervading supreme reality; the lord of yogis

Soma        Nectar of immortality; nourishes and induces rising kundalini shakti

Sutra        A condensed aphorism within a text, subject to varying interpretations

Tejas        Inner radiance; spiritual fire; strength of will

Turiya      “Fourth”; The fourth state of consciousness, beyond waking, dreaming and sleep states; transcendental consciousness. (See pure consciousness, samadhi, nirodha)

Upanishad    Ancient teaching texts in story form; “to sit down near (the teacher)”

Vedas       Ancient revealed knowledge organized into four main texts

Vidya        Wisdom

Virya        Potency

Vrata        Vow

Vritti        Thoughts, concepts, fluctuations of the mind

Yama        “Restraint”; first limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs, comprising ahimsa, nonviolence; satya, truth; asteya, nonstealing; brahamacharya, preservation and cultivation of life force; and aparigraha, nongrasping. Alignment with Yama and niyama spontaneously arises when one’s sadhana is well balanced.

Yoga         An eight-limbed philosophy and practice (including postures) and ultimately a state of union of the individual with the universal reality.


Knowing “that,” by knowing which, everything is known.

  • Mundaka Upanishad

The founder of Peachtree Yoga, Graham Fowler teaches Anubhava Meditation. Reach him at [email protected].

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