Savasana? Karma? And other words you’ll hear at a yoga studio, explained

(Featured image by the amazing Erika Pontes)

“We always say ‘namaste’ to our sangha at the end of savasana, duh.”

There are a lot of Sanskrit words still floating about in today’s yoga communities. Though some people may scoff at the fact that we say “namaste” at the end of each class, the goal is to pay homage and respect to the practice’s humble beginnings — thousands of years ago in ancient India. (By the way, these terms have all been translated differently in English by various people, so if you have an alternate translation, I’d love to hear from you.)

At Modo Yoga, we study hatha yoga, which branches out from one of the six schools of Hinduism. The word “haṭha” means “force,” or physical practice. It can also be translated as “willful,” or the more literal “ha” — sun — and “tha” — moon, annotating a need for balance. Most forms of yoga in the western world stem from the hatha tradition.

So, what are a few common words you’ll hear around a yoga studio, and what do they mean?

Ahimsa: The principle of nonviolence toward all living things.

Ananda: Bliss or joy.

Asana: Yoga postures; the word originally referred to sitting poses, so it technically means “seat.”

Ashram: A secluded place or retreat where people can take part in spiritual practice, including yoga and meditation.

Bandha: Powerful energetic locks in the body. When engaged muscularly, they tone and lift strategic parts of the body to “lock” and direct your energy.

Chakra: Seven energy centres in the body located between the base of the spine and the crown of the head. Balancing them, in mind, body and spirit, is supposed to have a positive effect on our well-being.

Dharma: teachings; laws; rules; duties.

Drishti: The point of focus for the eyes during asana. The goal is to concentrate the mind, keep the eyes from wandering and bring awareness inward.

Dukkha: suffering; the afflictions of daily life and mundane human existence.

Guru: A spiritual teacher.

Jnana: worldly knowledge or wisdom.

Kapalabhati: skull shining breath, a cleansing breath done through the nose at the beginning of practice (fiery effect), or through the mouth at the end of practice (cooling effect). It is a cleansing technique to rid the body of toxins.

Karma: Your actions lead to reactions or consequences that can be felt now or in a later life.

Kundalini: A primal-type energy said to be located at the base of the spine. It is a metaphor for sleeping consciousness, often depicted as a snake.

Mandala: A geometric, often circular, design that symbolizes the universe, usually translated as “circle” or “essence.” In yoga, it is a visual tool to help focus attention during meditation.

Mantra: A word, sound or phrase repeated out loud (chanting) or in the mind to increase concentration during meditation. A common mantra is “om.”

Mudra: Body positions, usually with the hands, that channel prana, or breath, to increase focus during meditation and asana. The most common is anjali mudra (palms together in front of the heart.) “Anjali” means “to offer” or “salutate” and “mudra” means “seal.”

Namaste: An Indian greeting often used to close an asana practice, signifying “the divine/light in me bows to the diving/light in you.”

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Om: A mantra to symbolize the basic sound of the universe, connecting us to other living beings, nature and the universe. It is pronounced “aw-oo-mm” and is often chanted at the beginning and/or end of class.

Patanjali: A 2nd or 3rd BCE sage believed to have compiled the Yoga Sutras, a guide on how to live a life leading to enlightenment.

Prana: Life energy, or breath. It is known as chi in Chinese traditions and ki in the Japanese context.

Pranayama: Breath control; “prana” means “breath” and “yama” means “control.” The goal is to use pranayama techniques to ease the flow of breath.

Samsara: The cyclical nature of birth, death and rebirth.

Sangha: community; association; assembly.

Sankalpa: An intention or vow. People will often set an intention before starting their asana practice.

Santosha: contentment; satisfaction.

Satya: Being truthful in thoughts, mind, speech and action.

Savasana: Corpse pose, the final posture of a physical practice. It is considered the most important as it allows the body to absorb any changes from asana, as well as settle the nervous system.

Sutras: Pithy observations, or aphorisms, about the philosophical basis of yoga, a path to enlightenment; an important collections of teachings about yoga from the sage, Patanjali.

Ujjayi: A breathing technique commonly translated as “victorious breath,” used for thousands of years to synchronize breath with movement. It is done by slightly constricting the back of the throat to regulate the flow of breath and create heat in the body. The breath becomes audible and can sound like the ocean.

Vinyasa: Known as “movement linked with breath,” where postures are sequenced together to flow.
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