Om, Namaste, and 18 other Yoga Terms Explained for Beginners

woman meditating and chanting om

This article will explain what Om, Namaste, and 18 other yoga terms mean.

If you’re new to the yoga scene and not sure if you’ll understand everything the teacher says to you during a yoga class, then keep reading.

Outlined are some of the keywords, yoga phrases, and expressions you will hear in a yoga class.

After reading this article, you will feel well informed when you step into your first yoga class.

The terms are composed into three basic categories:

  1. Popular Styles of Yoga
  2. Terms the Yoga Instructor Will Likely Say
  3. Expressions You Will Likely Say in a Yoga Class

Popular Styles of Yoga

If you’re on a search to find a yoga class, you’ll discover that there are many styles of yoga that one can practice.

Here are some common ones you may encounter.

Hatha Yoga

This is a general category of yoga. It encompasses many other styles of yoga that feature these two things: movement and breath.

Hatha Yoga is simply a yoga practice that will involve a focus on your breathing while you move from pose to pose.

The following styles of yoga in this list are considered Hatha Yoga Practices.

Hot Yoga

This is a trendy type of yoga today. Many are flocking to yoga studios that offer hot classes.

The name states precisely what you can expect. The yoga studio is heated anywhere between 80 degrees and 100 degrees.

You are guaranteed to sweat in a hot yoga class. There are several reasons why a person would attend a hot yoga class:

  • To release tension in their bodies
  • To gain more muscle flexibility
  • To experience the physical and mental intensity

A particular brand of yoga is Bikram Yoga. Founded by Bikram Choudhury, he brought the practice to the United States in the early 1970s.

He believed that practicing in a heated room would make it easier for students to stretch tight muscles, to lose weight, and to transform their bodies.

Generally, people enjoy the mental focus and discipline a hot yoga class offers.

If you go to a hot yoga class, don’t forget to hydrate and bring a towel!

Power Yoga

Another type of yoga you may hear about is called Power Yoga.

This is a derivative of a classic style of yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, that became popular when the fitness industry accelerated.

As yoga was entering the Western culture, people were searching for additional ways to broaden their fitness goals. Power Yoga became the perfect blend of moving the body to gain strength and ease the mind.

In a Power Yoga class, you can expect to move continuously through various poses and yoga sequences.

Not only will you sweat, but your body will become more flexible, strong, and agile.

Some Power Yoga classes will boost up the heat in the studio to add to the intensity.

If you’re looking for a yoga practice that involves plenty of movement, this is the style for you.

Vinyasa YogA

The term “vinyasa” simply means “to flow.” In an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga class or a Power Vinyasa Yoga Class, you can expect lots of movement.

With these styles, you will be flowing from one pose to another. The instructor will create yoga sequences that are fluid and graceful; one pose will naturally flow to the next.

These types of classes add to your desire to become more mobile and body-conscious.

There are plenty of other styles of yoga.

Still, if you hear these terms about the type of yoga you want to practice as a beginner, you’ll now be more familiar with various selections.

Yoga Practice

Although this is not a yoga style, it refers to what doing yoga means.

Going to a yoga class of any type is considered a “practice.” It relates to the notion that one does not necessarily become a professional or reach an ultimate finish line when one engages in yoga.

The philosophy of yoga is an evolutionary process; there is always something to learn.

Even if you have attended classes for many years, you are still considered a yoga practitioner, a student who is continuously learning and evolving every time you step onto the yoga mat.

You are always practicing.

It is a way to remain unattached to an end goal, an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you.

Terms the Yoga Instructor Will Likely Say

Next, let’s take a look at some of the terms you may hear a yoga instructor say in a yoga class.

These are unique phrases and words that will also be spoken in a different language.

Sanskrit

Sanskrit is considered the language of yoga.

Although a “dead” language, this ancient form of Hindu communication has become associated with the practice of yoga.

In the earliest writings about yoga, Sanskrit was used to document the teachings of this philosophy.

Many of the terms used by your yoga instructor will be in Sanskrit.

Here are a few of the words you may hear and what they mean.

Asana (AH-sah-nah)

This is a Sanskrit word that refers to the pose you are practicing. Its literal translation means “to sit.”

Think of sitting in your pose; it’s the act of arriving in the posture and remaining present in it.

The word is often the suffix of another word; it comes at the end of the Sanskrit term to state that this is a pose.

Here’s an example:

Chaturanga Dandasana (chah-too-RAHN-gah dahn-DAH-sah-nah)

This is a typical yoga pose, which means “four-limbed staff pose.”

You will see that the word “asana” is at the end.

In this posture, your body is at the bottom of a push-up position. This yoga pose occurs when moving through a sequence called the Sun Salutation (explained later.)

Vinyasa

This term was mentioned earlier, but here’s more of an explanation of the word.

It can be used as the style of yoga practice, but it also refers to fluid movements of the body through a series of poses.

For example, moving the body from Plank Pose, to Chaturanga Dandasana, to Upward facing Dog, and finally to Downward Facing Dog would be considered a Vinyasa Flow.

An instructor may simply say “complete the Vinyasa” rather than repeating the individual poses.

Pranayama

This is another Sanskrit term that means “breathwork.”

If you broke down the word into two parts, “prana” and “yama,” you can better understand its meaning.

Prana is the word that means “life force” or “life energy.” In yoga, breath is the representation of that “life energy.”

Breathing is vital in yoga practice. It stimulates Prana so that it can circulate through your entire body.

As a result, the body, mind, and spirit experience release, opening, and freedom.

“Yama” refers to the action we give the breath. For example, with some breathing exercises, you may take long, slow, deep breaths.

In other practices, you may take short, quick breaths. There are many Pranayama (breathing) exercises, and all have a meaningful purpose.

Some give you energy, some cool you down, others relieve tension, and some allow you to focus.

Ujjayi Pranayama

This is a Sanskrit word and also a specific breathing practice you may do during a Power Vinyasa Yoga Class.

Ujjayi (OO-jah-yee) breathing means “victorious breath.” It is sometimes called “throat breathing” because you use the muscles of your throat to draw in a breath, but with your mouth closed.

Essentially, the breath enters and exits through your nostrils, but the action of breathing is initiated in the back of your mouth.

In Power Yoga, Ujjayi Pranayama can:

  • Heat the internal body
  • Generate energy to move
  • Enhances the flow of Prana
  • Relieves tension
  • Helps you focus

An instructor may encourage you to engage your “Ujjayi” breath while you practice your yoga sequences.

Drishti

Speaking of focus, this is another Sanskrit term you may hear in a yoga class.

Yoga not only helps with fluid movement in the body, but it can also help you calm your mind and focus.

Even while in motion, you can practice focus and awareness with Drishti (DRISH-tee). The word means “to gaze.”

This is the act of focusing your eyes on a specific spot or location to help you stay present and hold your posture.

Your instructor may refer to your “drishti point” or “drishti spot.” This could be a spot on the wall as you balance on one foot in Tree Pose.

It could mean your toes when you practice Standing Forward Bend.

Our minds tend to wander, so the practice of aligning your gaze on a specific spot helps your mind to drift less. It keeps you present and aligned with your yoga practice.

Savasana (sheh-VAH-sah-nah)

This Sanskrit term literally means “corpse pose.”

You are sure to hear this posture name mentioned at the end of your yoga practice.

After you have moved through all the postures and sequences of a Hatha Yoga Practice, you will lie down on your back in this very relaxing pose.

The idea is to completely rest your body and mind after engaging them throughout the class.

The yoga practice is designed to help you release tensions in your body, to rid yourself of any distractions that overwhelm your mind.

After you have removed these obstacles, you lie in stillness to relish in the peace of mind you’ve accomplished.

Savasana is considered one of the most essential yoga poses practiced.

Let’s move on to some other non-Sanskrit terms that your yoga instructor is likely to say.

Sun Salutation

This is a series of yoga poses composed to create warmth and energy in your body.

It is a familiar vinyasa flow that is often practiced at the beginning of a yoga class.

The Sun Salutation is a way to “warm-up” the internal and external body. It prepares the mind and body for the continued practice.

Downward Facing Dog

A common yoga posture that is practiced during the Sun Salutation, but also is a stand-alone yoga position, is Downward Facing Dog.

It is an inverted posture in which your hands are planted equidistant at the front of the yoga mat, your feet are at the rear of the mat, and your hips are in the air.

You create an inverted V-shape with your body in this yoga pose. It strengthens your entire body, including your arms, torso, and legs.

Understanding Other Yoga Posture Names

Every pose has a unique name.

Some, as mentioned, will be described with their original Sanskrit term.

Other yoga pose names will be in English and are named after animals and objects that are familiar to us.

Cat Pose, Tree Pose, or Triangle Pose take on the characteristic or shape of the object when you perform the asana (yoga pose).

Other posture names simply describe what your body is doing. For example, Seated Forward Bend or Side Angle Pose describes how your body may be aligned and structured to engage the asana.

Mindfulness Meditation

This term refers to a practice of finding stillness in the mind and body to create a sense of ease and peace.

The mindfulness component of this type of meditation means that you focus on one thing.

This may be your breath, a candle flame, or a mantra. This practice helps to clear the mind as well as foster less anxiety and stress.

Set An Intention

In some yoga classes, your instructor may suggest that you set an intention for your practice.

That is, if you have a specific need or desire, like feeling stronger or feeling less stress, think about that desire throughout your yoga practice. Having an intention is like making a wish or saying a prayer.

The power of the yoga practice may clear the way so those outcomes manifest.

Expressions You Will Likely Say in a Yoga Class

As a student, you will listen to the instructions from your teacher, but there will be times that you will speak during the class.

Here are a couple of standard terms that you may say:

Om

Considered the sound of the universe, Om is a mantra or chant.

As a collective, the yoga class will chant the word Om as a way to unite with one another and with all things.

When chanted, the frequency of the vibration is said to resonate with all of nature.

Om is often chanted three times at the beginning of a yoga session or at the end.

Namaste

Another word that you will say at the end of your yoga practice is Namaste (nah-mah-stay).

In some parts of the world, Namaste is used as a greeting or salutation. Just like Shalom or Aloha are used as social greetings, Namaste has the same intention.

The word has a deep meaning. There are many ways to translate its meaning.

A typical interpretation is “I bow to honor the Divine in you and the Divine in me.” It is a sacred word and is a special offering to share with another person.

Saying it at the end of yoga practice sums up your entire yoga experience.

You can leave the space feeling fulfilled and satisfied with your yoga practice.

Conclusion

If you’re new to the yoga practice and feel a little nervous about stepping into a class, hopefully, this list of yoga terms and phrases will set your mind at ease.

Now you will have a greater understanding of what your instructor is saying and what to do when you practice yoga.

The main thing is to go in with an open mind and enjoy your yoga experience.

Related Questions

Do you need to be flexible to practice yoga?

No. You do not already need to be flexible if you’re new to yoga. In fact, you will gain more flexibility with most styles of yoga.

What’s the best yoga class to start with?

If you are new to yoga, you may want to find a class that is designed for a beginner.

In these Intro To Yoga classes, instructors will take the time to teach you the fundamentals of the practice: how to breathe, basic yoga poses, meanings of some common yoga words and phrases.

What should you wear to a yoga class?

You want to be comfortable when you practice yoga. Wear something that is easy to move in and is not binding.

That might be a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Keep it simple and enjoy it!

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