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The Dedicated Yogi’s Guide to Sanskrit Lingo

guide to sanskrit

​As you dig deeper into the complex philosophy of yoga—frequenting yoga events, reading ancient texts, and sitting with gurus—a basic understanding of esoteric Sanskrit lingo makes all the difference between truly grasping yogic philosophy and getting lost.

Sanskrit is a highly refined language that supposedly comes from nature itself—revealed to meditating sages thousands of years ago. Some say that Shiva, the god of destruction, created the Sanskrit alphabet by beating on his drum fourteen times. Sanskrit grammar is hence defined in the fourteen Mahasvara Sutras.

All major ancient yogic texts, including the Vedas, were written in Sanskrit. It’s actually one of the world’s oldest written languages. These days, it’s rarely used in spoken form outside of prayers and rituals.

When spoken correctly, Sanskrit has a beautiful fluidity and rhythm. Words are carefully organized to create memorable, rhythmic versus, lending it it’s nickname of the “language of the gods”.

Extremely complex, Sanskrit is a language of interpretation, which is why many words may seem to carry varied translations. A single word can have many meanings depending on its context. In the list below, the most commonly understood translations have been given.

Sanskrit pronunciation is very particular. Each letter corresponds to a particular sound, unlike in English where one letter can signify many different sounds. However, many letters in the Sanskrit alphabet are difficult to pronounce for English speakers. There are five ways to pronounces the letter “t” and “d”, depending where in the mouth the tongue presses! The most basic Sanskrit pronunciations have thus been given here.

Enjoy this guide to yoga’s most common Sanskrit terms as you delve deep into the vast ocean of yogic philosophy.

The 6 Branches of Yoga


  • Bhakti (bahk-tee): yogic path of selfless devotion to reach the divine
  • Hatha (ha-tuh): yogic path which purifies the physical and pranic bodies
  • Jnana (nyah-nuh): yogic path of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom
  • Karma (car-muh): the act of selfless service
  • Raja (rah-juh): yogic path of regulating the mind; also known as classical yoga or ashtanga yoga
  • Tantra (tahn-truh): yogic path of energetically igniting one’s higher potentials


Bodies of Wisdom


  • Ayurveda (ah-yur-vey-duh): science of life and health
  • Bhagavad Gita (bah-guh-vahd gee-tuh): classical yoga text with conversation between Arjuna and Lord Krishna
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika (ha-tuh yoh-guh prah-deep-ee-kuh): classical text on hatha yoga
  • Jyotish (jyo-tish): vedic astrology
  • Upanishad (oo-pahn-ish-ahd): sacred spiritual texts
  • Vastu (vah-stoo): sacred architecture and geometry
  • Vedanta (vey-dahn-tuh): the search for self knowledge
  • Veda (vey-duh): sacred scriptures in which yoga was first described in written form (Rig Veda (rig vey-duh), Sama Veda (sah-muh vey-duh), Yajur Veda (yah-joor vey-duh), Atharva Veda (ah-tar-vuh vey-duh)
  • Yoga (yoh-guh): union; the science of uniting the body, mind, and spirit
  • Yoga Sutras (yoh-guh soo-truhs): Patanjali’s system of yoga

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE SANSKRIT EBOOK

Enjoy this guide to yoga’s most common Sanskrit terms as you delve deep into the vast ocean of yoga philosophy.


The Energetic Body


  • Aura (or-uh): lustre or quality surrounding a person
  • Buddhi (boo-dee): intelligence or intellect
  • Citta (chit-uh): ordinary consciousness or inner mind
  • Chakra (chuk-ruh): energy center that stores prana and governs aspects of the physical body
  • Muladhara chakra (moo-luh-dar-uh chuk-ruh): first chakra
  • Svadhisthana chakra (sva-dee-stahn-uh chuk-ruh): second chakra
  • Manipura chakra (mahn-ee-poor-uh chuk-ruh): third chakra
  • Anahata chakra (ah-nuh-ha-tuh chuk-ruh): fourth chakra
  • Vishuddha chakra (vish-oo-duh chuk-ruh): fifth chakra
  • Ajna chakra (aj-nuh chuk-ruh): sixth chakra
  • Sahasrara chakra (sa-has-rar-uh chuk-ruh): seventh chakra
  • Pancha kosha (pahn-chuh koh-shuh): five sheath or layer of the body which envelops the soul
  • Annamaya kosha (ah-nuh-my-uh koh-shuh): food sheath
  • Pranamaya kosha (pra-nuh-my-uh koh-shuh): prana sheath
  • Manomaya kosha (ma-nuh-my-uh koh-shuh): mental sheath
  • Vijnanamaya kosha (vig-nyan-uh-my-uh koh-shuh): intellectual sheath
  • Anandamaya kosha (uh-nun-duh-my-uh koh-shuh): blissful sheath
  • Karmendriya (car-men-dree-yuh): organs of action
  • Kundalini (koon-duh-lee-nee): retained energy or potential energy and consciousness
  • Ida nadi (ee-duh nah-dee): subtle channel connected with the left side of the spine from the muladhara chakra to the ajna chakra
  • Indriya (in-dree-yuh): sense organ
  • Nabi (nah-bee): navel
  • Nadi (nah-dee): energy channels through the body
  • Ojas (oh-jus): vitality, life essence
  • Pingala nadi (peen-guh-luh nah-dee): subtle channel connected with the right side of the spine from the muladhara chakra to the ajna chakra
  • Prana (pra-nuh): energy force sustaining life and creation
  • Sarira (shuh-reer-uh): body
  • Shiva (shee-vuh): divine power of transcendence
  • Shakti (shak-tee): power of energy in the deepest sense
  • Smriti (smrit-ee): memory
  • Sushumna nadi (soo-shoom-nah): main energy channel in yoga, located in the center of the spinal cord through which the kundalini energy rises

The Mind-Body Connection


  • Chakra (chuhk-ruh): energy center that stores prana and governs aspects of the physical body
  • Kosha (koh-shuh): sheath or layer of the body which envelops the soul; five in total
  • Kundalini (koo n-dl-ee-nee): retained energy or potential energy and consciousness
  • Ida nadi (ayh-duh nah-dee): subtle channel connected with the left side of the spine from the muladhara chakra to the ajna chakra
  • Nadi (nah-dee): energy channels through the body
  • Nada (nah-duh): process of producing or intently listening to the inner sound as a means of concentration and ecstatic self-transcendence
  • Pingala nadi (pin-gal-uh nah-dee): subtle channel connected with the right side of the spine from the muladhara chakra to the ajna chakra
  • Prana (prah-nuh): energy force sustaining life and creation
  • Shiva (shee-vuh): divine power of transcendence
  • Shakti (shuhk-tee): power of energy in the deepest sense
  • Sushumna nadi (soo-shoom-nah): main energy channel in yoga, located in the center of the spinal cord through which the kundalini energy rises

The 5 Pranas


  • Prana vayu (prah-nuh vay-oo): the main breath
  • Udana vayu (oo-dah-nuh vay-oo): upward breath
  • Vyana vayu (vyah-nuh vay-oo): pervading breath
  • Samana vayu (sum-ah-nuh vay-oo): equalizing breath
  • Apana vayu (uh-pah-nuh vay-oo): downward breath

Common Asana Prefixes


  • Asana (ah-suh-nuh): yogic posture
  • Dwi (dwee): two
  • Chandra (chahn-druh): moon
  • Eka (eh-kuh): one
  • Hasta (ha-stuh): hand
  • Kona (ko-nuh): angle
  • Pada (pah-duh): foot
  • Parivrtta (par-vrit-tuh): revolved
  • Sarvam (sar-vum): all, whole
  • Surya (sur-yuh): sun
  • Utthita (oo-tee-tuh): extended

The Meditation Approach


  • Aum (ah-oom): sacred syllable
  • Bija (bee-juh): seed, source
  • Bija mantra (bee-juh mun-truh): seed sound
  • Citta vritti (chit-uh vrit-tee): fluctuations in consciousness
  • Drishti (drish-tee): focus or gaze
  • Japa (jah-puh): the repetition of mantras
  • Jnana (nya-nuh): knowledge
  • Kriya (kree-yuh): action, practice
  • Mala (muh-luh): garland used to count mantras during japa
  • Mantra (mun-truh): sacred sound used for yogic purposes to produce change in consciousness
  • Nada (nah-duh): process of producing or intently listening to the inner sound as a means of concentration and ecstatic self-transcendence
  • Yantra (yahn-truh): a design used for meditation


Yogic Spirituality


  • Aham (uh-hum): “I” pronoun
  • Ahamkara (ahm-kah-ruh): ego; the I-self
  • Atman (aht-mun): the true self; soul or individual being
  • Brahma (brah-muh): the god of creation
  • Brahman (brah-mun): the universal soul
  • Dukah (doo-kuh): sorrow, suffering
  • Guna (goo-nuh): quality of nature; three in total
  • Indra (in-druh): the god of heaven
  • Isha (ee-shuh): god
  • Ishvara (eesh-wer-uh): supreme, or personal God
  • Jiva (jee-vuh): individual soul
  • Karma (car-muh): action, cause and effect
  • Maha (ma-huh): great
  • Manas (mah-nus): energy center above the ajna chakra, the sensory aspect of the mind
  • Maya (my-yuh): illusory nature of the physical world
  • Rajas (ruh-jus): quality of inertia and action, one of the three gunas
  • Samskara (sahm-skah-ruh): strong mental impressions that create our beliefs, attitudes, and persona
  • Sattva (saht-vuh): quality of peace and purity, one of the three gunas
  • Shiva (shee-vuh): god of destruction
  • Sukah (soo-kuh): happiness
  • Tamas (tum-us): quality of inertia and darkness; one of the three gunas
  • Vishnu (vish-new): the god who sustains
  • Yogi (yoh-gee): one entirely devoted to the path of yoga
  • Yogini (yoh-gee-nee): a female yogi


Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga


  • Patanjali (puh-tahn-juh-lee): a sage and author of the Yoga Sutras
  • Ashtanga yoga (ash-tahn-guh yoh-guh): 8 limbs of yoga
  • Yama (yah-muh): restraint or self-control
  • Niyama (nee-yuh-muh): five moral observances to encourage personal development and proper use of one’s energy
  • Asana (ah-suh-nuh): yoga movement, position, pose, or posture
  • Pranayama (prah-nuh-yuh-muh): conscious regulation of the breath
  • Pratyahara (prut-yah-har-uh): control of the senses
  • Dharana (dhar-uh-nuh): focus or concentration
  • Dhyana (dhyan-uh): meditation or complete focus on the object being seen
  • Samadhi (suh-mah-dee): eighth and final limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path; super-conscious state; transcendence of time and space

The 5 Yamas


  • Ahimsa (uh-him-sah): practice of non-violence
  • Satya (suht-yuh): truthfulness
  • Asteya (ah-steh-yah): non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya (brah-mah-char-yah): continence or self-restraint
  • Aparigraha (ah-pah-ree-grah-uh): non-collection or non-greed

The 5 Niyamas



4 Aims of Life


  • Purushartha (pur-oo-shar-tuh): 4 aims of life
  • Dharma (dahr-muh): one’s righteous path
  • Artha (art-uh): attainment of wealth
  • Kama (kah-muh): fulfillment of desires
  • Moksha (mok-shuh): ultimate goal of all yoga and life; liberation from maya and the cycles of birth and death

Yogic Tools


  • Abhyasa (uh-byah-suh): repetition, practice
  • Amrita (um-rit-uh): nectar
  • Ananda (ah-nun-duh): bliss, elation
  • Bandha (bahn-dah): conscious energy lock that redirects prana to a specific area of the body
  • Bhaktan (bahk-tun): devotee
  • Bhakti (bahk-tee): devotion
  • Guru (goo-roo): spiritually enlightened soul who can remove ignorance and can enlighten the consciousness of a devotee
  • Karma (car-muh): action; the universal law of cause and effect
  • Kriya (kree-yuh): yogic cleansing, a sequence of physical and mental changes that affect the body, mind, and spirit simultaneously
  • Mudra (moo-druh): gesture which channels pranic energy to the mind or a specific area of the body
  • Sadhaka (sah-duh-kuh): spiritual seeker
  • Sadhana (sah-duh-nuh): spiritual practice
  • Sangha (sun-guh): coming together
  • Sannyasi (sahn-yah-see): ascetic, one who renounces worldly life
  • Shatkarma (shat-kar-muh): six groups of yogic cleansing techniques; also known as kriya
  • Yantra (yahn-truh): sacred geometric form used for meditation
  • Yoga nidra (yoh-guh nee-druh): yogic sleep

Ayurveda


  • https://beyogi.com/muladhara-first-chakra/​​​Agni (ug-nee): fire, power of digestion
  • Ama (ah-muh): undigested food, toxin
  • Aushadhi (ow-shah-dee): herbs, medicine
  • Ayurveda (ah-yur-vey-duh): science of life and health
  • Dhatu (dha-two): body tissue
  • Dosha (doh-shuh): subtle energetic force which exists within nature and the body; three in total
  • Guna (goo-nuh): qualities of substances, 20 in total
  • Mala (mah-luh): body wastes
  • Pancha karma (punch-uh car-muh): five cleansing actions
  • Prakriti (pruhk-ru-tee): one’s individual constitution
  • Roga (row-guh): disease
  • Srota (sro-tuh): body channel
  • Vikriti (vik-ru-tee): one’s imbalance

The 3 Doshas


  • Tridosha (tree-doh-shuh): 3 doshas
  • Vata (vat-uh): responsible for movement in the body, including blood circulation, breathing, and heartbeat
  • Pitta (pit-uh): responsible for transformation, including digestion, metabolism, and energy movement
  • Kapha (ka-fuh): responsible for growth in the body, including balancing its structure and fluid


The 6 Tastes


  • Shad rasa (shahd rah-suh): 6 tastes
  • Madhura (mah-dur-uh): sweet
  • Amla (ahm-luh): sour
  • Lavana (lah-vuh-nuh): salty
  • Katu (kah-two): pungent
  • Tikta (teek-tuh): bitter
  • Kashaya (kuh-shy-uh): astringent

References:

Bachman, Nicolai. The Language of Ayurveda. Victoria, Canada: Traffor Publishing, 2010.

Iyengar, BKS. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Uttar Pradesh, India: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE CHAKRAS EBOOK


Gain a better understanding of the chakras as a whole and the yogic practices associated with each as you journey through this ebook.

Julie Bernier
Julie Bernier
Julie Bernier teaches women the art of self-care so that they feel their healthiest and happiest in their own unique bodies. This holistic approach to individualized wellness is rooted in the ancient Indian knowledge of ayurveda: a complete medical science and way of life which explains that our wellbeing blossoms when we align ourselves with nature. Julie is a registered ayurvedic practitioner by the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA), a Certified Massage Therapist, and a classical hatha yoga teacher. She studied each of these modalities in the US and straight from the source in India. Connect with Julie at trueayurveda.com, on Instagram, or on Facebook. True Ayurveda, Facebook, or Instagram.

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