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Teaching Yoga: Sanskrit Terms Explained

by Elaine Clara Mah

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As a yoga teacher, there may come times where you would use Sanskrit terms during class, whether you like it or not. This is because it is often the case where most Sanskrit words don’t have an English equivalent that fully explains the meaning of the terms.

Using Sanskrit expressions is a great way to incorporate the spirit of yoga into a class, but it can also be overwhelming for students. Helping them understand Sanskrit terms better might help them immerse themselves into the class. Here are some common Sanskrit terms I use during yoga class that will come in handy!




Namaste is a common term used at the beginning and at the end of class. In its basic understanding, Namaste is a greeting expression used to acknowledge each other’s presence. But if you go deeper, Namaste means “the light within me bows to the light within you”. This is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another. To perform Namaste, bring both hands together near the heart and bow your head. Performing it in this way offers a deep form of respect to the recipients of your greeting.



Most yoga classes end with a session of pranayama practice. Pranayama comes from two Sanskrit words – prana and yama. Prana means life force, while yama means control. As a whole, pranayama refers to controlling the life force. In short, pranayama is the practice of controlling breath, since breath dictates life force. For B.K.S Iyengar, pranayama means a “conscious prolongation of inhalation, retention, and exhalation.” There are various pranayama practices that can be incorporated into a yoga session, including ujjayi pranayama, nadi sodhana and kappalbhati.




Chakras refer to the centers in our bodies through which energy flows. There are 7 chakras in our body including the root chakra found at the base of the spine, sacral chakra in the lower abdomen, solar plexus chakra in the upper abdomen, heart chakra in the center of the chest, throat chakra at the throat, third eye chakra in between the eyes and the crown chakra at the top of the head. It is essential to keep energy flowing freely through the seven chakras as blocked energy in the chakras is believed to lead to illness.



Drishti, or yogic gaze, is a form of gazing technique that develops concentration in our yoga practice. Yoga believes that the attention can be directed using the eyes. Directing the focus of our eyes in a certain direction will help direct our mind’s attention that way too. Drishti is particularly popular in Ashtanga practice, where students are taught to gaze in one of nine specific points in each asana.



Savasana is a yoga pose, with its literal translation being corpse pose, typically done at the end of a yoga class. In this pose, practitioners lie down on their back and relax body and mind. Though seemingly unassuming, savasana is arguably the most difficult and most important pose in yoga. In savasana, a yogi’s mind is relaxed but not asleep. It is clear of distracting thoughts and is calm. Savasana is known as the ultimate act of conscious surrender

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