5 yoga terms every beginner should know

Many people are interested in yoga but the terminology might be a bit intimidating to newcomers. Here Queenie Phair, a Toronto Yoga teacher, swipes aside the mysterious aura around yoga terminology with her in-depth knowledge.

Whether you are new to yoga or an experienced yogi, you may hear your instructor use some terms that are not familiar to you. Many yoga teachers incorporate Sanskrit terms into their class – an ancient language from Southern India, but don’t let these terms intimidate you!

Getting a grasp of the meaning of these words can actually make their use more meaningful and make your yoga practice more intentional.

Let’s learn about the five of the most common yoga terms that are helpful for beginners to know:

Asana: 5 yoga terms every beginner should know

1. Asana: manner of sitting, a pose

Asana translates into ‘manner of sitting’ or ‘pose’. When you hear it used at the end of term, you know it is referring to a yoga pose. For example, the common downward facing dog pose is ‘adho mukha svansana’.

Pranayama: 5 yoga terms every beginner should know

2. Pranayama: the practice of breath control

Prana means ‘life force’, or ‘energy’, and yama means ‘to restrict’, while ayama means ‘to free’. A very big part of the yoga practice is centred around the breath, and the ability to control our breathing, which has a direct link to our emotions and our physical well being.  There are many different pranayama techniques, and each one has a unique purpose and different benefits.

Mantra: 5 yoga terms every beginner should know

3. Mantra: word or sound repeated out loud or in the mind

We’ve all heard of “Om” before, but what exactly is that? It’s a mantra! Mantras are word, phrases, or sounds repeated either out loud or in the mind. It helps to increase concentration while meditating. Some yoga classes may incorporate an Om mantra at the beginning or end of a yoga class.

Mudra: 5 yoga terms every beginner should know

4. Mudra: a gesture often with the hands

Yoga poses are very deliberate with positioning the body. A mudra is a gesture that is generally done with you hands and means ‘seal’ or ‘closure’ in Sanskrit. The most common is pressing your palms together in prayer at the heart centre (anjali mudra), or touching your forefinger and thumb together to form a circle with the palm facing upward (chin mudra). These are done to aid concentration and focus, direct energy, activate meridians, and are symbolic of intentions.

Namaste: a gesture of acknowledgement

5. Namaste: a gesture of acknowledgement

Namaste roughly means ‘the light within me bows to the light within you’ or ‘my soul honors your soul’. It is also used as a greeting in India. Many yoga teachers use it at the end of a yoga class while bowing their head and pressing their palms to together at the heart. It’s used as a sign of respect and gratitude and many find it a great way to bring the yoga session to a close.


When we open ourselves to learn more about the meaning behind yoga terms, we open ourselves to a deeper connection to the yoga practice and tradition. Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s put them into practice! Come try a yoga class with me or let me know in the comments what you want to know about next.