Glossary of Terms
Asana – It literally means “seated” or “comfortable position”. It is third of the eight principles of the Yoga of Patanjali. Originally, the word referred only to several seated positions for meditation. In tantra and Hatha yoga, Asana applies to all the positions of the body.
Ashram – It is a school or center of yoga. A community of individuals with the same mentality. Any spiritual community or establishment. The residents of ashram typically live under an economic cooperative or are sustained by donations of the bigger communities from outside the ashram. In many ways, the ashram resembles a monastic community.
Astanga – “Eighth principle”. The eight parts or stages in which Patanjali divided up the practice of yoga when he traveled through India in the year 200 A.C. approximately. He studied everything that could took the name yoga, and soon he prepared a treaty where he analyzed in a systematic fashion the structure and function of yoga techniques.
Astanga yoga – The “eight principles” of the classic raja yoga, as it was taught by Patanjali and as indicated in its treaty The Yoga Sutras. This text is the single most venerated work on yoga ever composed and it is definitive text on raja yoga.
Aum (Om) – It is the mystical syllable that represents, among other things, everything that is, everything that was and everything that shall be.
Ayurveda – It is the Vedic science of the sacred health or medicine. It is considered as a supplement to Athara, which forms the basis of most of its textual authoritativeness. Yoga and Ayurveda always have been in close proximity to each other. Yoga deals with physiology (both subtle and physics), whereas Ayurveda deals with pharmacology (whether esoteric or scientific).
Bandha – It literally means “to tie or to moor”. In Yoga the word makes reference to several muscular contractions or “closings” used to hold one’s breathing, prana or energy in a determined area of the body.
Brahmacharya – It literally means a “student of God”. In everyday language it refers to him or her who is celibate. It is the first ashrama, or stage of life in classic India. The years of childhood, schooling and apprenticeship.
Chakra – A wheel, specially a light wheel. It refers to any of the numerous energy centers located inside and around the body that the clairvoyants perceive like wheels in motion. The seven main chackras are located along the column, from its base to the crown. According to the philosophy of Yoga, the vital force (prana) activates these centers. If some chackras are under- or over-energized, there will be no harmony or there will be disease in the body. This state is known as “no balance state”. One of the main goals of Hatha, Kundalini and Tantra yoga is to preserve these chackras well attuned so that the Divine energy may manifest itself through them.
Dhyana – It literally means “meditation”, “thought” or “reflection”. Whereas Dharana simply consists of maintaining a thought in the mind, Dhyana allows for the expansion of the mind or its reflection on that thought. It is the seventh principle of the system of Patanjali.
Hatha – Ha and yang, both represent the masculine polarities or the suns, whereas and the yin represent the feminine polarities or the moons. The Term Hatha Yoga, then, makes reference to the integration of (seemingly) opposites in an union or complete whole.
Hatha Yoga – In India, during the Middle Ages, Hatha Yoga and Tantra yoga were detached from their common roots, which stretched in essence to the prehistoric Valleys of the Hindu Culture of the third millennium A.C. Hatha Yoga adopted an existential and ascetic approach, under the belief that integration with the Divinity would be faster (and stronger) when the person in question lives an ascetic and celibate life in retirement. Most yoga positions that are familiar to Westerners are part of the Hatha Yoga tradition. Technically speaking, the term means “personal integration through the union of opposites.” Hatha Yoga looks to to eliminate any false sense of duality between the practitioner and the spiritual universal reality (Brahman). The conscious practice of physical positions (asanas), and specifically modified breathings and other techniques, help to integrate body, mind and spirit. Tantra Yoga developed in fine contrast with the heritage of yoga and the ascetic common principles of Hatha Yoga. Tantra yoguis aim at integrating the polarities like the occupants (inhabitants): Couples who live together and who enjoy the pleasures, amusements, and luxuries of life (tantra of the right hand), or in other more exotic unions (tantra of the left hand).
Hatha Yoga Pradiprika – This text, written in the 14th Century by Svatmarana Wisdom, is the most significative and oldest manuscript dedicated specifically to the Hatha Yoga which has survived. Previous texts describe the materials that precede the foundation of Hatha Yoga, which was not established as a separate form until around the years 700 – 100 A.C. A previous text, written by Gorakhnath and called Hatha Yoga was available in the times of Svatmarama, and some sections evern reproduced in its Pradipika. Unfortunately, this previous text was lost. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is composed of approximately 383 verses, divided up in four sections, as follows:
Japa – Literally, it means “repetition”. It is often used as synonymous for mantra.
Karma – Literally, it means “action”. In the West, Karma is misunderstood and considered as the result of our actions. This is the other way around. Phalam (fruit) is what follows from our actions. Karma, on the other hand, are the actions themselves, rather than what follows from them. The Law of Karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma (action) is the cause of resulting effects, or phalam. There are three types of Karma: actions of the body, actions of the speech and actions of the mind. Jesus taught this concept in Matthew 5:21: 22.
Kriya – Literally, it means “an action, an intention, an initiative, an activity or a process”. In Yoga, kriya usually makes reference to any of the 6 categories of the hygiene and purification processes, known as shat-kriya or the six cleaning steps. In fact there are about 20 different kriyas, since there are many specific techniques included within those six categories. Each one of them is described in detail in the Gheranda Samhita.
Mantra – Literally, it means “instrument of the thought”. It is a prayer song. A mystical verse or a magic formula used to invoke the deity or to acquire divine power. It makes reference to any word, phrase or prayer used in meditation. The Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary are two classic examples of Christian mantras.
Nadi – “Water running, a river, or current; any tube or channel, specially a tubular organ (like a vein or artery of the body)”.
Niyama – It is a moral rule. It is the second principle of the Ashtanga Yoga Patanjali system.
Om (Aum) – “Om” is the erroneous pronunciation of the most common “Aum.” In fact there are three sounds different from Aum, but to spell it “Om”, at least in English, is correct, since “O” is the phonetic equivalent of “Au.”
Patanjali – He is the author of Yoga Sutras. Patanjali lived between the 200 AC and 200 BC, but the exact date remains unknown. Patanjali traveled throughout most of India, studying and analyzing what different practitioners and masters were doing under the name of “Yoga”. Patanjali probably did not contribute new ideas to the practice of yoga, but rather proffered an invaluable structural analysis of yoga at the time.
Phalam – Literally, it means “fruit”. The fruit of Karma. It is used in esoteric texts to make reference to the results or consequences of our actions (karmas). It is what Jesus meant when he said that “He shall be known through His fruits.”
Pingala – It literally means “yellowish current”. It is one of the three primary channels of the vital force. It is located to the right of the central duct (sushumna nadi) and it is associated to the sun. It is responsible for the temperature of the body. On the physical plane, it corresponds to the parasympathetic nervous system.
Prana – The root “prana” means to fill. The root “an” means to breathe or to live. Prana is “the life that fills with breathing”. In other words, the principle of life in action. Prana is commonly translated as air, breathing, spirit, life, vital force, energy, subtle energy, or the currents of energy in ascending motion in the body.
Pranayama – Literally, it means “breathing control”. It is any of the hundreds of therapeutic breathing patterns employed in any of the yoga forms or martial arts. It is the fourth principle of Patanjali Yoga.
Yama – It means “to control or to abstain”, “to control or to regulate”. A moral commandment or personal control. It is the first one of the eight principles of the yoga system of ashtanga of Patanjali. Yama may also be a route or way. It is the control to doubt or to feel lost. Yama also refers to the planet Saturn, whose orbit speed is the slowest (or the most controlled) of all visible planets.
Yama and Niyama – They are the first two principles of Patanjali yoga, being five yamas and five observances of personal conduct the niyamas, those that constitute the “ten commandments” of India. They are similar to those predicated by Moses. Stability in yamas and niyamas is considered of the essence for the success of yoga practice.
Yama consists of non-violence, truth, no theft, containment and no ambition (Yoga sutras 2:30). Niyama consists of: purity, contentment, acceptance without causing pain, spiritual study, and working in the divinity of God (Yoga sutras 2:32).
Yantra – Literally, it means any instrument used for “maintaining, controlling or adhering to an idea.” In yoga a yantra is a visual symbol used to keep the mind free of distractions during meditation. Each chackra has its own yantra, a simple geometric design, to which colors may be added, images that surround the loto flower, deities (masculine and feminine) and their animals as a means of transportation, followed by sounds as they are perceived by the internal ear, and so on. In the Tantra and Hatha Yoga, yantra is studied over time at progressively greater levels of detail. As ach level of detail requires memory, it is retained in meditation. The meditation is typically performed while holding one’s breath both in the breathing of the Swan and in the breathing of fire.
Yoga – Literally, it means “integration” or “union”. The root “yuj” means the yoke that unites animals to join forces and control the direction. In the Hatha and Tetra Yoga we use pranayama, kumbhaka, mudra and bandha in order to combine bayus (internal energies or prana) and to lead this combined energy upwards towards the central channel (shushumna nadi) to create divine union – Yoga. This is why that the breathing is so important. The purpose is to persuade the Kundalini Shakti to unite with Shiva so that we may discover our essential nature in that divine union.
Yoga Sutras – The writings of Patanjali reflect almost everything he has studied under the name of yoga over the years in India. It is an excellent treatise on the subject, and an early example of as structural as well as functional analysis.
Ananda Yoga classes focus on gentle postures designed to move the energy up to the brain and prepare the body for meditation. Classes also focus on proper body alignment and controlled breathing.
Anusara Yoga is a relatively new form of yoga (1997), which pairs strict principles of alignment with a playful spirit. Postures can be challenging, but the real message of Anusara is to open your heart and strive to connect with the divine in yourself and others.
Ashtanga Yoga is the name given to the system of yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This style of yoga is physically demanding as it involves synchronizing breathing with progressive and continuous series of postures-a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, flexibility, stamina, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.
Bikram Yoga is the method of yoga that is a comprehensive workout that includes all the components of fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss. The founder, Bikram Choudhury, was a gold medal Olympic weight lifter in 1963 and is a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, (Autobiography of a Yogi). The Bikram yoga method is taught at the temperatures of 95-105 degrees.
Hatha Yoga is the foundation of all Yoga styles. It incorporates Asanas (postures), Pranayama (regulated breathing), meditation (Dharana & Dhyana) and kundalini (Laya Yoga) into a complete system that can be used to achieve enlightenment or self-realization. It has become very popular in America as source of exercise and stress management. The ideal way to practice the Hatha Yoga poses (asanas) is to approach the practice session in a calm, meditative mood. Sit quietly for a few moments, then begin the series, slowly, with control and grace, being inwardly aware as the body performs the various poses selected for the practice session.
ISHTA Yoga is a system of yoga developed by South African teacher Mani Finger and popularized in the States by his son Alan, ISHTA (Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts) focuses on opening energy channels throughout the body with postures, visualizations, and meditation.
Iyengar Yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. This style of yoga promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated breathing and poses that require precise body alignment. The poses are generally held longer than in other styles of yoga. In Iyengar, you slowly move into a pose, hold it for a minute or so, and then rest for a few breaths before stretching into another. Equipment like cushions, blankets, straps, and blocks to help the less flexible also distinguishes Iyengar from other types of yoga. Although Iyengar incorporates the traditional postures, or asanas, that make up the broader category of hatha yoga, the cushions and other props revolutionized yoga by enabling everyone -- even the elderly, sick, and disabled -- to practice. Because of its slow pace, attention to detail, and use of props, Iyengar yoga can be especially good if you're recovering from an injury.
Jivamukti Yoga was developed by Sharon Gannon and David Life, the Jivamukti Yoga method expresses the spiritual and ethical aspects of the practice of yoga that have been disregarded or devalued in contemporary times. It is a vigorous and challenging asana form with an emphasis on scriptural study, Sanskrit chanting, vegetarianism, non-violence, meditation, devotion to God and the role that music and listening play in the practice of yoga. Life and Gannon currently operate a popular yoga studio in New York City.
Kripalu Yoga is called the yoga of consciousness. This gentle, introspective practice urges practitioners to hold poses to explore and release emotional and spiritual blockages. Goal-oriented striving is discouraged and precise alignment is not as important as in some other traditions. There are three stages in Kripalu yoga. Stage One focuses on learning the postures and exploring your bodies abilities. Stage Two involves holding the postures for an extended time, developing concentration and inner awareness. Stage Three is like a meditation in motion in which the movement from one posture to another arises unconsciously and spontaneously.
Kundalini Yoga is a yoga practice that concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises.
Power Yoga is a style of yoga created from the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. But power yoga takes ashtanga one step further. Many of the poses (also called postures or their Sanskrit name, asanas) resemble basic calisthenics -- push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends -- but the key to power yoga's sweat-producing, muscle-building power is the pace. Instead of pausing between poses as you would in traditional yoga, each move flows into the next, making it an intense workout.
Restorative yoga is a deeply nourishing practice with the aid of props to set the tone for deep relaxation and meditation with a relaxing atmosphere and healing properties. During this yoga practice yoga props such as blankets, blocks, bolsters and straps are used to allow the body to fully achieve each position comfortably. This practice is structured to rejuvenate and heal the body by stretching all areas of the body, releasing stress and tension from joints and muscles.
Sivananda Yoga is a classical style of Yoga that is a slow paced meditative class that helps encourage proper breathing, flexibility, strength and vitality in the body while calming the mind. the philosophy of Sivananda Yoga teaches Proper Exercise (Asanas), Proper Breathing (Pranayama), Proper Relaxation (savasana), Proper Diet, Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana). This class begins with savasana and pranayama (breathing exercises) followed by surya namaskar (sun salutation) and a formula of 12 basic asanas with beginner, intermediate and advanced variations.
Sometimes referred to as yoga for the joints, not the muscles, it directs the stimulation normally created by the asana into areas deeper than the superficial or muscular tissues. Yin Yoga works the connective tissues of the ligaments, fascia, joints and bones. A significant characteristic is the long held, passive nature of the postures. While initially this style of yoga may seem boring, passive, or "soft," it can be quite challenging due to the long duration of the postures, which can last from five to twenty minutes.