The beauty of teaching this rich but language to your students, will not only help them to follow your directions in class but, energetically, it will also help them get the most out of every yoga class. That’s a powerful statement, let us consider why it is true…

Each Sanskrit word is believed to have its own consciousness, and by  pronouncing that said Sanskrit word it is believed that it will tap into that consciousness. 

This is especially true for mantras, which are chants to purify the mind – a mantra’s whole effect is based on its sound, and to get the right effect, you have to get the sound right.

Hopefully, your future students will want to delve into yoga philosophy as well as asana practice, and Sanskrit can help them to understand that philosophy in greater depth. 

They can have a direct reading of yoga’s philosophical sutras or “threads,” like the one that prompts us to learn Sanskrit by performing svadhyaya, or “self-study. In Sanskrit, your students can also comprehend and express spiritual concepts that are not readily conveyed in English. No language in the world can as effectively translate the mystical, transcendent, and divine. There are dozens of words for love, all with different nuances, from rati, or passionate love, to prema, pure love with a sweet selflessness to it.

Does your Sanskrit flow as it should? If you’re uncertain how to pronounce the words correctly—or want to improve your use of the language—there are many opportunities to hone your skills. By turning to the CDs, books, youtube, etc and other resources listed below, you can better grasp Sanskrit and pass it on to your students, enabling them—and enabling yourself—to have a more authentic experience of yoga.

So how much Sanskrit should you use in class?

It’s important to Seek guidance from your studio managers and teacher trainers, and meet your students where they’re at. If for example you are teaching at a gym or leisure centre, or a childrens’ yoga class – you may want to go light on your Sanskrit. But if you’re working at a spiritual centre that focuses on the history of yoga, or you are running a workshop with students who you know are keen to learn more about the roots of yoga then maybe you will use more Sanskrit language.

How to Pronounce Sanskrit

From the beginning, it’s crucial to try your best to avoid the Sanskrit mispronunciations that are rampant in the West. Only correct pronunciation will help you and your students tap into the consciousness of Sanskrit—and gain the full benefit of its energetic vibrations. 

Sanskrit’s Devanagari alphabet has 50 letters (nearly double the number in English), and when linguists transliterate it, they place symbols around English letters—abbreviations that, like Sanskrit consonants and vowels, too many English speakers bungle. 

Despite what you may hear in many yoga studios, the th in hatha should have a hard t as in tummy and not a soft th as in thin

The ch in chakra should sound like the ch in chat, not the sh in shine.

The History of Sanskrit

As you explain Sanskrit’s basic vocabulary and pronunciation, you may also want to tell your students about its rich history, noting that it predates Greek and Latin and stems from proto-European languages spoken in India 7,000 years ago. Passed down orally for centuries, Sanskrit was first written down around 1,500 B.C. in the form of the oldest-known yoga scripture, the Rig Veda. Around 500 B.C., a scholar named Panini established the rules that define classical Sanskrit, the language we use in yoga today.

To make it accessible for your students, you can point out that many Sanskrit words are the roots of words in English, which borrowed from Sanskrit heavily over the course of its own evolution. Bandha (or “lock”), for example, is related to the English word bound, while Navasana (Boat Pose) is related to “navy.”

Despite these similarities, Sanskrit is different from English in one key way: The language of yoga is much easier to learn. While English is a phonemic language, with the same letters sometimes pronounced in different ways (think of the o in love versus the o in open), Sanskrit is phonetic, so every letter is always pronounced the same. While English has erratic rules, Sanskrit’s grammar is more straightforward and thus simpler for newcomers to grasp.

How to Teach Sanskrit

  1. As you lovingly introduce new Sanskrit words, repeat them often, as it takes seven repetitions of a word for most people to remember it. 
  2. Build your students’ vocabulary by referring back to old words as you continue to introduce new ones. Break each word into syllables and pronounce it slowly, one syllable at a time, this will help your students improve their comprehension and pronunciation.
  3. Break Sanskrit pose names down and explain how the elements fit together e.g. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), utthita means ‘extended,’ parsva is ‘side,” kona is ‘angle,’ and asana is ‘posture.
  4. Write it….have the words written out so that students has read it.

Sanskrit Study Resources

Books and CDs:


The debate on using Sanskrit in classes

During teaching training, one of the most common debates centres around calling poses by their Sanskrit names. Students want to know whether they should memorize and use these Sanskrit names, or whether that practice was elitist and would people put off. 

Using Sanskrit names doesn’t have to be an impossible task for teachers or for students. Armed with a basic understanding of the way different students learn, most teachers can incorporate those names into their teaching quite easily and with good results.

The best teaching takes into account that every student has a preferred learning style and offers different cues for different students. This practice—known as experiential learning—includes something for Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic learners. 

When you use Sanskrit in the studio, keep in mind that auditory learners want to hear the word, 

visual learners want to see the word or visualize the spelling, 

and kinesthetic learners want to do the pose and say the word, or perhaps write it down. 

To fulfill the needs of a range of learners, make sure to include different expressions of the word during class.

The gradual introduction of traditional names can teach your students more than you might initially think. One of the best reasons to use the Sanskrit terms is to stir up interest and nurture curiosity. The Sanskrit suggests there’s more to yoga than athletic activity, If you think yoga is only stretching, don’t learn the names but if you really want to teach the whole of yoga then it is a good idea to know where the references come from.

Each of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are thought to have a sound frequency with a specific therapeutic benefit. When you tap into the sound of yoga you really experience Yoga with a capital Y. 

In Vedic belief, each word is encoded with consciousness. To put this simply, the pose name and the effect of the pose are one. So, by simultaneously saying or hearing the Sanskrit name and performing the pose, we can feel the “click” of unity between sound and body.

But if there is a power in the sound of the language, does mispronunciation counter it? 

Possibly, In ancient times a mantra was a spiritual invocation. If you didn’t pronounce it exactly, nothing would happen.

One way to deal with this challenge is to remember that Sanskrit was an oral language for thousands of years but through repetition and chanting, your students can come to learn the correct pronunciation over time.

Another approach to learning and teaching the pose names is to remember that yoga is a system with its own lexicon. Think ballet, HTML, cooking, or football.

Every system has its own vocabulary that outsiders may not get, but after you work with the code for a while it becomes ‘parlance.’ You can shorten it and intensify its meaning which makes it easier to learn.”

Understanding yogic lexicon can make teaching and learning easier. For example, when you start to get more mature as a practitioner, there’s a lot of cross references between poses that are helpful. You can hear ‘create the actions of Tadasana in Sirsasana’ instead of a whole mess of instructions. It makes the teaching clearer. It gives more refinement because you can cross reference and explain one pose in terms of another pose.

And there are other benefits as well. For one thing, Sanskrit breaks down the barriers between people who speak different languages. The beauty of the Sanskrit terms is that they are a universal reference, no matter where you are on the planet, you have the Sanskrit terms so you don’t have to worry. Whether you say the word “plie” [to reference a ballet movement] in Japan or France, it means the same thing.”

This universal language creates a deeper, more spiritual connection. Because Sanskrit names communicate meaning through sound and yoke sound and sensation, they reveal to each individual the universal experience of the pose. Knowing the Sanskrit and connecting it to our practice roots us in tradition and gives us a common vocabulary. This is the first step in seeking that connection that is yoga’s promise.

If you’re ready to start teaching names, bear in mind one simple rule of thumb. 

When you begin to introduce the names, is it in the spirit of an inviting in – or is there an ‘I know the secret word and maybe if you are around long enough you will too’?

 If you keep your teaching in the spirit of an invitation, you will arrive at this truth: The faster you can teach your students what the words mean to you, the faster you can begin to talk to each other and share in your understanding.”


Yoga (yo-ga)

It’s obvious why this one takes first place on this list. Usually translated as “to yoke,” yoga comes from two different senses of the word yuj: one in the sense of samādhi, or concentration, and one in the sense of to yoke or to join. There’s a widespread misconception that the word yoga only means “union,” but it also means “method or technique.” “The goal of the practice is the realization that of the eternal oneness of ātman and brahman that we mistakenly believed are separate,” Rosen says. “Yoga doesn’t create a union, it reveals that it’s been there all along.”

Avidyā (ah-VID-ya)

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, avidyā is the reason we practice yoga in the first place, so it seems like an essential. Usually translated as not knowing, Avidyā comes from the root word vid (to know, to see) and is related to English words like view, vista, video, evident. The prefix a- is similar to the English un-, making avidyā then not knowing, not seeing. Avidyā really refers to a kind of self-ignorance, ignorance of the essential Self, which is the root cause of the other four kleshas, which are afflictions or personal obstacles.

Guru (gu-ru)

Guru made the list because it’s a word we use frequently in English and in the old days nobody learned about yoga without a Self-realized teacher, or guru, Rosen points out. The word can be translated literally as weighty, heavy, of much account. In yoga we use it to mean the weighty, heavy one, overripe with spiritual knowledge, ready to be plucked by the right student and lead them from darkness to light.

Āsana (AH-sana)

Most Westerners first know yoga as solely the physical poses, or āsana, though they are only one aspect of the eight-limb practice outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The word āsana is often translated as seat. “The asanas outlined in the Yoga Sutra were only seated; non-seated asanas didn’t appear for at least 900 years after Patanjali,” Rosen says. The root word ās, however, means to be present, to sit quietly, to celebrate, to continue to do anything without interruption.

Haṭha (ha-ta)

Most modern schools of yoga stem from the haṭha yoga tradition, making this a key word to know. It’s also important to note in this context that it is one of the most commonly mispronounced Sanskrit words. It should be ha-ta, not ha-tha, as it’s so often said.

Hatha literally means force, which can be interpreted to mean that haṭha yoga is forceful yoga—storming the gates of enlightenment with its powerfully transformative practices. Or you could interpret haṭha yoga as the yoga of the force, or Kundalini, the arousal of which is one of the traditional practice’s main goals. 

Cakra (cha-kra)

A commonly mispronounced Sanskrit word, cakra should sound like cha-kra, not sha-kra. It comes from the root word car, to move. A cakra is literally a wheel or circle, which in yoga refers to the seven vortexes of subtle energy in the body.

Mantra (man-tra)

Mantra closely follows āsana in popularity. The word can be translated as an instrument of thought from the root words man (to think) and tra (instrumentality). A mantra is literally an instrument of thought of spiritual matters. They are believed to be tools for accessing the divine power of an associated deity. Practically speaking, mantras can take the form of everything from single-syllable to sentence- or paragraph-length chants—and can be intelligible or unintelligible. The sound is often said to affect the listener’s consciousness. 

Mudra (moo-drah)

Mudra ranks alongside mantra, closely following āsana, in popularity of practices. It can be translated as a seal, which in yoga means an energy seal or conduit. Mudras at the throat (jalandhara) and anus (mula) are used to keep prana from leaking out during breathing practice.

Samādhi (sa-ma-di)

Samādhi is the eighth step of the eight-limb practice outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Samādhi literally means putting together or combining with. In yoga, we can interpret that as combining one’s consciousness with an interiorized object of meditation until the difference between matter and Self becomes clear.

Prāna (pra-nah)

Prāna makes this list because it is the primary energetic driver of all yoga practice. Literally, prana translates as to breathe forth. The word can be interpreted as the vibratory power that permeates the universe and supplies energy for life to all.