40 Sanskrit Words Every Yogi Should Know, Correctly
The Yoga Journal's list of 40 common Sanskrit words is riddled with errors
Originally published on malcolmkeating.blogspot.com April 22, 2021.
On April 7, 2021, the Yoga Journal published a list of 40 common Sanskrit words that are important for people interested in yoga to learn. Unfortunately, that list, intended to give people the translation, pronunciation, and Devanāgarī version of commonly used Sanskrit words, had many errors. Despite this being pointed out on Twitter by several people (including myself) and despite my sending the magazine an email a few weeks ago, explaining the error and suggesting they contact experts, the post remains online as I write.
For instance, it spells "yoga" this way: याग. But this means "yāga" which is not the same as this word:
Even worse, if you search Google "Sanskrit for yoga," that erroneous post shows up on the first page of results! Discovering this, I've decided to spend some time posting a corrected version. Hopefully this version will circulate and perhaps the author will even decide to revise her work, which includes some lovely drawings along with the Devanāgarī.
Before I begin, let me explain what I have below:
Link to dictionary. For each word, I have included a link to its entry on a website which aggregates Sanskrit dictionaries, so you don't have to take my word for the spelling and translational options.
Script version. I include the Devanāgarī script of the Sanskrit term, because this is a common script you'll see the words written in, though it's not the only one. I write the word as you'd find it in a dictionary.
Translation. The translation of a term can vary significantly in different contexts. Thus it's worth looking at, for instance, commentaries, scholarly writing, and dictionary entries, to help you appreciate the nuances of a word in context. What a word means in the Yoga Sūtra may not be what it means in other places!
Pronunciation. Pronunciation is important in distinguishing meaning, but everyone speaks with an accent. So no one will speak Sanskrit "perfectly," but you can make sure to distinguish between vowel sounds which are long and short, for instance. You can listen to some of these sounds here. I do not provide a separate entry for pronunciation on this list, because to do so accurately would require using IPA or some other system. However, I have written the Sanskrit words using diacritics (IAST) which will allow you to pronounce the words more correctly. Here's a detailed guide to putting everything together.
*Corrections. I include an asterisk where I have corrected the Devanāgarī in the original article. If you are reading this to check the other one (which I will not link to, because I do not want it to be pushed higher on Google search results), you can compare to see what is incorrect.
Finally, if you see any typos on this list, please do let me know. I will correct it immediately. My writing this list is not to criticize the original author (we all make mistakes) but to try to prevent errors from circulating.
ahiṃsā - अहिंसा* - non-injury
ānanda - आनन्द* - joy, bliss
āsana - आसन - posture
aṣṭāṅga - अष्टाङ्ग* - having eight parts
avidyā - अविद्या* - ignorance
āyurveda - आयुर्वेद - science of medicine
bhakti -भक्ति - devotion
brahmanāḍī - भ्रह्मनाडी - channel or pipe of Brahma
citta - चित्त* - mind, thought
devanāgarī - देवनागरी - "divine city," term for common script for Sanskrit
dhyāna - ध्यान - mediation
dṛṣṭi - दृष्टि - seeing
guru - गुरु - a teacher, respectable person
iḍānāḍī - इडानाडी* - channel on the left side of the body
japa - जप - prayers said under the breath
jñāna - ज्ञान - knowledge, awareness, belief
kośa - कोश* - covering, sheath
kuṇḍalinī - कुण्डलिनी* - a capacity, śakti
mantra - मन्त्र* - ritual formula, sacred chant
maṇḍala - मण्डल* - circular often ritual area
mudrā - मुद्रा - hand position
namaste - नमस्ते - greeting ("honor, namaḥ to you, te")
nirodha - निरोध - restraint, cessation
niyama - नियम - restraint, discipline
om, oṃ or auṃ - ॐ - a syllable appearing in the Upaniṣads, sacred exclamation
piṅgalanāḍī - पिङ्गलनाडी* - channel to the right, piṅgala meaning "reddish brown"
prajñā - प्रज्ञा* - wisdom
prāṇa - प्राण - life, breath
prāṇāyāma - प्राणायाम - breathing exercises
pratyāhara - प्रत्याहर* - withdrawal from senses
samādhi - समाधि - union
saṃskāra - संस्कार* - memory traces
satya - सत्य - true, real
śakti - शक्ति* - power, capacity
sūtra - सूत्र - thread; kind of short sentence or genre written in short sentences
svādhyāya - स्वाध्याय - self-recitation, study
tapas - तपस्* - heat, discipline of austerity
viveka - विवेक - discrimination, distinction
yama - यम - discipline, restraint
yantra - यन्त्र* - mystical diagram
yoga - योग* - union; yoke; discipline
saṃskṛta - संस्कृत - in English, just "Sanskrit"† is okay! but in Sanskrit, it means "well-made," or "refined."
† Let me add one pronunciation note. I hear people sometimes say "Sawn-skrit" (with a long "AH" sound, ɑ in IPA), I think they believe this approximates the sound in the original language. However, the letter "a" (अ) in Sanskrit is pronounced like the letter "u" in "cut" or "but" or "rut." So the more "authentic" pronunciation would be "Suhn-skrit" (with a short "uh" sound, or ə in IPA). Personally, I treat "Sanskrit" as a loan word and let my American accent go to town, with a flat "a," with no remorse (as if I were saying "sand," æ). That's just as correct as saying "saṃskṛta" because I'm speaking English. If you're British, saying "Sawn-skrit" is just adapting the loan word to your local dialect. But you don't need to pronounce it that way out of the idea that you're being more "authentic."