Starting out in yoga can be confusing to the say the least. There are loads of new terms and loads of context and history that go along with them.
Here’s our guide to all things yoga to make reaching Savasana (don’t worry, we’ve defined it below) much less intimidating.
Yoga terms: Knowing the origins
Yoga originated in India and was, and continues to be, a deeply spiritual practice with firm ties to South Asian culture. Take the time to educate yourself on yoga’s history to ensure you’re appreciating an ancient, sacred practice (and giving credit where it’s rightfully due).
One look at a yoga studio’s schedule might lead you saying, Ommmm… which is the right class for me? From Anusara to Vinyas, there are various methods to practicing yoga and it can be hard to decipher which might be the best fit for you if you’re a newbie (and not totally familiar with the terminology).
Fret not, though — that’s why we’re here! We’ve decoded some of the most popular practices and pointed out the best bets for beginners. A word of warning: Always check with the studio or instructor before jumping into a new class, as teaching methods may vary between studios and even instructors.
Anti-Gravity or Aerial. A blend of aerial arts and yoga, this method (a few schools teach similar classes under different names) relies on a fabric trapeze bearing some or all of the body’s weight, allowing practitioners to focus on posture and relaxation — not to mention it’s a ton of fun. Beginner-friendly.
Anusara. With a more upbeat vibe, Anusara focuses on mood enhancement and injury prevention. It’s especially great for beginners. Beginner-friendly.
Ashtanga. A more athletic method, Ashtanga is a traditional practice focused on progressive pose sequences tied to the breath. The Primary Series, made up of about 75 poses, takes about 90 minutes to go through and promotes spinal alignment, detoxification of the body, and building strength and flexibility. There ain’t no stopping in this class — continuous flow is central to its practice.
Bikram. A series of 26 basic postures, repeated twice each, practiced in a 105°F (40.5°C) studio. This method, created by the controversial Bikram Choudhury, has inspired other similar “hot” and “warm” yoga classes. Prepare to sweat (and maybe skip if you went for drinks the previous night, because prior hydration is a major key).
Hatha. Most modern forms of yoga fall under this traditional branch. Classes called “Hatha” are typically basic with a classic approach, pairing breathing exercises with postures. Beginner-friendly.
Integral. As the name suggests, this method aims to make yoga an integral part of practitioners’ everyday lives. Classes include asanas along with breathing techniques, mantras, and meditation. Beginner-friendly.
Integrative. Formally known as Integrative Yoga Therapy, this method was developed specifically for medical settings and is used alongside other treatments for patients with everything from heart disease to AIDS to psychiatric disorders.
ISHTA. This stands for Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda, and aims to connect students with their own internal energy. Classes include a cocktail of Ashtanga-like postures and Iyengar’s precision served on the rocks with breathing and meditation.
Iyengar (i-ying-ger). You’ll hold poses for much longer in Iyengar than in other yoga practices. This encourages students to feel each muscle’s role in the pose. Iyengar often incorporates props like belts, blocks, blankets, and chairs and is a good practice for people with injuries or specific physical limitations. Beginner-friendly.
Jivamukti (jee-vah-mook-tee). This method is focused on an authentic spiritual experience. Each class concentrates on a theme and may involve chanting and scripture readings.
Kripalu (kree-pah-loo). With a focus on getting in touch with the body, this method moves through three phases: basic mechanics, meditation, and long-held poses, in a flowing sequence. Beginner-friendly.
Kundalini. A fluid, energetic method that keeps practitioners moving through poses. The sequences are made up of rapid, repetitive movements intended to awaken the body, mind, and spiritual strength. This practice works to tap into the inner “Kundalini” (aka “serpent” energy).
Power yoga. This method has an athletic edge and was created for Westerners back in the ‘80s. It’s often practiced in a mildly heated room, and classes may vary greatly based on the teacher’s style because it doesn’t follow a set progression of asanas.
Prenatal. A type of yoga designed for parents-to-be and even new parents. By focusing on yogic breathing (think of it as the hip version of Lamaze) and strengthening muscles, some say prenatal yoga may even ease and speed up delivery. Beginner-friendly.
Restorative. Relaxation is key in restorative yoga, which is especially great for anyone recovering from injury (or in need of some serious chill time). Expect easy (often modified) standard asanas held for an extra-long time to allow the mind to tune out and calm down. Beginner-friendly.
Sivananda (shi-vah-non-dah). A slow-paced, spiritual method that incorporates sun salutations and the same 12 asanas in each class. This school of yoga focuses on breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking as the means to a healthy-for-you lifestyle.
Trauma-sensitive yoga. Developed by the TCTSY Trauma Center, this form of yoga is recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help those who have experienced trauma be in and self-regulate their bodies.
Viniyoga. This class is personally tailored to each yogi with plenty of one-on-one attention from the instructor. It encourages adapting postures to personal abilities and needs. Beginner-friendly.
Vinyasa. This is a wider category of yoga practices including Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and Jivamukti, among others. Generally, vinyasa classes are flowing and rhythmic. A vinyasa is also any progression of flowing postures.
Yin. A slow-paced, meditative practice, Yin gives muscles a break and allows gravity to do the work during poses. Yin aims to lengthen connective tissue as a complement to strength-based classes. Beginner-friendly.
Trying to move into a pose while watching the instructor often results in a bit of an awkward limbo move. Get the DL on common poses beforehand to keep up with the pros.
Note: Almost all poses have a Sanskrit and English name — we’ve organized ours by type of pose and then alphabetized by English name. Check out the traditional pronunciation to be extra in-the-know.
Seated and twists
Bound Angle or Cobbler’s (Baddha Konasana, bah-da kone-ahs-ahna). Sit tall on your sit bones, bend knees, and bring soles of feet together. Grab your feet or ankles and lengthen your back, lifting the crown of your head to the ceiling. To modify, sit on top of a block, lessening strain on hips and groin.
Cow Face (Gomukhasana, go-moo-kahs-ahna). Sit with knees bent, soles of feet on the floor. Slide one foot under the opposite knee, and bring top knee down to rest atop bottom knee so that knees are stacked, facing forward. Raise the arm on the side of the bottom leg, turn and bend it until it’s touching the upper back. Extend the opposite arm, turn and bend it to reach back for the other hand, clasping them together, if possible.
Lotus (Padmasana, pod-mahs-ahna). Similar to easy pose, but with your feet resting on top of the thighs, rather than on the floor.
Pigeon (Kapotasana, cop-poh-tahs-anna). From Downward Dog, bend one leg in to your chest, bring between the arms and place on the mat with foot pointing to opposite side. Keep your opposite leg extended straight behind. Bring hands to either side of your hips, lengthening your back. To deepen the pose, lean your torso forward over the bent leg and reach arms straight forward.
Staff (Dandasana). Sitting on your butt, legs extended directly in front, hands rest on the floor next to hips to lengthen your back.
Seated Spinal Twist (Matsyendrasana, mot-see-en-draws-ahna). From Staff Pose, bend your right knee to draw right heel toward left seat. Cross and step your left foot to the outside of right knee. Place your left hand a few inches behind your sacrum for support, and twist to the left using right hand or elbow against left knee for resistance.
Chair (Utkatasana, oot-kah-tahs-ahna). Stand up straight with feet together. Bend your knees slightly, sending butt back and toward floor as if sitting in a chair, but keeping your knees together and aligned. Raise arms straight up next to your ears.
Dancing Shiva or Lord of the Dance (Natarajasana, not-ah-rah-jahs-ahna). From standing, transfer weight to your right foot and bring left heel to your butt. Reach back with your left hand, grasping the inside of the left foot. Lift left thigh by kicking the foot back into your hand. Once balanced, raise your right arm straight overhead.
Eagle (Garudasana, gah-ru-dasana). From standing, bend knees slightly and cross one thigh over the other, transferring all weight to the standing leg. Wrap crossed leg around standing leg, hooking foot around the calf (or getting as close as possible). Extend your arms straight forward and cross one over the other. Bend your elbows, so the elbow on one arm is tucked inside the other. Turn yoru palms inward and grasp hands.
Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana, are-duh chun-drahs-ahna). Similar to Warrior II, but with your body rotated to face the side of the supporting leg. Reach arm on supporting leg’s side toward floor for support, while reaching opposite arm up toward the ceiling. Bring your gaze toward raised hand.
Lizard (Utthan Pristhasana, oot-ahn prees-thahs-ahna). From a lunge position, turn your front foot to a 45-degree angle and bring forearms to the floor inside front leg.
Mountain (Tadasana, ta-dahs-ahna). Stand tall with big toes touching but heels slightly apart (so that the outsides of your feet are parallel). Root through entire foot and rest your arms at the sides. Reach the crown of your head toward the ceiling, lengthening the spine.
Reverse Warrior. From Warrior II, stretch your back arm and lean torso back until back hand reaches back leg. Turn the palm upward, reaching your front arm overhead with palm facing the back of the room and fingers pointing up.
Tree (Vrksasana, vrik-shahs-ahna). From Mountain Pose, bring the sole of one foot up to the inner thigh or calf of the other leg (never on the knee joint!). Raise your arms up and open slightly, palms facing each other or fingers in Jnana Mudra. If possible, look up.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I, veer-ah-bah-drahs-ahna). From a lunge position, turn the heel of your back foot down to reach the floor. Keep your torso and hips facing front and reach your arms straight up alongside each ear, lifting your chest toward the ceiling.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II). With your feet in the same position as Warrior I, open your torso to the side of your back leg. Extend arms straight out to the front and back, palms facing down. Look forward over your front arm.
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). From Warrior I, lift your back leg and lean upper body forward, creating a straight line supported by one leg. Reach forward with both arms. Arms, hips, and raised leg should be parallel to the floor.
Crow (Kakasana or Bakasana). From standing, turn your toes outward, heels touching. Bend your knees until your butt rests on your heels. Lean your upper body forward, placing forearms on the floor, knees against shoulders or upper arms. Shift weight forward onto hands, lifting forearms from the floor, and lift your hips and butt with knees supported by upper arms. In full Crow, feet come all the way off the floor.
Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana, ahsh-tah-vah-krahs-ahna). From standing, wrap your right arm inside and around your right leg, placing your hand on the floor outside the right foot. Work right shoulder behind the knee, then cross your left ankle in front of right. Slowly lift both feet to the right, supporting the weight on both palms.
Scale Pose (Tolasana, toe-lahs-ahna). Start in Lotus Pose and place both palms on the floor next to your hips. Contract your abdominal muscles and lift hips and butt from floor. To increase the lift, add a block under each hand.
Firefly (Tittibhasana, tee-tee-bahs-ahna). Similar to Crow Pose, but with your arms straightened and legs extended to each side. Advanced.
Boat (Paripurna Navasana, par-ee-poor-na nah-vahs-ahna). Balancing on the sit bones, the back and legs rise from the mat, creating a “V” shape with the body. The back is straight (not rounded or arched) and legs begin bent at the knee with shins parallel to the floor (Half Boat Pose), then straighten the legs to reach Full Boat Pose.
Bow (Dhanurasana, don-your-ahs-ahna). Lay on your stomach, arms at sides. Bend your knees reaching heels toward butt. Reach back with your hands to grasp ankles, and use your core muscles to lift your chest and legs off the mat, balancing on hip bones.
Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana, mahr-jahr-ee-ahs-ahna). Technically two separate poses, Cat-Cow refers to a linked movement. Begin on hands and knees with your spine neutral. Arch spine, bringing your chest forward and up and then reverse, pulling chest and stomach inward while rounding your back.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chatarunga Dadasana, chat-ah-tuhn-gah da-dahs-ana). From Plank Pose, lower your body until just a few inches from the floor. Keep your elbows pulled in toward ribs.
Dolphin. Begin on hands and knees then lower to your forearms. Curl your toes under and lift hips. This pose resembles Downward Dog, but with weight on your feet and forearms rather than hands.
Plank (Phalankasana, pal-a-kahs-ana). In this pose the body is supported on toes and hands, with arms straight and positioned directly under shoulders — as if in a push-up position.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana, vahs-ees-thahs-ahna). From Plank position, turn your toes to the left, stacking your left foot on top of right, and lift left arm from mat, reaching toward the ceiling. Maintain the straight line of your body, and simply rotate to one side.
Locust (Salambhasana, shah-la-bahs-ahna). Laying on your stomach with arms at sides, lift your chest and legs from the floor, reaching back with your arms.
Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, set-too bahn-dah sar-van-gahs-ahna). Lie face-up on the mat, arms at sides. Bend your knees bringing the soles of your feet to the mat. Move your heels toward your butt until fingertips can reach heels. Rolling onto the outer shoulder blades, lift your hips from the mat until they create a straight diagonal line from knees to shoulders. For supported bridge, place a block under the sacrum resting your weight on the block for a restorative posture.
Camel (Ustrasana, oosh-trahs-ahna). From a kneeling position, rise so that your thighs are perpendicular to floor. Slowly arch the back, raising your chest to the ceiling and bringing your hands behind you to rest on ankles or heels. Try to push your chest up and out.
Cobra (Bhujangasana, boo-jang-ahs-ahna). Lie face-down on the mat, palms alongside ribs. Lift your chest off the mat, bringing your gaze forward or slightly upward, rooting through thighs and tops of feet.
Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Muhka Svanasana, oord-vah moo-kah svahn-ahs-ahna). Similar to Cobra Pose, but with your arms fully straightened, and entire body lifted from mat, supported only on hands and tops of feet.
Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana, oord-vah don-oor-ahs-ahna). From Bridge, place your hands on the floor behind shoulders, with your fingers pointed toward feet and elbows pointed straight up. Lift your entire body from the floor, supported by your hands and feet.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana, ah-doh moo-ka svahn-ahs-ahna). Place your hands shoulder-width apart, firmly on the mat. Keep your feet hip-distance apart, weight evenly distributed between hands and feet, with heels pushing toward the floor.
Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana, ah-nahn-dah bahl-ahs-ahna). Lie face-up, bring your knees toward your chest. Grasp knees and spread legs hips-width apart.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana, oot-tahn-ahs-ahna). From Mountain Pose, bend from hips, reaching for floor. Try to keep your knees straight while bringing hands to shins or floor.
Three-Legged Dog (Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana, tree pah-dah ah-doh moo-ka svahn-ahs-ahna). From Downward Dog, lift one leg up and back, keeping the knee straight and raised foot flexed. Also known as Down-Dog Split.
Triangle (Trikonasana, tree-kone-ahs-ahna). From Warrior II, straighten both legs, shift hip back and your torso toward front leg, reaching toward your ankle with front arm, trying to keep your body rotated to the side of the back leg. Reach upward with back arm and keep your gaze down at front foot or back at upper arm.
Straddling Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana, prah-sa-ree-tah pah-doh-tahn-ahs-ahna). With feet wide apart (depends on flexibility, but wider than shoulder-width), outsides of feet parallel, bend forward at your hips, resting your hands on the floor or block, and (if possible) bringing the crown of your head to the floor. This can also be a preparation for a headstand.
Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana, ah-doh moo-kah vricks-ahs-ahna). For this inversion of Mountain Pose, start in Downward Dog with your hands a few inches from a wall. Bring one foot closer to your hands and hop with the back foot until comfortable hopping all the way up to the handstand, supported by the wall.
Supported Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana, sah-lom-ba sheer-shahs-ahna). From kneeling, interlock the fingers and place forearms on the floor, elbows shoulder distance apart. Set the crown of your head on the floor between your hands, stand and walk your feet toward your head. Eventually, lift your feet from the floor, supporting through your arms, not head and neck.
Supported Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana, sah-lom-ba sar-van-gahs-ahna). Lie face-up on the floor, with your arms at your sides, knees bent with soles of feet on the floor. Contract your core muscles to pull knees in toward your chest, and then continue to lift your pelvis and back. With upper arms on the floor and palms supporting your lower back, straighten your legs upward.
Plow (Halasana). Lie face-up, keeping your legs straight. Flip your legs overhead so your toes touch the ground behind your head. Your body should be supported by your shoulders, arms at sides.
Child’s Pose (Balasana, bah-lahs-ahna). Kneel on the mat with big toes touching, knees hip-width apart. Bring your upper body forward to rest on your thighs, bending at the hips. Arms can be left at sides or extended all the way forward on the mat. If your butt does not reach your heels, place a blanket or pillow in the void.
Corpse (Savasana, shah-vahs-ahna). A relaxation pose, Savasana is typically reserved for the end of the practice. Lie face-up, arms comfortably resting at your sides, palms facing up. Your feet and legs gently turned outward.
Crocodile (Makarasana, mah-kah-rah-nahs-ahna). Lie face-down on the floor with your legs slightly spread, toes turned outward. Stack your forearms and rest your forehead on your arms.
Easy (Sukhasana, soo-kahs-ahna). Resting on your sit bones, cross your legs, bringing them tops of your feet to the floor and stretching your knees downward. For a modification, sit on a block. Alternate the crossing of legs each time the pose is taken.
Hero (Virasana). Kneel with your knees together and feet spread slightly wider than hips. Sit back on your calves, back tall.
When moving through a class, you’re likely to hear some uncommon anatomy phrases. This one’s for the people who got most of their medical education from “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Scrubs.”
Sacrum. This is a bone structure at the base of the spine, which includes the tailbone.
Sit (or sitz) Bones. Part of the pelvis, these bones are most easily felt when sitting on a hard surface. They’re located toward the underside of the butt. This is the part of the butt yoga instructors often recommend sitting on.
Sternum. Also known as the breastbone, this is the bone that runs vertically down the center of the chest. An instructor may direct the class to reach their sternums forward, upward, etc.
Crown of the head. It’s exactly where someone would wear a crown (shocker). It’s the topmost part of the skull. When standing or sitting up straight, always lift the crown of the head toward the ceiling.
When adopting the yoga lifestyle — or even just hitting up the occasional class — yoga-specific phrases abound.
Asanas. Sanskrit for “manner of sitting,” an asana is any yoga posture or pose.
Ashram. A destination for a yoga retreat. Ashrams offer yoga workshops, seminars, and events.
Block. Usually made of foam or cork, yoga blocks provide extra support for the body in more difficult yoga positions.
Chakra. Energy centers throughout the body. We each have seven chakras: the “base” chakra, sacral chakra, solar plexus chakra, heart chakra, throat chakra, brow (aka “third eye”) chakra, and crown chakra.
Karma. An Eastern concept of cause and effect. The belief is that karma is not a punishment for actions, it’s simply the result.
Mantra. A few words or syllables to repeat while meditating. It should inspire, but not distract, the mind.
Namaste. Generally, a greeting, but in yoga, it’s meant to be a greeting of another’s soul.
Om. This slow, steady sound is a mantra.
Pranayama (prah-nie-yahm-ah). Controlled breathing or breathing techniques used during yoga.
Fire Breathing (Kapalbhati, kah-pah-lah-bah-tee). A pranayama technique used during Kundalini, Breath of Fire involves rapid breathing that engages the diaphragm.
Jnana Mudra (nyah-nah moo-drah). The hand position often adopted when meditating. The tips of the forefinger and thumb come together (as if saying “OK”). Rest the hands with palms facing upward.
Sanskrit. An ancient language of India and Hinduism.
Sun Salutation. A sequence of asanas: Mountain Pose, Standing Forward Bend, Lunge, Plank Pose, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog.
Vinyasa. Any flowing sequence of poses. Examples include Cat-Cow and Sun Salutations.
Remember, it’s okay if you still feel a little intimidated by all the words you’ll be learning, but don’t let that fear keep you out of the studio. Instead, go with the flow (pun intended), lean into a beginner’s mindset, and hit the mat!
Yoga is a great practice that combines both body and mind. It helps bring you closer to yourself, both physically and emotionally, while getting in a great workout at the same time. There are a ton of benefits associated with yoga, including stress reduction and lowered anxiety.
And, lastly, remember styles vary from studio to instructor, so keep an open mind and give a few different classes a shot before you settle on one for you.