A Sanskrit Primer


Why bother with using the Sanskrit name of the pose?

Apart from “why do we have to fold blankets in a particular way?” this is often a question that bothers new students. There are some teachers who will only use the Sanskrit in class instruction, some who use only English, and some who will use both. It should also be pointed out that different lineages of Yoga might not have the same names for the same poses (in either English or Sanskrit). The Sanskrit I use is one from a very commonly used lineage. I always try to use both English and Sanskrit so there is no rising worry in the class. However, using English is less precise: a wide-legged forward bend can be many things, but Prasarita Padottanasana usually means one particular pose. There is also a school of thought that promotes use of the Sanskrit name of the pose to honour the ancient lineage that bears us the gift of yoga. It’s a respect thing, and that sits best with me.

The last part of the name of the pose is the easy bit.

The common suffix is asana pronounced “arse-ah-nah” and it literally translates to “seat” although to most it means “pose”. I like to think of it as seat though, as one should be settled and comfortable in the pose. It’s the seat from where you are doing your “being”.

The root part of the yoga poses will have various sources.

For instance they might be named after a character from literature:

Eg Virabhadra = was a famous warrior in Hindu literature, (Virabhadrasana I, II and III),

Bharadvaja=was an Indian sage (Bharadvajasana = sage twist), and Marici was another Indian sage (Mariciasnana)

or Vira= a hero in general (Virasana = sitting like a hero)

or an animal eg garuda= eagle (Garudasana), Cow = Go (gomukhasana), Bhujanga= Cobra (Bhujangasana), Viyhagra = tiger, (Viyhagrasana = tiger pose), Simha = Lion (Simhasana)

or an object, eg Nau or nav = boat, (Navasana), Danda = Stick, (Dandasana), Parigha = gate (Parighasana), Chandra = Moon (Chandrasnana), Vrksa = tree (Vrksasana), Kona = Angle, Trikon = triangle

And body bits

Mukha = face (Adho mukha or urdhva mukha svanasana = Downward facing, or upward facing dog seat)

Hasta = Hand (Urdhva hastasana = upwards hands)

Pada = Foot/Leg (Paddotanasana)

Angusta= Big toe (Padangustasana)

Sirsa = head (Sirsasana = headstand)

Janu= knee (Janusirsasana= Head to knee pose)


Then you have the qualifiers, so

Adho = downwards

Urdhva = upwards (Urdhva hastasana = upward hands)

Parsva = side or sideways

Uttan = extension

Supta = lying down

Paravritti= revolved

Ardha= partly or half

Baddha = Bound

Sukha = Happy (Sukhasnana= Happy seat)

Ananda = Blissful (Ananda balasana = happy baby pose)

Often if you Google the name of a pose you will find a site that breaks it down for you. www.yogajournal.com is pretty good with that.

You might like to have a look at some of the practices you have done in class through the Members section of this website. If you are interested in learning something new and putting your brain to work, that’s a great way to start. Maybe we can have a class with all Sanskrit one day!