Fitness Magazine

All About the Sanskrit Names of Yoga Poses

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina
All About the Sanskrit Names of Yoga PosesI’ve heard so many complaints over the years from both yoga teachers and yoga practitioners that learning the Sanskrit names of poses is just too difficult! I understand how at first it can all just sound confusing and overwhelming. But I actually think if you have the right mindset, learning the pose names is not as hard as you might think. This is because the pose names are all compound words that combine a rather limited little number of Sanskrit words (for example, the word “supta,” which means supine, or lying on your back, is in many of the pose names for the reclined poses). And once you understand the logic behind the Sanskrit naming system, it becomes much easier to learn the names. For this reason, last year I did a short series on my personal tips for learning the Sanskrit names of poses. And to my surprise, that series was very popular! So today I thought I’d provide an overview post with links to the posts in that series for those who are ready to take on the challenge. 

Need some more motivation to take on this challenge? Here are four reasons why I think you should open your mind to Sanskrit:

1. Sanskrit is the universal language of yoga! You can go anywhere in the world and understand it or be understood. I once helped a French yoga teacher attend an English-speaking teacher’s class who was using English for pose names by quietly whispering to her the Sanskrit names of the poses. She knew them all and so was able to follow!

2. English names are inconsistent. For example, I’ve heard Uttanasana be called “Standing Forward Bend,” “Intense Forward Fold,” and “Ragdoll pose.” And, wow, I just saw Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana being called “Three Faced pose”—not sure where the three faces are in that pose—as well as “Three-Limbed Forward Bend.” The Sanskrit names typically aren’t inconsistent (though in a few cases, there is more than one Sanskrit name for the same pose). And the Sanskrit names do describe the pose pretty accurately once you learn to understand what they mean.

3. One day you may need your Sanskrit. Some English-speaking yoga teachers use a mishmash of English and Sanskrit, like they say “Triangle pose” but then “Paschimottanasana.” And other teachers teach entirely in Sanskrit. I’m guessing you don’t want to keep sneaking looks at the others in the class to figure out which pose the teacher is talking about. 

4. It’s good for your brain! Learning a new language is one of the best brain aerobics you can do for brain health.

The Sanskrit Pose Name Series

In My Tips for Learning the Sanskrit Names of Poses, Part 1 I introduces a basic set of words that frequently appear in pose names and show how they are commonly used.

In My Tips for Learning the Sanskrit Names of Poses, Part 2 I list the words for body parts that frequently appear in pose names and show how they are commonly used. 

In My Tips for Learning the Sanskrit Names of Poses, Part 3 I list common modifiers that begin or end pose names and show how they are commonly used.
In Why English Pose Names Aren't Always Literal Translations of Sanskrit I discuss why the English names of yoga poses are often not direct translations of the Sanskrit and one way to tell an ancient yoga pose from a modern one.
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