Sanskrit Yoga Poses: How To Translate Asanas and Why

Introduction to Sanskrit in Yoga

New students to the practice may find the names of Sanskrit Yoga poses odd or unusual. These new students may not understand that Yoga transcends physical postures and their names. It is an intricate blend of body, mind, and spirit deeply rooted in ancient wisdom. Central to this wisdom is the Sanskrit language, a classical Indian language intertwined with Yoga for centuries. Revered for its phonetic depth, linguistic complexity, and spiritual significance, Sanskrit is the language of the yoga tradition.

Understanding Sanskrit terms and pose names can profoundly enrich the yoga experience, offering practitioners a deeper appreciation of each posture’s essence and purpose. Sanskrit names convey the pose’s history, the energy it channels, and its impact on the body and mind. This connection to the ancient texts and traditions of Yoga, such as the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita, adds depth and authenticity to the practice.

Sanskrit is one of today’s most beautiful and ancient languages. Its significance in Yoga is unparalleled, as it directly links to the philosophical and spiritual teachings that form the foundation of yoga practice. By engaging with the yoga foundation, yogis can tap into a millennia-old lineage, connecting with the sages and practitioners who have followed this path. 

Exploring this linguistic journey is not merely academic but a heartfelt exploration of Yoga’s timeless essence, inviting a transformative experience that resonates personally and universally.

Sanskrit Yoga Poses Table of Contents

The Foundation of Sanskrit Yoga Pose Names

The intricacies of Sanskrit pose names offer a fascinating glimpse into the structure and depth of yoga practice. These names often start with terms like “Ardha,” meaning half, or “Parivrtta,” indicating a revolved or twisted posture. Further, some yoga poses honor the name of a deity, and almost all yoga poses end with the term “Asana.” Understanding these prefixes, suffixes, names, and meanings is crucial for delving deeper into the practice and grasping each asana’s essence.

Learning Sanskrit terms for common poses enriches the yoga experience and provides insight into the pose’s intended action, orientation, or the specific body part it engages. This linguistic journey into the heart of yoga enhances the practitioner’s connection to their practice, imbuing each posture with a sense of purpose and history.

top view of a man doing saddle pose yin yoga Supta Vajrasana
"Asana" is at the End of Most Sanskrit Yoga Poses for example Supta Vajrasana (Reclining Thunderbolt Pose)

A-M Sanskrit Terms Used in Yoga

Ardha (Half): Ardha indicates a division or partial aspect of a pose in yoga. It is often used in pose names to denote a moderated or intermediate version of a more intensive posture, emphasizing balance and a gradual approach to flexibility and strength.

Asana (Pose): The asana at the end of most yoga pose names signifies a seat or posture. It underscores the importance of stability and comfort in each pose, foundational principles in yoga practice.

Baddha (Bound): Used in poses such as Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Baddha implies the binding or locking action that often increases the intensity of a stretch or the engagement of certain muscle groups.

Danda (Staff or Rod): Seen in Dandasana (Staff Pose), danda connotes strength, stability, and straightness, embodying the foundational qualities necessary for a strong and aligned posture.

Eka (One or Single): indicates a focus on a singular aspect or side of the body in yoga poses. It denotes unilateral engagement in asanas, fostering balance, awareness, and a deeper exploration of the body’s capabilities and alignment challenges.

Kona (Angle or Corner): is often used in yoga to describe poses that involve angular positions or movements of the body. This pose emphasizes the geometric shapes created during the practice, enhancing spatial orientation and alignment awareness.

Mukha (Face): This term, as seen in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), indicates the directionality or focal point of the pose towards the face or head. It often implies a pose that directs energy or focus towards or away from the face, influencing the flow of prana and the pose’s impact on the practitioner’s mind.

N- Z Sanskrit Terms Used in Yoga

Pada (Foot or Leg): Pada is crucial for understanding the foundation of many poses. For example, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) emphasizes the engagement and positioning of one leg. Recognizing this term helps practitioners focus on the grounding elements of their practice, ensuring stability and balance.

Parivrtta (Revolved or Twisted): This term, indicating a rotation or twist, is found in poses like Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose). Twisting poses are known for their detoxifying and energizing effects, stimulating digestion and revitalizing the spine.

Prasarita (Spread or Extended): This term denotes extending or spreading body parts, enhancing the pose’s stretch and reach, as seen in poses like Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend).

Supta (Reclining or Supine): In poses like Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), supta refers to lying down, typically on the back. These poses often focus on relaxation and therapeutic aspects, allowing gravity to aid in the stretch.

Tada (Mountain): Tadasana (Mountain Pose) captures mountains’ immovability, stability, and majesty. It represents the grounded yet elevated spirit of yoga practice.

Uttana (Intense Stretch): In poses like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Uttana signifies a deep, intense stretch, often focusing on lengthening the spine or extending the legs. This term guides practitioners toward the depth of a pose, encouraging a mindful approach to stretching that seeks to balance effort with ease.

Vrksa (Tree): Found in Vrksasana (Tree Pose), this term reflects the pose’s emphasis on balance and stability, mirroring the steadiness of a tree. It highlights the balance between grounding and reaching upward, a metaphor for growth and stability in practice and life.

How to Use Sanskrit Terms to Translate

Translating Yoga Poses comes from breaking the components of its name into its Sanskrit Terms. Here are some examples:

  • Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (OneLegged King Pigeon Pose): “Eka” means one, “Pada” refers to foot or leg, “Raja” indicates king, and “Kapot” means pigeon. This pose is known for its deep hip opening and emotional release.
  • Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose): “Parivrtta” suggests a revolved or twisted action, “Parsva” means side, and “Kona” is the angle. This posture combines twisting with a lunge, enhancing digestion and stamina.

By understanding the components of these complex names, practitioners can gain insights into each pose’s intended alignment, benefits, and historical context. These insights not only enriches the physical practice of yoga but also connects individuals to the ancient wisdom and spiritual depth that underpin this transformative discipline.

Translated Yoga Poses from A-P

man doing a butterfly yoga pose forward fold Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose
Butterfly Pose, Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose. Yin Yoga Method Shown

Yoga’s traditional Sanskrit pose names are descriptive and poetic, directly linking to the posture’s roots. Some famous poses and their English translations include:

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) is a fundamental pose that stretches the entire body, particularly the back and legs.
  • Anahatasana (Melting Heart Pose) focuses on opening the heart and shoulders, promoting activation of the Anahata chakra.
  • Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) is a balancing pose that mirrors the moon’s crescent shape, promoting concentration and stability.
  • Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) is a twisting pose that energizes the spine.
  • Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend) is a pose that stretches the back and legs, preparing the body for deeper forward bends.
  • Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle or Butterfly Pose) is a seated posture that opens the hips and groin (see picture above).
  • Baddha Padmasana (Bound Lotus Pose) is an advanced seated pose for meditation and pranayama.
  • Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose) is a powerful pose that builds strength throughout the body. Its name reflects its strong and stable nature.
  • Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) is a seated pose noted for its intense arm and shoulder stretch.
  • Mandukasana (Frog Pose) is a deep hip opener that resembles the position of a frog.
  • Malasana (Garland Pose) is a deep squat that opens the hips and tones the abdomen.
  • Pada Hastasana (hand-to-foot pose) is a forward bend that improves flexibility and calms the mind.
  • Padmasana (Lotus Pose) is a cross-legged pose that calms the mind for meditation.
  • Parivrtta Baddha Trikonasana (Revolved Bound Triangle Pose) is a challenging twist that combines balance and flexibility.
  • Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose) is a powerful twist that tones the legs and stimulates the abdominal organs.
  • Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend or Caterpillar Pose) is a seated forward bend that stretches the back and hamstrings.

Tranlated Yoga Poses from Q-Z

Man black top and shorts Performing Twisted Dragon Yoga Pose. Lizard Pose.
Numerous Benefits with the Dragon Pose / Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
  • Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx Pose) is a gentle backbend that strengthens the spine and opens the chest. 
  • Savasana (Corpse Pose) is a restorative posture that promotes relaxation and stress relief.
  • Sirsasana (Headstand Pose) is an inversion that strengthens the body and calms the mind.
  • Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is a dynamic sequence of poses designed to energize the body.
  • Supta Vajrasana (Reclining Thunderbolt Pose) is a pose that stretches the thighs and ankles while lying back. (see picture above)
  • Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is the foundational standing pose that improves posture.
  • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) is a stretch and strengthens pose, resembling a triangle in its geometric clarity and balance.
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose) is a powerful pose that strengthens the legs and back.
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog) is a posture that opens the chest and strengthens the spine, embodying the uplifting energy its name suggests.
  • Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Standing Split) is a standing pose that challenges balance and flexibility.
  • Urdhva Prasarita Padottanasana (WideLegged Forward Bend) is an intense stretch for the legs and spine.
  • Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard or Dragon Pose) is a deep hip opener that stretches the hamstrings and quadriceps. (see picture above)
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) is a standing pose that stretches the sides of the body.
  • Virasana (Hero or Saddle Pose) is a seated pose that stretches the thighs and ankles.
  • Vrksasana (Tree Pose) is a balancing pose focusing on stability and concentration.
  • Virabhadrasana II or B (Warrior 2 Pose) is a standing pose that enhances strength and endurance.

Connecting to the Roots of Yoga

Using Sanskrit names for yoga poses enhances the physical practice; it connects practitioners to yoga’s historical and spiritual roots. This ancient language invites a deeper engagement with yoga’s rich heritage and philosophical insights. 

Some Yoga Practices insist on using Sanskrit to show appreciation for the depth of yoga’s heritage, teachings, and philosophy, enabling practitioners to experience yoga as a comprehensive spiritual practice rather than just a physical exercise.

Sanskrit and the Physical Practice of Yoga

Delving into the Sanskrit pose names can significantly enhance awareness of the entire body, including the upper body and abdominal muscles, during practice. This mindful engagement promotes a more nuanced and informed approach to each posture, facilitating a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility. 

Furthermore, yoga, supported by an understanding of Sanskrit, contributes to healthy aging and promotes lifelong well-being. 

By fostering a deeper connection with the body and breath, practitioners can cultivate a sustainable, mindful, and adaptive yoga practice that supports health and vitality through all stages of life.

Learning Sanskrit: Tips and Tools for Beginners

picture of woman doing a sphinx yoga pose while watching a tablet
Learning and Practicing Sphinx Yoga Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana) can be done while watching a Tablet or TV

Incorporating this ancient language into your practice might seem daunting for those new to yoga or Sanskrit. However, several resources and strategies can facilitate this learning journey:

  • Utilize resources like yoga classes and blog posts, where Sanskrit terms are often introduced in context, making them easier to learn and remember.
  • Touch device users who embrace technology can benefit from autocomplete results in yoga apps and online platforms to familiarize themselves with Sanskrit terms.
  • Lean on the expertise of yoga teachers, who can provide insights into the meanings and pronunciations of Sanskrit words, enriching your understanding and practice.

Beginners are encouraged to start with crucial pose names, gradually expanding their Sanskrit vocabulary. This incremental approach allows practitioners to build confidence and deepen their connection to yoga’s rich heritage, enhancing their practice’s physical and spiritual aspects.

Embracing Sanskrit in yoga is more than just learning a new language; it’s about connecting with the essence of yoga itself. By integrating Sanskrit into your practice, you invite a layer of depth and authenticity that enriches your journey, linking you to the ancient traditions and wisdom that yoga embodies.

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