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Quick Guide to Sanskrit: 15 Common Yoga Terms Translated

Michelle Stanger
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Why does it sound like my yoga teacher is speaking a different language? One simple explanation for you – s/he is! You may have heard words like, “Adho Mukha Svanasana,” “Vrksasana” or “Chaturanga Dandasana” in your yoga class . . . but why?
 
This is Sanskrit – the ancient language of India.
 
“Sanskrit has moulded the minds of our people to the extent to which they themselves are not conscious. Sanskrit literature is national in one sense, but its purpose has been universal. That was why it commanded the attention of people who were not followers of a particular culture.”
– Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
 
Sanskrit was used to write the ancient collections of hymns, literature, philosophy and texts known as the Vedas, which much of our yoga practice was derived from. For centuries, seers and teachers studied these sacred texts and orally passed the teachings along to their students. It wasn’t until around 1,500 BCE that Sanskrit was written down on paper in the form of the Rig Veda.
 

Sanskrit was used to write the ancient collections of hymns, literature, philosophy and texts known as the Vedas, which much of our yoga practice was derived from.

 
Find out something really interesting about the Rig Veda here!
 
Many teachers incorporate the Sanskrit names of yoga poses and philosophy into their classes, which can sometimes be confusing to the new yogi. But Sanskrit doesn’t have to be intimidating or confusing. It is actually considered one of the most beautiful languages and can easily be broken down to help explain the meaning behind the poses.
 
When we open ourselves to learn more about the meaning behind Sanskrit terms, we open ourselves to a deeper connection to the yoga poses and practice overall.
 
The first thing to know about Sanskrit when it comes to yoga pose names is that the suffix “asana” means “pose.” So any time you see or hear a Sanskrit term that ends in “asana,” you know it’s referring to a yoga pose.
 

Let’s review 15 common yoga poses and break down their Sanskrit names:

 

1. Chaturanga Dandasana – Four Limb Staff Pose

  • Chatur: four
  • Anga: limb
  • Danda: staff
  • Asana: pose

 

2. Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog

  • Adhas: down
  • Mukha: face
  • Svana: dog
  • Asana: pose

 

3. Savasana – Corpse Pose

  • Sava: corpse
  • Asana: pose

 

4. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward Facing Dog

  • Urdhva: upward
  • Mukha: face
  • Svana: dog
  • Asana: pose

 

5. Virabhadrasana – Warrior Pose

  • Virabhadra: warrior
  • Asana: pose
    (Also named for the Hindu god Virabhadra)

 

6. Trikonasana – Triangle Pose

  • Trikon: triangle
  • Asana: pose

 

7. Tadasana – Mountain Pose

  • Tada: mountain
  • Asana: pose

 

 

8. Paschimottanasana – Seated Forward Fold

  • Paschima: back or west
  • Uttana: intense stretch
  • Asana: pose

 

9. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose

  • Setu: bridge
  • Bandha: lock
  • Sarvanga: full body
  • Asana: pose

 

10. Utkatasana – Chair Pose

  • Utkata: fierce, wild, intense
  • Asana: pose

 

11. Baddha Konasana – Bound Angle Pose

  • Baddha: bound
  • Kona: angle
  • Asana: pose

 

12. Ardha Chandrasana – Half Moon Pose

  • Ardha: half
  • Chandra: moon
  • Asana: pose

13. Parsvottanasana – Pyramid Pose

  • Parsva: side
  • Ut: intense
  • Tan: stretch
  • Asana: pose
    (Also referred to as Intense Side Stretch Pose)

 

14. Salamba Sirsasana – Supported Headstand

  • Salamba: supported
  • Sirsa: head
  • Asana: pose

 

15. Ardha Matsyendrasana – Half Lord of the Fishes Pose

  • Ardha: half
  • Matsya: fish
  • Indra: king
  • Asana: pose
    (Also named after Indian sage Matsyendrasana)

Notice any patterns yet? Once the poses are broken down, it is much easier to understand the meaning behind them. There is so much history and culture rooted in the Sanskrit language and it comes through in our yoga practice as well.
 
Does this breakdown help you understand a little bit more about the yoga poses we practice? Perhaps it encourages you to be open to using Sanskrit in your yoga practice. Let us know, we would love to hear from you!
 

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Michelle Stanger

Michelle is living the yoga mom life and loving every second. She believes all beings deserve joy, peace and love and aims to be an example. Forever grateful for her yoga practice, she is honored to be able to share as a yoga teacher and Editor here at YogiApproved.com.

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