Yoga Poses in Sanskrit

by Delight Yoga

Can’t quite tell “Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana” apart from “Prasarita Padottanasana”? Not sure what to do when the teacher calls for “Karnapidasana”? Not clearly visualising “Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana”? Fear not, help is on the way...

2 things will make identification of asanas (poses) easier

1) You must know that those long Sanskrit words are in fact like strings of pearls.

For example, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottana- sana has 5 words in it; Urdhva (upward); Mukha (face); Paschima (West or backside of the body); Uttana (intense); Asana (pose). Learning to identify the smaller words within the long name makes it easier not only to recognize but also to start to pronounce.

2) In English (as well as other languages) we use words that are distant cousins to Sanskrit.

The languages of the western world have developed from one original tongue. No written record exists of this mother tongue, but strong similarities between words in different western languages, called Indo-European languages, point to a common origin. The oldest languages of the Indo-European family are Sanskrit (2000 B.C.), Greek (800 B.C.) and Latin (500 B.C.) French is a direct descendant of Latin, and about half of English words come from French. The Anglo-Saxon side of English, related to German, is also part of the big Indo-European family. 

When in the class the teacher says janu, you may recognize the word ‘knee’ - in French, the word for knee is genou, and is similarly pronounced like janu. In the glossary of “Light on Yoga” there’s another very visible connection: ‘mrta’ is Sanskrit for dead or corpse. In French, mort means death or dead and then goes on into English to show up again in mortuary (a place for the dead), and in Croatian ‘mrtav’ also means dead. 

The names of asana in Sanskrit

Additionally, names of poses are further broken down into numbers and characteristics of the pose. As we get acquainted with some of these basic translations within the asana, then the longer names of asanas start to become decipherable. 

Body parts in Sanskrit: 
Pada: foot/ leg 
Hasta: hand 
Anguli: fingers 
Anghusta: big toe 
Janu: knee 
Sirsa: head 
Mukha: face 
Karna: ear 
Jattara: stomach
Anga: limb/step
Bhuja: arm
Sarvanga: whole body 
Sava: corpse 
Paschimo: west direction ( backside of body ) 
Purva: east direction (frontside of body ) 

Animals in Sanskrit: 
Svana: dog 
Bheka: frog 
Baka (or Kaka): crow 

Ustra: camel 
Go: cow 
Bhujanga: snake
Kapota: pidgeon/ dove
Kurma: turtle
Matsya: fish
Shalabha: locust/ grasshopper 
Simha: lion 
Mayura: peacock

Objects in Sanskrit
Parigha: gate latch 
Hala: plough 

Vrksa: tree 
Tola: scales 
Vira: hero 
Nava: boat 
Tada: mountain 
Setu: bridge 
Mudra: seal
Prana: breath/ lifeforce
stick / staff
Chandra: moon
Surya: sun

Dhanura: bow
Asana: pose / posture / seat

Numbers in Sanskrit:
Ekam: one 
Dve: two 
Trīṇi: three 
Catvāri: four 
Pañca: five 
Ṣaṭ: six 
Sapta: seven
Aṣṭau: eight
Nava: nine
Daśa: ten
Ekādaśa: eleven 
Dvādaśa: twelve

Characteristics in Sanskrit: 
Adho: downward 
Urdva: raised / upward 
Utthita: extended 
Parivrtta: revolved 
Baddha: tied / bound 
reclining / sleeping 
Uttana: intense stretch 
Sthiti: stability 
Upavistha: seated
Prasarita: spread out
Ardha: half
Salamba: with support
Nirlamba: without support
Kona: angle
Pida: pressure 

Sages & Deities in Sanskrit:* 
Bharadva:a sage; also the father of famous archer, Drona, who trained the cousins who would later became rivals and fight the famous war that the Bhagavad-Gita was written about. 
Garuda: was the king of the eagles; Garuda once provided transportation and carried Lord Vishnu to the aid of devotee, Gajendra who was in a 
life threatening situation. 
Marichi: son of Brahma and grandfather of Surya the sun god. 
Matsyendra: Lord of the Fishes; Shiva discovered a fish, who had completely learned his teachings of yoga. Shiva gave him 
divine form to then spread the knowledge of yoga. 
Virabhadra: the great warrior who sprang to Shiva’s aid to seek revenge on his father-in-law. 
Nataraja: one of the names of Shiva, the lord of the dance. 
Hanuman: chief of the monkey army; one of Rama’s greatest devotees who came to his aid. Hanuman made huge leaps across the sea- first to find Sita and then to save Rama’s brother 

* There are some great stories of the sages and deities in Light on Yoga. For even more research on Indian sages and deities, find a translation of The Mahabharata (one of the great epics, in which the Bhagavad- Gita is contained).