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Urdhva Dhanurasana - upward bow. Yoga has it's own language: Sanskrit

Yoga Sanskrit for beginners

When you step into your first yoga class where the teacher is just using Sanskrit term you probably have no clue what he/she is talking about. Sanskrit is a whole different language then you are use to. So here is some Yoga Sanskrit for beginners. Helpful to understand your teacher, but especially helpful when you enter a yoga teacher training, where they want you to learn the names of the yoga poses (asanas) in this classic, Indian language.

I was suppose to learn Sanskrit when I did my first Yoga Teacher Training Course with Sampoorna Yoga. My teacher Deepak wanted us to learn the names of the Ashtanga Primary series in Sanskrit. I’m not to good with languages. I can only do English and Dutch (more or less) fluently. With German and Spanish I’m still struggling.  Especially when languages have to resemblance with Dutch I struggle and Sanskrit doesn’t even come close. So I learned a few words, taught my class in English threw a Sanskrit name in here and there and bluffed my way through it.

Even after the training I didn’t care too much about Sanskrit. In the Netherlands hardly any teacher will use the classic Indian names for the poses. I can remember a amazing workshop I did with David Swenson in Breda, the Netherlands. To warm us up he started to dictate poses, using their Sanskrit name. Of the 70 people ten started to move, the rest just starred at him with a blank look. Quickly he turned into guiding us in and out of the poses, using English. That made everybody move.

Different Sanskrit names

Since I’m working at yoga teacher trainings I’m trying to get my Sanskrit down. It makes it easier to discus classes with my co-teachers. Translations often vary. Using Sanskrit it’s easier to understand each other. Although there is a difference in Sanskrit names for poses as well. I sometimes use Yoga Dipika by Iyengar and Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati when I prepare my classes. Both gurus use different Sanskrit names for the same pose. In the western world Iyengar’s are most common. 

Understanding all the complex names for the asanas is actually pretty doable as long as you break the names down. To help you on your way I already did it for you in this Yoga Sanskrit for beginners ‘guide’. The words that come back most in Sanskrit are listed in bold. 

Yoga Sanskrit for beginners

  • Adho – downward
  • Alana – rope / string / post
  • Ananda – happy
  • Ananta – infinite one
  • Anga – limb
  • Angi – fire
  • Angustha – big toe
  • Ardha – half
  • Asana – Posture / pose
  • Astha – eight
  • Asva – horse
  • Baddha – bound
  • Baka – crane
  • Bala – child
  • Bandha – bind / energy / seal / lock
  • Bheka – frog
  • Bhuja – arm
  • Bhujanga – cobra
  • Chandra – moon
  • Chatur – four
  • Danda – staff / stick
  • Dandayama – straight
  • Dhanur – Bow
  • Dvija – twice born
  • Eendra – King
  • Eka – one
  • Galava – sage
  • Garbha – womb / embryo
  • Garudha – eagle
  • Hala – plough
  • Hamsa – swan
  • Hasta – hand
  • Janu – knee
  • Jathara – digestive fire / abdomen
  • Kaka – crow
  • Kapota – pigeon
  • Karna – ear
  • Karshana – Pulling / to and fro
  • Kona – angle
  • Krida – flapping / sporting
  • Kukut -rooster
  • Kurma – tortoise
  • Makshikani – dragonfly
  • Marijariya -cat
  • Matsya – fish
  • Mayura – peacock
  • Mukha – face
  • Mukta – releasing
  • Mula – root
  • Nata -dancer
  • Nava – boat
  • Pada – foot / leg
  • Padma – lotus
  • Parigha – iron bar / gate
  • Parivartan – changing
  • Parivrtta – revolved
  • Parsva – side
  • Paschima – west
  • Pavana – wind
  • Pida – pressure
  • Pincha – wing / feather
  • Prasarita – stretched out / spread
  • Purva – East
  • Raja – royal / king
  • Randhra – eye / hole
  • Salamba – supported
  • Sanchalana – riding
  • Santolan – balancing
  • Saral – easy
  • Sarva – all
  • Setu – bridge
  • Shalaba – locust
  • Shava – corpse
  • Sirsa – head
  • Stambha – statue
  • Suci – needle
  • Sukha – pleasure /easy
  • Supta – sleeping / reclined
  • Surya – sun
  • Svana – dog
  • Svarga – heavenly bliss
  • Tada – mountain
  • Tan – to stretch
  • Tittibha – firefly
  • Triang – three
  • Trikona – triangle
  • Ubhaya – both
  • Upavista – seated
  • Urdhva – upward
  • Ustra – camel
  • Ut – intense
  • Utkata – powerfull
  • Uttana – extended / intense
  • Vakra – knot /bend
  • Vasistha – most excellent
  • Virabhadra – warrior
  • Vrksa – tree
  • Zizumara – dolphin

When I teach I combine the Sanskrit and English names of the poses. Slowly, pose by pose engraving them in my memory. One pose at a time. It’s getting their. Some are slipping out, but I will just put them in again. Maybe this Yoga Sanskrit for beginners will help you to do the same. If you prefer to see also the full names of the postures, just look in my asana library.

3 Responses to Yoga Sanskrit for beginners

  1. Anonymous 31 January 2016 at 11:52 #

    thank you john , this is just what i need !!!

  2. Anonymous 31 January 2016 at 11:55 #

    nava is boat or boot?

  3. John Kraijenbrink 1 February 2016 at 08:38 #

    Boat. Little bit of Dutch slipped in there. Boot is Dutch for boat. Thank you for correcting me.