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A Way Of Learning The Names Of Some Of The Poses

At our school we always refer to the Sanskrit names of yoga poses. I always thought that if a student hears their names often enough eventually they will be able to associate the name with the shape without necessarily knowing the meaning of the word. Unfortunately, however, I still have students who have been attending for years look blankly at me when I exclaim towards the beginning of the class ‘trikonasana!’.

Just about all poses end with the suffix ‘asana’ which means ‘pose’. The prefix of all the postures can be broken up into three groups: those that are named after nature (flora and fauna); those dedicated to or named after famous Indian sages; or those named after anatomical parts, directions and shapes. If the pose is named after nature it is necessary to know all the different parts of nature to know the name of the pose. ‘Vrksa’ means ‘tree’, so ‘vrksasana’ translates as ‘tree pose’, and ‘baka’ means ‘crane’, hence ‘crane pose’. Similarly it is necessary to know the Indian sage names to know the poses designated in their honour. Virabhadra was a famous warrior in Indian mythology, consequently we have the three ‘warrior poses’. Bharadvaja was the father of Drona, the military teacher of the Kauravas and Pandavas, who fought the great war described in the famous Indian narrative the Mahabharata, and therefore we have the basic sitting lateral rotation poses dedicated to him.

The third category of pose, those named after anatomical parts, directions, or shapes, comprises the majority of the basic postures. When a pose is called out in class it is natural for someone unacquainted with the language to think that the word is unique to that asana, however if the name of the pose is in this category it will most likely comprise of a number of smaller words which are used in a number of other poses too. By building up a glossary of the meanings of these smaller words it may be possible to make out what poses are actually being described. Here is a list of ten words to begin with:

  1. Utthita = Extended
  2. Parsva = To the side
  3. Parivrtta = Revolved
  4. Kona = Angle
  5. Ardha = Half
  6. Hasta = Hand
  7. Pada = Foot
  8. Uttana = Intense stretch
  9. Urdhva = Upright
  10. Eka = One

If you are able to memorise these ten basic words you will have no problem knowing the difference between parsvakonasana (to the side angle pose) and parsvottanasana (to the side intense stretch pose)!