Sanskrit for Yoga Poses: Should Yoga Teachers Use Them and how?

If you are new to yoga, hearing strange names of yoga poses in Sanskrit can be confusing at least. And at most, you can be intimidated and feel this “thing” is not for you. But Sanskrit doesn’t have to be intimidating or confusing. So why do yoga teachers use them and what do they mean?

Why Yoga Teachers Use Sanskrit for Yoga Poses

Knowledge of the Sanskrit names of yoga asanas and other related terms lends credibility to a yoga teacher, especially when used sparingly and effectively. But Sanskrit is actually considered one of the most beautiful languages and can easily be broken down to help explain the meaning behind the poses.

That being said, yoga teachers misusing or grossly mispronouncing the Sanskrit, while going unnoticed by most students, will most certainly turn off those who do notice.

If you happen to have learned yoga from a teacher or teachers who use it widely in their classes, you will have a better sense of the pronunciation than if you simply read it here or in a book.  My preference at Inspire Yoga is to pepper in Sanskrit in classes, but also to use the English. Sometimes I use them together, such as “Come into to Trikonasana, Triangle pose”, while at other times I will use only one or the other.

15 Easy to Understand Sanskrit Words for Yoga Postures

Having a basic understanding of Sanskrit words for yoga postures, even some of the common prefixes, can help your practice. You can open yourself to connecting deeper with your practice. You can think more about being present in a yoga posture as opposed to feeling like you are lost in your first year of a foreign language class. Anyone ever jumped into a basic foreign language class, but everyone had some proficiency but you?

woman feeling lost yoga class Sanskrit for yoga poses

Don’t cover your eyes in yoga class…well, ok you can once you read the below. Here is a short list of often-used Sanskrit terms and prefixes that pertain to yoga postures and that will help you to remember some of the names:

  • Ardha – half
  • Adho – downward
  • Baddha – bound
  • Eka  – one
  • Eka pada – one foot/leg
  • Hasta – hand
  • Kona – angle
  • Mukha – facing
  • Pad- foot
  • Parivrtta –revolved/twisted
  • Parsva/parsvo – side
  • Urdhva – upward
  • Uttan/ottan – intense
  • Utthita – extended
  • Supta – sleeping/supine

Helpful Tips for Pronouncing Sanskrit Yoga Words

Most students and fellow teachers will forgive minor mispronunciations of the Sanskrit words. And really, all of us Westerners are pretty much butchering it. So, I do have a few preferences and pet peeves in terms of Sanskrit pronunciation, or mispronunciation. Here are a few helpful tips of Sanskrit for yoga poses, along with a few other pointers:

  • Asana has the emphasis on the first syllable, ah-sun-a not as-ah-na
  • The last syllable of asana is a VERY short a sound which is hard for us to pronounce, especially when it is used as a suffix as in Trikonasana or Savasana. So most of us lengthen it more than we should, hence Trikonasanah, where as some shorten it completely, as in Trikonasan. You have probably heard both, and it is really up to you how you use it.
  • The “ch” in chakra, Chakrasana, and Chaturanga is a hard “ch” as in cheese, not a soft “sh” as in shower.

Again, each yoga class and instructor is different as to how and which Sanskrit words they incorporate for yoga poses. But just as you practice the physical and mental aspects of yoga to improve, a bit of education in the traditional language for these poses can be beneficial.

What are your preferences for yoga teachers, or if you are a yoga instructor, using Sanskrit? Drop us a comment below and share.

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