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Understanding the Meaning of Asanas

by Asaf

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Sanskrit is the original language of yoga and all the names of the yoga poses are originally written in this language. For starters, asana means posture.

The Sanskrit names of asanas are used in many yoga classes, especially if you go on a yoga retreat in India. So, if you’re planning a trip to the cradle of yoga or simply want to deepen your understanding of the practice, knowing the meaning of each posture is a great idea. Some asanas use the names of sages or gods from a known legend or the Hindu tradition, others are names of animals, body parts, movements or geometric shapes.

At one point in my journey as a yogi, I found out that I could benefit more from my practice If I knew the Sanskrit name of each pose; and I think you could as well. Not only would you be able to follow instructions in Sanskrit and perform the pose right away without having to look at your peers or waiting for the translation, but understanding the meaning of the asanas gives you little hints about the benefits of each pose. 

So, I made this list that I found useful and I want to share it with you. I chose the terms that I consider as the most common ones during a yoga session and wrote the English translation in brackets. This list doesn’t include every single yoga pose, but it should get you going.

meaning of yoga poses

  • Asana (pose)
  • Tada (mountain) – Tadasana (mountain pose)
  • Vrksa (tree) – Vrkasana or Adho Mukha Vrkasana (tree pose, full arm balance pose)
  • Utthita (extended) and Trikona (triangle) – Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle pose)
  • Kona (angle) – Supta Konasana (reclining angle pose)
  • Parivrtta (revolved) – Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolving triangle)
  • Parsva (side, flank) – Utthuta Parsvakonasana (extended lateral angle pose)
  • Vira (hero, warrior) – Virasana (hero pose)
  • Virabhadra (name of a warrior) – Virabhadrasana (warrior pose)
  • Supta (supine, lie down) – Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose)
  • Ardha (half) and Chandra (moon) – Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose)
  • Hasta (hand), Pada (foot), Angustha (big toe) and Ut (intense) – Padangusthasana (extended hand to big to pose)
  • Tan (to extend, stretch) – Parsvottanasana (intense side stretch pose)
  • Prasarita (expanded, spread) – Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward extension)
  • Ustra (camel) – Ustrasana (camel pose)
  • Utkata (powerful, fierce) – Utkatasana (chair pose)
  • Garuda (eagle) – Garudasana (eagle pose)
  • Salabha (locust) – Salabhasana (locust pose)
  • Dhanu (bow) – Dhanurasana (bow pose)
  • Danda (staff) – Dandasana (staff pose)
  • Chatur (four) and Anga (limb) – Chaturanga (four-limbed pose)
  • Bhujanga (serpent) – Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
  • Adho (downwards) and Mukha (face, mouth) – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose)
  • Urdhva (upwards) and Mukha (face, mouth) – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog pose)
  • Svana (dog)
  • Paripurna (entire, complete) and Nava (ship, boat) – Paripurna Navasana (full boat pose)
  • Go (cow) – Gomukhasana (cow face pose)
  • Siddha (semi-divine being) – Siddhasana (accomplished pose)
  • Baddha (caught) – Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose)
  • Padma (lotus) Padmasana (lotus pose)
  • Matsya (fish) – Matsyasana (fish pose)
  • Matsyendra (lord of the fish) – Maysuendrasana (spinal twist)
  • Janu (knee) and Sirsa (head) – Janu Sirsasana (head to knee forward extension)
  • Marichi (name of a sage) – Marichyasana (Marichi’s pose or twist)
  • Surya (sun) – Surya Namaskar (sun salutation)
  • Upavistha (seated) – Upavistha Konasana (wide angle seated forward extension pose)
  • Salamba (with support) – Salamba Rirsasana (supported headstand) 
  • Sarva (all) – Salamba Sarvangasana (supported all limbs pose)
  • Eka (one) – Eka Pada Sirsasana (one-legged headstand)
  • Hala (plow) – Halasana (plow pose)
  • Karna (ear) and Pida (pressure) – Karnapidasana (ear-pressure pose)
  • Setu (bridge) and Bandha (construction) – Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose)
  • Bharadvaja (name of sage) – Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja’s twist pose)
  • Mayura (peacock) – Mayurasana (peacock pose)
  • Mala (garland) – Malasana (garland pose)
  • Hamsa (swan) – Hamsasana (swan pose)
  • Pincha (chin or feather) – Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance pose)
  • Kurma (tortoise) – Kurmasana (tortoise pose)
  • Skanda (name of Kartikeya, the god of war) – Skandasana (god of war pose)
  • Hanuman (name of a monkey) – Hanumasana (monkey pose)
  • Dwi (two) and Viparita (inverted) – Dwi Padda Viparita Dandasana (two-legged inverted staff pose)
  • Sava (corpse) – Savasana (corpse pose) 

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