Image Credit: Pandu Adnyana
Welcome back for Sanskrit 101 part 2! We’re going to discuss pose names in more depth, and explain common modification names.
In the first part of this series, we introduced the names Trikonasana, (a.k.a. Triangle Pose), Uttanasana (a.k.a. Standing Forward Fold), and Dhanurasana (a.k.a. Bow Pose). I’ve found that a great technique for memorizing names is learning about their separate elements!
The name comes from the Sanskrit words trikona meaning “triangle” and asana meaning seat.
The name is derived from the Sanskrit words ud (a prefix indicating superiority), tana meaning “stretched”, uttana (meaning “straight” or “stretched”), and asana meaning “seat”.
This name comes from the Sanskrit words dhanura meaning “bow” and of course asana, which of course means “seat”.
Some poses have an extended variation that uses utthita in the name. One example is trikonasana (triangle pose), which is sometimes calledutthita trikonasana (extended triangle pose). Different schools of yoga disagree about the difference between trikonasana and utthita trikonasana, though it seems to depend on the placement of the hand and where the torso is. Trikonasana may keep the bottom hand off of the ground, whileutthita trikonasana may have the hand placed on the floor or holding the front big toe.
Another pose using utthita is utthita parsvokanasana (extended side angle pose). This pose has a wide open-pelvis stance with the back leg straight and the front leg bent. The torso extends over the bent leg and the top arm extends forward over the top ear.
Utthita hasta padangustasana is a standing balancing pose with one leg lifted and extended forward. The big toe of the raised leg is held, and the chin is brought forward to rest on the shin.
Many poses have a revolved variation to deepen the stretch and incorporate the detoxing benefits of a spinal twist. Parvritta trikonasana(revolved triangle pose) is one example of this, in which the torso turns to face backwards and the opposite hand is placed on the floor.
Parvritta parvokanasana is another pose that is revolved. The legs are the same as in utthita parsvokanasana, but the torso twists so that the torso faces backwards and the shoulder meets the outside of the bent knee.
“Bound” poses are with the arms wrapping around and one hand clasping the opposite wrist. Baddha trikonasana is one example, in which one arm reaches behind the back while the other wraps under the front leg. The hand of the bottom arm clasps around the opposite wrist to complete the bind.
Baddha parsvokanasana is a very similar bind, with one arm behind the back and the other wrapped under the leg. The difference is in the position of the legs since baddha parsvokanasana is a wider stance with the front leg bent than baddha trikonasana.
Supine poses are poses done laying down or reclining. One example is supta padangustasana which is a hamstring stretch done lying on the back. One leg remains flat on the ground, and one is raised and brought towards the face. The fingers of one hand hold the big toe, and the chin is brought towards the shin. This pose is very similar in shape to utthita hasta padangustasana (described above), but takes place lying on the floor instead of standing on one leg.
Supta baddha konasana is another reclining pose done lying on the back. The soles of the feet come together, and the knees fall to the sides towards the floor. It is a version of a seated pose called baddha konasana that has the same position of the legs and feet, but folds the torso forward over the legs.
Ardha is used to indicate in the name that the pose is modified, usually in a simplifying way. For example, ardha padmasana (half lotus) is a common modification for the hip opening pose padmasana (lotus pose). Instead of both feet resting on top of the crossed legs, only one foot is up while the other remains on the ground. This modification is great to use when beginning to open the hips for deeper stretches.
However, in the pose ardha uttanasana, the modification is used to actually deepen the stretch in the hamstrings and legs. From uttanasana(the standing forward bend), we lift the torso up while keeping the hands down on the shins or floor.
Many poses have multiple variations to deepen or change the pose’s effects and benefits. These variations often change the Sanskrit name of the pose, in the same ways that they would change the English names.
Ultimately learning Sanskrit pose names is about memorization so will require you to put in the effort needed to remember the individual sounds. The most helpful thing for me has been taking classes with teachers who use the names in class, since hearing them repeatedly makes memorizing easier. Also, trying to use the names on social media posts has encouraged me to read about Sanskrit since I don’t want to write it wrong!
In case you missed it, check out Sanskrit 101