Name That Yoga Pose! Making Sense of Sanskrit – Part 2

If you read part Part 1 of this series, you may have already realized that many yoga pose names are compound terms made up of two or more common Sanskrit words. For example, Baddha Konasana means “Bound Angle Pose.” And many of these contain one or more words that refer to a part of the body. For example, Urdhva Baddha Hastasana means “Upward Bound Hands Pose.” 

In this post, we’ll look at some of the most commonly used body parts in the Sanskrit pose names, because they appear within yoga pose names quite often. I introduced you to two of these already, but I’ll include them again here for completeness (and also to help them sink in). 

Note: One of the issues that will come up today is why we as teachers don’t always use the literal translations of the pose names. One reason is that so may yoga poses have similar terms in them that the names sound really close to each other.

For now, let’s have a look at the most commonly used body-part names. This will be followed by a challenge to see if you can translate a yoga pose name yourself. 

Sanskrit Body Parts

1. Hasta/Hand: I included some examples of other pose names with “hand” (hasta) in them in Part 1. Another example of “hasta” in a common yoga pose name is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). 

             Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) (with strap)

2. Pada/Foot/Leg: We also used some examples of pose names with the word for “foot” (pada) in Part 1. Remember, adding “eka” to “pada” means “one foot.” A new example of this is Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Upward Widespread One-Foot Pose or Standing Splits). 

               Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Upward Widespread One-Foot Pose or Standing Splits)

3. Padangustha/Big Toe: We just saw this word in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). Of course, we also see it commonly in Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Big-Toe Pose). Why we don’t usually call it this is because it might cause confusion. Most people can’t actually hold their big toes in this pose—as shown in this photo—so we often use a strap instead.

          Supta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

The simplest big-toe yoga pose name is Padangusthasana (the standing forward bend where you hold your big toes). 

                    Padangusthasana (Big-Toe Pose)

4. Parsva/Side of the Body or Flank: Some common examples where we see this word include Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose or Pyramid Pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and Parsvasana (Standing Side Stretch Pose or Crescent Moon Pose).

               Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Parsva is also used to mean the sideways version of a yoga pose. There are many examples, but two are Parsva Upavista Konasana (Sideways Seated Angle Pose) and Parsva Bakasana (Sideways Crane Pose).

               Parsva Upavista Konasana (Sideways Seated Angle Pose)

5. Paschima/Back of the Body: This also means the west-facing side of the body (where the sun sets). Examples include Paschimottanasana (Intense Stretch of the Back Body Pose) and Paschim Namaskarasana (Reverse Namaste Pose or Namaste on the Back Body Pose). 

        Paschimottanasana (Intense Stretch of the Back Body Pose)

6. Purva/Front of the Body: This also means the east-facing side of the body (where the sun rises). For now, the only example I have is Purvottanasana (Intense Stretch of the Front Body Pose or Upward Plank Pose). 

         Purvottanasana (Intense Stretch of the Front Body Pose or Upward Plank Pose)

7. Mukha/Face: Usually we see this word with the modifiers “upward” or “downward,” but Gomukhasana it means “cow face” because go is “cow” and mukha is “face.” See the cow face? (Try thinking of the legs as the saggy neck skin.) 

                      Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Here are some other common yoga poses that contain “mukha:” 

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Downward-Facing Tree Pose or Handstand), and Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward-Facing Hero Pose, a forward-bending version of Hero Pose).

            Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), Urdva Mukha Paschimottanasana (Upward-Facing Intense Stretch of the Back Body Pose), Urdva Mukha Uttanasana (Upward-Facing Intense Stretch Pose).

              Urdva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) 

8. Janu/Knee: Examples include Janu Sirsasana, which is either translated as “Head-to-Knee Pose” or “Head-of-the-Knee Pose.” It can be interpreted as “Head-to-Knee Pose” because you bring your head to the knee of your straight leg, or “Head-of-the-Knee Pose” because in the classic yoga pose you roll your bent leg onto the “head” of the knee. Confusing, I know—and I’m not going to take sides on this one.

               Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)

We also see it in the variations of Janu Sirsanana, including Parivrtta (Revolved) Janu Sirsansana 1, 2, and 3, and in the pose name Dandayamana Janusirasana, the standing version of a one-legged head-to-knee forward bend. 

9. Sirsa/Head: We see this word commonly, of course, in Sirsasana (Headstand) and in its many variations, such as Eka Pada Sirsasana (hope you can guess what that means by now). We also see it in Janu Sirsasana, which we described above. 

                                   Sirsasana (Headstand)

10. Jathara/Abdomen or Belly: We see this most commonly in Jathara Parivartanasana (Abdomen-Revolving Pose or Belly-Turning Pose) and Jathara Parivartanasana Swastikasana (Abdomen-Revolving Pose with Swastikasana Legs). 

         Jathara Parivartanasana (Abdomen-Revolving Pose or Belly-Turning Pose)

I found this weird yoga pose name that I never heard before, but I think I can figure out what it means just from the words. Maybe you can, too. 

Jathara Urdhva Mukha Pashchimottanasana 

Using Google before you try to translate it yourself is cheating! But after you come up with something—even just a partial translation using today’s post—you can use Google to find the correct answer and a picture of the pose. 

The funny thing is that after I translated the name (I was correct) I still didn’t know what pose it was. But after I looked up an image of the pose, I discovered that I had actually done the pose before, both in class with Donald Moyer and at home, but I just didn’t know the name. Lately, I’ve found that this pose is a nice way to stretch your lower back without the strain of a seated forward bend. 

Learn more about Yoga for Healthy Aging – Book Review: Yoga for Healthy Aging – A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, written by Nina Zolotow and Baxter Bell, MD.

Reprinted with permission from Yoga For Healthy Aging

Nina ZolotowNina Zolotow, RYT 500, Editor-in-Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, is both a yoga writer and a yoga teacher. She trained to be a yoga teacher at The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California, has studied yoga therapy with Shari Ser and Bonnie Maeda, and is especially influenced by the teachings of Donald Moyer. She also studied extensively with Rodney Yee, and is inspired by the teachings of Patricia Walden on yoga for emotional healing. Her special area of expertise is yoga for emotional well-being (including yoga for stress, insomnia, depression, and anxiety) and she teaches workshops and series classes on yoga for emotional well-being, stress management, better sleep, home practice, and cultivating equanimity. Nina is the co-author with Baxter Bell of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being and co-author with Rodney Yee of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (with its companion 50 Card Practice Deck) and Moving Toward Balance. She is also the author of numerous articles on yoga and alternative medicine.


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