When I first began taking yoga classes, I lived in fear that a teacher would begin spouting Sanskrit cues. I only knew the names of the poses in English—and barely at that!—and I would stumble and fall behind whenever a Sanskrit cue was offered.

I was so frustrated. How did everyone else in the class remember what the Sanskrit names meant? They were so long and so many of them sounded the same! I regularly mistook Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) for Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and I would have sworn that Parsvakonasana (a shortened version of Utthita Parsvakonasana, or Extended Side Angle) was the exact same cue as Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose).

My confusion continued until I realized there was a method behind the Sanskrit names. They all sounded the same to me for a reason—they were all ending in -asana, which means "pose." Suddenly, it all began to make sense. These names weren't mysterious or confusing—they were logical!

I began trying to learn the constituent parts of the names, and that made a world of difference. Let me tell you, once I learned that uttan (actually a compound itself of ut and tan) means "intense stretch," I never confused Utkatasana with Uttanasana or Parsvakonasana with Parsvottansana again. I just listened for the uttan sound and knew that meant there would be an intense stretch involved.

Of course, memorizing all the Sanskrit words that come together to comprise the names of yoga poses is no easy feat. Poses are named for animals (like Bakasana, or Crane Pose), objects (like Navasana, or Boat Pose), and notable individuals (like the series of Marichyasana poses, dedicated to the sage Marichi, or the Virabhadrasana series of Warrior poses—the meaning of which I've written about before), in addition to numbers, directions, and parts of anatomy. There's more than I can keep in my head—or need to.

Knowing everything isn't necessary, but understanding some of the more basic building blocks of Sanskrit names really helped improve my confidence in class—and I bet it will do the same for yours!

yoga class

Here are the Sanskrit names of 10 common yoga poses—look at how many of them share common components:

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose, an integral part of Sun Salutations)
chatur = four
anga = limb
danda = staff (meaning spine)

Dandasana (Staff Pose)
danda = staff

Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
utthita = extended
parsva = side or flank
kona = angle

Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)
parsva =  side or flank
ut = intense
tan = stretch

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
pashima = west (meaning the back of the body)
ut = intense
tan = stretch

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
ut = intense
tan = stretch

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
baddha = bound
kona = angle

Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose, often referred to as just Trikonasana)
utthita = extended
tri = three
kona = angle

Janu Sirasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
janu = knee
sira = head

Sirasana (Headstand)
sira = head

These are just a few examples to get you started. Once I learned the Sanskirt components of some common yoga poses, I found it much easier to remember the pose names ... and I gained a whole new appreciation for the Sanskrit names! Do you ever get the Sanskrit names confused? Which ones throw you off?


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