Sanskrit Tips for Beginners
First yoga classes can be daunting for many reasons; sometimes it’s hard enough remembering alignment and breathing let alone recalling a foreign language.
Due to Yoga’s origins it is often taught including words and terms from the ancient eastern language of Sanskrit. In some ways this is similar to a ballet class being taught using French words and terms. Yoga was first practiced by the Vedic civilisation over 3000 years ago, so all early texts and scriptures were written in Sanskrit. As yoga grows in popularity the use of some Sanskrit words such as posture names are slowly becoming more common.
There are no expectations for anyone to develop a Sanskrit vocabulary. Yoga is about the way you practice, the benefits enjoyed and the energy that the practice brings not necessarily the words used. However, as with all aspects of yoga as you move deeper into the practice everything evolves. You will come across more Sanskrit and naturally deepen your understanding of the terms.
Here are a few tips to help grasp some of the popular terms and posture names used within a yoga class.
Let us start with the word Yoga – Yoga translates to mean join union or coming together. It comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj to yoke.
AUM often pronounced as OM – when chanted the three vowel sounds of A U M are created, after chanting it is usual to acknowledge the moment of silence and sit with the effects of the sound.
Om is extremely complex to translate it is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga practices. It is known as a seed sound and regarded as the sound of the universe and of all creation.
Namaste – traditionally Namaste is said at the end of a yoga class. It also has a complex translation and is regarded as a very respectful greeting or way of thanking someone. There are many different translations of Namaste; “I bow to the divine in you” is a briefer translation that captures the essence.
Yoga postures can fall into one of the following groups: - body parts, alignments, animals, plants, objects, sensations, ancient sages and numbers.
To give you an idea of how postures and techniques are named and combinations are put together below are a few examples from each group.
Please note that I have only selected a few from each category there are many more postures and translations.
Janu - knee- Janu Sirsasana - head to knee.
Sirsa – head - Sirsasana – headstand.
Pada – foot - Pada Hastasana - standing forward bend.
Parsva – side - Parsvakonasana - side angle pose.
Adho – face down - Adho Mukha Svanasana - downward facing dog.
Baddha – bound - Baddha Konasana - bound angle pose.
Kona – angle - Trikonasana – triangle.
Pavritta – turned or revolved - Pavritta Trikonasana - revolved triangle.
Paschima – west side or back side - Paschimottanasana - seated forward bend.*
Purva – east side or front side - Purvottanasana - inclined plane.*
Prasarita – spread wide - Prasarita Podottanasana - wide leg standing forward bend.
Urdva – face up - Urdva Mukha Svanasana - upward facing dog.
*Yoga was originally practiced facing the rising sun so the front of the body is often referred to as the East and the back the West.
Baka – crow – Bakasana- the crow.
Bhujanga – serpent - Bhujangasana – cobra.
Matsya – fish - Matsyasana – fish pose.
Svana – dog – Svanasana – dog pose.
Ustra – camel - Ustrasana – camel pose.
Padma – lotus - Padmasana – lotus pose.
Vrksa – tree – Vrksasana – tree pose.
Chandra – moon - Ardha Chandrasana - half moon.
Danda – staff - Dandasana- staff pose.
Hala- plough - Halasana- plough pose.
Surya – sun - Surya Namaskar - sun salutation.
Tada – mountain - Tadasana – the mountain.
Sukha – easy – Sukhasana – the easy pose.
Utka – fierce – Utkatasana – the fierce pose or the chair.
Ancient Sages or Gurus
Matsyendra - Lord of the Fishes – Matsyendrasana – seated spinal twist
Nataraja - Siva, Lord of the Dance- Natarajasana- dancer.
Vira –Hero – Virasana – hero pose
Virabhadra – A mythical warrior created by Siva – Virabhadrasana – the warrior pose.
Ardha – half – Ardha Chandrasana – half moon.
Eka – one- eka pada uttanpadasana – one leg raised.
Dwi – two - dwi pada uttanpadasana- two legs raised.
Tri – three – trikonasana – triangle or three angles pose.Chatur – four – chaturanaga dandasana – four limbed staff.