Excuse Me… What Did You Just Say? A Beginner’s Guide to Sanskrit.

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Excuse Me… What Did You Just Say?

A Beginner’s Guide to Sanskrit. The Ancient Language of Yoga.


If you’ve practiced yoga for any considerable length of time, then you’ve likely experienced what I like to call the Sanskrit blind-side. You’re in the middle of a great class; you’ve entered that sacred space of being only aware of yourself, your breath, your mat, and your instructor’s cues; finally minding no attention to any other distractions. Then, your instructor calls out a pose in Sanskrit! Your attention is immediately pulled away from your practice and is drawn to this odd sounding word your instructor just called out. “Ahdo Mukha What?!”, you think. You see everyone moving into Downward Facing Dog, so you follow along, and as you hold downward facing dog you forget about your breath, your alignment, and your heels pushing towards the mat. All you think about is, “what did she just say?” Today, I’m going to break down some of the most common poses into Sanskrit to help you avoid one of these Sanskrit blind-sides.

First of all, why do we keep around such an old language that nobody can understand? Well, depending on who you ask may change the answer you get. So, I’ll give you a couple of reasons why a teacher may decide to use Sanskrit in their classes. For some teachers, it patronizes and pays homage to the history of yoga. Yoga is an ancient practice. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. For other teachers, they embrace that Sanskrit is a vibrational language. Sanskrit has 49 letters. Out of the 49, 35 of them are considered soft letters; meaning that they resonate in vibrational quality. Simply put, each time you hear a word or phrase in Sanskrit, you are receiving it’s soothing benefits.

As you’re hearing your teacher use Sanskrit in class, you may start noticing some parts of the words repeated. Just like in English, Sanskrit utilizes verbs, adjectives, and nouns. Before we go over some common words and common poses, let’s identify the word “Asana”. Asana literally translates “to sit”, meaning to hold a static position, or to pose. You’ll notice the word “Asana” at the end of every yoga posture spoken in Sanskrit as the direct translation is specifying it as a “pose”.

Let’s break down some of the most common yoga poses in Sanskrit:

  • Downward Facing Dog – Ahdo Mukha Svanasana
    • “Ahdo” = Downward, “Mukha” = Face, “Svana” = Dog, “Asana” = Pose
      • (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-ahna)
  • Upward Facing Dog – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
    • “Urdhva” = Upward, “Mukha” = Face, “Svana” = Dog, “Asana” = Pose
      • (OORD-vah MOO-kah shvon-AHS-ahna)
  • Warrior 1 & 2 – Virabhadrasana 1 & 2
    • “Virabhadra” = The name of a great warrior in ancient text, “Asana” = Pose
      • (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-ahna)
  • Tree – Vrksasana
    • “Vrksa” = Tree, “Asana” = Pose
      • (vrik-SHAHS-ahna)
  • Extended Hand to Big Toe – Utthita Hasta Padangustasana
    • “Utthita” = Extended, “Hasta” = Hand, “Padangusta” = Big Toe, “Asana” = Pose”
      • (oo-TEET-ah HAWS-tah POD-ung-goos-TAHS-ahna)
  • Standing Foreward Fold – Uttasana
    • “Ut” = Intense, “Tan” = to stretch or bend, “Asana” = Pose
      • (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna)
  • Seated Forward Fold – Paschimottana
    • “Paschima” – intense stretch of the west, “Uttana” = Intense stretch or bend, “Asana” = Pose
      • (POSH-ee-moh-tan-AHS-ahna)
  • Wheel – Urdhva Dhanurasana
    • “Urdhva” = Upward, “Dhanu” = Bow or Wheel, “Asana” = Pose
      • (OORD-vah don-your-AHS-ahna)
  • Corpse – Savasana
    • “Sava” = Corpse, “Asana” = Pose
      • (shah-VAHS-ahna)

There are still some very notable adjectives that I didn’t touch on above that you’ll frequently hear in a yoga studio. Here’s a glimpse:


  • “Eka Pada” – One Legged
    • “Eka” = One, “Pada” = Foot
      • ie. “Eka Pada Rajakapotasana” – One Legged King Pigeon Pose
  • “Parivrtta” – Revolved
    • “Parivrtta” = to turn around, revolve
      • ie. “Parivrtta Trikonasana” – Revolved Triangle Pose
  • “Baddha” – Bound
    • “Baddha” = to bind
      • ie. “Baddha Konasana” – Bound Angle Pose”
  • “Supta” – Reclining
    • “Supta” = lying down, to recline
      • ie. “Supta Virasana” – Reclined Hero’s Pose

I hope you utilize this as a tool of inspiration! Sanskrit is a beautiful thing. Keep practicing and eventually the poses and their names will become easier and easier.


Stephanie Harris