Even if you’ve been a regular fixture in a yoga studio and have heard the Sanskrit names of the postures, you still may not realize what they mean. For example, when you hear, “Utthita Parsvakonasana,” you may automatically move into Extended Side Angle without a thought. That’s just what the pose is called, right? Mmmm… yeah. But Sanskrit is a language like any other, and the words actually DO have meanings behind them! Here’s a small glossary of terms that may help decipher some of the words you’ve been hearing in class.
Let’s start with Utthita Parsvakonasana.
Utthita = Extended
Parsva = Side
Kona = Angle
Asana = pose
Tada! Extended Side Angle pose! Where else may you heard some of those words? How about Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana? Utthita (extended) Hasta (hand) Padangustha (big toe) asana (pose). Utthita Trikonasana? Yep! Extended Triangle pose!
adho = down; adha mukha = downward facing
ardha = half
baddha = bound
bhuja – arm (or shoulder)
hasta = hand (or arm)
mukha = face
namaskara = greeting, salutation
pada = foot or leg
paschimo = west (back of body)
pursvo = east (front of the body)
supta = supine, sleeping
surya = the sun
ubhaya = both
urdhva = upward
vinyasa = the conscious connection of breath and movement
I think we should spend a little time with that last one. Vinyasas often come between poses, and instructors (myself included) encourage them to keep the heat up in the body after we hold poses for five breaths. While that is partly true, it is also to accomplish exactly what it means: to connect breath and movement. Breathing properly can intensify and deepen a pose. Conversely, not breathing (or breathing in a shallow, non-purposeful way) can make a pose seem more difficult. Sometimes I think it’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Can we not achieve depth in a pose because we aren’t breathing? Or are we not breathing because the pose is uncomfortable? In any case, when we are in these challenging poses, the purposeful, connecting breath can thin out. The vinyasa is like a little reminder to breathe! Exhale – chaturanga; inhale – up dog; exhale – down dog… etc.