Yoga Poses & Meanings

Yoga Poses & Meanings

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Natarajasana, or Lord of the Dance pose, challenges both balance and flexibility.

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Vrkasana, Pada Hastasana, Trikonasana -- these may sound like exotic dishes at an Indian restaurant but, in fact, they are the Sanskrit names of asanas, or yoga poses. Like many languages, Sanskrit contains prefixes and suffixes in addition to root words. As you study yoga, you'll start to become familiar with some of these terms as they regularly appear in pose names. To start, know that the word "asana" means pose and that you'll find it at the end of most Sanskrit yoga pose names. Directions, anatomy, animal imagery and mythology combine to form these terms which can be interpreted through their English translations.

Standing Poses

Vrka is a Sanskrit word meaning tree, so when you balance on one leg with your other foot resting against your standing leg, you are in Vrkasana, Tree pose. Trikonasa contains the prefix "tri-" which occurs in both English and Sansrkit and means three. Kona means angle, so we call this position with the arms and legs spread wide Triangle pose. Pada comes from the Sanskrit word for foot and hasta translates to hand, so when you reach down to touch your toes you are performing Pada Hastasana, Hand to Foot pose.

Seated Poses

One of the most iconic of all yoga poses has you sit cross-legged with each foot resting on the opposite thigh. This is Padmasana, from padma or lotus flower. Sukhasana, sitting on the floor with both of your legs stretched straight out in front of you, takes its name from the Sanskrit word for easy, sukha. Cobbler's pose breaks from typical naming conventions; the Sanskrit name for sitting on the floor with the soles of your feet together and knees open is Baddha Konasana. As before, kona means angle, whereas baddha refers to bound, referring to holding your feet with your hands.

Prone Poses

Lying on your belly and reaching around to grab both feet stretches the muscles along the front of your body while strengthening your back. You are gently bowed backward, and this asana is called Dhanurasana, the Bow pose. Cobra pose takes its name from the appearance your body makes as you lie face-down on the floor then gently lift your chest and shoulders off of the floor like a snake slowly raising its head. Bhujanga means cobra or serpent in Sanskrit, and so the name of this pose is Bhujangasana.

A Word of Caution

Some yoga poses may be risky. Salamba Sirsana -- which translates from the Sanskrit words sa or with, alamba or support and sirsa or head, or headstand -- requires supporting the entire weight of your body on your head and forearms. The Plow, Halasana, which comes from the word hala or plow, can put a great deal of pressure on the neck. You can get the benefits of these inversions by lying back and resting your legs up a wall, which translates: to turn upside down, Viparita Karani.

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