Sanskrit and English Names for Yoga Poses

Beth Asaff
man in mutra

In yoga class, you may hear both Sanskrit and English names for yoga poses. At first, this may seem a bit confusing, but over time it will be much easier to recognize Sanskrit terminology. This article provides a basic primer to help your yoga education.

A List of Sanskrit and English Names for Yoga Poses

During yoga class, many yoga instructors interchange Sanskrit and English names throughout a routine. This repetition helps individuals remember the long and sometimes hard-to-pronounce Sanskrit terminology.

Many of the lists that outline Sanskrit and English names for yoga poses start with the Sanskrit version, then the English. To make it easier, this list of many popular asanas puts the English variation first:

  • Boat Pose - Paripurna Navasana Boat is a seated pose that works the abdominal muscles by balancing on your tailbone while your legs and upper body form the shape of a V.
  • Bow Pose - Dhanurasana Bow pose is a backbend done on the stomach. While balancing on your pelvis, reach back for your ankles with your hands and pull your chest off the floor with the force of your legs to form a bow.
  • Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Bridge Pose is also a backbend, this one preformed on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your shoulders flat while you lift your pelvis into the air to form a bridge.
  • Child's Pose - Balasana Child's Pose is a resting pose performed on the knees. Sink your bum back toward your heels while you rest your forehead on the ground and stretch your arms in front of you.
  • Corpse Pose - Savasana Also known as Final Relaxation, Corpse pose is the last pose performed in any yoga practice. Lay flat on your back on the floor as you relax your entire body.
  • Firefly Pose - Tittibhasana Firefly is an arm balance performed with the palms flat on the floor and the legs hooked straight over the elbows.
  • Hero Pose - Virasana Hero is a seated, kneeling pose. Keep your knees together, but spread your feet apart and sit your bottom down between them.
  • Locust Pose - Salambhasana Locust is a backbend that is similar to Cobra. Instead of only lifting the chest and shoulders, however, lift your legs and lower body at the same time so you balance on your pelvis.
  • Lord of the Dance Pose - Natarajasan Also known as "Dancer," Lord of the Dance is a balance pose performed on one foot with the opposite leg bent behind you and your hand grasping the ankle.
  • Lotus Pose - Padmasana Lotus pose is a seated position that crosses your feet in front of you. Lift each of the feet onto the opposite thigh as you sit and meditate.
  • Mountain Pose - Tadasana Mountain is a standing pose that often starts Sun Salutations. Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent and arms active at your sides. Draw energy up from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head as you focus your eyes slightly downward.
  • Plow Pose - Halasana Plow is an inversion that often begins Shoulder Stand or Deaf Man's pose. Lay on your back with your hands at your sides. Lift your feet up above your head and roll them backward so your toes touch the floor behind you and your rest on the back of your neck.
  • Prayer Twist - Parsvokonasana Prayer Twist is a twisting pose that begins in a Warrior pose. Place your hands in prayer position as you lean forward and hook one elbow behind the opposite knee to twist the midsection.
  • Side Plank Pose - Vasisthasana Side Plank is a power pose you transition to out of Plank. Place one hand in the center of your mat and roll open to one side, with your opposite hand straight up and balance on the sides of your feet.
  • Staff Pose - Dandasana Staff is a seated pose that stretches the hamstrings. Sit with your legs extended in front of you as you pull up straight out of the waist.
  • Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana Standing Forward Bend is a standing pose that stretches the hamstrings. Stand with feet hip width apart as you bend at the waist and let your head and arms fall heavy toward the ground.
  • Supported Headstand - Salamba Sirsasana Supported Headstand is an inversion that rests the head between the forearms with palms clasped just behind the back of your head.
  • Tree Pose - Vrksasana Tree is a balance pose preformed on one leg. Root down through your standing foot as you pick up the opposite foot and bring it to rest on your calf or thigh.
  • Triangle Pose - Trikonasana Triangle is a standing pose that involves a bend and a twist. Begin in Warrior II and straighten your front leg. Bend forward at the waist and reach the hand that corresponds with your front leg toward the floor as you twist and bring your opposite hand overhead.
  • Upward Facing Dog Pose - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Upward Facing Dog is part of Sun Salutations A and B. It follows Chaturanga; push upward on your arms and bring your chest between them as you relax your lower body onto the floor.
  • Warrior Pose - Virabhadrasana The Warrior poses are standing poses usually performed on both sides of the body with one leg forward at a time.
  • Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana Wheel is a backbend that acts like a reverse push up. Lay on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Place your palms down beside your head and straighten your arms as you push your body off the floor.
  • Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend - Upavistha Konasana Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend is a seated pose that stretches the hips and the hamstrings. Open your legs wide in a V and bend forward from the hips to rest your forearms on the floor.
  • Wide-Legged Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana Wide-Legged Forward Bend is a standing forward bend that stretches the hamstrings. Stand with your feet wider than your hips and bend at the waist to allow your head and arms to hang toward the floor.

In addition to these poses, there are also several yoga poses that have animal names, such as Cobra, Camel or Frog. While these poses are commonly known by their English name, they have Sanskrit names as well.

Common Yoga Poses in English

You won't learn Sanskrit and English names for yoga poses all the time. Some postures are most often referred to in English only. Here are some examples:

  • High Lunge - Part of the Sun Salutation Sequence, there doesn't seem to be a Sanskrit name variation for this posture.
  • Inclined Plane - Purvottanasana is the Sanskrit origin of this pose, but Inclined Plane is far more common to hear.
  • Knee-to-Chest Pose - This posture is rarely called by its Sanskrit name, Apanasana. However, if you practice Bikram Yoga, this posture may be called Pavanamuktasana, which means Wind-Relieving Pose.
  • Plank Pose - Introduced as part of various yoga styles, it is sometimes known as Kumbhaka, but not often.
  • Sun Salutation Sequence - In Sanskrit, this is Surya Namaskar, but most instructors refer to the English variation.
  • Spinal Twist - This posture's Sanskrit name honors the yogic sage Matsyendrasana, but is frequently referenced in English.

Usage Varies by Instructor

If the yoga style you practice stems from classical yoga, then every pose should have a Sanskrit origin. However, there's not a wrong or right way to refer to yoga poses. It's all a matter of preference and, for some instructors, intention. Many classical yoga instructors choose only to refer to yoga postures in Sanskrit. Other teachers may want to make practice more accessible to beginners, and feel that the English names help with this approach.

Teachers of Kids' Yoga may prefer to introduce children to each posture and naming convention gradually. English names such as Downward Dog or Triangle Pose paint a better picture in a child's mind as to what the posture should be like. Then, the proper Sanskrit name and story behind each pose can later enhance the child's knowledge of yoga.

Get More From Your Practice

Learning the Sanskrit names of many popular yoga poses can help you take your practice to deeper levels by eliminating any hesitation on your part when your instructor calls out a Sanskrit name, rather than an English one. Get to know the original names of these yoga poses and bring your practice to the next level.

Sanskrit and English Names for Yoga Poses