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Friday, September 14, 2007

a pose by any other name...

on a recent hollywood bowl shuttle ride, i was chatting with my friend BDB about a yoga class i had taken earlier that week at a new studio. and about how our instructor couldn't have been too well-versed in her sanskrit because she had referred to plank pose as dandasana. and dandasana, as far as i know, is staff pose, which is when you're seated upright with your arms at your side and your legs together and extended in front of you.

so what's the sanskrit for plank?, he asked.

after thinking about it for a while, i admitted that i didn't know. after the hundreds of classes i'd taken, i couldn't remember anyone calling it anything other than "plank" or a "high push-up".

he laughed and pointed out that since i didn't know my sanskrit any better than the teacher did, i should be one to talk. hmph! so i turned things around and started ribbing him about his taste in yoga classes, since after all his years of practice, he still didn't know his uttanasana from his utkatasana. and he calls himself a yoga devotee? :)

(it later dawned on us that if the woman seated in front of us were eavesdropping on our conversation, she'd probably be shaking her head, thinking: "only in LA...")

still bothered by the fact that i still couldn't figure out the answer to his plank question, i checked yogajournal.com when i got home. and to my relief, even the authoritative reference website didn't have a sanskrit equivalent. so there!

so for the sake of mr. b and the others (including myself) who need a refresher course on the sanskrit names for the basic yoga postures, here's a quick list. by the way, i later found out that baptiste yoga teachers do refer to plank as dandasana. to each his own...

tadasana: mountain pose
urdvha hastasana: upward hand pose
utkatasana: chair pose
uttanasana: standing forward bend
urdhva mukha uttanasana: halfway lift *
kumbhakasana: plank *
chaturanga dandasana: four-limbed staff pose, or low push-up
bhujangasana: cobra pose
urdvha mukha svanasana: upward-facing dog
adho mukha svanasana: downward-facing dog
vasisthasana: side plank pose
virabhadrasana i: warrior i pose
virabhadrasana ii: warrior ii pose
virabhadrasana iii: warrior iii pose
anjaneyasana: crescent *
utthita parsvakonasana: extended side angle pose
parivrtta parsvakonasana: revolved side angle pose
utthita trikonasana: extended triangle pose
parivrtta trikonasana: revolved triangle pose
ardha chandrasana: half moon pose
parivrtta ardha chandrasana: revolved half moon pose
urdhva prasarita eka padasana: standing split *
padagusthasana: big toe pose
prasarita padottanasana: wide-legged forward bend
parsvottanasana: intense side stretch pose
garudasana: eagle pose
vrksasana: tree pose
malasana: garland pose, or squat
sukhasana: easy pose
balasana: child's pose
dandasana: staff pose
paschimottanasana: seated forward bend
janu sirsasaana: head-to-knee forward bend
upavistha konasana: wide-angle seated forward bend
baddha konasana: bound angle pose, or cobbler's pose
supta baddha konasana: reclining bound angle pose
virasana: hero pose
supta virasana: reclining hero pose
paripurna navasana: full boat pose
hanumanasana: monkey pose, or split
kapotasana: pigeon pose
gomukhasana: cow face pose
ardha matsyendrasana: half lord of the fishes pose, or seated twist
salambhasana: locust pose
dhanurasana: bow pose
setu bandha sarvangasana: bridge pose
urdvha dhanurasana: upward bow pose, or wheel
ustrasana: camel pose
halasana: plow pose
salamba sarvangasana: supported shoulderstand
matsyasana: fish pose
savasana: corpse pose

* these poses don't seem to have a widely-used sanskrit translation, although the terms i've listed have appeared on at least one website

finally, to help put in all into perspective, here's a cool yoga site that matches the sanskrit with photos of the actual poses: yoga postures library.

it's time to get out that yoga mat... enjoy!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joni,
Your blog is awesome.
I have been studying yoga with Shiva Rea for the past 4 years -- but only on the east coast. I've taken many of her teacher trainings and I LOVE that she mainly uses sanskrit for the poses. She mentioned once that she was stumped as far as the Sanskrit for Plank. I think she started calling it Plankasana which is pretty funny! I noticed you seem to have found it. Wow!

I love you list of the poses. I hope you don't mind if I publish that on my blog. I would of course link it back to you. Also that yoga postures web site is awesome!

A coupla' questions - - What is upward hand pose? Is that handstand? Thanks again for the awesome list and the link to the postures library.

Dee Greenberg

9:40 AM  
Blogger joni said...

hi dee --

it really took some major googling to find "kumbhakasana". i'm still wondering if that's the official name for it or if someone made it up and it just got propagated :)

upward hand pose is also known as raised arms pose; basically, it's when you stand and raise your arms overhead to start the surya series.

sure, feel free to spread the info on your blog -- and i'd love to take credit for it!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wondered this same thing myself and did the same googling just a few weeks ago. Did you notice how yogajournal.com shows the "crescent" pose as the icon for the standing poses, but doesn't have the pose in the actual list?

It seems like there's at least three common poses ("plank", "crescent" and "dolphin") that don't have sanskrit names. thinking about these together, they are all "in-between" poses. Maybe these poses, while not being "true" asanas, are popular and taught because they're good "teaching/learning" poses.

as for the plank = dandasana, i'll put my money on that being a teacher's mistake being repeated by his/her students...

i think this dialogue is important because their is a "right" way to do the poses and knowing their names is part of understanding each pose. You can learn "sloppy" asanas and i have hurt myself doing asanas "wrong."

But, also, yoga is not a static thing. It grows and changes as its' teachers and students grow and change as well.


5:23 PM  
Blogger joni said...

thanks for the input, michael!

and yes, it's probably true that the "nameless" poses are transitional steps that help a student gradually master a difficult pose. like an extended side angle where one puts the forearm on the thigh instead of the hand to the floor, or a side plank where one knee is on the ground instead of parallel to the upper leg...

i guess that's what makes yoga so interesting -- there's so much to learn!

9:28 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I had to dig to find the name of this pose to. Kumbhakasana makes sense however, as it means breath retention, which is what you're supposed to be doing in plank. See quote below, from the following website. http://www.doyoga.com/bk_ujjayi.html


'Kumbhak' is a Sanskrit word that describes the natural retention of the breath. The word literally means 'empty pot.' It describes a moment of suspension of the breath in which the prana pauses, whether inside the body or out, before 'turning around' and continuing its movement as the breath.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Jules said...

Hello! Thanks for the list of asana names! Very Helpful! I'm currently working on an assignment for my teacher training course and was trying to google up a name for dolphin pose....seems you've done the work and there isn't one... Ah well! I found your page and read through the conversations, checked your list and cross referenced it to my own asana list,
plank, I think, is Caturanga Dandasana ('catur' or 'chatur' meaning four, and 'anga' meaning limb or body part), or four limb staff pose.
You did not have 'eka-pada' (one leg)mentioned either,(as in variations of adho mukha svanasana, or kapotanasa)
I also had kapotanasa listed as 'rajakapotanasa' small difference as kapota is pigeon and rajakapota is king of the pigeons....hope I'm not being painful ;)
Last of all, parighasana, or gate/beam pose (beam as in, the beam used to latch a gate)
Thanks again for the page ! Big help! Hope I was able to return the favour :)

10:39 PM  
Blogger joni said...

hi jules --
chaturanga dandasana is slightly different from plank. plank has your arms extended while chaturanga has your elbows bent (which is why some power yoga teachers refer to the transition as "high-low".
as for pigeon, i've heard teachers refer to it as ekapadarajakapotasana, so maybe kapotasana's a nickname? :)
glad i could be of service!

10:58 PM  
Blogger Jules said...

Thanks for the prompt response Joni! Hmmm, seems my assignment will need some revision!

Have you any idea why equestrian pose/lunge pose is called Asva/Ashwa Sanchalasana? I understand the first part meaning horse, but sanchalasana?
Any ideas?
Thanks Joni;)

1:22 AM  
Blogger joni said...

you've got me on that -- i don't think i've ever heard that name used... hope you find your answer somewhere!

3:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Half- moon is my favorite! Sometimes I have trouble with balance poses. I found Leeann Carey has a free yoga video that talks about a Sitting Bone/Heel Connection in standing poses that is really helpful. Thought your readers would like it: http://planetyoga.com/yoga-blogs/index.php/free-yoga-video-kps-sitting-boneheel-connection/

5:40 PM  
Blogger Shiva Shakti said...

Kudos for your transliterated Sanskrit research. If plank is in fact Kumbhakasana it may be due to an esoteric technique of breath hold known as Kumbhaka
(see http://www.jainworld.com/preksha/vidyajain/pd10.htm )
this is known as val salva in western exercise science and will increase intra thoracic pressure and raise systolic blood pressure.
As an ACSM cPT and RYT trained at HITA in U.P.India, I would not recommend the breath hold during this (or any other pose) unless directed by an Initiated Satguru. We're fans of your blog Joni :) at Shakti in Rancho Palos Verdes CA. drop in anytime for a complimentary class. AUM SHAKTI

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Santulan- balancing Asana- posture)
This definition is from the Bihar Yoga tradition of India, where I study asana.
Note, the 'M' at the end of all asana names should be pronounced in spoken Sanskrit, though in Hindi and English it is commonly left off.

5:31 PM  

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