Sanskrit Words – an introduction to the ancient language of yoga

If you practice yoga, then you’ve seen some Sanskrit words. To some yoga enthusiasts, this peculiar new language adds a certain charm to the ancient and mysterious practice of yoga.  Others may find it less then relevant to their ambitions. Some probably even find it an unnecessary nuisance. …


I want to make a few brief comments here about these Sanskrit words, so that the novice, the initiated, and even the disinterested, may gain a better appreciation for this ancient language and a general understanding of its place within yoga.

What is Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is the oldest language known to man. It is considered to be the very origin of language itself; that from which all languages have arisen or evolved. The Vedas, the universally accepted first scriptures of humanity, were written in the Sanskrit language.

There is also a deeply rooted faith among Indians that Sanskrit itself is the language of the Devas (Gods), which is why this language was known during the Vedic period (6,000 – 8,000 years ago) as Daivi Vak (the Divine speech). The great grammarian, Pānini, structured this language with his grammar in the 7th century BC, and henceforth, it became referred to as Samskritam.

Numerous important works from a cultural, spiritual and scientific standpoint, were written in this ancient language. All of the classic literature of Vedic times was written in Sanskrit too, included the classical texts of yoga, Vedanta and other spiritual and philosophical schools of ancient times, as well as the historical texts in the great sciences of astrology, astronomy, medicine, architecture and the physical sciences.

The Essence of Sanskrit

As Quantum physics has now revealed to us, anything and everything consists of vibration. The primary essence of any object or phenomena, then, could be thought of as its own unique pattern, or composite patterns, of vibration.

It is said that the language of Sanskrit itself arises from these vary root sounds or vibrations of the Universe. The various vowels and consonants that make up Sanskrit words represent these core sounds, known as bijas. Whilst in states of deep resonance with the cosmos (in other words, while in meditation), the Rishis, the ancient spiritual scientists, could perceive these bija sounds; and from this profound sense of perception, they recognized the inherent sounds of each and every thing.

A Sanskrit word, then, is not merely a word chosen to name something, but an actual reflection of the inherent ‘sound’ of that object, concept or phenomena. In fact, proper, or rather, perfect, pronunciation of Sanskrit words, it is told, can replicate the exact nature, or essence, of that which it is referring too.

It is also told that if one’s mind was utterly pure, then upon hearing this perfectly pronounced symbol, the Sanskrit word, the image of that object, idea, etc., would immediately appear within the mind and the ‘field of understanding’ of this individual, even if they had never seen or heard of this thing or idea before. Likewise, the perfect pronunciation of a Sanskrit word has the power to manifest and/or influence that particular thing. Sanskrit, for this very reason, is referred to as the ‘perfect language’.

“Every one of its vowels and consonants has a particular and inalienable force which exists by the nature of things and not by development or human choice… its (Sanskrit’s) basis is universal and eternal.”

~ Sri Aurobindo

This is, at heart, the essence of one of the principles behind mantra chanting in the vedic tradition. Today there are very few who possess this precise knowledge and ability of ‘perfect enunciation’, and fewer still who are pure enough of mind to be able to receive the innate truths of this language upon hearing it.

Sanskrit in Yoga Today

The underlying power of the Sanskrit language is a force that is not known to most who practice yoga today. This lack of understanding has lead to a hasty and reckless casting aside of Sanskrit terms in the modern yoga world, for simple, powerless English words that denude the practice of yoga of much of its subtle, yet profound potency.

In fact, many of the techniques and practices of yoga have been tagged with wildly inaccurate names at the hands of some notable, perhaps well-intentioned, but careless individuals. One highly influential yogi of the 21st century, whose system of yoga practices is known world-wide, has himself admitted to simply making up many of the names that are now commonplace in the vocabulary of modern day yoga.

Probably the most recognized yoga position today is the ‘downward facing dog’. A corresponding Sanskrit word, adho mukha svanasana, has also been invented to match this. This is, however, erroneous. There is no such asana name in the tradition of yoga.

So what is the proper term for downward dog? It’s Meru Asana. Meru refers to the sacred Mount Meru, considered to reside at the centre of the Universe.

This yoga pose, then, represents stability, balance, strength and support on all levels; not the stretch-like action of your pet getting up from its afternoon nap!

Yet the modern yoga culture is filled with examples such as these. Here’s a few more:

Commonly Used Names Proper Sanskrit Name Loose Translation
Child’s pose Dharmika Asana The devotional pose
Cat Cow Vyaghrah Kriya The tiger action
Plank Pose Chaturanga Danda
The four-footed
stick pose
Side Plank Pose Vashishta Tapasya The tapas position of sage Vashishta
Upward Facing Dog Kokila
The cuckoo pose

Rediscovering Sanskrit Words

Even though the understanding and use of Sanskrit words in yoga has fallen off, none the less, it remains a powerful force to be rediscovered in yoga. Though you may not aspire to become a Sanskrit scholar, or even to delve much further into this ancient language then this very page, I encourage you to be mindful of its use and its profound importance in yoga.

For those who really care to know the depth and profoundness of yoga, study of the ancient scriptures and knowledge of the Sanskrit language is essential. The Sanskrit literature is a veritable treasure-house of knowledge, only a fraction of which has been translated into our contemporary languages.

“The Veda is the beginning of our spiritual knowledge; the Veda will remain its end… I believe the future of India and the world depend on its discovery and on its application…”

~ Sri Aurobindo

“Without Learning Sanskrit it is not possible to decipher the Indian philosophy on which our culture and heritage are based”.~ B.L. Hansaria, Kuldip Singh –

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