Saturday, November 25, 2006

Asa – what?

By now you have all heard at least one yoga teacher prattling on in some foreign language during yoga class. They will tell you to do tadasana, or trikonasana. What are they on about?

Most yoga teachers learn the Sanskrit names of postures as part of their training, because these names tend to be standard across yoga traditions, while the English translations (or more accurately, transliterations) vary widely. Sanskrit is the ancient language of the Indus Valley civilisation, believed to be the mother of all Indo-European tongues, and the language in which the ancient yoga texts are written.

Yogic tradition holds that the sounds of Sanskrit words have a special power, and if pronounced correctly, the name of an asana will create the same effect in your body as performing that posture. This may seem a little far-fetched, but there is still value in learning the names of some poses. One of the greatest benefits is that you start becoming more familiar with the philosophical basis of yoga, and you may find this gives you a deeper understanding of your physical practice. Of course, if you ever find yourself in a yoga class in Taiwan, you will also know what postures the instructor is talking about. As long as he or she sticks to Sanskrit!

Here is a short glossary of some of the more common Sanskrit words you will encounter in yoga class:

Om - The sacred sound of the universe, made up of three parts – A, U, M – representing masculine, feminine and neutral.

This syllable is used as a dedication before asana practice or meditation. It means ‘I am’ and also has a similar meaning to ‘Amen’.

Asana - Asana refers to a posture or pose, although it literally means ‘steady seat’. Physical poses were traditionally practiced to strengthen and open the body for a comfortable sitting meditation.

Tadasana - Mountain pose, standing at the front of your mat, hands at your heart or by your sides.

Surya Namaskara - Salute to the Sun. Traditionally practiced at dawn, to welcome the sun’s life giving warmth. Also a great way to warm up the body! Consists of the following movements:
  • Urdvha Hasta - Literally means ‘hands up’, the upward salute, raising the arms overhead and touching palms.
  • Uttanasana - Standing forward bend
  • Chaturanga Dandasana - Four-limbed staff pose – basically the ‘down’ pushup position, sometimes preceded by plank position.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana - Downward Facing Dog Pose -you all know this one! Tail in the air, hands and feet on the mat, forming an inverted V.
  • Urdvha Mukha Svanasana - Upward Facing Dog pose – you all know this one too! The backbend usually practiced in the Sun Salute sequence.

Trikonasana - Triangle pose – ‘tri’ means three, ‘kona’ means angle. One of the most fundamental standing postures.
Parivritta Trikonasana - Revolved Triangle pose. Great pose for new moms, to help draw the uterus back to its original shape.

Vrksasana - Tree Pose – ‘vrksa’ being a tree. Probably the best known yoga balancing pose, seen everywhere, from yoga studios to vitamin adverts.

Padmasana - Lotus Pose – padma being the lotus. The classical position for seated meditation, although not accessible to all of us! The lotus is considered a symbol of enlightenment because although it has its roots in murky water, it blossoms to the light, opening to the heavens.

There are around 80 thousand known yoga poses, so they won’t all be getting a mention in this newsletter! If you want to know more, go to the Yoga Journal posture finder. It’s a great way to spend those in-between work moments.

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