Yin Asana Names

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thea.e.metcalfe
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Yin Asana Names

Post by thea.e.metcalfe »

Why do we use English names like Butterfly instead of Baddha Konasana? Where did this originate from and why is it important to use these names instead of the Sanskrit, or even, for example, Seated Forward Fold rather than Caterpillar? Thanks!
Bernie
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Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2006 2:25 am
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What's in a name? A pose by any other name would still be ..

Post by Bernie »

There is no consensus on the names of asanas in India or in the West. Multiple names are used for one pose (Mandukasana and Bhekasana are both names for the Frog), and the same name is used for multiple poses (the Frog has two very different shapes.) We can find differences between the Sivananada lineage (Bakasana is a standing on one leg forward folding pose) and the Iyengar lineage (Bakasana is the balancing your knees on your arms pose.) If the Sanskrit names are not universal, how can we expect the Anglicized names to be any more consistent?

The names in Sanskrit are sometimes descriptive of the posture, or a metaphor for a plant or animal, or named in honour of some saint, rishi or god. Most of these honoured names are unfamiliar to Westerners so they aren't very helpful. If you have never heard of Hanuman and don't know about his mighty leap, hearing the forward splits pose called Hanumanasana won't mean much to you. Hearing it called The Splits will make it easier to understand.

How many Westerners know what a Baddha is or a Konasana? If a teacher says "Baddha Konasana" she could explain that it means “bound” and “angle posture” and help students start to learn the language, but equally we can just start by giving the Anglicized name “Butterfly” which is used in other sports/exercise/dance areas as well. Or, we can use both names: first “Butterfly” to help student understand what we are trying to do, and then the Sanskrit Baddha Konasana to help them learn the lingo.

But, what is in a name? Many of the India yogic postures came from the West in the 19th century (see Mark Singleton’s book: Yoga Body). These postures are not sacred, they do not go back 5,000 years as many yoga teachers like to claim. They are much more modern than that. Some of the oldest Hatha asanas are described in books that are about 700 years old, but again, these books do not agree on the names and definitions. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes only 15 asanas. The later Gheranda Samhita has 32 postures, but with some different descriptions.

In Yin Yoga, we often will use a shape that looks very familiar to Hatha Yogis of the more yang traditions but our way of doing the pose is quite different: we don’t engage our muscles in Half-Butterfly, even though it looks very much like Janu Sirsasana (head to knee pose). By not calling it Janu Sirsasana, we hope to dissuade students from muscularly engaging in Half-Butterfly and relax into the shape. Similiarly, we call the seated forward fold a Caterpillar to differentiate it from Paschimottasana because it is done differently. Why call it a Caterpillar? That is what Paul Grilley thought it felt like to him. Yogis, remember, often named postures after animals or plants because the shapes looked like the animal or plant.

Having a common name that everyone knows is very useful in teaching. How we choose that name is very ad hoc and unscientific. If you create a new posture, feel free to create a name for it! Hopefully, the name will help people remember the pose and not just deify the inventor. ;-)

Hope this helps!
Bernie
thea.e.metcalfe
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Joined: Tue Oct 21, 2014 7:19 am
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Post by thea.e.metcalfe »

Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply, Bernie. I appreciate your in-depth explanation and I'm grateful for the clarification after years of wondering! ...ANd now that you mention it, I suppose it really does look like a Caterpillar! :)
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