Saturday, September 30

What Is Sanskrit Yoga?

The back of a male yoga instructor's head facing a yoga class in a studio.
Photo by Yan Krukau

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you probably noticed that the word “OM” is used often. In fact, many Sanskrit words are often used in yoga to describe different poses and actions.

But why do yoga teachers use this ancient language in today’s modern practice?

The reason is that many words commonly used in yoga come from the Sanskrit language.

So, let’s take a look at why we use Sanskrit in yoga and some other common uses of the ancient language today.

What Is Sanskrit?

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Sanskrit is an Indo-Aryan language used in ancient India and neighboring areas. Scholars believe that the language first emerged around 1500 BCE. Sanskrit was the most widely spoken language in the Indian subcontinent until the 19th century CE when the British Empire pushed English as a language of governance and trade.

While Sanskrit’s use declined in India, it found new life in the West. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many scholars in the West studied Sanskrit, including the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote some of his works in Sanskrit.

Many others, including scientists, poets, and artists, have also used Sanskrit in their work.

Then there’s yoga and the prevalent use of Sanskrit in yoga. Let’s explore why.

Why Do We Use Sanskrit in Yoga?

Yoga originated and was first practiced in India for thousands of years before it was brought to the West as a fitness practice more than anything else.

Because of this, yoga was built using the Sanskrit language, and it’s what ancient gurus used to teach and spread the yogic way of life. Keep in mind that back in the day, yoga was more of a spiritual practice rather than a physical or holistic discipline. Therefore, many of its teachings, philosophical concepts, and scriptures were originally written in Sanskrit.

Today, the Sanskrit words used in yoga often describe what part of the body is used in the pose. For example, chaturanga dandasana, meaning four-limbed staff pose in English, is a yoga pose that uses only the arms and legs to lift the body off the ground. Because the Sanskrit words are so specific, they were great for beginners to understand better what part of their bodies was supposed to do what.

Why is Sanskrit Important to Yoga?

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Photo by Murugadoss Arumugam

Sanskrit is significant to the authentic yoga practice in several ways, including the preservation of tradition and mantra chanting.

When it comes to history and tradition, yoga practitioners can connect with the rich heritage and roots of yoga through the Sanskrit language. Moreover, since it has been the language of choice for spreading yoga through the years, many traditional yoga texts have been written originally in Sanskrit. These texts include the famous Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads.

Then, there’s the spiritual side of yoga, mainly the practice of mantra chanting. This practice involves repetitively vocalizing specific sounds, words, or phrases called mantras, an integral part of most yoga schools. As you may have guessed, the sounds, words, and phrases in mantra chanting are Sanskrit. They’re believed to have a powerful influence over your energy and a transformative effect on your mind and consciousness.

The Sanskrit words used in mantra chanting, such as the most popular sound, “OM,” you may hear in closing or opening chants in yoga classes, are also believed to carry unique vibrational qualities. These vibrations are said to positively affect the practitioner’s body, mind, and energy system.

Because of all these reasons, Sanskrit is still a very important aspect of yoga.

How Is It Different From Your Average Yoga Class?

Woman in a green sports bra holding upward facing dog pose on a yoga mat.
Photo by Elina Fairytale

While there’s no unique “Sanskrit yoga” practice, as the term Sanskrit simply refers to the language being used, some yoga teachers may use it to emphasize the use of Sanskrit in their practice.

As a result, the main difference between Sanskrit yoga and the average yoga class is that Sanskrit yoga probably uses Sanskrit words a bit more and incorporates chanting.

In addition, Sanskrit yoga often incorporates traditional Indian music, which can add another layer of depth and relaxation to the practice.

Why Do People Like This Form of Yoga? What Are the Benefits?

There are many reasons why people love to incorporate Sanskrit into yoga, the most important of which we already cover. Still, let’s briefly summarize the importance of Sanskrit in yoga.

  • Sanskrit is based on traditional principles and practices.
  • Sanskrit emphasizes correct alignment and precise movements.
  • Sanskrit sounds help develop concentration and inner awareness.
  • Sanskrit can be adapted to all levels of fitness.

The benefits of using Sanskrit in yoga include:

  • Improved postural awareness;
  • Greater mental clarity and concentration; 
  • Increased feelings of well-being and calmness. 

Who Can Use Sanskrit in Yoga?

Older couple sitting side by side on yoga mats in lotus pose.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Sanskrit yoga (using Sanskrit in yoga) is open to everyone, regardless of fitness level or experience. This is because Sanskrit is well suited for beginners, as it provides a gentle introduction to the practice. In the meantime, it’s also suited for advanced practitioners as it allows them to connect more deeply with the spiritual side of yoga while advancing in their physical practice.

Sanskrit yoga is also suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

How to Use Sanskrit While Practicing Yoga

There are a few ways to use Sanskrit while practicing yoga poses in class.

First, you can learn the Asana names in Sanskrit. Learning the Sanskrit names of common asana poses will allow you to dive deeper into yoga as a holistic practice and explore its cultural roots. Plus, it’ll make you sound really knowledgeable and experienced in yoga. For example, instead of saying “child’s pose,” you can say “bālāsana.”

Second, as mentioned earlier, you can use Sanskrit to engage with the more spiritual aspects of yoga, such as mantra chanting. Mantras are spoken in Sanskrit, so you can start incorporating them into your daily practice by chanting popular mantras, such as “Om” (Aum) and “Om Shanti” (peace) in between Vinyasas when starting or finishing a dynamic sequence of asanas, or at the end during meditation.

Woman and man dressed in black meditating with eyes closed on yoga mats.
Photo by cottonbro studio

Finally, you can use Sanskrit to explore the history of yoga. If you feel confident, read some traditional yoga scripts written in original Sanskrit. You can enroll in Sanskrit classes or find online resources to learn the basics.


Sanskrit is an ancient language used in Indian culture for thousands of years. It has many different meanings and can be used in many different ways.

Sanskrit is often used to describe specific yoga poses and mantras. It’s a crucial aspect of the yoga practice and is often used to teach the deeper meanings behind yoga poses and concepts.

This language is also used in other areas, such as poetry, philosophy, and science. It can be applied to many different areas and can be a great way to expand your knowledge or gain an understanding of another culture.

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