Philosophy word for the day: asana

In my recent workshop for yoga teachers, How to Teach Philosophy and Meditation in Asana Class,* I posted a list on the wall of Sanskrit words that I find make good vocabulary for sharing ideas in class. I’m going to define them over the next couple of weeks, so keep posted.

I should say that some of these words are okay to use in class, because they’re common, but often students don’t speak or pay attention to Sanskrit. It’s important to take a reading of your students and see. It might be more effective to interpret, that is, put the ideas into your own words. Nonetheless, as a teacher or serious student, it will help you to know the Sanskrit words, because Sanskrit is a language created to describe consciousness, subtle forces, and the nature of existence, which is what yoga is all about.

Here’s a list of words to have familiarity with (of course you can add others!):

  • asana
  • avidya
  • karma
  • dharma
  • mantra
  • yantra
  • abyasa/vairagya
  • dosha: vata (space/air), pitta (fire/water), kapha (earth/water)
  • guru
  • Brahma/Vishnu/Rudra/Shiva
  • Shakti
  • nadi
  • prana
Peter in uttitha parsvakonasana
Peter in uttitha parsvakonasana

Today’s word is asana. It’s a word you probably already use in class, but one that’s rarely understood. Like most Sanskrit words, there’s not a single word translation that captures it. That means when you reduce the translation to a single word, you’re leaving out important information. As a teacher, you can put that information back in as a way to enrich what you pass on to your students.

The common translation of asana is ‘posture’ or sometimes ‘pose,’ as in trikonasana, triangle pose. But asana is in fact a quality of posture, not the posture itself. As part of the eight limbs of yoga reported in Patanjali’s yoga sutras and elsewhere, asana is defined as a posture that is steady and comfortable.

A physical practice that brings strength and flexibility, combined with concentration and a balance of ease and effort brings you asana. When you have the asana in your seated pose, you have the possibility of getting beyond your aches, pains, and mental distractions to experience the part of yourself that is your inspiration.

That’s why asana is part of yoga.


*the referenced workshop was at ISHTA Yoga, and I introduced the workshop in a blog post here. Watch for the next workshop on this topic at my space, The Table.

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