Why Are Yoga Poses Named After Animals?

Ancient yogis studied animals to see what lessons they could learn from them, from how they express their emotions to how the eat. There is much to learn!
Lily Allen-Duenas is a international yoga and meditation teacher.
Lily Allen-Duenas is a international yoga and meditation teacher.

There are many yoga poses that are named after animals, or other parts of the physical world from the plough to the wheel.

You might wonder why there are so many yoga poses named after animals. There isn’t one concrete answer to share, as these ancient Sanskrit names are thousands of years old and have been passed down from guru to student in secret throughout time. That is until now. In the last 100 years or so, yoga has been taken out of the realms of secret spread throughout the world. That is why I cannot specifically tell you precisely why yoga poses are named after animals. However, there are still some truths I can reveal.

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Ancient yogis dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy observing the natural world. They believed that by observing their natural environment, they could see their own reflection. They could see part of themselves inside each being. These ancient yogis were said to watch a single animal for hours on end, and return the next day and many days after to try to learn the lesson that an animal was there to teach.

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These ancient yogis revered all natural life and were open to receiving the teachings that all creatures can bestow upon the open mind. By observing how an animal slept, fought, ate, and expressed its emotions from fear to pain to joy, the ancient yogis modified or formulated an asana based on all they had learnt.

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Animals are experts at letting their bodies react naturally to situations, whereas humans are more talented at hiding their feelings and emotions. It is no wonder that human beings have daily aches and pains, tight necks and sore backs. Not only is the modern lifestyle of sitting for hours on end not beneficial for the body, but it is detrimental. This is not news. Since animals have always gone about their lives reacting and acting normally and naturally, expressing movements and any emotions that arise organically, there is something to learn from each animals way to move through an emotion and release it.

The yoga asanas that are named after animals have each been carefully crafted to embody what a specific animal is there to teach us. From the fierce rise of the cobra to the stoic humility of the cow pose. From the camel to the horse to the peacock to the firefly, yoga poses honor and respect the lessons that animals can teach us.

This article was first published on Lily’s blog.

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