I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and while listening to an excellent book-on-tape on the History of the English Language, I discovered that modern English and Sanskrit both stem from a common language: Proto-Indo-European (PIE). It is believed to have been spoken in Central Asia six to nine thousand years ago.
PIE is the common root for Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. Later on, English aquired many words from both Latin and Greek, so there are many words in common between English and Sanskrit.
When we learn the Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga system, we are strongly encouraged to learn the Sanskrit name of all the postures, and to learn the beginning and ending chants. That’s already a vocabulary of more than a hundred words, so by learning Ashtanga, we are also beginning to learn Sanskrit.
Some of these Sanskrit words, as used in Ashtanga, still have recognizable traces in English and other European languages.
Let’s start with the numbering system as called out in a led class (Sanskrit in bold, English meaning in parenthesis):
Dve (two): the “w” in two is the “v” in dve. In Dutch, a friend told me the pronunciation of two is almost the same as dve.
Trini (three): this one is obvious.
Panca (five): Panca and the Greek pente have the same root, hence pentagon.
Sapta (seven): that’s where the “p” in the Fench sept comes from, and in heptagon.
Ashto (eight): the same ashto as in Ashtanga, in English “sh” became “gh”.
Nava (nine): the ending “v” sound still exists in French as an “f” in neuf (“nine” in English).
Dasa (ten): French again, dix, and in English the root of decade, decathlon.
Samasthitih (equal standing pose): the meaning of “sama” still exists in the English word same.
Padahastasana (foot hand pose): the Greek podi and French pied for foot still exists as podiatrist. Hasta is very similar to hand but I don’t know if it’s related.
Trikonasana (triangle pose): Tri is three as mentioned above, kona means angle or corner, which is pronounced almost the same.
Prasarita Padottanasana (spread out intense foot strech): the last part of this name is a shortened version of uttana, meaning intense stretch.
A few years ago I attended a workshop with Bhavani Maki where she pointed out uttana still exists in English as attenuate, to thin out. A lot of other postures have uttana in their name, and it is a consistent principle behind the Ashtanga practice. Bhavani is very interested in language by the way, and I highly recommend her workshops.
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (half lotus bound standing forward bend): baddha and bound have the same root.
Virabhadrasana (hero pose): Virabhadra was a super being created by the god Shiva, and vira means hero. I don’t know if there is an official connection, but vira and hero sound very close.
Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (one leg folded back): tiriang means and sounds like transverse.
Janu Sirsana (head of the knee): Janu, as knee, still exists in French as genou, and in English as the root of genuflect, to bend the knee or touch one knee to the floor or ground, as in worship.
Marichyasana (posture of Marichy): Marichy is a sage, son of Brahma and patron saint of all Mexican Mariachi bands (only kidding!).
Navasana (boat pose): Nava means boat, which still exists in the French navire and as the root of naval and navy.
Kukkutasana (rooster posture): could kukku be related to the French cocorico, the equivalent of cock-a-doodle-doo?
Ubhaya Padangusthasana (both big toes): Ubhaya means of both, and to me these sound very similar.
I’ll leave you with one last one, Amen, sorry, I mean Om.