Why Are There So Many Animal Yoga Poses?

There are quite a few animal yoga poses. Have you ever wondered how they got their names?

There are quite a few animal yoga poses. Have you ever wondered how they got their names?

You may have noticed that there are quite a few poses named after our animal friends. Along with the dog, this asana menagerie includes other mammals (Cow, Camel, Cat, Horse, Lion, Monkey, Bull), birds (Eagle, Peacock, Goose or Swan, Crane, Heron, Rooster, Pigeon, Partridge), a fish and a frog, reptiles (Cobra, Crocodile, Tortoise), and arthropods (Locust, Scorpion, Firefly). There’s even a pose named after a mythic sea monster, the makara, the Hindu zodiac’s Capricorn, which is pictured as having the head and forelegs of a deer and the body and tail of a fish.

See also How To Practice Doga: Yoga with Dogs

Of course, the animal most revered by Hindus is the cow. Everything associated with or issuing from the cow is considered holy, even the dust stirred by its passing and the hoofprints left behind. Alas, the dog—despite the contemporary popularity of its eponymous pose—doesn’t fare as well in India, where many folks consider Fido unclean and go to great lengths to avoid the slightest contact. But here and there in the old books we find a dog that someone loved. One famous instance occurs near the end of the Mahabharata, India’s monumental national epic. The god Indra invites the hero-king Yudhishthira (pronounced you-dish-TEER-ah) into heaven, if only he’ll “cast off” his loyal canine companion. The righteous king refuses, saying, “I do not wish for prosperity if I have to abandon a creature who is devoted to me.” As it turns out, the dog is none other than Dharma, the god of virtue; upon hearing these words, he assumes his true form and says to Yudhishthira, “There is no one in heaven equal to you.”

Richard Rosen, who teaches in Oakland and Berkeley, California, has been writing for Yoga Journal since the 1970s.