Why are yoga poses named after animals?

May 2, 2016, 6 a.m.

Cobra, eagle, downward dog, pigeon, cat... there are so many names for yoga poses inspired by animals. What is behind this?

While there is no one answer, there are theories that circle around the notion that ancient yogis found imitating animals to be an enlightening experience for the body and mind. The pose embodies a familiar aspect or trait of the animal and becomes both a physical exercise and a psychological exercise of embodying the symbolism of that animal.

From Gaia:

Postures named after animals (fish, peacock, crow, eagle, tortoise, etc.) and nature (tree, mountain, etc.) remind us that we are connected to all creation. There is no "lower" animal kingdom, or a higher human one, but rather each one of us exists as past, present and future, all at once. Cats, for example, are experts in relaxation. On awakening from sleep, they instinctively stretch, arch the spine in both directions, and then soften again before moving. Through the practice of replicating and recreating the movements and structure of animals and nature, we can begin to embody the wisdom of their teachings.

Robert Butera, Ph.D., adds advice about using animal poses: "Animal poses can help us to connect with powerful aspects of the soul that we often repress in our busy lives. Before coming into an animal pose, it can be helpful to imagine what it feels like to be that animal. Try to envision where the aniĀ­mal lives, how its body moves, how it eats and how it plays."

Try out the practice with these 20 poses named after animals.