10 Common yoga symbols and their meanings
We use symbols every single day to process the world around us. Brands use logos to explain who they are, street signs give us direction, and we communicate through symbols such as a hand waving hello.
Symbols exist in all cultures. As human beings, we search for deeper meaning and ways to understand each other and ourselves. Yoga symbols come from various spiritual beliefs, and many cultures have used these symbols for centuries.
Although some people simply use these symbols as a means of self-expression, they also have their own meaning within the context of the yogic tradition. Yogis use these yoga symbols in their spiritual practices to bring understanding and insight into their meditation practice.
What are yoga symbols?
Symbols are visual representations of ideas and concepts. In the context of one’s yoga journey, a yoga symbol visually represents a spiritual or emotional concept. It can also help to channel one’s own prana or the energy of the universe.
These representations lend us a deeper understanding of the unknown. Each one has symbolic meanings that help us connect to an elevated form of consciousness.
Ultimately, these symbols are important tools for yoga practitioners who aim to go deeper into the spiritual journey that yoga offers. They can help us gain a greater understanding of ourselves, other people, and the entire universe.
The meanings of 10 common yoga symbols
Although these symbols are commonly used in yoga practice, their origins are diverse. These symbols come from various cultures, religions, and spiritual practices.
Both within and outside of yogic practices, the meanings of these symbols are complex and layered. Their meanings can change depending on context. Like the world itself, these symbols are nuanced and require deep contemplation to understand.
1. Om (“Aum”) Symbol
The Om symbol represents the sound or the vibration of everything in the universe. It is the first sound of creation and exists throughout the cosmos.
This is one of the most common yoga symbols that people encounter when starting their yoga journey. Om (or Aum) is usually chanted during the beginning and end of a yoga class.
It is a mantra from Hindu culture and is also often chanted at the end of Sanskrit prayers.
The belief is that one can open the third eye chakra by chanting Om and meditating while focusing on the symbol.
Each sound of the Aum symbol is significant:
● A is our waking state of consciousness, where we experience bliss through existence within the universe.
● U is our dream state, where we experience spiritual benefits outside of the physical world.
● M is a deep sleep state, where the connective forces of the universe are experienced.
The Om or Aum symbol represents the ultimate goal of spiritual connection with the universe — uniting the mind, body, and spirit in complete harmony. The vibrations produced from this chant can create feelings of peace and tranquillity.
2. Mandala Symbol
The word mandala roughly translates to “circle” in Sanskrit. The mandala symbol can come in an infinite number of designs, colours, and patterns. This represents the intricate beauty of the universe.
You can see another layer of the universe represented with each new layer that branches out from the center of the mandala symbol. It can symbolize our oneness with the universe: we are a small, essential part of a large system.
The mandala exists as a beautiful reminder of the harmony and unity of the cosmos. If you meditate on the symbol, you can start to see it represented everywhere: in the circle of life, your circle of loved ones, and even the lunar cycle. Everything exists in harmony.
3. Lotus Flower Symbol
The lotus flower yoga symbol is found with different meanings in several cultures. However, one of the most common interpretations of the lotus flower is through the Buddhist tradition.
Buddhists consider the lotus flower to represent the blossoming of the mind and the heart as they open to the divine. An open lotus flower represents one that has opened to all possibilities, while a closed lotus flower bud is seen as the potential for growth.
You may recognize the lotus flower through its more common name: the water lily. In the Buddhist interpretation, the lotus flower demonstrates how one can move from suffering and into the light just as a lotus flower blossoms from muddy waters.
In Buddhist culture, the colour of the lotus flower is particularly significant.
- A purple lotus represents mysticism and the 8-fold path to Buddhism
- A white lotus represents purity and innocence
- A pink lotus represents the “true” lotus of Buddha
- A blue lotus represents wisdom and common sense
- A red lotus represents the heart
The lotus flower is also an important symbol in Hindu and Egyptian culture. In Hindu culture, the lotus is often representative of fertility, prosperity, and feminine beauty. In Egyptian culture, the lotus is seen to symbolize reincarnation and life after death.
4. Hamsa Hand Symbol
The Hamsa symbol is an important part of many cultures. In the most basic interpretation of the Hamsa hand, it is seen as invoking the hand of God to protect oneself from the evil eye. The Hamsa symbol is said to bring protection from negative energy and the evil eye of people that would wish you harm.
In Hindu and Buddhist culture, the five fingers symbolize five out of the seven chakras. The pinky finger represents the sacral chakra. The thumb represents the solar plexus chakra. The middle finger represents the throat chakra. The index finger represents the heart chakra. The ring finger represents the root chakra.
5. Buddha Imagery
Buddha imagery is one of the most common yoga symbols in the world. It is a depiction of Siddartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. He became Buddha due to enlightenment meditation that caused his spiritual awakening beneath a fig tree.
Today, Buddha represents attaining intellectual and ethical perfection. Buddha is a spiritual guide for others, with unbounded compassion and love for all living beings.
Buddha is one of the important spiritual symbols representing the three tenets of Buddhism. These tenets are to not be ignorant, not to hate others, and not to get angry.
There is some discussion over respectful usage of Buddha imagery. Some people find statues depicting only the head of Buddha as opposed to the entire body to be disrespectful. This is due to the legacy of colonialists who would behead Buddha statues as a sign of disrespect.
Ultimately, the choice is your own. It is important to use Buddha imagery as a sign of reflection and contemplation instead of an aesthetic choice in home decor. It is an important sacred symbol.
6. The 7 Chakra Symbols
Chakras are specific points found within the body. These are places where energy can flow throughout your body. Chakras can either be deficient in energy, excessive in energy, or in perfect harmony.
- Crown Chakra
The first chakra is the crown chakra, located at the top of the head. It is visually represented through the colour violet and symbolizes the element of thought.
This chakra is all about the right to know and learn. The energy from this chakra is said to radiate upwards from the head like a crown.
- Third Eye Chakra
The third eye chakra is found between the eyes. It is represented by the colour indigo and is the light element within the human body.
This chakra is our ability to self-reflect and grow in our wisdom.
- Throat Chakra
The throat chakra is located in the throat. This chakra is shown through the colour blue and represents sound. It is our ability to speak the truth and have integrity.
It is responsible for physical communication — speak authentically and with kindness.
- Heart Chakra
The heart chakra is found just above the heart. It is symbolized through the colour green and represents the air element.
As expected, this chakra is about love. However, it is not just about romantic love but also self-love. This chakra is all about compassion and human connection.
- Solar Plexus Chakra
The solar plexus chakra represents the fire element and is shown through the colour yellow. It is found in the upper abdomen and is about one’s right to act.
This is the chakra that is associated with identity and the ego. It is our source of personal power and self-esteem.
- Sacral Chakra
The sacral chakra is our emotional and sexual identity. It is represented through the colour orange and symbolizes the water element. This chakra is found in the lower abdomen.
This chakra allows us to experience pleasure and joy. Through this chakra, we connect with others around us.
- Root Chakra
The root chakra represents the earth element and is shown through the colour red. This chakra is located at the base of the spine.
It is the deep connection to the human body and the earth itself. It helps us to feel grounded and balanced.
Together, all the chakras should act in unison to balance the self. Too much or too little energy flowing from any chakra can cause the self to be thrown off-kilter. Yoga practices can help one bring the chakras into harmony.
Don’t perform Camel pose if you have a neck injury. If you have stiffness in your neck, keep the chin tucked in towards the chest or follow the recommendations of a healthcare professional. If you are experiencing back pain, talk to your doctor before attempting this pose.
It is always best to learn this pose and other deeper backbends with your yoga teachers before attempting them on your own. At the end of your practice, take some time in savasana or “corpse pose” to rest your body and relax your mind. Remember that everyone is a beginner at the start, and you won’t be there forever.
7. The Number 108
The number 108 is one of the fascinating yoga symbols and holds spiritual significance in several religions. It typically symbolizes the spiritual wholeness of all creation.
Interestingly, the number 108 is also a popular symbol in astronomy.
The distance between the Earth and the sun is 108 times more than the diameter of the Earth. Similarly, the distance between the moon and the Earth is 108 times greater than the moon’s diameter. In an even stranger coincidence, the sun’s diameter is 108 times greater than the diameter of the Earth.
This number demonstrates the harmony that exists throughout the universe. It is often honoured through mala beads, which typically feature 108 beads.
8. Gyan Mudrās
Mudras are hand symbols commonly used for simple yoga poses. You have likely done this in your own yoga or meditation class.
This symbol, also known as the “OK hand symbol,” connects the index finger to the thumb, with the remaining three fingers in a straight position. With legs crossed in a comfortable position on your yoga mat, place your hands on top of your knees. This is the Gyan Mudrās yoga pose.
This hand symbol represents the unity between the human consciousness and the consciousness of the universe itself. By using this symbol, you open yourself to a higher state of consciousness.
9. Mala Beads
Mala beads are meditation beads. They typically feature 108 beads and one prominent Guru bead that is larger than the others.
The Guru bead is used to mark the beginning and end of your meditation. Mala beads are used to count mantras. Each time you complete a mantra, you can move your hand along the thread onto the next bead until the cycle is complete.
Mala beads can be made from several materials with different symbolic meanings.
- Amber symbolizes healing energy and stress relief
- Malachite symbolizes creativity and confidence
- Black onyx symbolizes protection and balance
- Clear quartz symbolizes cleansing and emotional healing
- Tiger’s eye symbolizes grounding and protection
These are just a few examples of the many symbolic meanings of the materials from which mala beads can be crafted.
Mala beads can be a helpful spiritual tool. However, if you want to eschew material objects in your spiritual practice, they are not strictly necessary.
As with the Gyan Mudrās hand symbol, namaste is physically formed with the hands. By joining the flattened palms of your hands together, you can create the namaste symbol.
This is one of the most common yoga symbols and is often completed at the beginning and end of yoga classes. Namaste means “the light in me acknowledges the light in you” and signifies recognition and regard for ourselves and those around us.
This symbolizes respect and gratitude for the people with whom we share our spiritual journey. Namaste is considered the ultimate sign of respect as you acknowledge another person’s equality.
The namaste gesture can also be performed as a bow, with your hands placed above your heart chakra coming to meet your third eye chakra.
How can I use yoga symbols to deepen my yoga practice?
Yogic tradition borrows from several cultures and religious beliefs instead of conforming to a specific rigid belief system. There are many ways to use yoga symbols within your own yoga practices.
Some simple ways to incorporate these yoga symbols into your practice would be to open and close your yoga flow by chanting Om. Another way would be to meditate using mala beads or while staring into a mandala.
Be mindful of your chakras and take the necessary steps to keep them acting in harmony. Inner peace does not happen overnight. Yoga studios are great places to connect with other people who can share your spiritual journey.
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