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Parivṛtta and viparīta - it took me long enough to remember how to spell them let alone learn the difference between the two. But I’ve finally got it (I think) - and there is a simple way to remember which is which, and when you might want to use them. Fingers crossed and here we go!
You have probably seen or heard the word parivṛtta used with postures such as trikoṇāsana (triangle) and parśvakoṇāsana (side angle). Parivŗtta means ‘revolved’ or ‘turned around’ (from the same verbal root as the vṛtti - those pesky ‘turnings’ of the mind (citta) that Patañjali goes on about), so we add it to these postures to create the revolved version of them - parivṛtta trikoṇāsana (revolved triangle) and parivṛtta parśvakoṇāsana (revolved side angle pose). What does ‘revolve’ mean? ‘To move, roll, or turn around a central point’ (Cambridge Online Dictionary) - so here we are talking about a twist. But I have heard many yoga teachers translate these postures as ‘reverse triangle’ and ‘reverse side-angle pose’. Which is technically correct?
The confusion might be with postures such as viparīta vīrabhadrāsana II (reverse warrior II). Viparīta is an adjective meaning reverse, opposite or inverse, so we see it with seemingly unrelated postures such as viparīta karaṇī (legs up wall pose or ‘inverted doing’ āsana if we translate directly) and viparīta vīrabhadrāsana II (reverse warrior II). You might not know that there is also a viparīta śalabhāsana (inverted locust pose) - well worth checking out and unlikely to be part of my daily practice for the foreseeable future!
So what is the difference between ‘revolved’ and ‘reverse’ and will this help us to figure it all out? While revolved implies a twist, some form of turning of the spine, doing something in reverse is about doing it backwards or in the opposite direction to normal, which may well not involve turning at all. If you think about reverse warrior II, for example, it is far more about ‘reversing’ the upper body alignment than it is about twisting or revolving. When we think of revolved trikoṇāsana (triangle), on the other hand, it is far more a twisting posture than it is ‘in reverse’. And if none of that helps, when in doubt think V for viparīta plus V for vīrabhadrāsana equals reverse for reverse or backwards warrior - then you know that parivṛtta (revolved) refers to the other, twisting, postures.
While we’re here, what about that tricky little ‘i’ in parivṛtta? Where does it go and why aren’t there two of them? The ṛ in the ‘vṛ’ of parivṛtta is like the ṛ in the vṛ of vṛkṣāsana. It is called a ‘vocalic r’, and is usually transliterated as an ‘r’ with a dot underneath it. The vocalic ‘r’ (ṛ) is most easily pronounced like an ‘r’ with a very short vowel after it, which means it simply doesn’t need an ’i’. So if you are wondering where to put the ‘i' in parivṛtta, think vṛkṣāsana (or cittavṛtti) and you will remember to add it before the ‘vr’.
By the way, what about the lying twist usually known as jaṭhara parivartanāsana, also sometimes called jaṭhara parivṛtti? Here we end up in the realms of grammar… parivṛtti is a noun meaning ‘a turning’ (like a stronger vṛtti), so that jaṭhara parivṛtti can be loosely translated as ‘the turning of the stomach’. Parivarta is the present participle of the verb root parivṛt - so functions more like an adjective qualifying the word ‘āsana’ rather than the word jaṭhara - so, loosely, the ‘turning posture of the stomach’. A distinction without a difference? Probably…
Ultimately, ‘who cares if it is revolved or reverse, where the ‘i’ goes in parivṛtta, or whether it is jaṭhara parivṛtti or jaṭhara parivartanāsana?’ I can hear some of you thinking? Well, I kind of agree. The world will more than likely continue to turn (or revolve) even if I get my revolves and reverses around the wrong way. And don’t worry if you have been getting this mixed up too - you are certainly not the only one. Trust me, it could be worse. A ‘good friend’ of mine might have messed up a few of these in cold hard print in a published book! Fortunately yoga teaches us that none of us is perfect, so I’m breathing through it, treating it as a lesson in humility and letting it go. Phew!
This article is the fifth in a series of articles considering Sanskrit faux pas. Check out the first three - It’s not the crow!, Vīrabhadra doesn’t mean warrior, Do you know how to pronounce haṭha and Astanga, siva, cakras and caturaṅga: what about the ‘h’?
Graham is a London based yoga teacher, teacher trainer, occasional academic, and Sanskrit geek.