Om, Lotus and 6 More Yoga Symbol Meanings

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Symbols are a huge part of our lives. Although various symbols have different forms and meaning, they all do one thing: send us a message. They help us in communication, especially when language is a barrier, as well as to identify ideas and concepts based on what they represent.

Indeed, symbols matter, especially in today’s generation when globalization is happening. More and more people are now traveling to countries where their native tongue isn’t being widely spoken because symbols help them communicate with individuals who are not, say native English speakers.

For example, a couple traveling to Japan will be able to find their way to the subway or bus station through symbols. A solo backpacker will also be able to follow road signs to, say a hospital for medical help or a police station for assistance.

Apart from being a medium of communication, symbols also give meaning to our lives. And the same applies to yoga. Symbols give meaning and understanding to the practice of yoga. They make yoga more than just a workout but a lifestyle.

If you’re a seasoned yoga practitioner or just stepped into a yoga studio for the first time, you’ve probably seen many yoga characters or symbols hanging on the walls. For the untrained eye, you’ll probably think of them as just wall decorations to create an ambiance of serenity. But for yoga instructors and yoga practitioners, they serve as reminders of why they’re doing yoga and why it’s a way of life for them.

Demystifying the Mysteries of Yoga and Its Symbols

Yoga is more than just an exercise. It’s not just about stretching, losing weight, flexing your body or feeling fresh or calm after a routine.

As you already know, yoga dates back 5,000 years ago and was further developed in Northern India by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. Given its origins, yoga is considered a religious practice. A way for practitioners to internalize and sacrifice ego in order for them to gain a higher level of spirituality. So yes, even though yoga is no longer viewed as a religious ritual today, it descended from a religion. This explains why there are symbols attached to yoga.

If you’re just diving into the mysteries of yoga and its symbols, it really pays to understand them and their meanings. Once you do, you’ll be able to see yoga in a different light.

Famous Yoga Symbols and their meanings

Regardless of what kind of yoga you’re practicing, you’ll encounter almost the same symbols. After all, they came from once source and were just refined or improved to meet different spiritual needs. Here are the eight yoga symbols that are commonly seen and heard in almost all yoga studios.

1. OM symbol meaning

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This is a highly recognizable symbol. If you’re not sure what it looks like, you’ll liken the symbol to the number 30 with a tiny hat at the top. But you can easily recognize it when you hear it because the symbol Om is often chanted by yoga practitioners at the start and end of most yoga classes.

The language used in writing the Om symbol is the Sanskrit, which is an ancient language in India. Each of the elements found in the symbol has their own definitions as well:

  • The large and long curve found at the symbol’s bottom part is the dream state.
  • The middle curve means deep and dreamless sleep.
  • The curve in the upper part of the symbol means being awake or in an awakened state.
  • The crescent-like shape at the top of the “number 30” Om symbol represents Maya or the veil of illusion.
  • The dot found within the crescent shape means the transcendental state.

When the symbol of Om is translated, it means that when the soul or the human spirit will experience a transcendental awareness as he passes through the veil, the human will become free of any other forms of existence.

To elaborate the symbol further, Om or Aum is a representation of sound, vibration and consciousness of the universe. In Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga, Om is considered the source of all the creations. It is believed to be the past, present and future. In fact, the symbol of Om is said to be beyond time itself. To put it simply, it is a symbol of eternal oneness. Thus, it explains the ultimate goal of doing yoga, which is to be one in mind, body and spirit.

Om has been used as part of the ritual as a chant for more than a thousand years and is viewed as one of the most powerful mantras for many yoga practitioners.

2. LOTUS symbol meaning

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Have you ever seen something so beautiful emerging from a dark and gloomy environment? Something that looks so clean and pure against the background? If not, you might want to try spotting a blooming lotus flower.

In yoga, the lotus pose, also known as Padmasana, is considered by many a typical and common yoga posture. From the common sitting on the floor position, one foot is placed on top of the opposite thigh with its sole facing upward and heel close to the abdomen. The other foot is then lifted slowly and places on the opposite thigh in a symmetrical way. Knees are in contact with the ground. The hands resting on your knees, with palms facing up, and arms are relaxed with the elbows slightly bent. The arrangement of the body resembles the Lotus flower as it emerges from its base in the muddy water to rest above, open to the sun.

The Lotus is a symbol of purity, beauty, and “spontaneous” generation. Egyptians associated this flower with the sun and rebirth. It retracts into the water by night and comes fresh into bloom with the sun the next day.  According to Buddhists, “the spirit of the best of men is spotless.” Like the lotus flower even though surrounded by muddy water, it does not adhere to it. For us, as we fill our lives with virtues, we can then blossom despite what is happening in this world we live in.

So what are the benefits that we can get with this pose? The lotus is designed to allow the body to be held completely steady for a long period of time. This allows the mind to calm down. Not only that, by applying pressure to the lower spine, the position may facilitate relaxation while straightening the spinal cord. It is believed that sitting in this posture causes good thoughts to come to the mind, decreases muscular tension, and subsides blood pressure.

3. HAMSA symbol meaning

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In Sanskrit, the meaning of hamsa is swan. Throughout the ages, swans have been known for their elegance, grace, and gentle beauty. So it is not shocking to know that many practices and specializes in Hamsa yoga.

Hamsa posture is based on the symbology and characteristics of the swan; it is essentially “the way of the swan.” Often, swans represent gracefulness and peace. Gracefully gliding, moving from place to place, without disturbing its surrounding environment is what some yoga practitioners aim for; to have a perfect unity and balance in life, to be able to live without getting affected by the violent world.

There are many benefits you can get from practicing Hamsa. One of the benefits you can get from Hamsa practice is it stretches the hip joints creating a greater flexibility in the gluteal muscles and rotator muscles of the hips. Another is it stretches and detoxifies the lymph nodes in the groin, giving a boost to the immune system.

4. MANDALA symbol meaning

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This symbol is easily recognizable as it’s often used in boho decorations, wall art and the likes. However, the Mandala is more than just a generic term used to describe a diagram or geometric pattern in symmetry. In Indian religions, the Mandala is a spiritual symbol.

The loose translation for this symbol means “circle.” However, in Hindu Sanskrit, it means “essence” and is a sacred symbol that represents the universe. The Mandala symbol is made by using concentric circles, starting with a dot in the center, and spread outward with a combination of different geometric figures intersecting with one another to form triangular patterns.

Even though geometric figures are used in constructing the Mandala, the method of creating the Mandala represents different meanings.

The center part of the Mandala is a symbol and it represents “seed” or “sperm”. It also considered the most important starting point. It is the central point where all the energies from the outside are drawn in, unfolding the energies of the practitioner. In other words, it is a representation of both the inner and outer spaces, and its purpose is to remove any division or contrast between two opposite things. The outlying squares as a result of intersecting patterns represent the physical world that is moving in four different directions.

The Mandala is used in spiritual rituals as a tool to help religious students achieve higher concentration, especially when meditating. In yoga, the Mandala is a symbol of unity and harmony of the mind and body as well as the soul. An effective method of using the Mandala is to place the symbol right in front of you and have your eyes trained on the center of the symbol. Doing this will draw your mind deeper in concentration and elevate your consciousness so you can achieve enlightenment as you meditate, which is the ultimate state you want to reach when you perform meditation.

5. TREE OF LIFE symbol meaning

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The tree of life is a many-branched tree that represents the interconnections of all things. It connects the ground and our existence to the heavens. It unites all forms of life to the Earth and the universe. It creates the idea that all life on Earth is related, as we have the same beginning and end. We are like the leaves of the tree, despite all our differences, in appearance, in wealth, in health, in diversities, we still belong to the same Tree of Life.

The real essence to this posture is to find balance. It may be very difficult considering the fact that our body is constantly experiencing shape change and in constant motion, but the balance we are aiming for is not found in the posture alone. The body may sway, like a tree when the winds blow, but your food stays rooted into the ground. This motion freedom while rooted will help you develop an acceptance of your body’s position in space.

6. BUDDHA symbol meaning

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When translated from the Sanskrit word, Buddha means “the awakened one” and is a symbol that represents the person who founded Buddhism.

Born some time in 563 BC, Siddhartha, who founded Buddhism, was an Indian prince who renounced his throne, gave up his royal upbringing along with his luxurious lifestyle so he could devote his life to finding truth and enlightenment so he can discover the root of all human sufferings, which includes sickness, old age and death.

It is told that his sheltered life in his place was one of the reasons that compelled him to leave and to seek out the truth. Along his journey, Buddha was able to meet many religious teachers who have taught him many different rituals and practices, including yoga.

According to Buddhist texts, Buddha was able to achieve a state of enlightenment or nirvana after meditating for 40 days under a papal tree. This kind of state is believed by many Buddhist as a kind of human experience or a life that is free from hatred, greed, ignorance. In addition to that, a person who has reached enlightenment will gain wisdom, compassion and freedom.

In yoga, the Buddha is used as a symbol to remind the practitioner that if a mere human being was able to liberate himself from suffering, so can us. To help you reach the ultimate goal of meditation using the Buddha symbol, yoga teachers recommend that a yogi will take a moment at the start of his or her meditation to imagine being Buddha himself or herself who possesses qualities, such as compassionate and enlightened.

7. NAMASTE symbol meaning

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This Hindi word is heard and seen all over. You’ll see this symbol in tattoos, t-shirt prints and even music videos. Despite its popularity in pop culture, Namaste (pronounced as nah-mah-stay) has spiritual significance.

The literal translation of this symbol is “I bow to you.” So if your yoga instructor is saying “Namaste” to you, he or she is simply bowing to you. Of course, there is so much more to Namaste and bowing to your yoga teacher.

Part of the beliefs of Hindus is that there is a divine being living at center of your heart. Doing the symbol of Namaste, which is putting your hands together as if in a prayer, bowing and saying “Namaste”, means that you’re acknowledging that divine being residing within you.

In yoga culture, Namaste is used at the start of a yoga session as well as at the conclusion of the class as a form of greeting and as a way of exchanging energy with one another.

8. CHAKRA symbol meaning

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Another yoga symbol that you should know about is the chakra. It is a Sanskrit word that means “wheel”.   It is believed that the body contains different chakras that act as an energy center that spins like a wheel. If the wheel is spinning rapidly, it means that the chakra is open. It’s the opposite when the wheel spins slow or not spinning at all.

For a body to enjoy maximum health, the chakras should be balanced as well. When one chakra is not balanced, it will affect the other chakras. This in turn results in tiredness, mood swings, sickness and many others. The practice of yoga helps in putting the chakras in balance.

While there are many energy centers found inside the body, there are seven main chakra centers. Each of them has its own symbols and meanings, and are essential to a person’s health and vitality. If you want to live a healthy life, balancing these chakras can make a difference.

  • Muladhara

This is the first chakra and is often coined as the base or root chakra. This energy center is found at the base of the spine, and it symbolizes the root of the body. It gives a sense of safety and security. The color associated with this chakra is red.

  • Svadisthana

Also known as sacral chakra, this is found at the lower part of the abdomen, between the genitals and the navel. Associated with the color orange, this chakra is tied to intimacy, procreation, sexuality, family and softness.

  • Manipura

Also called solar plexus chakra, it is a symbol of personal empowerment and motivation. This chakra is found at the middle of the sternum and navel area and is represented by the color yellow.

  • Anahata

Located in that center of the heart, this green-colored chakra represents love and compassion.

  • Visuddha

Termed as throat chakra, this blue chakra is found at the throat itself and it represents communication and expression. It also includes listening.

  • Ajna

Also known as the Third Eye, this purple-colored chakra is located right in the middle of the forehead between the eyes. Ajna chakra deals with wisdom and intuition.

  • Sahasrara

As the seventh major chakra, the crown chakra is associated with spirituality as it is located at the crown of your head.

Final Thoughts

With the different yoga symbols and their meanings presented to you, the choice is up to you whether to place a spiritual significance to the practice of yoga or not. However, incorporating these symbols in your practice will give yoga a whole new meaning. It will no longer be just a fitness routine but a spiritual journey that will help improve several aspects in your life.  

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.