Sanskrit: the Language of Yoga


Pascimottanasana -- that's the Sanskrit translation for the Seated Forward Bend that you see in this photo.

Did you know that? Do you care? Should you care?

The practice of yoga began in India, somewhere around 5,000 years ago. Sanskrit is the ancient Indian language, "said to have been divinely revealed to meditating sages thousands of years ago." Sanskrit is the language of yoga.

Before becoming a yoga instructor, I was always a bit intrigued when attending a yoga class in which the instructor included the Sanskrit names for the asanas (yoga poses) -- sprinkling them throughout, like lotus petals on our yoga mats.

So, during my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had full intentions of learning the Sanskrit names for at least the basic yoga poses. I studied those names studiously at first, homemade flashcards in hand. But then I completed my training and started teaching -- and the Sanskrit names didn't seem as important as all the other preparation I needed to do in order to teach an acceptable (hopefully better than acceptable) yoga class -- choosing my class themes and the music for class, creating appropriate sequencing, and determining clear cuing for each pose. My intention to learn and use Sanskrit in the classes I taught fell far short, limited primarily to Tadasana (Mountain Pose) toward the beginning of class and Savasana (Corpse Pose) at the end.

Fast forward to October 2017, when I attended a week-long yoga teacher training at Prairie Yoga in Lisle, Illinois. It was called "Yoga for Healthy Aging" and it was taught by Baxter Bell and Melina Meza. It was an exceptional and inspirational training, during which the instructors encouraged us to incorporate Sanskrit into our yoga teaching, if we were not already doing so. As a resource, they suggested The Language of Yoga: Complete A to Y Guide to Asana Names, Sanskrit Terms, and Chants by Nicolai Bachman (2004).

In the book's introduction, Bachman writes, "Because Sanskrit is the language of yoga, understanding key Sanskrit terminology and its pronunciation can deepen a practitioner's knowledge of the yogic path. It can also provide a more complete understanding of the meaning and purpose of yoga asanas, or postures -- an understanding that is lost when these asanas are known only by their English names."

During the training, Baxter suggested learning the Sanskrit name for one yoga asana each week, and incorporating the use of that Sanskrit word into any classes taught that week. After the training, I bought Bachman's book and CD's -- and I am embracing Baxter's idea as one of my yoga teaching goals for 2018.

Please join me for yoga class -- as I begin include more Sanskrit names for the yoga asanas, sprinkling them throughout, like lotus petals on our yoga mats...

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