What is Sanskrit?

Sanskrit translates to refined speech and it is the ancient language of India.  Although it is no longer used in conversation it is used in teaching yoga because yoga was developed in Sanskrit.

Why is it important for a yoga instructor to know?

Yoga isn’t just the physical practice of Sun Salutes (Surya Namaskaras) and Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2). Yoga is a science and art to guide us towards a deeper connection with the present moment, our true selves, and our community. Thus yoga is rooted in deep philosophy. This philosophy is best explained in Sanskrit as many Sanskrit words do not have an English translation. 

Each Sanskrit word has its own consciousness and energy so when we repeat it we tap into that consciousness.  We can use this to help deepen our practice and connection. Yoga instructors use it in svadhyaya, self-study, by chanting mantras to clear and the focus the mind.  We also use it to guide our students and help them tap into that deeper consciousness. To be honest, like many beautiful and mystical things in this world, it is challenging to explain the experience in words, it is something one must try to understand.

Graham Schweig from the Newport News and author of The Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song says, “No language in the world can as effectively translate the mystical, transcendent, and divine.”

In addition, by using the Sanskrit language we are paying homage to the long line of teachers that explored and taught this magical information. Without them, we would not have this knowledge.  It is important to recognize Yoga’s roots and it’s homeland. We must be mindful that we don’t culturally appropriate this wisdom.

On a purely logistical matter, since other yoga instructors use the language you want to have a decent grasp on the words and meanings.  Just like a doctor needs to know the names of various diseases in order to do their job, we need to understand the language of our profession in order to do ours!

Here are some basic Sanskrit words that will help you to remember the names of poses and develop your practice. In next weeks blog I will explain some more in-depth and philosophical Sanskrit words along with pronunciation.

  • Adho-     Downward
  • Asana-  Posture/pose
  • Baddha- Bound, firm, restrained
  • Chakra- Wheel
  • Chatur- Four
  • Eka-     One
  • Garuda- Divine bird or ‘wings of speech.’  This is the name of Vishnu’s vehicle, a divine bird whose wings are formed by the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.  Garuda is a powerful solar symbol, leading to enlightenment.
  • Hanuman- The Monkey God.  Hanuman took a giant leap (represented by the splits) across the ocean between India and the island of Lanka to rescue princess Sita, consort of Rama.  
  • Hasta- Hand
  • Janu-     Knee
  • Kona-     Angle
  • Pada- Feet, foot, legs
  • Padma- Lotus
  • Parivritta- Rotated, twisted.  Turning of the heart.
  • Parsva- Lateral, side
  • Prasarita- Separated
  • Sirsha- Head
  • Supta- Spine or on the back (spine)
  • Tri- Three
  • Utka Fierce, powerful
  • Uttihita- Extended
  • Vira- Hero, brave

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