Why Sanskrit?

Yoga is a way to keep healthy and happy. It was developed way before we had the science of medicine and so relied very much upon nature and observation. Yoga was developed by Sages and Gurus (wise men and teachers) thousands of years ago. Sanskrit was the language used to pass the methods on (by word of mouth for centuries and then in written format). It is said to be the oldest language and is often referred to as ‘the language of the gods’. Many of the Sanskrit words we use in class (including the names of exercises) have been passed down from these ancient times. So why should we still use them? Aren’t they a bit old fashioned? Well, I think that it’s good to keep the Sanskrit in circulation as a way of remembering that we who practice in this day and age are simply a link in a very long chain of people who have practiced yoga. True that we must acknowledge new developments in science and medicine and we wouldn’t want to be without them but, respecting the lineage of yoga gives us grounding and deep roots from which to grow. You may feel differently, but in case you are interested I’ve compiled a short list of Sanskrit terms which I feel are important to understand when you are embarking on your yoga journey…

  1. Asana.

The correct pronunciation is AH’-sah-nah. Literally, it means “seat,” but in yoga class it’s pretty much interchangeable with the word “pose.” For example, Bhujangasana = Cobra Pose, Navasana = Boat Pose… and so on.

  1. Namaste.

This is my favorite Sanskrit word because it’s fun to say–nah’-mah’-stay. It means: ‘The light within me respects and honours the light within you’. My incredibly simplified translation: Isn’t it awesome that we just practiced yoga together? Thanks for your presence.

  1. Om.

Ooooooohhhhhmmmmmmm. This is the sound/vibration of the universe. But what does it mean? Essentially, we are all a part of this universe–always moving, always changing, always breathing. When you chant Om, you’re tapping into that vibration.

  1. Shanti.

Peace. When you chant, “Om shanti shanti shanti,” it’s an invocation of peace. In Buddhist and Hindu traditions you chant shanti three times to represent peace in body, speech, and mind.

  1. Sthira Suka Asanam

The posture should be steady and easy. This guidance from the great Sage Patanjali means that we should not strain to get into any posture or for it to be too much effort to hold.

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