Other languages creep us out. It is a fact. As much as we’d hate to admit it, whenever we hear someone speaking a tongue which we don’t understand or aren’t fluent in, it puts us on edge. But usually, the languages we hear around us are at least modern languages, right? Often times, we can at least identify what language it is and where it comes from.
Sanskrit, the language of yoga, is different. Hardly a ‘modern’ language, Sanskrit has been around for thousands of years, and confusingly is most used not by a specific nationality or race (as such) but religion in Hinduism. This is often another concern/source of confusion for newbies on the yoga mat… You’re not here to pray or worship God, so why do you need to listen to religious words? Well, quite simply, yoga began in India and the majority of its practitioners initially would have been Hindu, hence it was easiest to use their shared language of Sanskrit. And why do we carry on with it now? To honour the tradition of course!
Now, we don’t expect anyone (especially not ourselves!) to gain a master’s degree in the Sanskrit language. However, these following definitions will help even the worst language student to make sense of what the teacher is talking about in class…
‘Yoga’ = ‘yoga’ itself is a Sanscrit word which has now been adopted into Western language. ‘Yoga’ in its purist sense, means ‘union’, and isn’t that what yoga is all about? Bringing the mind, body and spirit into one unified health. We think so.
‘Om’ = ‘Om’ is known as the universal sound. As in, the sound of the Universe. Just imagine that you could step outside of our Universe and listen to all of the sounds that you would normally hear… car horns beeping, birds singing, traffic trundling, babies crying, people shouting, electricity buzzing, oceans flowing, trees blowing, fingers clicking, music playing, people walking… Now imagine if all of those sounds came together in ‘yoga’. Take yourself out of the universe, mentally, close your eyes and chant long and strong from your belly, ‘om’. Let the sounds vibrate through your body and go on until you are out of breath. That, is ‘om’. A sound of unity, of oneness, of ‘yoga’. As well as honouring ‘yoga’, a union which is the main focus of our practice, we also get the meditative vibrations of the sounds… when we chant ‘om’ we hear three sounds, melting into one another, the wistful ‘ah’, the relishing ‘ooh’ and the satisfying ‘mmmm’. The sounds bring peace into a world which is usually so full of hustle and bustle of everyone trying to make themselves heard individually, yet when we are all heard together, the sound is beautiful. This is why Gabriella thinks we chant ‘om’.
‘Namaste’ = You will often hear Gabriella greeting you or saying goodbye with the word ‘namaste’. ‘Namaste’ is a mark of respect… its exact translation is often disputed, but it means something along the lines of, “The divine in me recognises the divine in you.”
‘Asana’ = Gabriella will occasionally refer to yoga postures in Sanskrit and you will notice that regardless of the posture the Sanskrit word always ends with ‘asana’.Think about it… Tree pose? Vrksasana. Boat pose? Navasana. Child’s pose? Balasana. Dancer’s pose? Natarajasana. Corpse pose? Savasana. We could go on for ever, but we won’t, you get the point. ‘Asana’ means pose.
‘Pranayama’ = ‘pranayama’ is usually inaccurately described as ‘breathing exercises’. This is technically true in a manner of speaking, but it ignores the real crux of the word. ‘Prana’ means energy or life force rather than simply being limited to ‘breath’. So when we practice ‘pranayama’ methods we are learning to control the flow of energy into and out of our bodies.
‘Mudra’ = ‘mudra’ is essentially a symbolic hand gesture. However, there is so much more to ‘mudras’ than that… In the same way as we practice certain postures in order to gain certain benefits, individual ‘mudras’ can bring a variety of specific physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Some of these hinge only on the positioning of the fingers, palms and wrists whilst others embrace acupressure points within the hands in order to trigger shifts elsewhere in the body and mind.
‘Drishti’ = Gabriella will often ask students to focus their ‘drishti’ on a certain point, like the middle fingertip or towards the back of the room or on an unmoving spot. ‘Drishti’ basically means ‘gaze’. Focusing your gaze on specific spots during your physical practice can bring more comfort to a posture, enhance a meditative experience or allow you to move deeper into a specific pose.
How do you feel about the use of Sanskrit words in yoga class? Does your teacher stick to English or throw some of these terms in every now and then? Do you have any other words for us to decipher?
Love and light