Today's Daily Tip
Why Teach Sanskrit Names?
If you—or your students—start using Sanskrit names more regularly, it may inspire you to learn more about the language of the yogic tradition. Sanskrit has been called the mother of all Indo-European languages. It is considered to be one of the oldest languages on Earth; predating-Greek and Latin, arising from the Proto Indo European language spoken 7000-8000 years ago. The word "sanskrit” itself translates to perfected, polished, or refined. And that translation is appropriate, given the healing power the language is thought to have.
According to Jay Kumar, a Sanskrit scholar and yoga teacher who has produced a CD and manual on how to pronounce Sanskrit, each of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are thought to have a sound frequency with a specific therapeutic benefit. "When you tap into the sound of yoga you really experience Yoga with a capital Y," said Kumar. In Vedic belief, each word is encoded with consciousness. To put this simply, the pose name and the effect of the pose are one. So by simultaneously saying or hearing the Sanskrit name and performing the pose, we can feel the "click" of unity between sound and body.
"The symbolic aspect of the pose is in the name," says Iyengar teacher and Open Sky Yoga director Francois Raoult. "Listen to ‘bhastrika' [the Sanskrit name for Breath of Fire]. There is a lot of wind in the sound when you speak it, like breath."
But if there is a power in the sound of the language, does mispronunciation counter it? Michael Carrol, senior member of Kripalu faculty, thinks it might. "We've gotten very sloppy with Sanskrit. In ancient times a mantra was a spiritual invocation. If you didn't pronounce it exactly, nothing would happen."
Michael says he is happy if students can remember the names. But, he adds, "I equate learning the pose with saying the pose correctly."
One way to deal with this challenge is to remember that Sanskrit was an oral language for thousands of years. "We chant Bu-Bu-Bhujangasana and put a melody to it," says Damelio. "The students repeat back, so we also teach by call and response." Through repetition and chanting, your students can come to learn the correct pronunciation over time.
Another approach to learning and teaching the pose names is to remember that yoga is a system with its own lexicon. Think ballet, HTML, cooking, or football.
"Every system has its own vocabulary that outsiders may not get," says Aimee Brooks, Affiliated Anusara teacher. "But after you work with the code for a while it becomes ‘parlance.' You can shorten it and intensify its meaning which makes it easier to learn."
Raoult confirms that understanding yogic lexicon can make teaching and learning easier. "When you start to get more mature as a practitioner, there's a lot of cross references between poses that are helpful. You can hear ‘create the actions of Tadasana in Sirsasana' instead of a whole mess of instructions. It makes the teaching clearer. It gives more refinement because you can cross reference and explain one pose in terms of another pose."