the Nitty-gritty Sanskrit-ty

Bad rhymes aside, I realize often the pose names sound like that monkey in Lion King singing “Asante Sana Squash Banana”.  What is this about?  It’s Sanskrit.  Why use sanskrit during class?  Why not stick to the translations? 

“What the f’ is going on?” is the look that flashes across some students faces.  Sometimes I catch a terrified glance or a hesitant pause when I throw in a sanskrit term.  It can really “harsh the mellow.”  So why do I keep using them?

Honestly, because I love languages.  I love the webs I feel in my brain as I begin to connect new words with known meanings.  I love the strangeness on my tongue.  It makes me feel cool, in a complete anthropology-geek kind of way.  Like I have a secret.  Even though millions of other people have unlocked these meanings over thousands of years, it is new to me.  It connects me with the past and other cultures.

On a more practical note, using the Sanskrit terms for asana is similar to doctors using Latin names (i.e. cranium, gluteus maximus).  It is a universal language that all doctors understand, regardless of country.  The same goes for Sanskrit in yoga.  Should I decide to tramp off to Paris or Rome, I can be assured that, even though I may not have one English speaker in the room, I could get them all into Adho Mukha Svanasana, albeit with a bad accent and no other verbal cues.

Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-Aryan language traced back between 1500 – 1200 BCE.  It has gone through the changes and evolutions most languages make.  Similar to Latin in the Catholic church, it has been carried forward as the “liturgical language of Hinduism.”  It is used by scholars of Buddhism and Jainism.  However, Sanskrit as a spoken language is not dead.  In the last census of India (2001) ~15,000 were counted as Sanskrit speakers and it is counted among the 22 official languages in India. (for more information see Wikipedia)

Sanskrit is said to have a high vibrational frequency, lifting the mood when thought, said or sung.  Chanting Sanskrit hymns or words can begin to lift your vibration to a more positive plain.  Many people are intimidated or put-off by chanting.  It is often seen as a religious ritual.  It can be.  However, it can be used for more mundane reasons, such as lifting the mood or helping one to concentrate before or after meditation.  Try it out.  Make a fool of yourself.  No one is watching.

This is just a short introduction into the history and uses of Sanskrit.  So the next time you’re caught off guard by asana, remember you are taking part in ancient tradition … or just start a-singing “Asantesana Squash Banana”, I’ll join in!

What do you think?  Let me know below what your feelings on Sanskrit are.  Did I leave anything out?

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2 thoughts on “the Nitty-gritty Sanskrit-ty

  1. msbeeblebrox

    I definitely prefer the use of Sanskrit in the classes that I go to. I find that it helps me wonder away from every day life and tune into something else. I also found that I really like the sanskrit chants in my yoga teacher training, and would love to hear more chants and participate in more of them.

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