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How Sanskrit is Important in Studying and Practising Yoga


Yoga is an ancient tradition that was passed down from teachers to students as the ‘guru shishya parampara’. It was an oral tradition in which disciples picked up on the teacher’s cues and learned from them. Like we use numbers to understand concepts in Mathematics, species’ names are used in botany, and the names of the body parts are used in physiology, and these are all irreplaceable to understand the subject, similarly, yoga’s technical language is Sanskrit, and deeper study in yoga is only feasible if you understand Sanskrit.

Yoga is a physical as well as a spiritual practice, and the multibillion-dollar yoga industry is largely based on the physical aspects. Many yoga scholars believe that yoga has been “asanified” since postural yoga has become a basic cultural landscape of worldwide yoga. However, no one is to blame; it is the result of never emphasising the value of Sanskrit in the study of Yoga.

Grateful to India’s education system for including Sanskrit as a language option, as many students learn it as part of their studies. It is this learning that comes in handy for Indian students while going deeper into the yogic path. Sanskrit helps yoga students understand Patanjali’s Yoga Sutrani, a timeless wisdom for the modern world.

The authenticity of this practice comes with your grasp of the Sanskrit language. For example, ‘Garland Pose’ is the English name for ‘Malasana’. This English name has nothing to do with the meaning of the word. ‘Malasana’ is a deep squat pose; Indian style to clear bowels, that can help with constipation, lower back aches, sciatica symptoms, tight hips; the English term for it is Garland pose because our limbs resemble a garland as we sit in it. How confusing it is? In fact, a basic Sanskrit understanding should be included in Yoga Teacher Training Courses’ curriculum.

Yoga is a beautiful practice that has been commercialised; knowledge that was once limited to a niche community has now become a daily practice in every home. We are missing the true substance of this ‘sadhana’ in all of its expanding popularity. “Tada Drashtuh Svarupe Avasthanam” (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.3) states that the yoga path ultimately leads to self-realisation. This sutra and its meaning are the fruit of continuous yogic practice, both on and off the mat, at every moment of your life. It refers to our commitment to this spiritual path, which helps us comprehend the reality of transcendence.

Sanskrit is the technical language of yoga, and each Sanskrit word has its own inherent sound. When a person’s mind is devoid of all impurities and is completely pure, it can recreate the exact image of a figure or item when they hear the Sanskrit phrase. “Yogah chitta vritti nirodha,” says Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (1.2), which means, “Yoga is the restraint (cessation) of fluctuation (modification) of the mind.” In yoga classes, where teachers follow traditional chanting in Sanskrit in the class, students stay mindful to capture the cues and language. The commitment of these students is extraordinary. It is for this reason that the Sanskrit language was also referred to as the “perfect language”.

The use of Sanskrit pays respect to the ancient yogic tradition. It takes extra effort on our part to learn, but the benefits are incredible.

Shivani Gupta is the founder and CEO of ‘Hello My Yoga’. The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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