Oh, the Things You'll Hear in Yoga Class!

October 14, 2014

Chances are, you signed up for yoga class to (check all that apply), gain flexibility and balance, get some exercise, reduce stress, or to get in touch with your spiritual side, NOT to learn a foreign language!  So it may have come as a bit of a surprise to learn that much of what is spoken in class is not in English, but in...Sanskrit!  A language you didn't study in high school or college because, well, it wasn't even offered.  As someone new to yoga, all the new terminology that is thrown around so casually can be intimidating or even, I don't know, funny (at least it was to me).  So here's a brief explanation of some of the things you're hearing.


What is Sanskrit anyway?

Sanskrit is an ancient language of India, in which the Hindu scriptures and classic Indian epic poems are written, as well as a literary and scholarly language in Buddhism and Jainism.  Today, it is the native spoken language of only about 14,000 people in India, but it is still widely used in literature, some mass media, as a liturgical language, and of course, in yoga class, where it is used to describe our many postures (asanas), in chants and mantras, and in describing various breathing (pranayama) techniques.


If you're interested in the Sanskrit words you hear used in class, and would like to learn more about them, here is a cool Sanskrit glossary of some of the most common words we use, put together by Triangle Yoga.  Most often at Valley Vinyasa Yoga Studio, you will find that the teacher, when using a Sanskrit term to describe a posture, will follow it up with the English translation.  Over time, you will come to know (and love) the beautiful Sanskrit words, but it is not essential to your yoga practice with us that you memorize, learn, or even fully understand these words right away!


What's up with Om? Do I have to chant it?

From time to time in class, a teacher will invite you to join him in a chant of a single "om" or perhaps 3

"oms," typically at the beginning and/or end of class. Om (or Aum as it is sometimes spelled) is a rhythmic vibration/sacred sound/chant/mantra made up of three Sanskrit (there it is again!) letters, aa, au, and ma, which are combined together to make...Om.  Om is believed to be the basic sound of the universe, the sound which contains all other sounds.  Some refer to it as the first sound of creation.  We chant om in our classes (or in our own meditation) to tune into this vibration and to reinforce our connection to and participation in "the whole."


While chanting Om can be a very powerful experience, it can also be intimidating or seem weird to new yoga students.  If you prefer not to join in, that's fine! Just sit in silence and see if you are able to sense and absorb the vibration of the sound being made by those around you.


And what about Namaste?

Virtually every yoga class ends with the instructor offering her students "namaste" and with the students responding with the same salutation. Namaste is a customary way of greeting or saying goodbye in India and Nepal (kind of like Aloha or Shalom). Derived from Sanskrit (but of course), its simplist translation is "I salute you," or "salutations to you."


At the end of yoga class, the teacher may elaborate on the literal translation of Namaste.  Some common offerings are:

  • The light in me honors (or salutes, or recognizes, or bows to) the light in you

  • The Spirit in me honors the same Spirit in you

  • I salute the divine in you

  • I salute the Light of God in you

  • All that is best and highest in me salutes all that is best and highest in you


It is a beautiful way to complete your practice and for all of us to show our gratitude and appreciation for one another.  Typically when saying "namaste" the hands are joined at the heart in Anjali Mudra and the head is bowed.


If you ever have questions about something that was said in class, its meaning or correct pronunciation, don't hesitate to ask your instructor...he'll be happy to share what he knows about this beautiful language.

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