Monthly Archives: January 2014

purvottanasana

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Sometimes, when you get so much of a good thing, you need to counterbalance it with another good thing. Enter Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose): The Anti-Chaturanga Dandasana.

Let’s look at these two poses from an anatomist’s point of view to see why they complement one another so well. First of all, Chaturanga Dandasana strengthens a lot of muscles. Chief among them are the main chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and the main muscle that joins the front of the shoulder to the upper arm (anterior deltoid). It also strengthens several muscles that flex the trunk or hips (including rectus abdominis, obliquus abdominis, iliopsoas, and rectus femoris). All of these muscles are on the front of the body. Making them strong is an excellent thing to do, but unless your student balances that strength with flexibility, and with similar strength on the back of her body, this strength can cause some problems.

No single posture is the antidote to an overdose of Chaturanga Dandasana, but if you had to pick just one, Purvottanasana would probably be your best choice. Why? First, it stretches most of the muscles that Chaturanga strengthens. Second, it strengthens opposing muscles (antagonists). Purvottanasana stretches pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, the anterior deltoids, rectus abdominis, obliquus abdominis, iliopsoas, and, to some extent, rectus femoris. It strengthens the rhomboid muscles (which draw the shoulder blades toward the spine, antagonizing the pectorals), the posterior deltoid muscles (which pull the arms backward, antagonizing the anterior deltoids), the erector spinae (which backbend the spine, antagonizing the abdominal muscles), and the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles (which extend the hips, antagonizing the iliopsoas and rectus femoris). In short, while Chaturanga primarily strengthens the front of the body, Purvottanasana stretches the front of the body and strengthens the back of the body. This makes the two poses wonderfully complementary.

There are some notable exceptions to this pattern, though. One is that both Chaturanga Dandasana and Purvottanasana strengthen the triceps muscles (the elbow-straightening muscles on the back and outside of the upper arms). Another is that both poses bend the wrists backward and put weight on them. In spite of these exceptions, Purvottanasana is an excellent pose to teach your students to balance a practice that’s heavy on the Chaturanga.

Here, in compressed form, are instructions you can give your student to bring her into the classical version of Purvottanasana. “Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your hands alongside your hips and your fingers pointing forward. Bend your knees until the soles of your feet touch the floor. While exhaling, press your feet and hands down to lift your hips as high as possible off the floor. Then straighten your legs one by one and lift your hips still higher, pressing the soles of your feet toward the floor. Lift your chest as high as possible, then drop your head back, keeping the back of your neck as long as possible.” This version of the pose will go a long way toward counterbalancing Chaturanga Dandasana. If your student’s practice is based on Surya Namaskar, she might benefit from working it into her Sun Salutation sequence so she does it just as often and holds it just as long as Chaturanga.

Ultimately, yoga is about balance. It’s good to be strong, but balanced strength is better than unbalanced strength, and strength coupled with flexibility is better than rigid, restrictive strength. Chaturanga Dandasana is one of the key strengthening asanas. It’s a great pose, and it’s even better when complemented by Purvottanasana.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article The Anti-Chaturanga Dandasana By Roger Cole, Ph.D.


vedic literature of ancient india

Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, which even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue and its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.

Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world – including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives – remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. Indeed we could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations. To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.

Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (RigYajur,Sama and Atharva), their various BrahmanasAranyakas andUpanishads.

The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita – the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga – represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an on-going tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.

The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earth quakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature’s changes.

Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic ‘mantric code’ that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.

The Vedas say, “The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious.” The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or ‘revelation’ behind the Hindu tradition.

The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realized the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.

Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognized that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures. Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building. Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.

Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists.

Introduction to Article The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets By David Frawley

 


short history of women in yoga in the west

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Before the modern period, there are stories of great yoginis and female Tantric gurus but with modernity the strangest of candidates wins the prize for first Western yogini. Queen Victoria, the “Empress of India,” a very Christian, and, of course, a very “Victorian” woman, had 18 lessons from the long-lived yogi Shivapuri Baba, who she entertained at court sometime after 1870.

A deeper story of women in yoga begins with another woman of nobility, the Russian, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—one of the most independent thinkers who ever lived. Leaving her husband, she travelled the world exploring divergent religions and occult societies from the late 1840s to the early ‘70s. In this period, she became familiar with yoga. She later introduced it to the world through her popular books. Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society, which fostered East-West dialog. It took the lead in translating and publishing yoga texts. Blavatsky’s successors in the Society, Kathleen Tingley and Annie Besant also promoted yoga (But like Helena, they were disparaging of it, too—it’s complicated!). Besant’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras are genius works that remain compelling, and Tingley opened what was arguably America’s first ashram with a “Raja Yoga Academy” in Point Loma, California in 1897. Like many women who followed on the path, Tingley was globally active in helping others and building world peace through teaching, protests, and work in NGOs.

The Bostonians, Sara Bull and Sarah Farmer became good friends during international travel and were among the first true yoga practitioners in the West. They hatched a plan to host the great Swami Vivekananda (who had brought yoga to America in 1893) giving him a platform at their Green Acre conferences.

Wealthy women hosted many Indian Gurus after Vivekananda and there was something of a scare in America about their influence, for no small number of U.S. women gave up normal lives for their gurus. Chief among these was Margaret Noble, who took the name Sister Nivedita, who committed herself to Vivekananda in 1898 to become the first woman to join an Indian monk’s order. She lived the rest of her life in India, becoming a champion of national independence and the nobility of Indian life.

Ruled by the United Kingdom, many women Britons toured India. Mollie Stack came in 1912, learning yoga from a local pandit. After her husband died, she modified what she learned and devised posture sequencing called the “Stretch and Swing” system. Hence, she created flowing posture workouts almost a decade before the “Ashtanga” system, worked out by Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacarya in Mysore.

In Mysore, Krishnamacharya applied yoga to pregnancy and taught the practice to the women of his family as well Indra Devi (see below). His contemporary, Sri Yogendra, who founded the Yoga Institute outside Bombay in 1924, taught his wife. Sita Devi. She subsequently became the first woman to publish a book on yoga for women, Yoga Simplified for Women of ‘34.

Before Vivekananda came West, Pierre Bernard was trained by a Syrian Tantric in Nebraska beginning in 1888. Bernard later taught his wife yoga. Blanche Devries began to teach some time after 1913 and is the first influential female yoga teacher in America. In 1938, she opened up the first female-owned yoga studio (in New York City). She taught until 1982 and influenced movie star clients and a host of teachers who would influence the practice in later years.

One of these was Rebekah Harkness, though her fame—like Bull and Farmer’s—came from being a great host, rather than a great yogi. She invited B. K. S. Iyengar to America in 1956, and so he made his first visit. Not pleased (he said Americans cared just for three W’s: “Wealth, wine and women”), he did not come again for 17 years, but the precedent had been set. When Mary Palmer hosted B. K. S. in Ann Arbor in ’73, a new crop of powerful female teachers burst onto the scene. Among them was Palmer’s daughter Mary Dunn, plus Patricia Walden, Patricia Sullivan, Rama Jyoti Vernon, and Judith Hanson Lasater.

Iyengar’s yoga was workmanlike, not glamorous, and outside this stream of teachers devoted to Iyengar’s modest style, Indra Devi taught great women of film beginning in 1947. Following DeVries lead, she opened a studio on America’s opposite coast, in Hollywood, where yoga’s promise to “end gray hair and allow neither old age or wrinkles to arise” attracted the backlot’s beauties: Gloria Swanson, Ruth St. Denis and Greta Garbo among others. The Livonian-born Devi showed a communal spirit in her work and toured the world with her skills, landing in Russia, China and South America—where she was much beloved.

One who came to learn from her was already a skilled yogi. Magana Baptiste, a dancer in movies, Miss USA runner-up in 1951, and mother to the great teachers Sherri and Baron Baptiste, opened a gym devoted to bodybuilding and yoga in San Francisco with her husband, Walt, in 1956. Walt, a Mr. America in 1948, taught her the yoga he’d learned from the Paramahansa Yogananda lineage. Magana supplemented this by lessons from Devi in Hollywood and San Francisco—where she hosted her teacher.

Like Sister Nivedita, Devi had been the first Western woman to devote herself to her specific guru (Krishnamacarya), and the Canadian, Swami Sivananda Radha had the same role with her teacher, Swami Sivananda. She saw him in a vision in 1955 and traveled to India to be his chela (student). After taking monastic vows, the Swami routed her back to Canada in ‘56, where she established one of the first Canadian Ashrams, Yasodhara. Significantly, she eschewed any cult of personality by forbidding likenesses of her guru or herself on the estate. Like her mentor, she wrote as easily as she breathed. She founded Ascent Magazine and published close to 30 books in her lifetime.

The explosion of international dialog in yoga was strongly stimulated by Devi (in addition to travel, she wrote books too), but dialog was restrained by immigration law. When the America’s Asian Exclusion Act was rescinded in ‘65, a flood of Eastern teachers came to serve the divine curiosity of the Baby Boomers.

Iyengar yoga came then, too, in the form of his Light on Yoga (in 1966). His practice appealed more to women than Pattabhi Jois’ more athletic Ashtanga form—which arrived in 1975. Ashtanga conscripted mainly male teachers. But when Tim Miller created freestyle vinyasa in the mid-1980s, a door was opened to the spirit of dance. Women then took hold of the flow practice as they had in Mollie Stack’s time.

Excerpt from Article A Short History of Women in Yoga in the West by Dr. Eric Shaw Posted at yogawoman.tv


satyagraha

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Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s success with non-violent activism, King had “for a long time…wanted to take a trip to India”. With assistance from the Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee, he was able to make the journey in April 1959. The trip to India affected King, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America’s struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.

In his autobiography, Martin Luther King observed:

Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.

King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as “I Have a Dream”. “I Have a Dream” came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. The March, and especially King’s speech, helped put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From Wikipedia Article Martin Luther King, Jr.


kali’s threefold bija: krim hum hrim

Each deity has its mantras, starting with single-syllable seed or bija mantras and extending to longer mantras, prayers and supplications. Kali’s primary single syllable mantra is KRIM (pronounced Kreem). KRIM refers to Kriya or the power of action, but action of a yogic nature.

KRIM is composed of three primary letters. The letter-k is the first of all the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet. It indicates manifest existence, power and force. The letter-r is the seed of fire and light. The letter-i is focused energy and will power.

Out of this single seed mantra is developed a longer threefold mantra or three seed-mantras as KRIM HUM HRIM. This has yet more energy and efficacy in awakening the Goddess within us. It begins with the mantra KRIM and builds upon its power.

The mantra HUM (hoom) is composed of two primary sounds. The letter-h is the seed syllable of the element of space or ether. It also represents the sun, Prana and the Purusha principle. The letter-u creates a force field that can both serve to hold in and to push out. HUM represents an explosion of energy, an expression of great power that is pranic, electrical and fiery. HUM is the power of Agni or fire particularly as directed by the wind or Vayu. Whereas KRIM awakens the electrical force or Shakti, HUM serves to direct it with great force, to use it to make great efforts.

HRIM (hreem) is the great mantra of the spiritual heart, hridaya. It is composed of three main letters. The letter-h, as in HUM, represents, space, prana and light. The letter-r as in KRIM represents light and fire. The letter-i as in KRIM represents focused energy or a ray of light, the Shakti as such. Through the mantra HRIM alone one can enter into the spiritual heart and the small space within its lotus (dahara akasha) in which the entire universe is held.

These put together, Kali’s threefold mantra serves to awaken and energize the spiritual heart, hridaya.

The mantra KRIM serves to cut the knots of the heart. It works like a sword. It stimulates the heart energy within us, its primal desire or wish for immortality, love and light.

The mantra HUM gives power to the heart, expanding the energy of prana and Agni (fire) in a strong, if not explosive manner.

The mantra HRIM opens the energy of the spiritual heart which is like the Sun, spreading it into the Infinite.

This threefold Kali Heart mantra can be compared to a kind of spiritual adrenaline. KRIM awakens the energy of the heart, like an electrical jolt to a heart patient whose heart is failing. HUM expands it this current with great force. HRIM stabilizes it as an infinite power and eternal presence.

KRIM draws the Prana from the breath, the sensory and motor organs and directs it into the heart. HUM turns the Prana into a force of fiery meditative power. HRIM connects the individual prana-mind with the power of the Supreme Self, the power of the light of consciousness (Chid-jyoti). This threefold mantra therefore creates a powerful Pratyahara in the yogic sense, it takes our energy back to the spiritual heart.

Excerpt from Article The Goddess Kali and the Spiritual Heart by David Frawley


kali

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The Dark Tantric Goddess by Rabi Behera

The worship of a mother goddess as the source of life and fertility has prehistoric roots, but the transformation of that deity into a Great goddess of cosmic powers was achieved with the composition of the Devi Mahatmya (Glory of the goddess), a text of the fifth to sixth century, when worship of the female principle took on dramatic new dimensions. The goddess is not only the mysterious source of life, she is the very soil, all-creating and all consuming.

Kali makes her ‘official’ debut in the Devi-Mahatmya, where she is said to have emanated from the brow of Goddess Durga (slayer of demons) during one of the battles between the divine and anti-divine forces. Etymologically Durga’s name means “Beyond Reach”. She is thus an echo of the woman warrior’s fierce virginal autonomy. In this context Kali is considered the ‘forceful’ form of the great goddess Durga.

Kali is represented as a Black woman with four arms; in one hand she has a sword, in another the head of the demon she has slain, with the other two she is encouraging her worshippers. For earrings she has two dead bodies and wears a necklace of skulls ; her only clothing is a girdle made of dead men’s hands, and her tongue protrudes from her mouth. Her eyes are red, and her face and breasts are besmeared with blood. She stands with one foot on the thigh, and another on the breast of her husband.

Kali’s fierce appearances have been the subject of extensive descriptions in several earlier and modern works. Though her fierce form is filled with awe- inspiring symbols, their real meaning is not what it first appears- they have equivocal significance:

Kali’s blackness symbolizes her all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because black is the color in which all other colors merge; black absorbs and dissolves them. ‘Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her’ (Mahanirvana Tantra). Or black is said to represent the total absence of color, again signifying the nature of Kali as ultimate reality. This in Sanskrit is named as nirguna (beyond all quality and form). Either way, Kali’s black color symbolizes her transcendence of all form.

Kali’s nudity has a similar meaning. In many instances she is described as garbed in space or sky clad. In her absolute, primordial nakedness she is free from all covering of illusion. She is Nature (Prakriti in Sanskrit), stripped of ‘clothes’. It symbolizes that she is completely beyond name and form, completely beyond the illusory effects of maya (false consciousness). Her nudity is said to represent totally illumined consciousness, unaffected by maya. Kali is the bright fire of truth, which cannot be hidden by the clothes of ignorance. Such truth simply burns them away.

She is full-breasted; her motherhood is a ceaseless creation. Her disheveled hair forms a curtain of illusion, the fabric of space – time which organizes matter out of the chaotic sea of quantum-foam. Her garland of fifty human heads, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes the repository of knowledge and wisdom. She wears a girdle of severed human hands- hands that are the principal instruments of work and so signify the action of karma. Thus the binding effects of this karma have been overcome, severed, as it were, by devotion to Kali. She has blessed the devotee by cutting him free from the cycle of karma. Her white teeth are symbolic of purity (Sattva), and her lolling tongue which is red dramatically depicts the fact that she consumes all things and denotes the act of tasting or enjoying what society regards as forbidden, i.e. her indiscriminate enjoyment of all the world’s “flavors”.

Kali’s four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction, which is contained within her. She represents the inherent creative and destructive rhythms of the cosmos. Her right hands, making the mudras of “fear not” and conferring boons, represent the creative aspect of Kali, while the left hands, holding a bloodied sword and a severed head represent her destructive aspect. The bloodied sword and severed head symbolize the destruction of ignorance and the dawning of knowledge. The sword is the sword of knowledge, that cuts the knots of ignorance and destroys false consciousness (the severed head). Kali opens the gates of freedom with this sword, having cut the eight bonds that bind human beings. Finally her three eyes represent the sun, moon, and fire, with which she is able to observe the three modes of time: past, present and future. This attribute is also the origin of the name Kali, which is the feminine form of ‘Kala’, the Sanskrit term for Time.

Kali’s dwelling place, the cremation ground denotes a place where the five elements (Sanskrit: pancha mahabhuta) are dissolved. Kali dwells where dissolution takes place. In terms of devotion and worship, this denotes the dissolving of attachments, anger, lust, and other binding emotions, feelings, and ideas. The heart of the devotee is where this burning takes place, and it is in the heart that Kali dwells. The devotee makes her image in his heart and under her influence burns away all limitations and ignorance in the cremation fires. This inner cremation fire in the heart is the fire of knowledge, (gyanagni), which Kali bestows.

The image of a recumbent Shiva lying under the feet of Kali represents Shiva as the passive potential of creation and Kali as his Shakti. The generic term Shakti denotes the Universal feminine creative principle and the energizing force behind all male divinity including Shiva. Shakti is known by the general name Devi, from the root ‘div’, meaning to shine. She is the Shining One, who is given different names in different places and in different appearances, as the symbol of the life-giving powers of the Universe. It is she that powers him. This Shakti is expressed as the i in Shiva’s name. Without this i, Shiva becomes Shva, which in Sanskrit means a corpse. Thus suggesting that without his Shakti, Shiva is powerless or inert.

Excerpts from Article Mother Goddess as Kali – The Feminine Force in Indian Art by Nitin Kumar


why teach sanskrit names

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The gradual introduction of traditional names can teach your students more than you might initially think. Dr. Douglas Brooks, Sanskrit scholar and Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester, believes one of the best reasons to use the Sanskrit terms is to stir up interest and nurture curiosity. The Sanskrit suggests there’s more to yoga than athletic activity, Brook says. “If you think yoga is only stretching, don’t learn the names,” he says. “But if you really want to teach, you need to know where the references come from.”

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.”

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.”

And there are other benefits as well. For one thing, Sanskrit breaks down the barriers between people who speak different languages. “The beauty of the Sanskrit terms is that they are a universal reference,” says Raoult. “No matter where you are on the planet, you have the Sanskrit terms so you don’t have to worry. Whether you say the word “plie” [to reference a ballet movement] in Japan or France, it means the same thing.”

This universal language creates a deeper, more spiritual connection. Because Sanskrit names communicate meaning through sound and yoke sound and sensation, they reveal to each individual the universal experience of the pose. Knowing the Sanskrit and connecting it to our practice roots us in tradition and gives us a common vocabulary. This is the first step in seeking that connection that is yoga’s promise.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Why Teach Sanskrit Names By Marget Braun