TOPIC OF THE MONTH
July 2009 & May 2012
The asana are better described by their Sanskrit names. Sanskrit is an ancient language, dating back as far as 1500 BCE with the Rig Veda. Sanskrit was never really a spoken language but used in texts and as a ceremonial language. The design of the language is that the sounds perfectly express the vibrational essence of that which they are describing. Learning the Sanskrit names of the poses helps you to embody the asana.
Sanskrit means “put together well, polished, well formed, refined, perfect”. The Sages that were believed to create Sanskrit created it by paying attention to the structure of the mouth and where the sound comes out of the mouth–and by using your breath; some sounds you minimize your breath other sounds you enhance your breath making Sanskrit a language of Pranayama 🙂
Sanskrit is not best learned by memorizing the vocabulary–although I will share a few of the translations. Sanskrit has an element called Sandhi in it, the words are put together so they are pleasant to speak–they phonetically fit together nicely, thus some words change depending on what other word they are being used with. For example, the word namaste is actually two words namah (salutations or greeting) te (to you). But to say namah te is not so pleasant, so the second h is dropped and an “s” added to make the word pleasant to say “namaste”, phonetic harmony 😉
So just memorizing certain words can be challenging as the word may change as sentences are put together.
Sanskrit is also a language of rhythm and sound or melody. The joy of chanting Sanskrit does not come from successful memorization of the words; it comes from experiencing the vibrations. To feel the vibrations as you chant is to experience your entire being as energy rather than matter.
Sanskrit is about vibrations!
Sanskrit words for this week:
Asana – consists of two words: ‘as’ meaning to sit, and ‘ana’ meaning breath. Asana translates to sit with your breath 🙂
Feel the short “a” sound at the back of your throat and feel the breath on the “s” sound and feel the “n” sound where the tongue touches the roof of your mouth.
uttanasana – uttana means intense stretch and if you listen to me reciting the poses in Sanskrit throughout class you will hear the word “ttanasana” frequently (the “u” is dropped in most pose names for the phonetic harmony). Again feel where the sound comes from in your mouth and feel the use of your breath.
Throughout this month in the led classes we will all together repeat the name of the pose in Sanskrit as you enter the pose, this will help you feel the vibrations and start to learn the pose by its Sanskrit name. It is best to only learn the pose name in Sanskrit than to learn it in English and re-learn it in Sanskrit — and it is developing a good habit right at the start of your learning yoga 😉
Resonating with the Universe – The 5 sound points in the mouth
In order to learn Sanskrit and feel its power, the location of the sounds is important. Finding that location and using the right amount of breath and energy necessary to produce it according to Vyaas Houston “puts you in a state of harmonic resonance with the universe”.
Here is a brief overview of the five sound points in the mouth; they correspond to 5 different groupings of consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet
The first sound point is at the back of the throat such as ka or ga (ga has a little more resonance) and are called the guttural group.
The second group is the palatal group and produces the cha or ja sound, it is one step forward from the back of your throat and the sound is produced with a flat tongue.
The third is the cerebral group, again the sound point is one step forward of the palatal group. The tongue pushes off and down from the highest arch in the front of your mouth and produces the ta, na, or da sound.
The fourth set of consonants is the dental group employing the tongue to lightly push off the back of the upper teeth such as in the tha or la sound.
The fifth sound is the labial sound — pa, ba, ma– where the focal point is the lips.
This completes the journey through your mouth. So as we learn and pronounce the pose names in Sanskrit feel where the sounds originate and move in your mouth and breath. This will also help your English 😉 so you can speak clearly.
Sanskrit words and translations for this week:
Paschima – means west or hinder and refers to the back of our body. Paschimattanasana would translate as west intense stretch pose.
Purva – means east or “the first part” and refers to the front of our body. ex. purvattanasana; east intense stretch pose
Sirsa – means head as in sirsasana
In the learning of Sanskrit you learn where to aspirate or not aspirate in a sound, where to make the sound more nasal, where to roll your tongue, and how long to pronounce a sound.
Sound points and vowels
Sanskrit has more vowels than English and also uses some combinations of letters as vowels.
a – is gutteral, and should be pronounced with a closed mouth more like an “o” sound as when sounding “om”.
i – or the “i” sound as in pin is palatal, feel how your tongue stays flat and the sound comes off your palate.
u – as in “put” is actually labial, feel the sound come off your lips.
r – is a vowel in sanskrit, you slightly roll your tongue off the roof of your mouth with it and pronounce it with a “ri” sound. It is a cerebral sound, as the sound is felt in the roof of your mouth.
e and o and several other vowel combinations – these are starting to go beyond the scope of my Sanskrit knowledge but these vowels are dipthongs (two-sounds or two-tones) and combine 2 different sound points as the sound will travel through your mouth.
ah – I want to mention the Sanskrit vowel “h”, it is interesting in that it is named “visarga” which means “emission” as the sound is made with an emission of air. H is used in many sanskrit words and you are to emphasize the “ha” sound when you see it in a word, for example in the chant we have the word ‘dharinam’ (means holding).
Sanskrit Vocab words for this week:
Ardha – half
Baddha – bound
Padma – lotus
kona – angle
Feel the vibrations in your body and the placement of your tongue in your mouth as sound travels from the back of your throat, up to the roof of your mouth, pressing off the back of your teeth and finishing on your lips and feel a deeper connection with each other as we vibrate our souls.
Another element of Sandhi is that Sanskrit also likes to join words or groups of words into one word. This is done for minimization purposes and makes reading and writing Sanskrit easier. It also makes your words very succinct and to the point. Not too wordy. An entire sentence may be said in two words in Sanskrit that is then combined to make one word that is to the point!
Sanskrit is a dance with energy
The word yoga does not only mean postures and breathing; yoga is lots of practices at multiple levels (physical, intellectual, emotional, sound, chanting, meditation, devotional acts, study of texts, etc), therefore postures and breathing are only a portion of the whole yoga. Learning Sanskrit as well, is a portion of the whole yoga.
Yoga and Sanskrit are linked — the yogic texts were originally written in Sanskrit and the names of the postures were all named in Sanskrit. Learning the Sanskrit names of the poses creates a deeper connection to your yoga, Sanskrit names communicate through sound; they yoke sound and sensation, they help us to feel our yoga on a vibratory level–an energetic level. Knowing the Sanskrit and connecting it to our practice gives us a common vocabulary. This is another link in honoring the connection that yoga has to offer.
A nice and easy way to learn to the Sanskrit is to learn one pose name at a time. Repeat it to yourself throughout the day and during your practice say the pose name in Sanskrit before you do the pose (as we have been doing all month).
“The vibrational purity and resonating power of Sanskrit is above all an opera on a grand cosmic scale that you can sing with your whole heart and being.” Vyass Houston
Words for this week:
Anga – limb
Astau – 8
Ashtanga – 8 limbs (being yama (restraints), niyama (observances), asana, pranayama, pratayahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (enlightenment).