Tag Archives: Sanskrit

How yoga will survive being commercialized to death

If you could go back 50 years and try to find any resources on yoga as a Westerner, you would probably be confined to the “world religions” section in the public library. After using the dewey decimal system card index, you would probably find some material on Swami Vivekananda, a few obscure academic translations in French or German of the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra-s and a whole lot of books with the word “Hindoo” in them. My have times changed! I used to get kind of excited when I would see yoga referenced on a TV show, or even an advertisement. Now I don’t think there is ANY ad without some reference to yoga.

For one, communication technology has radically changed in the past 50 years. That makes any idea more accessible. Secondly, the popularity of yoga has increased exponentially with this emerging communication technology. Therefore, it appears as though yoga is everywhere.

But what are people defining as “yoga?” Mostly it’s some type of asana or calisthenics practice. The instagram crowd that saturates your news feed declares that taking a selfie of some contortion in a dangerous location is called “yoga.”

What if today’s technology existed back in the time of Vyasa or Patanjali? What would they “tweet?” My inkling is that they would be more interested in transmitting teachings via audio. They would chant the hymns of the vedas and sutra-s for all to hear in their correct pronunciation. We have to realize that the reason why yoga has been around so long is because it is an oral, not a visual tradition.

The brilliance of the language of Sanskrit is that every character in the Devanagari alphabet is pronounced exactly the same. Unlike the Roman alphabet whose letters can go through a radical range of pronunciations even within small community. The continuity of the Sanskrit alphabet reduces the error in misinterpretation. That is why computer programmers and artificial intelligence science has taken a renewed interest in this ancient language.

In essence, the Veda-s, Upanisad-s, Mantra-s, and Sutra-s are a codified zip drives encapsulated in the indestructible medium of sound. This is a far more sophisticated technology than anything we could invent today. How can you have an infinite amount of information stored in something that does not take up any physical space?

The beauty of these “zip-drives” is that they give every practitioner the instructions based on their level of understanding. That is why no two practitioners are alike, even though they have the same instruction. Our level of understanding and capability has much to do with our own personal karma-s.

So now the fitness/yoga industry is having its current field day exploiting the physical benefits of yoga. But as long as there are practitioners willing to “decode” the ancient texts, and interpret and practice them to their own capabilities, Yoga will last for the rest of humanity. Hopefully, that will last a little bit longer.

Why do we use Sanskrit when teaching Yoga?


As Iyengar instructors, the very first thing we teach students about the pose is its name in Sanskrit. If the word is complicated like say Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana*, we break it down piece by piece. Why in the world do we do this? Are we yoga snobs? Why not just say an approximation of the pose in English leave out the Sanskrit, and be happy with that?

First of all, Yoga originated in India at a time when Sanskrit was widely used. It is the original language of all the major yoga texts including the Bhagavad Gita and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Just like French is the language of fine cuisine, Sanskrit is the language of Yoga. That may not matter to someone who just takes Yoga at the boutique studio down the street, but if you travel around the world you will be grateful to hear the familiar Sanskrit words that you have learned from your Iyengar instructor.

Yoga has had quite a journey from its origins. When B.K.S. Iyengar first started teaching Yoga, he said he had very few students. Yoga was viewed at the time like something one’s eccentric grandfather did many years ago in adhering to antiquated traditions. That is when Iyengar decided to take his Yoga teachings to the West which was hungry and ripe for his teachings. While spreading Yoga in the West, Iyengar stayed rooted in India to recharge Yoga as a cultural treasure for its country of origin. Just months before his passing, Iyengar was recognized by the President of India for his work in Yoga. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently led the UN and the world in the first International Yoga Day.

Instructors who take the extra pains to learn the Sanskrit words present themselves as more serious about the subject. When I hear what some people are calling Asana-s, I feel a twinge in my belly. Wild Thing, Happy Baby, and Chair Pose have no basis in Sanskrit, they are words that come from the fitness-yoga craze that is the majority of yoga we see now in the West. I got berated one time when I corrected a person who was calling Utkatasana “Chair pose.” I pointed out that it is translated as “awkward or fierce pose.” It surprised me how strong of a reaction people had about saying something incorrectly.


As Western practitioners, we must respect Yoga’s origin and language. Sanskrit is beautiful and easily lends itself to chanting and devotion. Sanskrit has a vibrational quality that transcends merely speaking a language to communicate. Yoga Sutra 1.27 states that the Pranava, or the sound “OM” is the source of all sounds of the universe and Yoga Sutra 1.29 states that deep meditation on this sound will lead to one’s realization. What English word does all that?

*Triangamukaikapada Paschimottanasana is translated as three parts facing one leg intense stretch of the West side (posterior) part of the body pose. It looks like this in stage I.

triangmukhaikapada paschimottonasana

Using modern technology to learn ancient teachings: an app review


I called “uncle!” The kind you call when your older brother has you in a wrestling hold when you are a kid. After my cassette tape player broke, I was forced to try learning the yoga sutras via Youtube. Although there are beautiful selections of chants on Youtube, most are so fast that you cannot learn them step by step. I was forced to seek other methods. Since you cannot summon a Sanskrit scholar to sit and teach you like in olden times (at least not without having to travel to India), the next best recourse is an app.

One fellow blogger guided me to Patanjali’s Yogasutra by TKV Desikachar. This sells for about six bucks on iTunes. What sold me on this app is that Desikachar himself said that while this is a good start, this should only be considered a very basic introduction to the sutras. In other words, he is not promising you the moon like other apps.

Desikachar is the son of  T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya taught both Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar. Desikachar’s daughter Mekhala leads you through the chants. The novel part of learning via the app is the simplicity of just pressing one button to have the chant repeat. I find that it is helpful to listen to the chant 20 times without any other intentions except to listening to the beauty of the line. Then I try to repeat parts.

This app has two speeds: classical and simplified. The simplified is slower and breaks each sutra into easily digestible parts. The app also lays out the Padas (chapters) in an easy to access format.

The few downsides to this app are that Mekhala’s voice can be a bit adolescent sounding and that starts to be an issue after repeating a line many times. It would have been nice if TKV Desikachar would have chanted them himself. Also, the verses are written in one straight unbroken line, so it is difficult to read along when you chant.

Three weeks into my sutra study, I am on line 8. I am continuing to enjoy this learning process. Thank you Swtspontaneous for the tip!!

Studying the Yoga Sutras, 5 lines at a time


One of my mentoring teachers said a curious thing while I was training for my Intro II certification. She said that one of the best things she had ever done in her life was to memorize the Patanjali Yoga Sutras in Sanskrit. My teacher has accomplished much in her life, including opening and maintaining a successful studio for over ten years. So I took her words to heart and started my path committing these to memory. I am forging on to  learning five lines of Sutras in Sanskrit per week.

I am finding there are delightful resources and tools for accomplishing this goal both on the internet and through texts. Many years ago, I bought RIMYI published cassettes of the Yoga Sutras from my mentoring teachers. When you confront the Sutras in their original language, you quickly realize how brilliant Patajanli was to lay these deep statements down in what sounds like a song or poem in iambic pentameter. Chanting them makes you appreciate how every vowel and consonant sound is sharply pronounced, and how each sound creates a certain vibration.

By chanting them, you also tend to reflect on the meaning on a not-so-superficial level like you are when you are trying to memorize them for a test. I am beginning to realize that the cittavrtti (agitation of the mind stuff) can be as subtle as having your boss ask you to do something at work, and you identifying your whole being with that one task. Of course the Yoga Sutras say that our practice will stop this process so we can see our true selves more clearly.

Oddly enough, I find that when I study the Sutras, then work on writing my asana sequence for the next class, the thought process flows effortlessly. There have been times when I have agonized about building a sequence based on certain actions of each pose. The post-sutra sequence has all the nuance and progression as my sequences I designed before, but with a sense of confidence and precision that I seemed to lack prior to my Sutra studies.

As I am progressing from a beginning teacher to an intermediate teacher, I feel that deeper studies in the Sutras are essential. I am finding memorizing these Sutras to be an immensely enjoyable and difficult task. That may sound contradictory, but anyone who has learned asana from a point of stiffness, then experienced the freedom once that stiffness relents to the practice can understand this process.