Uncovering the Language of Yoga: The Secrets of Sanskrit

Uncovering the Language of Yoga: The Secrets of Sanskrit

Sanskrit Yoga

If you've been to a yoga class before, you've likely heard some strange words said or chanted by the teacher in a foreign language you might not have been able to identify; this is Sanskrit. The Sanskrit language is integral to yoga because it allows you to delve deeper into this practice's philosophical meaning and vibrational sounds.

Like many other ancient languages, Sanskrit is profoundly complex and intertwined with India's philosophy and spiritual practices. Sanskrit was the language used by the sages of India to explain profound philosophies. Often these insights were condensed into short phrases and strands of words with deep meaning hidden in each letter and word. The uniqueness of the Sanskrit language lies in the depth of a single word and the power of the sounds each tone creates. Chanting in Sanskrit can allow you to access these hidden vibrational sounds and tune into the energy of the elements and the universe itself. Each word in Sanskrit carries not only the power of its meaning but also the power of the vibrations it creates when vocalized.

The uniqueness of the Sanskrit language lies in the depth of a single word and the power of the sounds each tone creates. Chanting in Sanskrit can allow you to access these hidden vibrational sounds and tune into the energy of the elements and the universe itself. Each word in Sanskrit carries not only the power of its meaning but also the power of the vibrations it creates when vocalized.

The Roots of the Sanskrit Language

The Sanskrit (संस्कृत) language originated in South Asia during the Vedic period thousands of years ago. As an Indo-European language, linguists believe that this language is distantly related to other European languages like Latin. There is also a theory that Sanskrit arrived in South Asia due to the migration of individuals in the Indus region in the 2nd century BCE, which gave it its name as an Indo-Aryan language.

The sage Panini then refined the language and created a significant text on Sanskrit grammar that is still studied today. Initially, Sanskrit was only a spoken language since, historically, philosophy was passed down as an oral tradition. But the development of the Devanagari script led to this language becoming codified into written form. But Sanskrit is no longer a spoken language and is essentially reserved for ancient texts and philosophical study.

The Important Connection Between Sanskrit and Yoga

One of the first written mentions of yoga can be found in the Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu text written in Sanskrit. All of the vital yoga philosophy texts, such as the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Bhagavad Gita, are written in Sanskrit. 

In traditional yoga, Sanskrit is often thought of as the language of the Gods and the ancient sages, connecting us to the original wisdom tradition. Additionally, in Hindu philosophy, one of the primary theories of the universe's origin is through the primordial sound of OM.

When speaking or chanting in Sanskrit, you are tapping into these original vibrational sounds of the universe, harmonizing your body and mind with cosmic consciousness. You may have experienced the power of these vibrational sounds when chanting the chakra bija or seed mantras or other Sanskrit verses.

At a fundamental level, understanding Sanskrit is essential for honoring yoga's cultural roots and understanding the philosophy of yoga in greater depth. Sanskrit is the language of yoga and can provide us with a pathway into the more profound wisdom of this beautiful practice.

The Key to Pronouncing Sanskrit Words

Unlike other languages where each letter may be pronounced differently depending on its location in a word or adjoining letters (or even by seemingly arbitrary rules of pronunciation), Sanskrit letters are always pronounced the same. 

Each letter in the Sanskrit alphabet has a single pronunciation. So, when you learn to read Sanskrit words either in the original Devanagari script or when they are correctly transliterated, you can genuinely pronounce each word correctly. Sanskrit letters are organized in the alphabet by the shape the mouth creates to make the sound. For example, the guttural consonants of k, kh, g, gh, and ṅ are pronounced in the back of the throat. The Sanskrit alphabet is organized in this way to make it easier to sound out each letter and understand the alphabet phonetically.

Commonly Used Sanskrit Words in Yoga

Like any language, there are a seemingly infinite number of words. But as you begin to explore this beautiful language, these are some of the foundational Sanskrit words commonly used in a yoga class. 

In the first series of words, you will find some of the root words that form part of the popular yoga poses, and in the second series of words, you will find some essential yoga terminology.

15 Sanskrit Root Words in Yoga Poses:

1.  Eka (ehk-a) – one

This word is commonly used to count in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and in various yoga poses to refer to the use of a single body part, such as Eka Pada Rajakoptasna or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose.

2.  Pāda (paa-da) – feet

This is one of the most commonly used root words in yoga poses, such as Padahastasana or Hand to Foot Forward Bend Pose (sometimes called Gorilla Pose).

3.  Baddha (bad-dha) – bound, tied, fastened

This root word can be found in the yoga pose Baddha Konasana or Bound Angle Pose.

4. Bandha (ban-dha) – bond, lock, contraction

There are three primary bandhas or body locks practiced in yoga: Mula Bandha or root lock, Uddiyana Bandha or abdominal lock, and Jalandhara Banda or throat lock.

5. Adho (ah-doh) – down

This root word can be found in the famous pose Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog Pose.

6. Utthita (uht-heet-ah) – extended

Another root found in many yoga poses, one of the most famous is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, or Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose.

7. Hasta (ha-st-ha) – hand

Combined with the earlier root word pada, these two roots form the yoga pose name Padahastasana or Hand to Foot Forward Bend Pose.

8. Pārśva (paar-shva) – sides

Many yoga poses incorporate this root word, typically when you are turning to one side. One example is Parva Balasana or Thread the Needle Pose.

9. Kōṇa (koh-naa) – angle, corner

Combining the above root words utthita and parsva, you will get the wonderful yoga pose Utthita Parsvakonasana or Extended Side Angle Pose.

10. Daṇḍa (dan-da) – rod, staff, stick

This root word forms the basis of the foundational seated pose Dandasana or Staff Pose.

11. Sukha (suh-kha) – pleasure, happiness, joy, satisfaction, peace, in a state of comfort, ease

Sukha is a word commonly used in yoga philosophy to describe the opposite of pain or suffering (duhkha). But you can also find this root word in the pose Sukhasana or Easy Pose, which is often used for meditation.

12. Ardha (ar-dha) – half

This root word is also sprinkled among many yoga pose names; Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon Pose is one of the most popular.

13. Supta (soup-ta) – dreaming, asleep, sleeping, dormant

Found in the beloved yoga pose name Supta Baddha Konasana or Reclining Bound Angle Pose, this root word provides a deeper insight into the relaxed state this pose can provide.

14. Parivṛtta (pari-vri-tta) – turned back, revolved, turned around

This root word is used before many yoga pose names to refer to the revolved or reversed versions, such as Parivritta Trikonasana or Revolved Triangle Pose.

15. Ūrdhva (oor-dh-va) – upwards, upward facing

Another root word used before many yoga pose names, this root describes the upwards or exalted version, such as Urdhva Hastasana or Upward Salute.

4 Other Important Sanskrit Words in Yoga:

1. Yoga (yog-a) – union, union with the divine, to yoke, conjoin, connect, combine, merge, concentrate 

The word yoga itself is an essential Sanskrit term with many meanings and profound interpretations. As you dive more into yoga philosophy, you will uncover that this single word can have a seemingly infinite number of translations. 

2. Āsana (aa-sana) – pose, seat, physical or body postures 

When people refer to yoga, they often immediately think of yoga poses. But actually, the Sanskrit word for yoga poses is yoga asana. Traditionally, this was mainly meant to describe various seats for meditation rather than the multitude of poses we have today. 

3. Aṣṭāṅga Yoga (ash-taan-ga yog-a) – eight limbs of yoga, eight-fold path of yoga in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras 

Ashtanga yoga is often connected to the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, created by Pattabhi Jois. But Ashtanga yoga is actually referring to the philosophical path of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, the primary yoga text. The eight limbs or steps of this path are:

  • Yama – moral disciplines / external disciplines
  • Niyama – self-disciplines / internal disciplines
  • Asana – postures 
  • Pranayama – breathing practices 
  • Pratyahara – restraint of mind or the senses 
  • Dharana – contemplation 
  • Dhyana – meditation 
  • Samadhi – completion, enlightenment, absorption
4. Guṇa (gu-na) – attribute, quality, principles, tendencies of nature 

The 3 gunas are a significant component of Samkhya philosophy, the primary philosophical school connected to yoga. These gunas or qualities of nature describe the operating principles of the universe and contribute to everything, including ourselves.

  • Sattva – goodness, light, harmony, creation 
  • Rajas – passion, action, movement, preservation 
  • Tamas – darkness, stability, potential, destruction

Learn the Roots of Yoga in Our Upcoming Yoga Teacher Trainings 

Creating a solid foundation in yoga is essential to becoming the best yoga teacher that you can be. In our online yoga teacher trainings, we provide you with an education that truly honors the breadth and depth of yoga practice. Particularly in our 250hr yoga teacher training, we go into greater depth in yoga philosophy, where you will learn some of these other Sanskrit terms on a deeper level. In all of our yoga teacher training programs, we cover the names of the yoga poses and how to pronounce them correctly. So, join us in one of our upcoming teacher training programs to begin this exciting journey into the beautiful world of yoga!


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