No, your teacher isn’t speaking gibberish. They’re probably speaking Sanskrit– an ancient language from southern India. There can be varying interpretations for the phases but often the intention of the word is the same. Like other ancient languages, sanskrit is a vibratory, rhythmic language that can be challenging to pronounce because our own language no longer has emphasis on sound vibration. Here are a few words you might hear in class this week.
We’ve all heard that Yoga is for the body, mind, and spirit. Funnily enough thats what the word means – yoke or union. So Yoga really is the practice of connecting our body, mind, and spirit, but it can mean so more than that. With time & practice Yoga can also include connecting us to our true selves, each other, our environment, and, eventually our truth.
The phase we open and close our practice with is probably one of the most beautiful. As with all sanskrit words there can be multiple translations and understandings. The one most commonly found is:
“The divine light within me salutes the divine light within you.”
Actually this isn’t the direct translation, it’s more the intention of the word.
Namah is the verb “to bow” & -te (when placed at the end of the word) means “to you.”
So Namaste means “I bow to you.” It’s that simple. It’s usually accompanied by an actual physical bow.
Another translation can be “not mine” which offers the same intention. Namaste also means ‘Na’ and ‘ma’, meaning ‘not mine’. The teacher offering their time to the students and the students taking time to learn from the teacher can be summed up with this simple phase. Both translations can be seen as acts of surrender & letting which is one of Yoga’s most valuable lessons.
When I teach this to my semi private smaller groups I always refer to the intention of the word, not just the translation because it has so much to offer. This recognition of the divinity in the person you greet and inside yourself is both empowering and humbling. We are all divine or have the capacity for pure goodness & if we recognised that in one another more often then perhaps we would judge less, forgive and love more. Imagine if our political leaders approached each other with that same intention!
The word literally, it means “seat,” but in yoga class you are using artistic license to use the words intention “to sit or be here” and so we use it for all the postures. For example, Bal-asana = childs pose Nav-asana = boat pose etc.
Pranayama is an in-depth science for expanding and channeling the life force, prana. Pranayam comes from two sanskrit words: “prank”, meaning the fundamental life force, and “yama” meaning to control. So, Pranayama is the methods we use to control/direct this life force.
Ooooooohhhhhmmmmmmm. It’s actually written A-U-M but let’s leave how to pronounce the OM for another blog. You’ve probably heard this is the sound of the universe! But what does that even mean? Well first of all the universe does have a sound- a vibratory sound produced from the moment the universe all sprang into existence (both creation & big bang theory must have begun with a sound). From a scientific view point the ‘sound’ of the big bang was the creation of all reality and so is the sound of the universe coming into form- the BANG in big bang. From a creationist view point “God SAID (sound) let there be light” so again all reality began with a sound.
The written version of Om has become the universal symbol of yoga, it adorns yoga studio walls and is tattooed on yoga students (and teachers- me included) everywhere. So what does it actually mean? Why do we OM? Again the answer is multifaceted but essentially, we are all a part of this universe, we are always moving, always changing, always vibrating. Everything in the universe is vibrating energy including ourselves and so when you chant Om, you’re tapping into that vibration. You are aligning with the universe, synchronising with life itself.
Dristhi is practice of gazing with concentration. The first time you will hear of this word would usually be during a class- probably an astanga based class. Similar to asana & pranayama this technique offers a method to help the student concentrate and focus on 1 specific thing. This is much harder than we realise. With today’s incessant marketing we have become creatures lacking the ability to focus. We are so used to distraction and constant streams of information that we have lost this vital skill. Remember a key component to the Yoga practice, is that of focus. It’s through this focus we experience liberation & for some, oneness. When your mind is freed of all these distractions, then you are free! So using drishti provides a tool for concentration.
In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or wisdom. The use of drishti in a Yoga class can also be a metaphor for focusing our vision inward. Our eye’s are undoubtedly a miracle, however they have limitations. We only see between a small spectrum of light & they don’t offer true sight or “insight” to the experience of life that we are all having. Without clear vision we only see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas. Again, due to the pace of life our vision or opinions sometimes create prejudices and habits that prevent us from seeing the truth. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere, in ourselves, in others & the world at large.
The sanskrit word for peace. When you chant, “Om shanti shanti shanti,” you are evoking peace. In Buddhist and Hindu traditions you chant shanti three times, usually to represent peace in body, speech, and mind but it can also be wishing peace onto ourselves, our teacher & the world. I think we can agree that the world needs much more of this right now.
See you on the mat.