In my yoga teacher training programs I ask my students to learn the Sanskrit names of yoga poses and ask that they use them when teaching. So I was surprised when more than one of my graduates informed me that some places of business weren’t allowing them to use Sanskrit when teaching yoga. The reason… because it is intimidating and elitist.
Yoga comes from India, is written and taught in the ancient language of Sanskrit, and those are the names of the poses. Can you imagine walking into Starbucks and having to order a coffee with ⅔ steamed milk, ⅓ foamed milk, and a shot of espresso instead of a cappucino? Last I checked, cappucino is Italian, yet because of staying true to the tradition most people now understand what it is.
I find it strange that anyone could believe someone might be offended or intimidated by hearing a posture they’ve never done before called a word they’ve never heard. Doesn’t that make sense? It’s part of the learning process. It’s all new, so why not embrace the opportunity to learn? Teachers can use both the Sanskrit name and it’s English translation to help the student understand what it means. Though, hearing the words downward dog as opposed to adho mukha svanasana still won’t help someone who’s never done it know what the heck it is. I can remember going to a CrossFit class and hearing the word burpee. That’s not Sanskrit it’s English, but it still meant nothing to me until the teacher explained how to do it. A skillful teacher can give good directional movement and effective alignment tips, as well as let the student know what the pose is called both in Sanskrit and in English. This way, each time the student returns to class and hears “adho mukha svanasana,” they’ll think, “Ah ha, I know what that means,” and move into the pose.
Some teachers have chosen to name poses completely new English names instead of either using Sanskrit or their correct translation, which I feel just adds to the confusion. Over my years of teaching yoga, students have told me that it’s cool to learn the Sanskrit names, sort of like learning a new language. Personally, this knowledge has allowed me to travel around the world and practice yoga at studios in countries where I did not speak the language. If the teacher called the poses in Sanskrit I knew what to do. By the way, if the places of business that aren’t allowing their teachers to use Sanskrit are calling their classes “Yoga” classes, they are completely contradicting themselves. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning union, so they might as well call them union classes.
It is important to honor this and any other ancient tradition by maintaining its roots. It connects us to the source of its origin, and aids the true goal of yoga (union) by connecting us to a collective pool of understanding which goes beyond our separate cultures. So Sanskrit-ON, peaceful Yoga warriors! And avoid allowing a simple misunderstanding to water down a beautiful thing.
Om shanti shanti shanti