The valuable benefits of learning Sanskrit

Why learn Sanskrit as a yoga practitioner or teacher?

Do you know the challenges when you want to say something in your second tongue and just couldn’t find the right word? Or that there is just no good translation for a concept in your own language? The Danes say it’s ‘hygge’. For me as a German I often run into words that I am missing in English like ‘Feierabend’, ‘Ohrwurm’ or ‘Innerer Schweinehund’.

To understand a culture it is said, one needs to understand its language. Whereby I do not think one needs to know the ins and outs, a basic knowledge definitely will open doors to more understanding.

Sanskrit in your yoga philosophy study

Have you ever looked up a word and noticed a multitude of meanings? There is plenty of room for interpretation and hundreds of commentaries for Patanjali’s Sutra or the Bhagavad Gita. High quality commentaries are great. Nevertheless, they are interpretations. As the teachers tell us, yoga needs to be experienced, this includes the study of the ancient scriptures, to find your own wisdom that lies within. A commentary will be helpful, but won’t replace translating, analysing and meditating on a sutra or śloka yourself. Jup, here we go, already two sanskrit words we occasionally use when studying yoga philosophy, and knowing that sutra for example means thread gives Patanjali’s work already a deeper meaning.

The more I study yoga, the more I notice that I am staying on the surface without a basic understanding of the language its foundations are documented in. So I decided to take a Sanskrit for beginners course with Check it out here.

Maybe studying ancient scriptures is a bit overwhelming at this point. But there are other Sanskrit words like, namaste, asana, pranayama we frequently use during our practice. And knowing what the words we use actually mean, is not only authentic but also empowering.

Sanskrit provides us with a deeper understanding

Take the breathing technique nadi shodhana for example. In English we say alternate nostril breathing. As this describes what we physically do, it doesn’t actually translate why we do it and what happens beyond the physical body. Nadis are our energy channels. Left nostril connects to Ida Nadi (Feminine or Moon channel) and right side to Pingala Nadi (Masculine or Sun channel). We use Nadi Shodhana for balancing these energies. Shodhana though means purification or cleansing. So we are also freeing these channels from blockages which will impact Sushumna Nadi (‘joyful mind’ or ‘very gracious’, which is our main energy channel) as well. In this case we are completely missing the deeper meaning of this technique when simply talking about alternate nostril breathing.

Sanskrit helps you to remember yoga posture names

Let’s talk about posture names. I noticed that it was much easier to remember the Sanskrit posture names once I knew the translation. Let’s take adho: down, urdhva: up, or ardha: half.
Recognize these from our up and down dog or our half forward fold?

These are just a few reasons why I feel inspired to study Sanskrit. Let me know in the comments why you think it is empowering to know the language of yoga for your own practice or teachings.


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