Sanskrit Invocation

Insist on Sanskrit in Yoga and Ayurveda

Yes, I’m a sanskrit geek.  I love sanskrit.  I love how devanagari (sanskrit letters) looks.  The sound of sanskrit spoken is music to me.

I’m into ancient languages, probably, because my mother tongue is hebrew. Ancient languages have a way of crawling inside your being, so that you get the vibration of the word not just its meaning.

Sanskrit has already weaved its way into our current english lexicon.  Words like karma, dharma, yoga and guru have been around since the 70’s and earlier.  Sadly when translated into english most of the time these words were translated by their most superficial or material meanings.

Karma became “What goes around; comes around.” or ‘payback’

Dharma became ‘religion’ or ‘the way’

Yoga became ‘to yoke’ and eventually just the word ‘posture’.

And saddest of all Guru became ‘expert’ or ‘teacher’.

In reality sanskrit words have about seven layers of meanings.  Each letter of the alphabet has its own meaning and use.
The combination of letters and place in a sentence conveys different meanings.  One has to follow a thought process to understand a words meaning.

Pulling apart the word guru

Gu can mean expelling to earth or dense, dark

Ru can mean light or cutting

Put these two syllables together and we get a meaning something like that which cuts with light the heaviness of darkness. Which eventually can be simplified into teacher or spiritual leader or even an expert.  The word guru is much more complicated when looked at from a sanskrit perspective than the way it is used in english.

Insisting on sanskrit use in yoga and ayurveda

So why do I insist on using Sanskrit in my writing and when talking to students and clients?  Why did I strongly suggest that the new translation into english of the Ashtanga Hrdayam have a stronger component of sanskrit when everyone else wanted only english?

Translation to english doesn’t exist

Let’s take a look at language.  Most everyone (hopefully) knows another word in a language which isn’t the language normally used to speak or think in. Yiddish words, like schlemeil or schlemazel cannot be translated into english but are understood because the vibration of the terms has been translated ingested.

Language is a filter

Language is one of the first filtration systems that is put on your world. Your parents taught you to see and interact with the world through the use of your birth language. The Inuit have at least 50 words for snow, in english there is only one. Occasionally we will add a descriptor like slushy or wet.

Agni – a more accurate way to describe digestive functions

Ayurveda is an entire medical system which is written in Sanskrit.  Using the sanskrit word rather than the english word you the student gets to expand your understanding of the process or can get a precise meaning for the use of an herb, because the name of the herb matches the description of its main action.

Let me give you a precise example

The word agni in its most simple translation means fire, however in Ayurveda it also means digestion.

Digestion in english is the process by which food is changed by the use of enzymes and chewing and metabolized into energy and waste through absorption and assimilation.

If you use the word agni, one implies not only digestion but the transformation of any substance or thought into another substance or thought.  The concept of agni is so important that it is the first word in the Rg Veda.  The word digestion simply doesn’t do it justice.

A person comes to me for a consultation and says theres something wrong with my digestion.  I have to respond, what’s wrong? where? how does the digestion behave?

Ayurveda has 4 different descriptions of agni and 40 different types of agni.

This is why I insist on speaking certain words in Sanskrit.  The language is just more specific in the description of the function of the body.

I promise your brain will get rewired as you learn just a few words.

Yes, its a challenge but well worth it. And…. it just makes sense.

If you don’t want to make a huge investment by going to India or taking a college course in Sanskrit here are a few resources to help you get started.


Ask me for a translation of Ayurveda and Yoga words in the comments below. Even though I am not an expert in Sanskrit, I know people who are. I will respond within 24 hours.





2 thoughts on “Insist on Sanskrit in Yoga and Ayurveda

  1. Preserving some things in the original language is important as the translation into English looses the essence or meaning of the word. Sanskrit and Hindi are beautiful languages and I love listening to them but if some asks me to translate – I notice that the explanation is difficult.

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