The accidental yogi
Have you ever been in a yoga class, tuned out from your instructor’s voice because you’re so focused on getting into position, or breathing, or concentrating on a spot on the floor or wall, and then found yourself totally lost as you hear your teacher announce the next posture in Sanskrit?
“Blah-blah-blah-asana” is what I hear (sorry Sebastien!) when this happens to me, and I freak out and feel bad for not knowing what posture I am supposed to be moving into. I mean, there are only 40 postures in the series, I should be able to memorise the names. But it’s just so damn difficult. It feels harder than learning a whole new language in its entirety.
“But why do you need to know the names?” says Isabel, one of Sebastien’s guest teachers at Hot Yoga Ibiza this month, when I mention it in passing. “Why stress yourself out over something that’s not essential to your practice?” She’s right – you don’t need to know them if you have a teacher there to explain how to get into position correctly. What’s important is that you give your best. That you practice non-attachment. If you don’t know the names, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to feel guilty. With time and practice they will come.
Yeah yeah. I know. But remember last month how I was telling you I want to ‘win’ at yoga? I have a thirst to know it all, and I want to know it now. Just like learning ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you’re in a new country (‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’ here in Ibiza!), I like to at least have a basic understanding of what I’m actually saying, hearing or practicing.
So I’ve spent time researching. And here’s what I know. ‘Asana’ means physical posture. You whack ‘asana’ on the end of the base word, and it means ‘that pose’. The root of the pose comes from one of four categories – anatomy, animals, sages and deities. For example, ‘ustra’ means camel and thus ‘ustrasana’ is camel pose. ‘Sava’ translates to ‘corpse’ and so ‘savasana’ equals corpse pose. The magical term that in the very beginning of my practice signified a valuable 20 seconds to rest (it wasn’t hard to learn that one quickly)!
The problem for me is, with the asana on the end, all the postures seem to sound the same!
Meanwhile, the English translations are super easy to remember. You can always see the name’s resemblance in the aesthetic of the asana. Crow, frog, short man, eagle, half moon, balancing stick, triangle, tree, cobra, locust, camel, rabbit, wind-removing (makes me giggle every time) and corpse. We’re lucky that Sebastien teaches his classes in the Hot Yoga Ibiza studio using a clever combination of Sanskrit, English and Spanish – basically, if you don’t get it, he can provide you the right mental trigger. For me, this is perfect, and I don’t get too embarrassed when I tune out every now and then.
But back to learning the real thing. They say (and when I say ‘they’, I actually mean Google) you need to hear a word seven times to remember it. That repetition is the key to learning Sanskrit. That just like yoga, practice makes perfect. The only name I can get my head around so far is ‘Utkatasana’ and that’s because I made a little connection in my head – the sound ‘kat’ reminds me of a cat, and cats are the very opposite of awkward. I know – weird. But it works for me. And I’ll keep listening.
The simple fact is you can practice yoga without knowing any Sanskrit. Just absorb the words as you hear them. We are blessed to have books, the internet, and of course, our valuable teachers to help us if we want to go deeper, to learn more. I’m content – for now – to keep speaking Sansk-lish.