If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Do I need to learn Sanskrit to practice yoga?”, then you are not alone! It can be intimidating to know that there is an entirely different language that you don’t know that was used to create the practice of yoga and that you might hear it in classes. Just know that there is a class out there for you that will meet you as you are and allow you the space to be that person. Overtime, you might notice that a few terms begin to stick and you have developed a small vocabulary bank of Sanskrit terms. If that doesn’t happen, that is totally normal and okay, too. Yoga doesn’t care what we know, it believes that we are inherently worthy for just existing.
Sanskrit is the ancient and traditional language of the sacred practice of Yoga. Yoga itself is a Sanskrit term. When we look at the historical and foundational texts of this practice, we see the use of Sanskrit. That said, Yoga is a practice that is available and accessible to anyone. You do not need to learn Sanskrit to practice yoga. In fact, there are many general public yoga classes here in the United States that might not mention a single word of Sanskrit. Each class you take will differ with each teacher that you practice with because everyone has a different authenticity. What works for some people, does not work for others; this principle is key in the practice of yoga. The difference in how Sanskrit is used occurs because there are a lot of opinions surrounding the use of Sanskrit by yoga teachers who are not Indian as well as whether or not the use of Sanskrit in general public classes is accessible. Ultimately, doing what is best for you is the biggest way to practice yoga. You do not need to be any different than you are in the moment to be worthy of beginning your practice of yoga.
As mentioned above, there are a lot of opinions surrounding the use of Sanskrit when teaching yoga in the western world, specifically by non Indian people. Some believe that by leaving out the traditional language of yoga is watering down the practice and not paying homage to the people who created and brought yoga to us all. Others believe that by using Sanskrit, and often not pronouncing it correctly, we are doing a disservice to the language and the practice. On the other side of both of these opinions is the idea that the use of Sanskrit can be inaccessible to students that we are wanting to bring into the community. If we are teaching in a space of non-Sanskrit speakers, how accessible is the class if all we offer is Sanskrit when we cue?
It is usually up to the teacher whether or not they offer Sanskrit in their classes, though some in-person or even online studios might require it. General public classes are a beautiful opportunity for education in that the teacher can begin to offer BOTH Sanskrit and English names of the poses so that the students become familiar with the terms. Application through practice is really the best way to learn. When we come to understand that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, we realize that the human experience exposes us to the condition of always having room to grow. If you decide that you’d like to learn Sanskrit, it is there though it is not a requirement to practice yoga. Yoga teacher training programs are a wonderful space to begin to explore your relationship with Sanskrit a bit deeper if this is something of interest to you. A 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training will give you foundational knowledge including the Sanskrit translations of the yogic postures and ideas that you might teach in class.
In conclusion, one of the most important aspects of a yoga practice is the relationship that is developed with the self. The practitioner takes a deep dive into the inner workings and environment of their lived experience. Along this journey, there are a lot of self realizations that happen as the practitioner gets to know themselves on a deeper level. The best yoga teachers and classes will create the space for each student to begin this self exploration in a compassionate container. They will provide support for the students to decide what works best for them on their mat so that they can take this same practice off the mat. The purpose of practicing yoga is not to change who we are; the purpose of practicing yoga is to empower the practitioner to live their lives in the most authentic way possible. The underlying message of everything is that we as beings on this Earth, along with animals and plants, are not separate. We are connected in deep and undeniable ways. At the end of the day, the only thing that you need to practice yoga is yourself and your intention.