University of Alberta, PAC 156 Guest Lecture

Mahamantra written in Devanagari
This is a special post for the students of the University of Alberta PAC 156 class.

Welcome to Kali's Kitchen!

Thanks for having me in last Thursday to guest lecture on the Language and Literature of Yoga!

I hope you find these reminders and resources helpful in your studies, it was a joy meeting you!

The Language and Literature of Yoga

Sanskrit is the primary classical language of India, and the original language of Yoga.

The word Sanskrit means "perfected" or "refined" and has a rich tradition of creative, scientific, philosophical and religious texts.

Although it is no longer widely spoken on a daily basis, it is still used as a ceremonial language.

The beautiful script (pictured above) is known as Devanagari, or the "vehicle of the gods".

You can see and hear the individual letters pronounced here.

Transliteration Vs. Translation

Transliteration is transposing the sounds of one language into the script of another.  The use of standardized diacritical marks allows for accurate representation of sounds unique to a language.

Translation is converting the words of one language into the words of another to facilitate understanding of the meaning of words or phrases.

Sanskrit in Modern English

English is a member of the Indo-European language family, one of several great (great great...) granddaughters of Sanskrit.

Many words in English (jungle, pyjama, suture, jugular etc.) are borrowed or derived from Sanskrit.

Many Sanskrit terms specific to yoga are becoming well known in English through the names of postures, authors, teachers and gurus.  Because their meanings may become lost in translation, more and more often the original words are simply being adopted into our modern language.

Here is a list of English words of Sanskrit origin.

Hints for Pronouncing Sanskrit Words and Names

Here are a few tips for wrapping your tongue around long unfamiliar terms:

- transliterated letter "a" is pronounced "a" as in "around" rather than "a" as in "after"

- there is a short "a" sound behind each consonant unless modified by other vowels

- recognize the difference between unaspirated and aspirated consonants ("b" vs. "bh" etc.)

- Sanskrit has no "th" sound, as in "think" or "th" as in "this".  Therefore the word "Hatha"is pronounced "ha-tha" (aspirated "t" with a puff of air) rather than the common mispronunciation of "Ha" (as in hat) "tha" (as in thug).

- longer words are often compounds of shorter words, try breaking them down.

Here is a helpful guide which reiterates the tips above plus several we didn't have time for.

Foundational Literature

Foundational texts are works of world literature which achieve a certain status for their presentation of ideas representative of a culture or philosophy.

The Foundational Texts of Yoga

The Vedas

Meaning "wisdom" or "knowledge", the Vedas are the revelations of sages during deep meditation carefully preserved and considered to be the roots of Indian philosophy.

They are among the oldest sacred texts in the world, written approximately 1700-1100 BCE.

They were transmitted by oral tradition alone until around 1000 CE and emphasize formal ritual and rites of passage like marriage, birth and death.

They also introduce dana (compassion), karma (action and reaction), sacred dance and Ayurveda (sister sciences of yoga).

The Upanishads

Upanishad means “to sit at the feet” [of a guru]).

There were approximately 200 Upanishads written between 1000 BCE and 1500 CE including sections on philosophical theory and the practice of virtues like satya and ahimsa later elucidated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The main topics include brahman, atman and maya, or the Source, the Self and the illusion that keeps us from seeing them as the same.

Of the great statements or mahavakyas, in our class we focused on Aham Brahmasmi, or loosely translated, "The Self and the Divine are one and the same."

Arjuna and Krishna, the main characters in the Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita

Written approximately 400 BCE, this text is just one chapter of an epic poem called  The Mahahtarata, which I affectionately refer to as "the original soap opera".

It highlights themes like Dharma (duty and heroism), Yoga (and the paths of yoga, Karma, Jnana and Bhakti), and Moksha or liberation from suffering and the cycles of suffering or the "battlefields" of life.

The key definition of yoga in this text is:

Yoga karmasu kaushalam (Yoga is skill in action.) found in Chapter 2 verse 50.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Written approximately 2000 years ago, 200 BCE – 200 CE, Patanjali was the first to codify the teachings of yoga into a written format known as Sutras.

Patanjali's key definition of yoga is in the second line of the first chapter:

Yogaschittavrittinirodhah (Yoga is the stopping of the disturbed waves of the mind.)

He also outlines a strategic "eight-limbed" path of practice which moves from external practices (yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara) to internal experiences (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) known as Ashtanga or Raja Yoga.
Krishna playing his flute

Stories and Songs, Enhancing the Practice and Presentation of Yoga

Yoga is an oral tradition, traditionally passed from person to person.  This method keeps the teachings both alive and lively.

Storytelling is used widely as a teaching tool for students of all ages.

Music and sacred sound are often employed to attract the attention, maintain focus, reset dissonant physical and mental vibrations and uplift the environment.

You can enhance your own enjoyment of yoga, and in teaching make your lessons more motivating and memorable through the use of instruments and voice.

You can read more about my Shruti Box here.

In Conclusion

I hope that I have passed on to you some of the reverence and enthusiasm I feel for the roots and traditions of yoga.

Each person is unique, and different approaches are suitable for different students.  I wish you a lifetime of curiosity and exploration into the techniques of yoga that appeal most to you.

Please post your questions and comments, your feedback is precious.

Namaste!



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