If you’ve ever felt confused in a yoga class - don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Aside from the many strange noises, sights, and sometimes even smells that can occur in yoga, often times the most frustrating part is just trying to follow along. Looking around the room, and always feeling like you are one step behind everyone, thinking surely EVERYONE in the room but you knows what the hell the teacher is talking about - we’ve all been there.

Yes, I mean ALL of us, from those who have been practicing every day for seventy years, to those who went to their first (and maybe even their vowed last) class just yesterday.

Most of the time this confusion is chalked up to the general learning curve of trying something new, but the truth is, there is something much bigger at play here. Something that, even if it’s not realized immediately, is often the number one reason for someone to attend a yoga class and never come back. An obstacle, that if we can effectively get rid of, will allow for a much larger demographic of people to come to yoga, understand what is going on, and possibly even enjoy it. What does that mean? More people doing yoga, leading calmer, happier and healthier lives. It could just start a revolution.

Ready for it?

Posture names.

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, chances are you’ve heard this exact string of words, possibly even in the exact same order:

Samasthiti      

Urdvha Hastasana

Uttanasana

Ardha Uttanasana

Chatturanga Dandasana

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Ardha Uttanasana

Uttanasana

Urdvha Hastasana

Samasthiti

It’s the classical sequencing to a Sun Salutation A, one of the major building blocks to virtually every yoga style in existence. In other words, you usually end up doing this several dozen, if not several hundred times in just one session, no matter where you are practicing. It’s written out here in Sanskrit, which is often referred to as the mother of all Indo-European Languages. Sanskrit is considered to be one of the oldest languages on Earth, and was spoken 7,000 - 8,000 years ago. Today, Sanskrit is spoken by less than 1% of Indians in its country of origin, and is mostly used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies. But here in America, we hear it ALL the time if you go to yoga.

Many teachers use Sanskrit as a way to tie modern yoga classes back to their Indian origins. Some feel that it is a way of honoring their teachers that came before them, and keeping the tradition strong. They’re not entirely wrong either! Sanskrit can be an incredible teaching tool, and often spikes a student’s interest to inquire about the origin of the word and therefore into learning more about the history of yoga.

Side note: Once we do examine the history of yoga, we actually discover modern yoga stems more from Russian gymnastics and American Bodybuilding than it does from monks in India. But that’s a story for another time.

A Misleading Improvement

So is a yoga class really open to everyone if the entire class is guided by a dead language? Is there a prerequisite to study Sanskrit for hours in order to attend a class and be able to follow along? Why can’t the teacher just speak in English or whichever language is commonly used in the country they are teaching?

For example, the same postures can be named:

Mountain Pose

Raised Hands Pose

Standing Forward Bend

Half Standing Forward Bend

Four Limbed Staff Pose

Upward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

Half Standing Forward Bend

Standing Forward Bend

Raised Hands Pose

Mountain Pose

Better? Only marginally. The fact is, the problem of divisiveness that exists in using Sanskrit pose names is only slightly remedied by using a more accessible language. Some pose names offer a hint of what to do, but most are named after objects that vaguely (or often, not at all ) resemble the way to place your body, or are dedicated to great ancient Indian warriors.

This pose is an excellent way to start to warm up your spine in the morning, or anytime you feel stiff or your back is achy. It’s name? Marichyasana C, or Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi....C. See? Not so helpful. Maybe this Marichi guy had a really flexible spine (doubtful).

This pose is an excellent way to start to warm up your spine in the morning, or anytime you feel stiff or your back is achy. It’s name? Marichyasana C, or Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi....C. See? Not so helpful. Maybe this Marichi guy had a really flexible spine (doubtful).

There’s no question that posture names are good for some things. Using a dead language has served as common ground to surpass cultural boundaries in medicine, ballet, and the law for centuries. Dead languages won’t change the meaning of words over the years, building a more stable foundation from which everyone can learn.

Unfortunately, many yoga posture names have been confused and muddled over the years, with so many teachers coming out with a book that develops a whole new set of new names for existing poses. But regardless, learning another language, even just a few words, can be empowering and help deepen the learning process. When a posture name is called out and recognized, in any language, it can bring back memory of every cue that that person has heard previously to help move them in and out of the posture, in a very short amount of time.

So is there a way to have both? To not push away the people who don’t recognize the names, engage those who do, and keep everyone learning and growing?

Yes. It’s called teaching yoga.

Teaching Yoga

More than just reciting posture names, teaching yoga involves further explanation. It means looking around the room and speaking to the bodies that are there, not some arbitrary idea of who should be in your class and who shouldn’t. It involves saying a posture’s name, and either preceding or following it with instructions on how to complete the movement, even if every person in the room, save for one, knows the pose name.

So let’s give it a try with our Marichyasana C pose pictured above:

Sit down with your legs extended straight out in front of you.

Inhale - Reach your arms up, bend your right knee, keep the sole of your right foot on the floor.

Exhale - Plant your right hand behind you by your left hip, hook your right elbow on the outside your left knee, or place your left hand on your left knee, and turn your chin to look over your right shoulder.

One person deserves an explanation. One person deserves to not have to look around the room to see what they should be doing, rather than being able to listen and focus on their own practice. One person deserves empowering and adaptable cues so they can fit a pose into their body, rather than try and fit their body into a pose. Everyone deserves that! And so, if we are all going to say that yoga is truly for everyone and mean it, it’s time to step up and start teaching yoga for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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