Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Shala Mean?

Shala is a Sanskrit term, directly translated as “house,” “abode,” or “home.” Additionally, the term is commonly used to refer to an open pavilion that provides a shaded meeting place.

Traditionally, the architecture of a shala is open on all four sides, with overhanging eaves that protrude outwards to provide protection from the elements.

Within the context of yoga, the term shala is often used interchangeably with "yoga studio" or "yoga space," in which communities gather to practice together.

In this sense, shalas are most commonly found in yoga retreat centers, where a large, open pavilion is used as the practice space.

The use of the term for this kind of space is usually reflective of the traditional architecture by which shala is defined, though the term is sometimes used even when modern designs are applied.


Yogapedia Explains Shala

When used to refer to a yoga space, the connotations of shala suggest a homey and welcoming environment. As such, a yoga shala should be entered peacefully and respectfully, and a sense of humility should be maintained when practicing in such a space.

The earliest known reference to a shala can be found in Atharvaveda, one of the ancient Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. In this Sanskrit text, shala is used to denote "house" in a broad and generic sense, in addition to being applied to other contexts such as "stall" for cattle, "shed" for corn or even a hall or large room within a house. According to Atharvaveda, the owner or the head of a house is known as the "shala-pati."

Shala is commonly prefixed with another Sanskrit term to specify the type of space being referred to. For example, a dharamshala refers to a shelter or rest house for spiritual pilgrims, commonly found at Hindu, Jain and Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

Similarly, an atithishala is a type of guesthouse, typically found at an ashram. Goshala is the name for a protective shelter for cows, commonly found in India due to the animal's sacred significance.

In Ayurveda, the term shala is also used to refer to the Sal tree, a species of tree from the Dipterocarpaceae family of tropical trees, native to the Indian subcontinent. In Ayurvedic literature, this tree is believed to have been a favorite of Lord Vishnu.

The Sal tree has many medicinal properties, and preparations can be made from its bark, leaves, fruit and resin. It is primarily used to stop bleeding piles, but also provides relief for diabetes, nerve pain, arthritis, burns, ulcers, jaundice and skin infections.

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