Yoga is just a workout with weird breathing, right? As a newlywed, I taught yoga for a couple of years, and I was amazed how little understanding my students had about their practice. They were simply treating my class like a trip to the gym.
So after I got to know them better, I started incorporating my knowledge of Sanskrit and the Vedas. Soon they were talking about how the benefits of our class stuck with them much longer than when they just thought this was a workout.
Yoga Is Bigger Than You Think
The physical practice of yoga is an aspect of a much larger body of knowledge. The body of knowledge in its whole are teachings that come from the Vedas. These teachings provide us with tools to refine our bodies and nervous systems to experience higher and more subtle forms of consciousness.
These higher forms of consciousness create a heightened human expression. These ancient writings are in the Sanskrit language and that knowledge opens your Yoga practice to new heights. To add to this mysterious layering of knowledge, Sanskrit, in itself is also a tool for enlightenment.
Sanskrit is a 5,000 to 8,000 year old language, which originated in India. It is the language of a vast library of knowledge, which includes the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest literature and are comprised of four books (volumes) that delve into science, medicine, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, architecture, and the practical and cosmic aspects of society.
Within these tremendous volumes, you also find the teachings of yoga. The usage of Sanskrit as mantra and the breathing involved with its proper pronunciation, go hand in hand with the physical practice of hatha yoga.
I like to look at it as yoga is the physical demonstration of the celestial knowledge of the ancient Vedas from India, and Sanskrit is a way to delve even deeper for a greater understanding.
The Use of Mantras
Mantras use a Sanskrit sound or word repeatedly to help regulate the mind and the breathing. Sanskrit mantras within themselves contains powerful vibratory qualities.
The use of these mantras at anytime can help to calm our restless minds, and when you pair one with an asana, your body and mind sync, becoming a physical expression of meditation.
According to the study "The Science of Mantra" by Julie K. Staples, healthy individuals that practiced mantra meditation daily for four weeks experienced significantly decreased stress, anxiety, and symptoms of psychological distress, and saw improvements in their mood.
This alone is an intriguing reason to look into Sanskrit. However, as you approach the Sanskrit language and the poetry associated with it, you may feel overwhelmed.
Breaking Down Sanskrit
When my sister and I teach Sanskrit, we are often met with this issue from students. The more you study the more you realize how vast this knowledge is.
While yes, there is a linguistic complexity to the study of Sanskrit, there is also a wonder and an enjoyment to being on this unique path to enlightenment.
If you view the study of Sanskrit like you would approach the study of math, you will see that it just keeps on going, and you don’t try to conquer it. You just enjoy you the experience.
With grace and humility, you let the teachings carry you to greater heights of understanding and depth of experience; much like you do with your yoga practice.
An Introduction to Basic Mantras
So with that said, I would like to share with you a few easy mantras that can be used to calm the mind. Feel free to use these in meditation, while you hold an asana or while you are standing in line at the grocery store.
I have chosen these because of their simplicity and the smoothness with which they are said. Short or clipped mantras will affect you differently.
- Om: The first sound, the sound of creation and it is also the root of the word, amen.
- Lung: Pronounced, loong. Which means the earth. This is a good grounding mantra.
- Rang: This word is pronounced with a long “a” like in the word father. This mantra means fire.
- Hring: The “i” in this mantra is pronounced like “ee”. This word means either or space.
- Gang: The “a” in this mantra is a long “a”. This mantra is referring to Ganesh, the Hindu god known as the remover of obstacles.
- Aham Prema: The a's in this mantra are pronounced like the “a” in father, and the “e” is pronounced like “ay” in the word “way”. This mantra has a nice rhythm to it and it means "I am love."
- So’ham: This mantra means “I am that” alluding “that” which is all of creation.
Let the Sanskrit mantras murmur around in your mind and allow yourself to get comfortable with them. Don’t worry about your pronunciation.
The sounds in Sanskrit are primordial and contain inherent vibratory qualities and will naturally synch with your breathing. Try and stick with one mantra at a time so you can see which ones feel the best for you.
The Sound of Creation
There have been tremendous studies on the effects of the Sanskrit language and the science behind its unique properties. Sanskrit is said to be the sound of creation and you are a product of creation.
Sometimes our restless minds and busy lives make us feel separate and out of synch. If everything is comprised of vibrations, we can use the high vibrations of Sanskrit to affect ourselves and our environment.
If you are mildly familiar or completely unfamiliar with Sanskrit, I encourage you to enjoy this aspect of yogic studies. So whether you are sitting in traffic, in line at the store or immersed in yoga asana, gently introducing a mantra can pacify our busy minds.
Allow yourself to be immersed the unique depth of Sanskrit study and bring yourself into harmonious alignment with the universe.
Your beautiful self is not just having a great workout, but is part of a grand tradition that is many thousands of years old, and contains a depth that makes it a powerful tool in our modern, hectic world.