The History of Sanskrit and Key Words Used in Yoga

Language is how we communicate, whether verbally or in written form, through texting, emails, or the somewhat forgotten form of a handwritten letter. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to express ourselves in the same manner as we do today; to be able to share, create and develop in the way that humanity has. Sanskrit provides beauty and clarity to language and is considered to be one of the earliest forms created. To understand how this came to be, let’s examine its history.

The Origins of Sanskrit

Believed to be the mother of all languages, it is one of the 22 official languages of India, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It was created by Brahma, a Hindu god who has four faces and who introduced the language to the sages of celestial bodies. It is also referred to as Der Vani, which means “the language of gods”. It was first used to impart knowledge orally through the generations.

The earliest form of Sanskrit was Vedic Sanskrit, which came at around 1500-200 B.C.E. and before some of the other prime languages of the world, that of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. It has a rich literature with its compositions of hymns, poems, and Puranas that formed sacred scripts of the Hindus.

Sanskrit is the sacred language of Hindu, and therefore, is the only language that is used in holy functions and ceremonies. The Vedas, (knowledge texts) originating in ancient India, are the recordings of sages to whom the mantras were revealed. In these texts, the transcendental truth is revealed. This truth is not changed by time or by place and is beyond human understanding.

Mantras, used in various forms of yoga practice, when recited in synch with sound vibration, have a direct effect on both the mind and the psyche of the individual. The Gayatri Mantra, in particular, helps to release negative karma and sin. With its chant, we embrace forgiveness and transcendence; it brings about spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

Today, words of Sanskrit are found in all languages of the world. Here are some examples of Sanskrit words we use within the world of yoga and what they mean.

  • Ahimsa: This means “non-harming” and should be interpreted personally to each follower of the yoga lifestyle. To some, it means avoiding meat and animal-based products, therefore, being vegan, but it essentially means the absence of violence and to provide self-love.
  • Asana: In yoga, this is the physical postures we conduct through our practice. It is the third limb of the eight limbs, and therefore, is only a part of what yoga is as a whole.
  • Drishti: This means the view or sight which we use through some of the asanas we practice or even during meditation. It is a directed gaze or focus, such as to gaze to the tip of your nose. It helps to create balance, focus, and endurance.
  • Guru: A guru is a spiritual teacher who imparts knowledge on others. This term is used loosely outside of yoga. We tend to consider anyone who is knowledgeable within a variety of topics a guru, such as a cooking guru or a wellness guru.
  • Japa: This is the recitation of a word or a phrase. It is a “muttering” typically uttered within a meditation.

  • Mantra: This is the “mind instrument” that uses a sacred sound or a phrase. When used, it has a transformative effect on the person who uses it.
  • Mudra: This can be both a hand gesture or a whole-body gesture. It influences the energies of the body and mind.
  • Namaste: It is known to many as the way to complete a yoga class. When broken down, it means “I bow to you.”
  • Om: This can also can be written as Aum. It is the “sound of the universe” and is a mantra that refers to the ultimate reality.
  • Pranayama: It is yoga breathing. It is the fourth limb of the eightfold path that encompasses inhaling, retention of breath and exhaling and has a great impact on the energy flow within our bodies.

How wonderful is it that language evolves? As it has been around for so long, it is no wonder that different forms of languages intertwine into each other so beautifully. Knowing where words come from is a perfect way to pay tribute to the beauty that is involved in the creation of a language, especially one that has been around as long as Sanskrit has.

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