Now here presenting to you a portion of The Great Yoga Quest, which is a document designed with the express purpose of aiding spiritual aspirants, particularly those attracted to yoga, to more deeply and fully understand what yoga is. You may scroll down to read, or also click on the individual sections below. If you would like to receive the entire document in full (as it currently stands), please contact me: email@example.com.
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& All of these words are just fingers pointing you toward a place where you never truly left, preparing you to make that last leap back into Love…
Select Selections from The Great Yoga Quest
The Divine in Me Sees the Divine in You,
& Honors That…
Both of us, when we are in this place,
We Are One.
Thank You for Being Here Now.
I Honor You, & Your Commitment to Making Your Life the Best It Can Be, & It Is My Hope & Intention That This Course Will Be All That You Want It to Be, & More…
BEFORE WE BEGIN
1) Please Take a Few Moments to Sit Quietly & Examine Your Body & Mind
(medium-sized pause — about 3 minutes)
2) Please do the course exercises on your computer.
These Are Required to Complete the Course. You will be asked to send us a good portion of your notes (whatever is not too personal to share) before you can receive certification.
3) Study is a yoga practice, and at the beginning of your practice it is recommended that you set what we call an Intention (the word is Sankalpa in Sanskrit). Please Take a Few Moments to Write Down Your Intention (or Intentions) for Taking This Course. Feel into the things you really feel you WANT/NEED to change in your life, and write them down, possibly using the phrasing “I WILL” (example: “I Will Learn to Eat More Slowly and Consciously.”), or “I AM” (example: “I AM a slow, conscious eater.”) Otherwise or in addition, you could write what you are Releasing from your life, and what you are Replacing in the absence of what you have released. Example: I am releasing guilt, and I am replacing it with a feeling of absolute self-worth.
4) Please Also Commit To Seeing This Program Through to Completion in a Reasonable Amount of Time. This is for your sake & sanity! Let’s go by the rule of thumb that it takes 21 Days to Change a Habit, or make a major life change (see HERE for why), and let’s just see if this is really true by keeping to the 22-day plan (I chose “22,” btw, because 22 is a “Master Number” in numerology — plus it gives you that one extra day : )
You can use this formula, or something like it:
(use full name),
am fully committed to completing the Course called “The Great Yoga Quest” to the best of my ability and in a reasonable amount of time. Amen (AUM)
How ya feelin’?
Here we go…
What is The Great Yoga Quest?
The Great Yoga Quest is your life.
It is our Quest for Oneness, Wholeness, Centeredness…
It is our Quest for True Joy, Bliss, Unconditional Love…
It is our Quest for God, Source, LifeForce, The All — or whatever you choose to call IT…
It is Also a Great QUEST-ion, a Riddle wrapped in a Mystery inside an Enigma…
The Great Yoga Quest in a narrower sense is the material you
now have before that will hopefully give you some helpful pointers on how live a more balanced, harmonious existence.
Great teachers show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.
Great teachers are the proverbial finger pointing at the moon — they point the way, and leave it to you to walk the path.
They take you to the waterside, but do not try to make you drink/think.
In other words, no one can do it for you, you have to do the work yourself!
So I’m off the hook, right?
(That’s a yes or no question!)
Actually, I see myself not so much as a teacher (let alone a great one ; ) as a “Sharer” of yoga. I am just sharing with you what I have learned over the years, and hopefully it will be helpful to you.
Please Also Remember:
You are the Master of Your Life, and you do have the power to create your life as you see fit.
Yet, this will only truly be TRUE for you when you take 100% responsibility for your life.
When you do that, you will truly become the Master of Your Domain.
You will be a Yoga Master!
Want to explore how this might happen?
(That’s a yes or no question!)
So… What is this thing called Yoga?
INNERCISE: Please begin by taking a few minutes to write down what Yoga means to you right now.
Ok, now that’s out of the way, let’s begin to answer this question by saying what Yoga isn’t, and that hopefully will give us a better sense of what it is.
First, because this is ostensibly an academic course, let’s be clear:
Yoga is NOT an academic study.
I mean, it can be an academic study, certainly, and if I had no faith in language that it could actually create shifts in consciousness — the kinds that yoga values — then I wouldn’t be here writing this for you in the first place, would I? And yes, there are many yogic paths, and study and learning, as I stated from the outset, is definitely a path.
Yet, for most of us, we need to practice and experience things directly for ourselves, not merely read about them. Ultimately, only real, lived, direct, experiential, embodied knowledge is truly true for us — it is what we KNOW, not just believe or have faith in.
Yoga, then, is based in Direct Experiential Knowledge.
This knowledge generally requires practice done consistently for a long period of time (an idea that goes at least as far back as the 2000-odd-year-old Yoga Sutras, which we will be looking at in more depth in a later lecture).
One of the most influential yoga teachers of our time and the co-founder of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, famously said:
“Practice and All is Coming.”
and he said:
“99% Practice, 1% Theory.”
and he also said:
“[Your] Whole Life is Your Practice.”
and he also demanded:
“Practice! Practice! Practice!”
So the lesson here is __________?
(please fill in the blank)
And right now, your practice is learning the theory that for yoga, practice is more important than theory.
We’re learning theory here, but not too much, just enough.
Remember that this is only 40 hours of a 200 hour Yoga TT program.
That comes out to be 1/5th, or 20 percent theory.
The rest of the Yoga TT is direct, hands-on learning, guided by a qualified teacher.
So we’re pretty close to what Pattabhi Jois said: 20% theory as opposed to just 1%, which was probably just an exaggeration for effect anyway (the term is “hyperbole” — when you really want to raise some eyebrows, speak hyperbolically!)
Ok, so we’ve established how important practice is in yoga, and how relatively less important theory is, yes?
Sometimes I say:
Yoga is not a spectator sport!
No, and it’s not for the lazy bones either.
In fact, one of the classic texts of Hatha Yoga, a 14th century yoga manual called “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” says the following:
“Whether young, old or too old, sick or lean, one who discards laziness gets success if he [or she!] practices Yoga…Success comes to the one who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success…Success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress. It cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. This is true, there is no doubt.”
[Note: If you would like to explore this seminal text further, one version of it can be found HERE ]
So in other words,
Get off your lazy asana, get with the program, and do some more reading with me!
; P LMAO
(Laughing My Asana Off — for future reference)
Ok, so here’s another point to consider for what yoga isn’t:
I just mentioned “getting with the program.”
Well, yoga is not about programming, actually.
Better stated: It’s about getting with “De Program.”
In other words, yoga is not so much about adding anything to yourself, like a whole bunch of useless information, a few letters after your name, or even a dumb little online certificate from Yoga University (I didn’t just say that, btw ; ),
it’s about removing from your life everything that is not allowing you to be fully present and accounted for in
“There is a fundamental simplicity to the process of Yoga that is outlined in the Yoga Sutras. While the process might appear very complicated when reading the Yoga Sutras and many commentaries, the central theme is one of removing, transcending or setting aside the obstacles, veils or false identities. The many suggestions in the Yoga Sutras are the details or refinements of how to go about doing this. By being ever mindful of this core simplicity it is much easier to systematically progress on the path of Yoga.”
~ Swami Rama
You heard what the man said.
Put another way: Yoga is not so much about learning anything.
It’s about unlearning.
It’s not a “conditioning” program, it is a “deconditioning program” that will bring you more and more
into a state of unconditonality.
What is unconditionality?
First of all, it’s a real word, I just googled it! (giggle)
is a state
“without conditions or limitations; total unconditional surrender”
according to the Free Online Dictionary.
What is it like to live without limitations in total unconditional surrender?
Well, let’s find out!
And here I must bring in heavy artillery,
the dreaded “D” word.
You know what word I’m talking about?
Yes, you do, but you can’t force yourself to say it, can you? : )
Well, I’ll do it for you.
The word is
You know you want it.
You know you need it.
It’s just so hard to do, isn’t it?
It’s hard to discipline ourselves to do the things we KNOW are good for us.
Yet this is the path, the path to life mastery.
And you do want to be the master of your life, don’t you?
That’s why you’re here, right?
Well, then we must have discipline in our life, especially if we want to make that change that’s dying to be made.
It’s that saying, “If you do what you’ve always done,
you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
If you keep avoiding the things you KNOW are good for you, then you’re probably never going to get where you truly want to go — having a feeling of true fulfillment in your life,
and being seen/acknowledged as such (though this will not be so important as you will just KNOW that you are!)
There is a piece of advice in yoga that I ask that you take to heart:
Go into your fears — the places that scare you — and directly face them head on.
Work on the things that are hard for you, or that you feel weak in, not the things that are easy for you.
In your asana practice, work more on the poses that are hard for you, not the easy ones that you can show off. Simply put, here’s two more great, related quotes to bring us home:
“The Only Way Out is THROUGH.”
“If you want to get to it,
you gotta go through it!”
INTERMISSION –> ANOTHER *INNERCISE*
PLEASE SIT QUIETLY FOR A FEW MINUTES AND THEN WRITE DOWN YOUR DEEPEST CONCERNS, WORRIES, ANXIETIES, FEARS…
These are for you, not me or anyone else.
Now write down at least 3 things you can do to conquer each of those things.
Please take a few minutes to do this.
So to sum up, don’t be afraid of discipline. Discipline will ultimately be your best friend, it will truly be a “vehicle for joy.”
All beginnings are hard.
Yoga is so hard it’s almost torture for some people at the very beginning (it was for me). But stick with it. Put yourself through the paces. Remember these three very important Power “P” words, and you won’t go wrong:
Now, if you feel turned off by all of this, then perhaps this is not for you.
Yes, it’s true yoga is not for everyone.
Because if it were for everybody,
then everyone would be doing it, no?
Did you ever hear this one:
“Yoga is for every body,
but not everybody is for yoga…yet!”
In reality, it is my understanding that all of us ARE doing yoga, whether we know it or not — or perhaps better stated, YOGA is doing us. In other words, we all have our yoga — what is bringing us back to the original Unity, whether we know it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not. And I will also say this:
WHATEVER practice or activity in your life is helping to bring you into a greater place of joy, peace, love, harmony & balance is yoga.
Put another way:
Whatever you most love to do – whatever you most give your attention to — is your yoga.
Sounds like I’m contradicting myself, no?
I am, yet there’s a way to see it differently.
Let me tell you a personal story.
When I was 11 years old, all I wanted to do was to play the electric guitar and be a rock god. My guitar heroes were the great classic rock guitar players: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, etc. And I was actually a precocious guitar player, yet there were a lot of things working against my actually living my passion, my dream. For one, I was incredibly shy, something which came as a result of my parents’ divorce that year, but also because I was on the verge of puberty and getting to be an awkward teenager with a host of issues for which my happy-go-lucky childhood had not prepared me. Not to mention my perfectionism. So to make a long story short it turned out that I actually stuffed my blessed Gibson Les Paul Custom that my mom got me for my birthday away in my closet for most of my teenage years, in complete denial of the thing in my life that I was most passionate about (besides girls): Music. It took a spontaneous Kundalini awakening experience at the age of 19 to bring me back into my heart enough to recognize that making music was all I really wanted to do with my life. But then I still had all of these issues, and I realized that for me to be a great artist like one of my heroes, I would have to have some sort of discipline. Yoga was that discipline. Of course, I could have just disciplined myself, but I felt I needed a mentor. That’s where my yoga gurus came in. They helped to bring me to the place where I could learn to be myself, conquer my fears, and be my own disciplinarian.
So in other words, discipline helped me to be myself more, and do what I loved to the best of my Spirit-given potential. I’m actually still on this path, but I know that if I were to dedicate myself solely to music at this point, I could do it excellently, because of the tools and transformation that yoga has provided.
So the yoga path essentially tells us:
Be a disciple of discipline.
Yet be a disciple of discipline and ultimately go BEYOND discipline.
Learn the rules first, and once you learn to play by the rules,
then you can break the rules, become your own “Ruler” and create your own rules.
(Any good guitarist/instrumentalist will tell you that first you learn the chords and the changes and all the theory, and then it’s so much a part of you that you can color outside the lines and solo like its 12/21/12 : )
At that point, perhaps there’s a deeper process that takes place where you realize: Wow, I really am the Creator of My Reality!
Why have I placed all of these limitations on myself? Why I have imposed all of these narrowminded beliefs on myself and others? Why have I accepted either/or as an answer and not embraced the both/and Path of Paradox?
Paradox à A Greek word. Para = Beyond; Dox = Belief. Paradox = Beyond Belief. Again, we are going beyond mere belief to DIRECT, EXPERIENTIAL KNOWING.
People often ask or wonder: Do you have to have a flexible mind to have a flexible body. To this I would say: Yes! But it’s more the case that a flexible body is the sign of a flexible mind. And a flexible mind is one that can fully accept that a thing can both be true and not true, that can hold a variety of seemingly opposing viewpoints in mind at once. It’s also a mind that can let go of assumptions/prejudices/preconceived ideas/conditions/agendas/categorical thinking, etc., at any moment and just go with the flow of WHAT IS — and even love and embrace WHAT IS.
Yoga is embracing and loving everything as it is right now, AS IS.
Yoga is Loving What Is.
You might be thinking things like: Wow, is that even possible? Do you mean even loving something ugly/evil/immoral, etc.?
Possibly. I’m bringing this up as a possibility, yes.
Here’s a story from the Zen tradition that expresses this:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“May be,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“May be,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“May be,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“May be,” said the farmer.
(In other versions of this story, the farmer says something other than “maybe” – for instance “we’ll see” – or he simply smiles without saying anything.)
And here’s a similar one from the Indian tradition:
A king and his minister
Once upon a time, there was a king in India. He had a minister who had great faith in God and would always say that whatever happens, happens for the good. The king never believed this.
Once the king cut his finger and as usual, the minister said that all happens for good. Hearing this, the king got quite angry and put the minister into prison. Even then the minister said that everything happens for the good!
A few days later, the king went hunting in the jungle, by himself, since his minister was in prison. As the king was hunting, some tribesmen trapped him and took him to their chieftain. But when the chieftain saw the cut on the king’s finger, he ordered the king to be released, saying that a person with a cut finger would not make a good offering to the tribe’s deity.
Happy, due to the narrow escape from death, the king returned to his kingdom remembering his wise minister’s words that even the finger getting cut was for the good. Upon his return, he immediately ordered the minister’s release and welcomed him back in his position as the royal minister.
The king said to the minister, “I now believe that everything happens for our good, as my life was saved because of the cut finger. But, what about you? How can you explain that it was good for you?”
The minister replied, “As you had put me in prison, I was not able to accompany you on your hunting trip. If I had been there with you, the tribesmen would have taken me along with you and would have definitely sacrificed me to their deity, as I do not have a cut finger!” The king was pleased with the minister’s reply, and from then on, always consulted the wise minister while making any decisions for his subjects.
So wisdom says to learn to accept each and every unfolding moment as being for our highest good, and not to judge it as “good” or “bad,” with the feeling that all is happening as it should, that there is some Greater plan at work than we
can conceive in the, and if we could just let go of our “plan”s,
we would be so much happier!
And what if we were always living in this state?
We would have moved from merely
We would be EMBODYING yoga moment to moment.
That’s the direction we’re headed, too, though in
this world, there seems to ever be room for growth, for BECOMING, and the Being/Becoming duality is yet another paradox to embrace. In our BEING, we are already perfect, enlightened, “there.” Yet there is also a sense in which, at least on the external level, we do long to grow, change, evolve – we are BECOMING…That’s the paradox.
This “state” of yoga of which we speak, then, is not really a state at all, but rather more of DYNAMIC PROCESS that seems to be never-ending. In Yoga we say it’s “about the Journey” not the destination. If we are “trying to get somewhere,” we’re not living in the moment and appreciating what is right here, right now.
How do we do this? One way is to return to the state of wonder that we had as a child, when we asked innocent questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why does my daddy have hair all over his face?” or “Where did granddad go?”
Another way of putting this is to be able to be a beginner again,
and adopt what’s called “Beginner’s Mind.”
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there is only one.”
INNERCISE: What does this quote mean for you? What was yoga for you when you first started practicing? And what has it become for you now? What has changed for you? Can you put yourself back into the mindset that you were in when you first began? Can you become a beginner again?
What yoga ultimately helps us with is to live in a constant state of Wonder, like a child, where we can see things anew again with an unjaded eye. The best teachers, too, are able to teach each student where they are at, at their level, being able to put themselves back in their shoes and see things again as if for the first time, as this great quote from TS Eliot reminds us:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…
Some More Quotes for the Quest:
“Cultivate Beginner’s Mind.” (Zen)
“Asana (Posture) will be steady & comfortable.” (Yoga Sutras)
“Spell GURU… Gee You Are You!”
(“God, Guru, and Self are One.”)
“The mouth is made for eating, the nose is made for breathing.”
“Yoga is skill in action” (Bhagavad Gita)
“Yoga is as Yoga does.” (Elvis : )
“Yoga is the harmonization of thought, word, and deed.” (Gandhi)
“Go within, or do without.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God.” “The Kingdom of God is within you.” — There is nothing outside which is not inside… (Gospels)
“As Above, So Below…We are the microcosm of the macrocosm…Everything is within you.”
“‘Always’ is always wrong, and ‘Never’ is never right.”
“Hatha Yoga without meditation is blind; meditation without Hatha Yoga is lame.” (Swami Rama)
Mind Your P’s and Q’s: Practice, Perserverance, Patience — Quest, Quest-ion, Quality
“Practice Makes Permanent…Progress…Improvement”
“Through repetition the magic is forced to reveal itself.”
“The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.”
“This thing we seek cannot be found by seeking…and yet, only seekers find It.”
“Yoga helps you to become comfortable in uncomfortable positions.” (Daniel Pinchbeck)
“If you wanna get to It, ya gotta go through it.” — Directly face your fears, don’t avoid.
“Faith –> No Fear… Fear –> No Faith!” (Yoga Proverb)
“Trust in God and fear do not go together.”
“If it’s happening to you, it’s happening for you.”
“An attitude of gratitude leads to beatitude.”
“Less is More” — “Keep it Simple!” — “Enough is Enough!” — “Easy Does It!”
“Haste Makes Waste,
Waste Makes Worry,
Do Not Be
In a Hurry!” (Sai Baba)
“If life were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” (Yogi Berra)
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” (Gandhi)
“Love is all you need.” (John Lennon)
“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Beatles)
READ MORE GREAT YOGA QUOTES HERE
Main Points of This Session
~ Not an academic study, though some theory can be very helpful
~ Based in Direct Experience, not secondhand reports or logical reasoning
~ Slowly, slowly, little by little brings us to a life of harmony & balance, ease and grace
~ Not a religion or belief system, but a tool for spiritual growth and transformation
~ A Discipline (“yoking”) – some assembly required!
~ A Deprogramming/Deconditioning/Deconstructing Program. It is not so much about learning as unlearning so that you become who you truly are
~ Union of Body-Mind-Spirit, Oneness with All Life
~ About Letting Go of Fear and Loving What Is
~ A movement from “doing” to “being” – embodying yoga moment to moment
~ Embracing of Paradox
~ Yoga Begins and Ends in the Wonder, and the best teachers are those who are able to have “Beginner’s Mind”
~ All of the above.
~ None of the above.
Yoga is Beyond Words. Beyond Belief.
Recommended Sources & Resources
The Heart of Yoga, by Desikachar
Yoga Unveiled, a film by Gita Desai
Y Yoga, a film by Arthur Klein
by Georg Feuerstein
What is Yoga?, by Georg Feuerstein
GLOSSARY OF SANSKRIT TERMS RELEVANT TO YOGA
The main point of this section is to expose you to some of the major words/concepts/topics of the yoga tradition. This glossary is also an overview of what we will be learning during our 200-hr yoga teacher training. I have referred to this as “Basic Yoga Literacy 108” – the basic ideas that every yoga teacher would do well to be aware of, both for your own edification and growth, and also to be the most informed yoga professional possible.
Advaita (Ad-Vai-Tah) (literally, “not two”). The philosophy of non-duality found first in the Upanishads. The idea that in reality, Reality is only ONE, not two, as it appears to be. (Also, Advaita Vedanta. See Vedanta below.)
Ahimsa (Ah-Him-Sah). Non-harming. Non-injury. The first and most important moral principle of yoga.
Ajna (Agya). The third eye chakra. The guru or command center. The seat of intuition and wisdom. The seat of theBuddhi, or higher mind/intellect. Place to keep one’s drishti or focus in yoga practice.
Amrita (Ahm-Rta) (Literally, non-death.) Immortal/Immortality.
Ananda (Ahh-Nan-Dah). Utter joy. Bliss. Those who experience this in their body will often turn to a practice like yoga. Some get a taste of this while in Shavasana.
Anandamaya Kosha (Ahh-Nanda-My-Ah Ko-Sha. The Body of Bliss. The Bliss Sheath, which is the fifth of the 5 Koshas. Can be accessed through our yoga practice.
Anga (Ang-ah). Limb. As in “Ashtanga” and “Chaturanga.”
Aparigraha (A-Paree-Graha). Non-greed, non-hoarding, not coveting (one of the yamas).
Asana. (Ah-Sana) Literally: Seat, seated posture. Later, in Hatha Yoga, it became more connected with the more physical yoga postures.
Ashram. (Ahsh-Ram) A retreat or secluded place where one can immerse themselves in yoga 24/7.
Ashtanga Yoga (Ash-Tang-Ah Yo-gah). The 8-limbed path of yoga. Also known as “Patanjali Yoga,” “The Royal Path,” and “Classical Yoga.” Not to be confused with the modern style of yoga, also called “Ashtanga Yoga,” that was developed by TVK Krishnamacharya and his student, Pattabhi Jois.
Asmita (Ah-Smeet-Ah). Ego, individuality, I-am-ness. What yoga helps us to understand and use in a life-promoting way.
Asteya (Ah-Stay-Ah). Non-stealing (one of the yamas, the first limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga).
Atman (Aht-Mahn). The immortal soul, which ultimately is no different than “Brahman,” or the Absolute Self. Realizing this is what is referred to as “Self-Realization.”
Avatar (Ah-Vah-Tar). Descent of God into human form to awaken humanity. In the Hindu consciousness, Jesus was a great avatar, yet not the only one. Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and other great spirits down through the millennia have also been avatars, and there are some even living today.
Ayurveda (I-Yur-Vay-Dah). The Science of Longevity. India’s indigenous natural medicine (one of 2 indigenous systems, actually, but more well-known in the West). Sister science of yoga, and important for all serious yoga students to explore.
Bala (Bah-Lah). Child (as in Balasana, Child’s Pose). Like Jesus, my yoga teachers emphasize becoming as open and innocent as a little child.
Bandha (Bahn-Dha). Lock, bind. A way to lock in and pull up the energy generated through yoga practice. Traditionally also seen as a means of raising kundalini.
Bhagavad-Gita (Bah-Gah-Vad-Gee-Tah). (“Song of God.”). Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, gives the deeper teachings of yoga to Arjuna
Bhakti Yoga (BahK-Tee Yo-Gah). The path of devotion, using chanting, singing, worship. Losing oneself in love for the Beloved. Considered the quickest and easiest means of connecting with Source in this day and age.
Brahma (Brah-Ma). The Creator of the Universe. The first part of the Hindu trinity of Gods: Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, who govern Creation (Brahma), Preservation/Evolution (Vishnu), and Destruction (Shiva). (Not to be confused with “Brahman,” see below.)
Brahmacharya (Brah-Ma-Char-Yuh). Literally, the “conduct of Brahma.” The first of the four stages of life in Indian tradition, meaning the unmarried stage when one is fulling focusing on yoga study and practice. Some yoga lineages understand this to mean perfect celibacy (in thought, word, and deed), while others understand it more in the sense of continence – being moderate in the use of one’s life energy, particularly sexual energy.
Brahman (Brah-Mun) The Supreme Self, beyond all names, forms, limitations. The Hindu term for “God” with no human attributes.
(not to be confused with…)
Brahmin (Brah-Min). The priestly caste. The highest caste of the Hindu social order, responsible for preserving the Hindu way of life (Sanatana Dharma — see below).
Buddhi (Bood-Dhee). The intellect. The higher mind. That which helps us make conscious, wise, life-promoting choices.
Chakra (Chahk-Rah). Literally “wheel.” Chakras are psycho-energetic centers located in the subtle body which spin and radiate life force energy. Different traditions have different numbers of chakras (in the Buddhist tradition there are 5, for example), but in the West there are generally seen to be 7 centers that are located from the sacrum at the base of the spine to the crown of the head. (See Kundalini)
Chatur (Cha-Toor). Four. As in “Chaturanga,” or 4 Limbs (meaning 4 limbs touching the ground, the 2 hands and 2 feet).
Cit (Chit). Pure consciousness. The superconscious Ultimate Reality (see Sat-Chit-Ananda)
Citta (Chit-Ta). Mindstuff, ordinary consciousness (as opposed to “Cit”). The Yoga Sutras (1.2) defines yoga as ”yogash citta vritti nirodhaha” – the cessation of the fluctuations of the mindstuff is yoga.
Darshan (Dar-Shan). Seeing the divine. When we look into another’s eyes and truly see the divine within them, the same as within us, this is “darshan.” Going to see a yoga master is also called “receiving darshan.”
Deva (Day-Vah). (Literally “He who is shining”) A God, such as Shiva, Krishna, Rama, etc. Possibly the equivalent of a high angelic being in the western tradition.
Devi (Day-Vee). (“She who is shining”). A Goddess, such as Sita, Kali, Durga, Chandi, Lalita, etc. Possibly the equivalent of a high angelic being in the western tradition.
Dharana (DAH-Rah-Nah) From the word dhri meaning “to hold firm,” this is concentration or holding the mind to one thought, and is the 6th of the 8 Limbed-Path of Yoga (see Ashtanga Yoga).
Dharma (DAHr-Mah). Has many meanings. Law, righteousness, religion, the world order. What must be in place in order for the world to “go ’round.”
Dhyana (Deeyah-Nah). Meditation. The 7th of the 8 Limbed-Path of Yoga.
Doshas (Dosh-Ahs). The ayurvedic constitutions, of which there are 3: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Each person generally has one predominant dosha, and one secondarily dominant dosha. Some are tri-doshic, having an equivalent amount of each.
Drishti (Drish-Tee). Means both “gaze,” and where one fixes one’s gaze during yoga practice. For example, during a balance pose, one’s drishti might be at a point on the floor.
Dukha (Dook-Ha). Suffering, due to ignorance of our true nature. The first of the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths. (See Sukha).
Gayatri (Gaia-Tree). A prayer for enlightenment found in the Vedas. Called the “Mother of all Mantras.” One of the most revered mantras of the Hindu tradition. Recited by millions of Hindus to this day, generally at sunrise.
Guna (Goo-Nah). A fundamental idea in one of the six philosophical traditions of India, Samkhya, the gunas are the three fundamental operating systems or “tendencies” of Prakriti (universal nature). The three gunas are: sattva guna, rajas guna, and tamas guna. These three gunas are responsible for carrying out the entire work of creation, and are found in every part and parcel of creation, though in different combinations.. For us, they mean this: Tamas is the tendency toward laziness, torpor, lethargy, dullness. We can move from this state by using Rajas, the tendency of dynamism, movement, activity. Rajas itself can be then used to move into a state of Sattva, which is the tendency of clarity/lucidity, purity, balance. This is the state that a good to which a good yoga class will bring us.
Guru (Goo-Roo). Literally, “Heavy.” A spiritual teacher. The one who brings light to the darkness.
Hara (Har-ah). Epithet (name) of Shiva. Example from Kirtan: “Hara Hara Hara Mahadeva.”
(not to be confused with…)
Hare/Hari (Har-ay / Haree). Epithet of Vishnu (and also Rama and Krishna, avatars of Vishnu). Example: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama/Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Also: “Hari Bol!”
Hatha yoga (Hot-Ha Yo-Gah). Literally, “Forceful Yoga.” A major branch of yoga that was systematized around 1000 C.E. Symbolically, Hatha Yoga is the process by which the Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha) become conjoined, resulting in “yoga,” or unification (more on this later). Hatha Yoga is the umbrella term for almost all of the modern styles of yoga (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, etc.). It’s like saying “Martial Arts,” also an umbrella term which includes Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, etc.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Hot-Ha Yo-Gah Pra-Dee-Pee-Kah) ”Light on Hatha Yoga.” A Hatha Yoga manual from the 14th century by Yogi Swatmarama, one of the 3 works of Hatha Yoga that are considered classical.
Ida (Ee-Duh). One of the 2 main nadis, or energy channels, that winds around the Sushumna, or Central Channel. (See,Pingala).
Ishvara-pranidhana (Eesh-Vara Pranee-Dhah-Nah). Self-Surrender to the Divine (one of the niyamas). ”Not my will, but Thy will.”
Japa (Jah-Pah). The repetition of a mantra, often using prayer beads (see Mala).
Jaya/Jai (Jie-Uh/Jie). Jaya is Sanskrit, and Jai is the more modern Hindi word meaning the same thing, “Victory.” Perhaps the root of our modern interjection/exclamation, “Yay!” This word is often said before or after a great personage’s name: ”Gandhi-ji Ki Jai!” or “Jaya Hanuman!”
Ji (Gee). A term of respect/adoration/endearment added at the end of a person’s name. For example, Gandhi-ji (see above). (Note: This is the most common of several variants just as “Di” and “Ki.”)
Jnana (Gyah-Nah). Spiritual knowledge, Wisdom, “Gnosis.” This comes generally through a deep process of “self-inquiry,” often using the practice of neti-neti (see below), which involves the process of removing all that one is not so that one can see what is truly Real.
Jnana yoga (Gyah-Nah Yo-Gah). The path of knowledge or wisdom. The path of deep inquiry, of questioning everything and going beyond mere belief to KNOWING.
Karma (Kar-Mah). Literally “action.” Any action, and binding one only if done in a self-centered way.
Karma Yoga (Kar-Mah). The path of selfless action, selfless service. Acting without attachment to the outcome. Has come to mean “charity” these days, but is way deeper than that.
Krishna (Krish-Nah). An avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu the Preserver, who is believed to have lived about 5,000 years ago in ancient India. Perhaps most famous for being the chariot-driver of Arjuna in the popular scripture, the Bhagavad Gita(Song of God).
Popularly depicted either as a mischievous child (Balakrishna), or as a young man playing a flute and sometimes surrounded by his consort, Radha, or his gopis (beautiful young maidens charmed by his charisma).
Kriya. (Kree-Yah). From the same root as “karma,” meaning “action, work, doing.” Kriya, like most Sanskrit words, has many meanings. Generally it means “a cleansing,” “purification,” or any practice that purifies. Typical kriyas include laughing, crying, profuse heat and sweating, spontaneous asanas, pranayama, singing, moaning, howling, shrieking…In Kundalini Yoga (3HO style), a Kriya is a specific set of exercises done for a specific purpose. The term is also found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and is also the form of yoga taught in the Yogananda lineage.
Kundalini. (Koon-Dah-Lee-NEE) A cosmic energy in the body that is often compared to a snake lying coiled at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened. Kundalini is derived from kundala, which means a “ring” or “coil.” Can be awakened via yogic practices such as asanas, breathwork, by grace, or with the help of a teacher.
Lakshmi (also, Laxmi) (Lock-Shmee). The Goddess of wealth, abundance, prosperity, beauty. Also known as “The Kitchen Goddess” because her image is found in most Indian kitchens. The word “Sri” (SHREE) is often used in connection with her.
Lila (Lee-La) Play. The idea that everything is just the “Play of Consciousness” — the Play of the One (University) wanting to become two (Diversity) and re-experience the original Oneness again.
Mandala. (Mahn-Dala) A circular geometric design that represents the cosmos and the spirit’s journey.
Mala (Ma-lah). Prayer beads, rosary, which can be made from various substances – crystal, rudraksha, sandalwood, etc. Generally malas have 109 beads (108+1) and are used for japa (repeated recitation of a mantra).
Mantra (Mahn-Tra). A word or phrase that is repeated for the purposes of mastering the mind.
Maya. (My-Ah). Cosmic Illusion. The veil(s) that keep us from seeing what is Real, the true Self.
Mudras. (Moo-Drahs) Hand gestures that direct the life current through the body.
Nada (Nah-Duh). Sound. The Yoga of Sound (Nada Yoga), which is part of the Hatha Yoga tradition and which involves tuning in to specific sound vibrations in meditation.
Nadi. (Nah-Dee) Energy channel (meridian) in the subtle body that can become blocked through
Nadi Shodhana. (Nah-Dee Show-DAH-Nah) ”Cleansing the Nadis.” Any yoga practice can do this, but this often refers specifically to the practice of alternate nostril breathing.
Namasté (Nah-Mah-Stay). This is the modern, Hindi way of saying “The Divine within me bows to the Divine within You.” The more ancient, Sanskrit term is ”Namaskar,” as in “Surya Namaskar,” bowing to the sun (Sun Salutation).
Neti-neti (Ne-Tee Ne-Tee). Means “Not this. Not this.” In meditation, you gently dismiss thoughts, images, concepts, sounds, and distractions by applying the principle of neti-neti or telling yourself, “Not this. Not this.”
Niyamas (Nee-Yamas). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined five niyamas or observances relating to inner discipline and responsibility. They are purity, contentment, self-discipline, study of the sacred text, and living with the awareness of God.
Ojas. (Oh-Juss). Literally means “vigor”. According to the principles of Ayurveda, it is the essential energy of the body which can be equated with the “fluid of life”. Those who practice Ayurveda say that Ojas is the sap of one’s life energy which, when sufficient, is equated with a strong immune system and when deficient, results in weakness, fatigue and ultimately disease.
Om, or Aum. The Cosmic Hum, The Word, the Logos, the Creative Sound of God. A sound that brings intention into creative manifestation, hence the reason it is chanted at the outset of yoga classes. (Other names include “Pranava” and “Omkara.”)
Prana (Prah-Nah). Life energy, life force, or life current. We also like Yogananda’s description of prana as lifetrons. These finer-than-atomic energies have inherent intelligence, according to Yogananda, as opposed to atoms and electrons, which are considered to be blind forces. The Chinese call this life force chi.
Pranayama (Prah-Nah-Yah-Mah). Method of controlling prana or life force through the regulation of breathing.
Pratyahara (Prat-Yah-Har-Ah). Withdrawing the senses in order to still the mind as in meditation.
Raja (Rah-Jah). King, Royal. As in “Raja Yoga” – the Royal Path, aka Ashtanga Yoga, Classical Yoga, and Patanjali Yoga. Some of the most advanced of the Hatha Yoga postures have the designation “Raja” – Raja Bhujangasana (King Cobra), Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon).
Raja yoga (Rah-Jah Yo-Gah). The meditative path, leading to Samadhi. Synonymous with “Ashtanga Yoga,” “Classical Yoga,” and “Patanjali Yoga.”
Rama (Rah-Muh). Ancient King of the Indian city Ayodhya. Considered to be an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. Hero of the epic story, the Ramayana. Husband of Sita. Very popular deity/god in the Hindu pantheon, adored by millions worldwide.
Sadhana (Sod-Dana). Yoga practice, or a specific yoga practice, which could be anything. ”Taking care of my children every day is my sadhana.”
Sankalpa (Sun-Kalpah). Intention, Purpose. What is recommended before beginning your practice, or any particularly special activity.
Santosha (Sahn-Toe-Shah). Contentment (one of the niyamas).
Saraswati. (Sah-Ras-Wuh-TEE). Popular Goddess of learning and the arts. Consort of Brahma, the Creator.
Sat (Sot). What is real, because it is non-changing. As opposed to “asat,” that which is unreal — the world of changing phenomena.
Sat-Chit-Ananda (Sot-Chit-Ah-Nahn-Dah). Sometimes translated as “Existence Consciousness Bliss,” which has been referred to as our “true nature.” Satya (Sot-Yah). Truthfulness and honesty (one of the yamas).
Samadhi (Sah-Ma-Dhee). State of absolute bliss, superconsciousness, cosmic consciousness, at-one-ment, and many other names, because the state is indescribable.
Seva (Say-Vah). Selfless Service. (See, Karma Yoga)
Shakti (Shock-Tee). Divine energy Also, Kundalini energy (“Kundalini Shakti”), the energy at the base of the spine that is symbolized as a coiled serpent. Shakti expands through our yoga practice, mainly due to the release of blockages.
Shauca (Shau-Chah). Purity, inner and outer cleanliness (one of the niyamas).
Shiva (Shi-Vah). “Auspicious.” “Benevolent.” A major deity of the Hindu pantheon. Shiva was originally the god Rudra in the Vedic period. Shiva, like the many other Hindu gods and goddesses, has many names. Some of his more familiar ones are: “Mahadeva,” the Great God; “Mahayogi,” the Great Yogi; “Nataraja,” Lord of the Dance (of Destruction.) Shiva is also known as “The Destroyer” because he dissolves the human ego, bringing it back to its original unity. Shiva is generally seen to be the god most associated with Hatha Yoga, and in some cases, the original teacher of Hatha Yoga. Those who worship Shiva in India are known as “Shaivites.” Shiva is also the third part of the Trimurti, or trinity of gods, with Brahma (the Creator), and Vishnu (the Preserver).
Shodhana (Show-Dah-Nah). Yogic cleansing ritual.
Siddha (Sid-Duh). A yoga adept – someone adept at yoga. One who as acquired siddhis (see below). Also, a yoga master, a perfect master.
Siddhi (Sid-dHe). Yogic powers. The Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts talk about various special powers that emerge naturally through the practice of yoga, yet they also warn that these powers can be obstacles to the true goal of yoga.
Sri. (Shree). Title of reverence or respect for a great teacher, teaching, object, or symbol. Similar but not exactly analogous to the words “Sir” and “Sire” in English. Examples: Sri Krishna. Sri Karunamayi. Sri Chakra. Sri Vidya. One of my teachers is named “Shree Maa,” that being another way of writing “Sri.” ”Sri” also means “divine beauty.”
Sukha (Sue-Kah). Easy, comfortable, happy (as opposed to dukha, suffering). Usages: Sukhasana is simple cross-legged pose (“Indian-style”). “Sthira Sukham Asanam” is a key idea from the Yoga Sutras meaning that steadiness/stability and ease/comfort contstitute perfection in asana (posture, seat).
Svadhyaya (Swah-Dhyie-Yah). Self-study. The process of inquiring into your own nature, the nature of your beliefs, and the nature of the world’s spiritual journey (one of the niyamas).
Swami (Swah-Me). Title of respect for a spiritual master. Well-known Swamis: Swami Vivekananda. Swami Rama. Swami Muktananda. Swami Beyondananda : ) Etc.
Tantra (Tan-Trah). This yoga uses visualization, chanting, asana, and strong breathing practices to tap highly charged kundalini energy in the body.
Tapas (Tah-Pahs) “Heat, Glow.” Self-discipline or austerity (one of the niyamas). When we heat our bodies through Hatha Yoga, for example, this is a purifying heat and so a form of tapas. Just remember, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the fire.
Tejas (Tay-Juss). Splendour, brilliance, light, clearness of the eyes , the vital power, spiritual majesty, dignity, glory, authority, the fire in opposition, ardour, efficacy, essence.
Ujjayi (You-Jie-ee) Breathing exercise that produces sound in the throat with the inhalation. Builds the prana, or life force. Quiets and focuses the mind. Used especially with Vinyasa styles of Hatha Yoga.
Upanishad (Ooh-Pon-i-Shod). “Sitting Near.” Scriptures that came after the Vedas in which the ideas of Vedanta (see below) and Yoga first really begin to be developed. The name “Upanishad” refers to how in the time they were written, young boys would go into the forest to learn at the feet of their master. Traditionally there are 108 Upanishads, but only some of these are considered major and referred to often.
Veda (Vay-Dah). Literally “knowledge” or “science.” The Vedas are the oldest and most venerable of all the Hindu scriptures, dating back at least 3-4 centuries. Perhaps analogous in their importance to the Bible of the Western canon/culture. From these, other vedic sciences developed, such as the science of “Ayurveda,” which is one of the oldest indigenous systems of medicine known to humankind.
Vedanta (Vedan-Tah). Literally, the “End of the Vedas.” The epitome of what the Vedas teach, their highest teaching, which is the idea of “Oneness.”
Vinyasa (Vin-Yah-Sah). Steady flow of connected yoga postures linked with breath work in a continuous movement. For example: Sun Salutation. Part of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition brought to the West through the teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya and taught primarily by his student, Pattabhi Jois. Now adapted (co-opted) by other styles of yoga, such as Power Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, etc.
Yamas (Yah-Mahs). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined five yamas or ways to relate to others — moral conduct. They are nonviolence; truth and honesty; nonstealing; moderation; and nonpossessiveness.
Yantra (Yahn-Tra). “Instrument.” “Machine.” Generally refers to sacred geometric patterns (“Sacred Geometry”; see also “Mandala”) that are used in meditation and for ritual purposes. The most well-known and revered yantra in the Hindu tradition is the Sri Yantra (also, Sri Chakra), specifically found in certain tantric schools in South India. A Sri Yantra is the centerpiece of the altar of my teacher, Sri Karunamayi, at her ashram in Bangalore, South India. Sri Karunamayi also encourages her devotees to do puja (worship ritual) to the Sri Yantra. Other well-known yantras are the shatkona(hexagram), and swastika (symbol of good fortune that was perverted by the Nazis). Coming from a Jewish background, when I first visited Karunamayi’s ashram, I was somewhat surprised to see images of the swastika within the shatkona (also popularly known as “the Jewish Star” or “Star of David”).
Yoga (Yo-Gah). Derived from the Sanskrit word for “yoke” or “join together.” Essentially, it means union. It is the science of uniting the individual soul with the cosmic spirit through physical disciplines (postures) and mental disciplines (meditation). Patanjali offers the best definition: “Yoga is the cessation of mind.”
Yogi (Yo-Gee). Someone who practices yoga, specifically a man, but sometimes applied to women.
Yogini (Yo-Gee-Nee). A female yogi. Today the yoginis are beginning to outnumber the yogis!
Z No Zs in Sanskrit, sorry, but you might want to catch some after all that, go get some rest. I’ll do the same, g’nite! zzzzzzz Seriously, please do the following Innercise…. INNERCISE: What did this all do for you? How did it make you feel? Excited to learn all these new words, or to become aware of ones you hadn’t heard before? Turned off by all of this foreign, esoteric language, and wondering what you signed up for here? Etc. And what words or ideas did you find most interesting here? Which words piqued your curiosity enough to want to explore further?
30 Beautiful Sanskrit Words
ॐ Aum (Om) — God, the sound of the universe
Ananda — bliss, joy, our true nature
Amma/ma — mother/ devine mother
Avatar — embodiment or incarnation of the devine (you, me, us!)
Baba — father/ holy father
Devi — a goddess, devine mother energy (Kali, Durga, Parvarti, you, me…)
Deva — a god (Rama, Shiva, Krishna, you, me…)
Dhanyavad — thank you!
Dharma — Duty, righteousness, law, moral order, religion, calling
Guru — the one who brings light to darkness
Karma — Action that if not done selflessly leads to re-action
Mahamaya — the grand illusion
Namaste, namaskar — I honour you as myself
Satnam — truth (sat) is our highest identity (nam)
Satsang — true communion; true communication
Swagatam — welcome!
Shanti, śāntiḥ — peace
Prema — devine love
Seva — selfless service
Shantiprema — peace & love
Lila, leela — devine play
Shakti — devine energy, kundalini energy
Sundaram — devine beauty
Sadhana — our yoga, our spiritual practice
Sadhu (masc), sadhvi (fem) — one who does sadhana, a yogi or yogini
Jai, jaya — yay! victory!
Swadharma — One’s own duty, calling, path in life; your unique work
Swaha — we are one Tat Tvam Asi — thou art that
Lokah Samastah Sukhinoh Bhavantu — may everyone everywhere be happy
Tathasthu — so be it, and so it is!
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