Speaking in tongues

… continued from Triangle.

Yoga is hard, and it’s made harder by the fact that everything in yoga has a Sanskrit name. Most Sanskrit words are easily translated into English. Thus, popular yoga postures translate as “Extended hand big toe posture” and “Three limb face foot forward intense stretch posture.”

These sound difficult and painful, and that’s because they are.

With such literal and long-winded translations, it isn’t surprising that at my weekly yoga class the Goddess prefers to use the more poetic Sanskrit names for these postures. Thus, she talks about Adho Mukha Svanasana and Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. Trying to remember what these words mean doubles the difficulty of the yoga class.

Strangely, no equally literal translation of the word “yoga” exists. Perhaps it could be translated as “Very difficult and weird postures accompanied by noisy breathing” or “Wacky ancient belief system originally invented by men but recently hijacked by women.”

Now in yoga, every posture has its own proper place to look. There’s a useful Sanskrit word that describes this. The word is drishti, which means “thing you are looking at.”

For some postures, you have to look at your outstretched hand. For others, it’s your belly or your toes. One of the trickiest places to look is the tip of your nose. It makes me wobble and fall over.

You are totally not supposed to look at your watch or the bosoms of the woman next to you. That would be very wrong indeed.

There is no equivalent word to drishti in English. It’s such a useful little word too. We are always looking at things. One person might say to another, “Look at that thing over there!” and the other person will ask, “At what thing am I supposed to be looking?” And the first person will have to reply, “The thing you are supposed to be looking at is that bird in the tree over there,” and then the second person will say, “Oh yes, I see the bird. It is now the thing I am looking at.”

What clumsy language we have! And yet in other ways English is so rich. There is an abundance of words. A superfluousness, indeed. All of us possess many words we have collected over the years but have never yet found a use for. Words like stupendous and relativism; gossamer and ectoplasm. We have thousands of unnecessary words available for use, but none that mean, “thing you are looking at.”

Sanskrit is a good language it seems – efficient, elegant, and full of useful words. Why did it become a dead language? Probably because the Sanskrit-speakers dedicated too much attention to yoga and didn’t notice the barbarian hordes creeping over the hill. Their drishti was wrong after all.

To be continued …

2 responses to “Speaking in tongues

  1. Ummm….sanskrit is not dead yet… Well in a way it is. The english language will use lots of words or should i say the same letter conbinations as many sanskrit words except their meaning will be different. You know as well as i do Steve that truth is like matter it cannot be created nor destroyed only muttated or hidden. Sanskrit has only started on its path to mutation…..it will be saved or then again was it always contained within english in a abstract way?

    • Language is a lot like DNA I suppose. There are words (genes) that originated in ancient languages (species) and are still with us today. Mutations happen all the time. It’s like evolution.

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