Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast – Episode 41

41: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

This episode is exploring the answer, your answer, to a question that’s probably asked in every single teacher training around the world: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

We’ll look at some reasons for using Sanskrit, and some concerns around using Sanskrit, and then a few questions to help you make your own mind up.

Essentially – it’s an ongoing balancing act of acknowledging and representing the roots and the depths of yoga; but balancing that with making sure that you are teaching safely at all times.

If one of the things holding you back from bringing Sanskrit in to your classes is pronunciation, well we have your back, check this out! A Day of Sanskrit, Chanting and Philosophy with Hali Schwartz.

A Day of Sanskrit, Chanting and Philosophy

If you have ever wanted to learn about yoga’s earliest language system while exploring its beautiful sounds, then this is the workshop for you!

The aim of this day-long course is to introduce us to the Sanskrit phonetic system, so that we can learn how to properly pronounce the sounds in its alphabet. Then, in order to put these new found skills to good use, we will journey back through time into yoga philosophy and its scriptural heritage (The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gītā, The Yoga Sūtras), and learn to chant some key verses found therein.

Finally, our time together will be about discovering the deep relevance of yoga philosophy and its teachings, and how it applies to our lives today.

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Previous Episodes of Yoga Hero: Teachers Podcast

Episode 43: Should yoga teachers care about money?

Episode 42: Should yoga teachers demo while teaching?

Episode 41: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

Episode 40: The business of teaching Yoga Nidra

Episode 39: How to develop a consistent Yoga Nidra practice (even with a busy life)

Episode 38: A Yoga Nidra for yoga teachers

Episode 37: Yoga Nidra: The art of sleeping to wake up

Episode 36:: How I Became a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

Episode 35: How to Become a Full-Time Yoga Teacher

Episode 34: Balancing having a job and teaching yoga

Episode 33: Balancing Parenting and Teaching Yoga

Episode 32: How to teach yoga workshops

Episode 31: How much to charge for your yoga classes

Episode 30: How to create your yoga brand

Episode 29: How to layer your asana classes with yoga philosophy

Episode 28: What’s your WHY as a yoga teacher

Episode 27: Setting up your own classes as a yoga teacher

Episode 26: How would you teach yoga if you weren’t afraid?

Episode 25: Do I need a yoga brand?

Episode 24: Tips for new yoga teachers

Episode 23: Define who you are as a yoga teacher

Episode 22: Yoga adjustments: Some important considerations

Episode 21: Tips for teaching yoga beginners

Episode 20: The joys of being a yoga teacher

Episode 19: Overcome imposter syndrome as a yoga teacher

Episode 18: Create your social media calendar

Episode 17: A complete guide to sequencing yoga classes

Episode 16: Do you need to teach a new yoga sequence each week?

Episode 15: Introducing yoga philosophy in to your asana classes

Transcript – Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

Hello and welcome to For Yoga Teachers. This podcast has been created to help yoga teachers teach with passion, avoid burn out and earn a fair living.

This episode is exploring the answer, your answer, to a question that’s probably asked in every single teacher training: Should yoga teachers use Sanskrit?

We’ll look at some reasons for using Sanskrit, and some concerns around using Sanskrit, and then a few questions to help you make your own mind up.

But remember, the decision you make now isn’t forever set in concrete; you can actually assess whether, and how much, Sanskrit to use on a case by case, class by class basis.

Sanskrit is an ancient Asian language that our revered yoga scriptures are written in. The Sanskrit alphabet is a completely different offering to the English alphabet, for kick off there are more characters, which means that one Sanskrit character cannot be directly replaced by an English character; there’d be too many left over. So, diacritical markings are used, such as dots, lines and so on, to indicate the pronunciation of the letter or the character. However these diacritical markings are often left off the letters, so you’d be forgiven for pronouncing a word how it looks – for example – Savasana.

In an ideal world, we’d have the diacritical markings present all the time, and learn how to pronounce the Sanskrit accordingly. But there are still issues with that… Ok I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Let’s start off with a look at the reasons for yoga teachers using Sanskrit:

The roots of yoga

This is undeniably one of the most convincing and important reasons for using Sanskrit. The use of the ancient language reminds us that yoga, too, has a depth, a history, a richness beyond the poses.

The Sanskrit words themselves

One of my favourite examples of just how wonderful Sanskrit is, is the word vritti; which is part of the definition of yoga; Chapter 1, Sutra 2 in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It’s often transliterated as ‘thought’ or ‘modification of the mind’, but it also means whirlpool or vortex; indicating the very power of the thoughts, of the waves of the mind. It’s absolutely incredible when you think about it; that the ancient yogis, even without pinging notifications, without the internet and smartphones, were still so astounded by the power of the mind that they used the word vortex for a thought. Amazing.

Another example along these lines is something like ‘Pranayama’ – which is really ‘prana a Yama’

Prana of course being our subtle yoga energy. ‘A’ being a negative prefix and ‘Yama’ meaning restraint like in the eight limbs. So; if we’re sticking to only English in our classes, you might say ‘now we’ll practice some breathing techniques’; but this misses out the beauty that pranayama means no restraint of the life force; or expanding our vital yoga energy. This deeper meaning just isn’t conveyed in ‘breathing techniques’. In the concerns around using Sanskrit I’ll talk about how as teachers we’ll need to transliterate and explain and add meaning on; just saying the word Pranayama doesn’t in and of itself convey the depth. But, if and when a yogi understands the deeper meaning of pranayama, they’ll hopefully be reminded of that when they hear ‘pranayama’.

Some concerns around using Sanskrit


How many times have you told someone you’re a yoga teacher, and they respond something like ‘I’d love to try it but I’m just not flexible enough!’ And you think to yourself, or you say out loud, you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga! For me, the use of Sanskrit is pretty similar; so that person could very well also be saying ‘I’d love to try it, but I don’t speak Sanskrit.’ We do have to meet students where they are, otherwise they won’t know what to do, and in the worst instances, this could lead to injury. As yoga teachers, we want to – by definition – educate our yogis, and so some of this will be the roots of yoga and the use of Sanskrit, but if our yogis leave class feeling stupid, or that yoga isn’t for them, because they didn’t understand the Sanskrit, then we really haven’t done our job right.


Yes, many of the Sanskrit names depict what’s going on in the pose; Vrksasana; tree pose, the base wants to be rooted like a tree, and the upper body have the free movement of branches in the wind. But. The word Vrksasana does not communicate this to your yogis in and of itself. I think if we aim for safety and clarity in every class, that’s a pretty good thing to achieve as a teacher.


I’m all for having a go – if the time and circumstances are right, I really am, I say go for it! Yoga teachers who I work with are all too often held back by fear so I say try it! However, there are some places where we can easily clear up our pronunciation of Sanskrit. For example, like I said much earlier on; Shavasana rather than Savasana. And yoga teacher, this is such an important one! Chakra has a hard ‘ch’ like ‘chaturanga’ not a soft ‘sh’. I think that’s as far as I’ll go there. I’m a Sanskrit student, not teacher. The wonderful news is that we have an absolutely incredible Sanskrit teacher; Hali Schwartz, coming to Yoga Hero in Leeds on 1st June to teach us a day of Sanskrit. So if you’re ignited and inspired to bring Sanskrit in to your classes, don’t miss this, it really is such a fantastic day!

It is also important to do your research. Some historians say that Sanskrit was only used by scholars, and so it caused a divide when it was more of an everyday language. Other historians have concerns about Sanskrit through colonialism. Some yogis campaigning hard, and rightly so, against cultural appropriation in yoga say that using Sanskrit is a big step towards not appropriating yoga, other campaigners say that using Sanskrit is appropriating yoga.

Remember there are different schools of yoga, Jnana yoga. Bhakti yoga, Raja yoga, Karma yoga, because everyone is different and everyone needs to find their own path. But all of these paths lead to the same place. In the same way the use of Sanskrit or the non-use of Sanskrit can still help you lead our yogis to live a life with more peace.

Ultimately the most important thing to do is to have a really, really good think about who you are as a teacher.  Why you teach yoga. What your purpose is. And then in your heart of hearts, does using Sanskrit fit with this purpose or does it not? And there’s your answer to the question that we asked right at the beginning of this episode.

I do hope you can join us on the 1st of June, for Hali Schwartz’s day of Sanskrit, whether you’re keen to sprinkle Sanskrit into your classes now, or it’s something that you’ll explore in the future. It’s a must not miss day. It will really clear up your pronunciation of Sanskrit.

And so there you have some reasons for, and some concerns about using Sanskrit.

It’s an ongoing balancing act of acknowledging and representing the roots and the depths of yoga. But balancing that with making sure that you are teaching safely at all times.  I hope that’s given you some food for thought, what’s your decision? I’d love to hear from you and what your thinking is, but above all yoga teacher, happy teaching