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What Am I Saying? The Opening Prayer

January 24, 2012

There has been a surge of new students at Jörgen’s lately. A good number of them are not only new to Ashtanga, but new to yoga. I have the daunting task of introducing them to both. I’ve had to negotiate the fine points quickly, and without personal experience (I’d been doing yoga for seven years when I landed in my first Ashtanga class, and had researched it enough to know it was hard). I stress the breath most of all, then follow with Bandhas 101, and let them know that because they’ll be focused on a gazing point, they shouldn’t look to me to demonstrate the pose. Listen, focus, practice, and all is coming. And don’t fear the Sanskrit.

So they really get thrown into the Sanskrit fire when class begins. Out of what must seem like nowhere:

vande gurunam charanaravinde…

It’s at this point in the post that I’d ask you, dear Reader, to remember that I’m also a writing teacher and a poet, and to imagine what that might mean for me to recite such melodious and evocative poetry aloud, and the hefty respect this gives me for it. I also ask you to consider what effect this might have on me when it comes out of some corners of the room sounding like this:

man-made goo-rah van chair-y near-a windy…

So I learned pretty quickly that I was going to have to break line integrity (something that infuriates me no end) and say it slow, say it loud, and say it proud.

All the same, I realize that I’m asking students from all walks of life to recite something in a foreign language without knowing what it means. I also realize I like that. My Sanskrit teacher, Sunandaji, taught me that it’s not just a language; it’s a thing. Each word is an evocation of the thing itself. In other words, it’s magic.

So I’ve put my faith in the magic of its ancient sound. The yogi will somehow know that he/she is thanking the teacher for the knowledge and healing being offered to them in the practice, thanking Patanjali for the fire of purification they are about to receive. It’s daunting, seductive, and, what’s more, it works.

In all its beautiful forms, the opening mantra.

Posted by Bobbie

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