Why Learn Sanskrit *Now*?

Having grown in popularity during the latter half of the 20th century, yoga in the 21st century continues to reach beyond studios, gyms, and medical schools to places like the Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport, exotic destination retreats, people’s homes through online technology, university courses like mine such as “The History and Practice of Yoga,” and the Master of Arts degree in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University.  This popular practice has transformed social and spiritual landscapes in America and elsewhere so much that the new definition of “remote” could be “a place untouched by yoga (and Sanskrit).”

But now more than ever, yoga is in a global, self-reflective historical moment with so many “growing pains” that some people have called the tumultuous scene “Yogagate.”  At just about 100 years old on the global scale, āsana traditions in their current forms, especially the branded styles, face numerous challenges:  litigious commercialization, teacher/student boundary issues, where & when yoga originated, Hindu or non-Hindu roots of yoga, teacher/student boundaries, secular versus spiritual orientations, whether yoga should be an Olympic sport, and more.  These hot-button topics have created a maelstrom of writing in mainstream news outlets, yoga publications, blogs, Facebook pages, and elsewhere on local, national, and international levels.  With all of these issues hovering in the air, many teachers and students are rethinking what yoga was, what it has become, and what it should be.

As the integrity of the tradition is being questioned in different ways, some people have begun to suggest that yoga education should implement higher standards.  Learning the basics of Sanskrit is a practical, meaningful, and fun way to advance the field.  This kind of study is valuable for everyone, but especially teachers. Understanding the deeper meanings of terms and knowing how to pronounce them with confidence builds a knowledge base, which is valuable for everyone. Teachers and students help standardize the language, which will unite yoga communities worldwide and serve as a link to the ancient traditions.

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