Paul Latham

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Book Review: The Language of Yoga by Nicolai Bachman

If anything intimidated me about yoga before I began a regular practice, it was the Sanskrit. The language is beautiful to hear but if you look at it written out and romanized, it looks like huge lengths of unpronounceable words. But with any yoga practice, even a superficial one that only focuses on the asanas, one is going to run into Sanskrit.

Now you can fake it pretty easily. Jump on Youtube and listen to a few yoga lessons and you’ll hear the terms bandied about and you’ll hear multiple versions of the same word. Pick one you like and you’re done. But if you catch one that actually pronounces the words with the right inflection, it sounds musical and almost magical. That’s what I want. And I want the confidence to say it the way it was meant to be heard. So Youtube is not going to cut it.  I need a more direct approach that gives me the words I need.

A quick internet search lead to The Language of Yoga: Complete A to Y Guide to Asana Names, Sanskrit Terms, and Chants. I’m familiar with Mr. Bachman’s work from The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga which has pretty much become my favorite yoga book for a variety of reasons and it is also the reason my interest in the language was piqued. I like his writing style and enjoy his illuminations on the subject matter so it was an easy sell.

The Language of Yoga is hard-backed with a spiral binding and let me just say that all books should come that way. It lays flat and stays where you put it. And there’s not much to it. It comes with two CD’s and the book basically consists of the texts from the CD’s. This is a good thing. No frills, just the yoga related words listed in their romanized version, the sanskrit version and it’s translation.  On the CD, each word is spoken twice with a slight pause after and then the translation. Common chants are covered (not working on those anytime soon but they are interesting to hear), basic terms, basic numbers, chakras, mudras, astanga and asanas plus a whole lot more. The second CD is devoted to the asana names and organized for easy reference.

I’ve always had an interest in languages even though a lack of time and a short attention span has kept me fluent in only one. Three years of high school french left me able to read french on a good day. I have maybe fifty or so spanish words at my disposal. You might recall I tackled old english a while back and enjoyed it thoroughly. And of course there was Klingon back in the day which was also a lot of fun. I’ve tried language tapes and online apps but attention wavers and no one else I know wants to speak Klingon so you move on. But I still enjoy the study and the window into another culture that working with an unfamiliar language provides. I don’t have to be fluent. I just want to dip my intellectual toes in and test the waters of another headspace.

Which is why I think there should be books such as Mr. Bachman’s for every language. Give me the rules of pronunciation, give me the basic words such as numbers and days of the week and a CD to let me know how it all sounds and get out of my way. I would make it my mission to own every such book so that on a rainy day I could try my hand at hungarian or russian or even chinese. No commitment. No pressure. Just the sounds of another world rolling off the tongue for an afternoon.

And let it be stated that I would absolutely do deeply embarrassing things for a book that broke down gaelic is such a way. Just sayin’.

I can’t recommend The Language of Yoga enough to students and practitioners. I think having the confidence of the proper pronunciation can add a subtle element to your practice that can take you deeper into the traditions and here it all is in a simple, little book and at a great price.

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