photo by Fern “Language can be a gate from which to liberate your thoughts and ideas”
When most people think of yoga in Berlin, they probably conjure up an image of a body contorted into wildly flexible shapes, or perhaps a solitary figure meditating. They might associate the practice of yoga with chanting, or maybe with the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl. But rarely do people consider language as a part of the practice–and almost never do they associate yoga with jokes, stories or slang. Perhaps this is because of our cultural heritage in the West around spiritual practices. We expect them to occur in a sacred domain, and we can’t imagine something as everyday as language being involved. There is definitely a time and a place for silence, but I feel, actually, that language is an incredibly powerful and important tool, in yoga and everywhere else in life, too! Teaching yoga in English has taught me a lot about cultural translation–certain concepts, which have a lot of different layers of meaning in Sanskrit, have been ‘shorthanded’ into English and lost much of their content. The clearest example of this is the word ‘Karma’. English just doesn’t have the depth and breadth and subtlety of Sanskrit when it comes to discussing states of consciousness (though, to give credit where credit’s due, it’s a great language to talk about getting drunk in–so many adjectives!). This presents a very difficult challenge: how do you translate yoga ideas and yoga techniques from one language/culture to another?
It gets even more complicated in our yoga lessons, because we teach Vinyasa Yoga and Hatha yoga in English in Berlin, therefore often teaching yoga to non-Native English speakers. Thankfully, yoga concepts are often extremely simple. Not easy, but simple. This is where jokes, stories and slang come in–they make people feel comfortable, and comfort is half the battle when you’re trying to learn something new. They also make it a lot more difficult to take yourself too seriously! I really feel that accessible language is incredibly important in a practice like yoga.
- 16.00 – 17.30 Vinyasa Flow in English with Meg
- 18.00 – 19-30 Hatha Yoga in English with Pinelopi
- 20.00 – 21.30 Yoga Nidra in English with Pinelopi
- 8.30 – 9.45 Vinyasa Flow in English with Meg
- 10.15 – 11.45 Hatha Yoga in English with Pinelopi
- 12.15 – 13.45 Advanced Hatha yoga with Pinelopi
- 16.00 – 17.30 Vinyasa Flow in English with Meg
- 18.00 – 19.30 Hatha Yoga in English with Pinelopi
- 20.00 – 21.30 Hatha Yoga in English with Pinelopi
All classes will take place in the Gemeinschaftsraum(x-kinderkino) on Görlitzerstr. 39, 10997 Kreuzberg Berlin
Click here to sign up for Yoga in Kreuzberg classes : http://www.doodle.com/wxe8a87p6qsyz7vk
As a Hatha Yoga instructor in Berlin, I often use Sanskrit words during my yoga classes. Sometimes I even like to take a pause after the sanskrit yoga word, and see if the older students know what I am talking about or if they are just waiting for the English translation.
In order to learn about yoga properly I find it important to aknowledge its roots in the Indian culture and the Sanskrit language. Taking the time to understand these words and their meanings makes your yoga practice a more complete experience and adds to the understanding of yoga and it’s origins. That is why I started Berlin Yoga: Terminology Tuesday, a post where I explain the basic sankrit words used in my yoga classes. So in this blog I would like to explain the meaning of the word kapalabhati, a breathing technique we often use in the yoga class.
Kapalabhati – is a form of Pranayama, or breathing technique. Kapala means “skull” and bhati means “shiny” or “illuminated”. So Kapalabhati means “shiny skull”. It is a breathing technique we use to increase our Prana and clean out the air passageways before doing more advanced pranayama.
photo by Fern
People still look confused in class sometimes when I use yoga terminology. That’s why I started English Yoga terminology Tuesday. I guess I could always just use plain English in order to avoid these confusing moments, but as a person who enjoys looking up the etymology of words, how their meanings have evolved from what their original meanings were, and how words between different languages overlap- I would find it a shame not to introduce one of the oldest languages in the world in our classes (Sanskrit). So in this blog I would like to try and explain the meaning of one of the most common words used in my Berlin yoga classes. What is Pranayama?
Pranayama – Prana means vital energy. People often confuse vital energy to mean spirit, or soul, or just the energy within a specific person. That is not the case. Vital energy is the energy you find in all living things. It’s the energy that gives life. This is found in humans, animals, plants, and some people even believe it’s found in stones. Everyone and everything alive has prana. Yama means “control”. So pranayama is the “control of vital energy”. In yoga we learn how to control and manage our energy through breathing. So Pranayama is a series of breathing techniques that we practice in order to learn how to control, manage, direct or increase our vital energy.
Many people wonder, “Why should I do yoga?” And while this is an individual question, I think it’s important to understand what the point of the practice is before deciding to make it a part of your life.
In my last blog about Hatha yoga in Berlin, I talked a bit about the current “trendy nature” of yoga and why there seem to be so many yoga styles on offer. But the true goal of Yoga is to bring the practitioner into a state of perfect peace with themself and with the world. This cannot be achieved overnight. And so, to approach this goal, one spends a lifetime practicing this discipline. Although perfect peace is the most difficult state to attain, it is said that everyone can approach it through a sincere practice of yoga.
As mentioned in my previous blog, originally there were four different types of yoga created. These different types were created so that people were able to practice the kind of yoga that best fits them as an individual. The four original yogas are: Njana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga.
The Njana yoga practitioners use the intellect to attain a state of inner peace. Their whole practice is about analyzing the world around them, and distinguishing what is real from illusion. This yoga is the best kind for people who have a need to intellectualize everything about the world.
The Karma Yoga practitioners strive to attain the inner peace state through action (Karma being the Sanskrit word for “action” or “to do”). Their practice is based on taking positive action without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds. This kind of yoga is best for those who need to live an active life and keep themselves constantly busy.
The Bhakti Yoga practitioners use their emotions in order to attain their yogic goal. Bhakti is the yoga of devotion. This kind of yoga is said to be the best for people who are of an emotional nature and need to sublimate their emotions in order to attain inner peace. This yoga would concentrate on rituals, symbols, chanting. It is said that by doing so the practitioners channel their emotions to a higher state of being.
Raja yoga practitioners try to attain peace through meditation. But in order to sit down and meditate one must not only learn how to control the mental fluctuations but also to have a fit body that can manage to sit motionless with no pain for an hour. To be able to do the latter Hatha Yoga was created. This is the only type of yoga from the original ones that focuses on the physical body. I teach this kind of yoga because it addresses the body, mind and energy levels of the practitioner throughout his/her self-exploration towards inner peace.
Today it is very common to hear about many different kinds of yoga in Berlin. And with so many variations to choose from, it can get rather confusing. In truth, there were originally only 4 types of yoga: Njana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga. These yogas were created so that people could practice the kind of yoga that was most attune to their own character.
My Hatha yoga in English classes stem from the original Raja Yoga style. Raja yoga focuses on controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. The purpose of Raja Yoga is to attain inner peace through meditation. In order to do this one must gain control over the physical body and prana (or vital energy), so that meditation can happen naturally. Raja Yoga consists of eight steps. The third step (Asanas) and the fourth step (Pranayama) is what makes up Hatha Yoga. This is the only kind of yoga that actually deals with the body and the one that most westerners think of when the word yoga is mentioned.
All of the yoga styles that have to do with physical and mental control stem from Hatha Yoga. The kinds of yoga we hear about today in the Berlin studios around us have much more to do with marketing then with providing separate types of yoga. These types and names are more of a description of the teaching method. For example a Vinyasa flow class will concentrate more on teaching the asanas with a flow rather than remaining static in them. Power yoga teaching will work to make you sweat. Hot yoga will teach yoga in a (very!) hot room. And the list continues with no end. Last year, I even heard of bicycle yoga! After trying to figure out how such yoga would work and picturing headstands being performed on the saddle of a bike, I discovered that it was about riding bikes out to different places, getting off the bike and then practicing yoga. I must say that I was relieved!
Yoga in Berlin can come in all sh
apes and sizes. Everything from the truly devout practices to the trendy, cult-like fashion of yoga- there are many styles and many different kinds of people practicing. Because there are so many people from all over the world who currently find this amazing city to be their home, we specialize in teaching Yoga in English. And because we believe that it can actually change lives, we teach the practices of Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.
Although the classes are in English, sometimes I use Sanskrit words in our Berlin Yoga classes when wanting to describe a pose or the reason behind something we are supposed to do. As a consequence I often see confused faces looking up at me. I think many yoga teachers take their students understanding of these terms for granted and just keep going. But in an effort to be very clear and to make understanding of why we do things as simple as possible, last week I started something I call Berlin Yoga: Terminology Tuesday. Each week we will be posting info about a term to help increase depth of understanding within your practice.
This week’s word is the basis for Hatha Yoga:
– literally means posture in Sanskrit. All the yoga postures we do in class are asanas. A specific asana has a name describing the posture and then the word asana at the end of it. For example take Matsyasana, Matsya literally means fish and asana posture- in plain English- it’s the fish pose.
As a teacher of Hatha Yoga in Berlin, I often use Sanskrit words in our classes when wanting to describe a pose or the reason behind something we are supposed to do. I try to always accompany these words with a translation, but every now and then I still see confused faces looking up at me. I realize that sometimes, especially when teaching yoga in English, it is important to not only describe the action in Sanskrit but to also offer a translation in plain English.
No matter how long you have taken yoga classes or how deep you are in your own personal practice, it’s important to understand the words being used over and over again. In an effort to explain the terms that many Berlin Yoga teachers (myself included) often take for granted that their students already understand, I am starting something I call Berlin Yoga: Terminology Tuesday. Each week we will be posting info about a term to help increase depth of understanding within your practice.
Perhaps the beginning is the best place to start….
Yoga: yolk (as in the yolk of an egg.)
The yolk of an egg has the capacity to bind ingredients together. Yoga also strives to bind or unite the three aspects of the self: the body, the mind and the soul. Over the centuries, it has become common for people to also translate the word yoga as “union”. And since the practice of Yoga affects people in so many different ways, the definitions of Yoga seem to be multiplying as yoga spreads throughout the world.
Always returning to the same sankalpa is like watering a seed after you planted it.
In my last blog, “What is a Sankalpa?” I explained that this short, positive phrase can have a very positive impact on changing your subconscious. But changing your life takes clear, focused work and commitment. As an instructor of Hatha yoga in Berlin, I have seen many students come in with some very sincere desires for personal change. When they come to my class, I try to explain the main components of creating the most effective Sankalpa to stimulate this change.
The subconscious does not express itself with spoken language. It can be said that the massive amount of information stored in the subconscious is in symbolic form. Symbols and images are what the subconscious uses to express itself, the most common example being our dreams. The images and symbols we dream of could be a way that our subconscious is trying to communicate with our conscious self. But this communication is hard when the conscious does not understand the language of symbols used by the subconscious and vice versa. Through our Sankalpa, our conscious world is trying to communicate to the subconscious world. In order to do this the language used must be as simple, short and as clear as possible, so that the meaning is able to penetrate the subconscious.
The type of wording used is also important. In this way, a Sankalpa is not like a New Year’s resolution in that it does not focus on what is wrong, but rather on what will be right. If one wanted, for example, to work on his/her stress levels then it is better that the Sankalpa formed is something like, “I can relax at will” rather than it being “I am not stressed”. We want our subconscious to pick up on the word “relax” rather than on the word “stressed”, so that we imprint energy on what one wishes to achieve rather than its opposite.
In Your Own Language
When asked to repeat your Sankalpa mentally in class, you are also asked to repeat it with feeling and emphasis. Even though I teach yoga in English, I understand that most of my students of yoga in Berlin are not mother tongue English speakers. Repeating it in the language you feel the most connected to will have a more powerful effect on your personal progress and make emphasis more natural.
Stick with your Sankalpa
It is said that one must not change their Sankalpa until they feel it has become true. If we were to take the analogy of the Sankalpa being a seed that we are planting into our subconscious, if each time we go into relaxation we plant a different seed, then the energy we wish to imprint on the subconscious would be too dissipated and our plants would not be able to grow. We should instead always return to that same seed to water it and take care of it until it is a full grown plant – able to stand on its own.
As an instructor of yoga in Berlin, I am often asked about the various parts ofthe practice I teach. One of the most recent questions was one coming from a new student in my Hatha yoga in English class. She asked. “What is a Sankalpa?”
Changing your life starts with setting the right intention. A Sankalpa is a very powerful tool that can help do just that.
photo by Fern
Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word meaning resolve or resolution. It is a short, positive phrase that we use in order to build up an aspect of our character that needs strengthening. Take, for example, a person who wants to stop smoking. This person can very well understand all the reasons to stop smoking and even agree that being a non-smoker would be best for their health. But this understanding and agreement would be coming at the level of the intellect which is ruled solely by the conscious mind. And that is often not strong enough to take lasting action. By using the Sankalpa during relaxation, we have better access to the subconscious and have it work together with our conscious mind towards a common goal. This way the change that the Sankalpa brings into our lives is a more whole and permanent one.
My Berlin yoga class includes 70 minutes of positions and 20 minutes of relaxation and visualization in which we introduce aspects of yoga Nidra (conscious deep sleep). As we relax after yoga, we let go of our defenses, we become more vulnerable and the subconscious becomes more sensitive and receptive. That is the moment that we repeat our Sankalpa. When we first create our Sankalpa, we are planting a seed in our subconscious. Every time we go back to it and repeat it in our relaxed state, it is as if we were going back to it and watering it, caring for it so one day we can reap its fruits. For this reason, we keep the same Sankalpa until it becomes a reality in our lives.