Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Essay on Language Aptly Titled "Namaste"

"'At the beginning of class, we stood at the front of our mats and let
out a long, dirgelike moan," the first-time yoga student recollected.
"Then the teacher yelled, 'Chili-pepper pasta,' and everyone hit the
floor." Sanskrit, the language of yoga, is said to unite sound and
meaning; that is, saying the word gives the experience of its meaning.
But for the novice yogi (the word for male as well as female
practitioners), whose ears need to be tuned to a new frequency, that
experience can be as elusive as an overnight parking spot in
Manhattan. Thus, chaturanga dandasana (four-legged staff pose, which
looks like the bottom of a pushup, your body hovering inches above the
floor) might become "chili-pepper pasta" if you've got dinner
reservations at the latest outpost of the latest fusion craze. And the
ear-twisters don't end there. So let's do some untwisting," reads the
first paragraph of an essay titled "Namaste" in the New York Times.

This fascinating essay, which is primarily about language uses Yoga as
away to delve into Sanskrit word usage. "First off, that "moan" at the
beginning of class was the mantra Om. It's the vibration that existed
at the birth of the universe and is all-pervading still and is chanted
as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all life — human, animal,
plant, insect, mineral, etc. A mantra is a word or phrase that
protects the mind. From what? Well, from itself, because a mind has .
. . a mind of its own. A mantra keeps it from wandering ("Oy, I forgot
to call my mother back"; "Is it really verboten to date your yoga
teacher?") during meditation by giving it something to focus on. Not
that it still won't wander — that's the nature of the mind — so don't
get your chakras in knots when it happens. (Chakras are energy
vortexes, and meditate on "chocolate," not "shock," when you say the
word.) Meditation, the practice of stillness, might be a moment (or
more) of silence at the beginning or end of class or not a part of
class at all, but do try this at home or even (especially) on the
subway at rush hour.

Most of the yoga on the menu at your local studio or gym is a form of
hatha ("ha" = sun, "tha" = moon) yoga, whose goal is to harmonize and
channel opposing forces — positive/negative, yin/yang, male/female —
in the body in order to achieve yoga, union of the self with the
divine (supreme consciousness), otherwise known as enlightenment. The
word hatha (pronounced "ha," as in "that's funny," and "ta," as in
"see ya"; "see you later" would be "taaa") is often employed to denote
"gentle" when in fact it is a vigorous physical practice and means
"the path of force": its present-day roots go back to the Nathas, an
Orc-like breed of mercenaries in medieval India who resurrected the
methods of hatha yoga in the hope of developing the supernatural
powers, like invisibility, associated with it, which could come in
mighty handy on the battlefield; in the process, the Nathas became so
enlightened that they didn't wanna go to war no more. (Hmmm, I know a
head of state or two who could take a page from the Nathas.)"

Read the full piece at--

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