I love when a good discussion gets going from one of my blog posts, and that happened back in June when I posed “The Battle of the Languages: Sanskrit versus English.” If you didn’t read the post or the excellent comments, I explained that my style is to teach yoga, utilizing the English names for poses. I justified this as wanting to demystify yoga and to make it more accessible for my students. But let me be clear: Part of the reason I do so is that I’m not always the best at remembering all of the Sanskrit names, and, also, I’m a bit timid about the proper pronunciations.

Enter Cheryl Hall, Sanskrit super-teacher, to the rescue! Cheryl saw my post and reached out to me with an offer of a complimentary Sanskrit class via Skype. That was an offer I could not pass up and we quickly set up the session and Cheryl e-mailed me the following list of questions in order to prepare for our class.

1)      How familiar are you with making the sounds of Sanskrit? For example, are you familiar with “the 5 mouth positions” and the different sounds made from each position?

2)      Do you know how to read transliteration? In other words, do those lines over letters, dots, slashes & tildes mean anything to you?

3)      Do you have some poses in mind (English name or Sanskrit name) that you would like to cover? If so, please send them on, and we will focus on your specific needs and interests. (Alternatively, I do have a standard list of poses used in flow & power classes, as well as each of the first 3 ashtanga series, if you would like to use one of them.)

My answers to numbers 1 and 2 were: very little, no, and no! Yikes, I guess the emphasis on Sanskrit during my yoga-teacher training was not as strong as it should be. As dorky as I felt admitting this to Cheryl, I also was really excited to learn about the proper care and usage of Sanskrit.

Our class started out with some of the basics behind the phonetic marks, like what the macron (the line that appears over vowels) means and how you should hold those vowels for two beats. Then we launched into a list of the most common yoga poses, and Cheryl coached me in their proper pronunciation.

Major takeaway 1: I’ve been butchering the Sanskrit language. (But not anymore, thanks to Cheryl.)

2: The Sanskrit language is beautiful, and I need to get over my fear of using it while I teach.

One of the best pieces of advice that Cheryl provided is to practice the pronunciation of the words slowly and then work on increasing the speed.

If you are curious about Cheryl’s background, she is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she teaches asana, Sanskrit, and chant along with her husband at their studio, Dave’s Astanga Yoga. She is E-RYT-500 and has been teaching Sanskrit since 2004. Like me, Cheryl has recently taken the leap out of her Corporate America day job and is focusing on teaching full-time (woo-hoo, Cheryl!). Cheryl explained to me that her practice used to be 100 percent asana-based, but today it is 30 percent asana, 60 percent chant and Sanskrit study, and 10 percent meditation. That shift in focus to Vedic chant and Sanskrit shines through in her enthusiastic and patient approach to teaching neophytes like me.

If you take a class with Cheryl, you will find her extremely efficient. She keeps the class personable but knows how to keep it moving so you get the instruction you need. If you are lucky, at the end of your class, she may just sing a chant to you (and if she doesn’t, make sure you ask her to, as her voice is heavenly).


Now for the good stuff! Three lucky Daily Downward Dog readers are going to get the chance to win their very own 45-minute private Sanskrit yoga class! To enter, please leave a comment below, and if you are inclined, please share your funniest Sanskrit misstep. You know, like the time when you accidentally called tree pose trikonasana or really butchered up a pronunciation. Don’t worry about someone laughing at you; there will be no judgment at the DDD, just love and respect, as we all need to help each other move along in our knowledge of this language. The deadline to enter is September 9, 2011, at noon, when I’ll pick the three winners.


If you would like to schedule a class with Cheryl, you can contact her through her Web site or e-mail her at azvedicchant at gmail.com or by phone at 480-216-2602. Be sure to mention The Daily Downward Dog, and you will get $5 off the 45-minute class (which is $35).

If you are not familiar with Skype, it is a FREE online service that allows you to call people online, and if you have a camera hooked up to your computer, you can see the person as you talk to them. I have to tell you that I think Skype is super cool, and I have used it to visit with my cute little great-niece who lives out of state and to stay in touch with my nephew who was in the Marines and serving in Iraq. Cheryl loves teaching via Skype to not only bring a personal touch to the class, but also so she can watch the mouth and enunciation of her students in order to provide expert feedback.

Image: Isadora Lollo