Last updated on December 6th, 2023.
As a yoga enthusiast, you might be considering learning Sanskrit, the language that is frequently used in yoga practices. However, access to this ancient language is not quite as common in the United States as are other language classes. Luckily, the internet can be a valuable tool in guiding your Sanskrit learning.
The best online courses for Sanskrit are offered through:
These courses will help you grow your knowledge of the language that is foundational to yoga, bringing insight to your classes and practice. You will also be able to learn at your own pace.
Though learning a new language can be an undertaking, an understanding of Sanskrit can bring important insight to your practice and instruction of yoga. Keep reading to learn some background on the relationship between Sanskrit and yoga and some helpful resources to make your learning journey that much easier.
What is Sanskrit?
Sanskrit is an ancient language from the Indian subcontinent with a strong presence in many religions. These religions include:
Sanskrit is acknowledged as both an official and classical language in India and was famously used for the composition of the Vedas, ancient Hindu collections of scriptures and hymns dating back to around 1500-1200 BCE.
Many modern languages in India are descendants of Sanskrit, and the language still has a large influence in many areas of culture to this day. Publications are still written in a form of Sanskrit known as Classical Sanskrit, and it is a common fixture in the religion and classical music of India.
Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European language family, a large group of languages that includes English, among others. Its influence in the Indian subcontinent dates back to as early as 1700 BCE, making it one of the oldest documented languages in the world.
Why is Sanskrit Important in Yoga?
The practice of yoga first originated within the Sanskrit language. Yogic practices were first mentioned in the Rig Veda, a foundational piece of Sanskrit literature. Many yogis consider Sanskrit to be the language that best conveys the intentions of yoga.
Many yoga instructors and scholars believe that Sanskrit allows access to the sounds and sensations associated with each pose more fully than when teaching in English. Some view it as paying respect to the tradition and culture on which yoga was founded.
Another factor why many consider Sanskrit to be important to yoga is the long-standing tradition of using the language in yoga practices. Each Sanskrit term conveys a level of precision that allows yogis to fine-tune their practice and keep their poses in adherence with original yogic instruction.
Additionally, Sanskrit terminology within yoga allows yoga instructors to find mutual understanding with one another. As everyone learns the same terminology for poses and concepts, yoga instructors will be able to communicate and learn from one another more easily.
What Type of Yoga Uses Sanskrit in its Classes?
Sanskrit is most often found in classical yoga, but it is not limited to this; it usually has a presence in most types of yoga that are currently popular around the world today.
Not all yoga teachers use Sanskrit in their practices, but this is often a personal choice. Although some yoga teachers may choose to create a form of yoga that relies entirely on Sanskrit, it is difficult to find a particular type of yoga that does not use the language at all.
Some common Sanskrit phrases, such as “Namaste,” are frequently used across types of yoga, even if most poses are given in English or a different language. (Check out the meaning of “Namaste” simplified.) Additionally, some types of yoga, such as Vinyasa Yoga and Hatha Yoga, have Sanskrit directly in their titles, and therefore the language has a strong influence on the practice overall. Sanskrit words used in yoga is extremely common.
Whether or not you are exposed to Sanskrit frequently in your classes might depend more on the preferences of your teacher rather than the type of yoga you are practicing. Some choose not to use Sanskrit to increase the accessibility of their classes and popularize yoga with a wider audience.
Additionally, beginner-level yoga may rely less on Sanskrit to avoid causing confusion or frustration in those new to the practice.
The Best Courses Online to Learn Basic Sanskrit for Yoga
Although it might be difficult to find a Sanskrit instructor in your area, there are fortunately many online resources to gain an understanding of basic Sanskrit. The best online courses for yoga will all provide a basic overview of the Sanskrit language, teaching you phrases and structures that are important for your yoga practice and enhancing your vocabulary.
Before you begin researching online courses to learn Sanskrit, take a moment to reflect on the following:
- Time commitment: how much time are you willing to dedicate to this class? Think about how many hours, on average, per week you have free to pursue further learning, and look for courses that match with this.
- Certification: maybe you’re trying to establish yourself as a yoga instructor, and you would like a credential showing that you have dedicated time toward learning Sanskrit.
- Budget: Not all online courses are free, so think about how much money you will invest in taking a course.
- Learning style: Are you the type of person who likes to watch live lectures or learn at your own pace? Are you most comfortable reading content or listening to the material being presented? Thinking about your unique learning style will help you maximize your learning.
Regardless of what you answered to the above questions, there is an online Sanskrit course out there for you! The following are the top three online courses that meet various criteria and provide quality education.
1. Go Beyond Asana: Practical Sanskrit for Yoga Teachers
This course offered by Go Beyond Asana, a yoga teacher training website, is catered to the needs of present and aspiring yoga instructors. Not only will this course teach you basic Sanskrit pronunciation and vocabulary, but it will also dive into helping you comprehend the following:
- Sanskrit mantras
- Sanskrit sutras
- Sanskrit verses
Understanding the above texts and concepts can help yogis expand their philosophical knowledge of Sanskrit and yogic tradition, which can help them engage students more fully with the practice.
This course is structured around a 7-step process where you will gain background on the Sanskrit language and also learn practical applications for your work as a yoga instructor. The content of this course was assembled by a long-time yoga instructor with extensive experience in yoga teacher training.
This course should take around 2 hours to complete, although you are encouraged to go at your own pace and review content as needed. The course has a one-time fee of $347, which includes unlimited access to the content with no date of expiration. Additionally, if it is a challenge to pay the price in one payment, the website does have an option to pay in four increments.
2. Yoga Philosophy: Introduction to Sanskrit
This course with Yoga Philosophy is intended to help beginners in Sanskrit or those who are looking to relearn the language. This is a two-month course, with the equivalent of 30 classroom hours and two bonus hours. It intends to help with beginner-level Sanskrit reading and comprehension that can be applied to yogic practices.
Rooted in ancient philosophical traditions, this course includes live virtual sessions with Sanskrit scholars and experts where students can ask questions. If students cannot attend the live sessions, recordings will be provided for review.
Students are allowed to enroll for additional two-month sessions if they wish to have continued support. This 20-module course currently costs $247 for the entire two-month session and takes place via Zoom.
3. Yoga International: Sanskrit Made Easy for Yoga Students
This course offered by Yoga International is specifically geared toward those looking to enrich their yoga practice with a basic understanding of the Sanskrit language. This course focuses on the following:
- Overview of the Sanskrit script and pronunciation
- Building vocabulary of yoga terminology as found in the Yoga Sutra
- Activities and review to increase your confidence with the language and encourage you to apply it to your yoga practice
Not only does this course offer a free preview so you can determine if it is the right fit for you, but it also grants you a certificate upon completion. With a certificate, yoga instructors can show their employers or students that they have gained basic working knowledge in Sanskrit for yoga.
As an added benefit, this is a very low-commitment course. It should only take you around one hour to complete, and you will have unlimited access to the course after completion should you need to review terms. Course content is assembled by a knowledgeable yoga instructor with a background in Sanskrit.
This course requires a subscription to the Yoga International website, which costs $19.99/month after a free 14-day trial; a subscription allows you to take other supplementary courses that are offered by the website.
What is the Best Book to Learn Sanskrit for Yoga?
If you would prefer not to learn virtually, there are many written guides to aid in your Sanskrit learning experience. The best book to learn Sanskrit for yoga is Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. Initially published in 1966, this book has proven a timeless classic in helping yogis gain an applied understanding of classical yoga.
This book, and Iyengar’s work in general, are credited with popularizing yoga around the world. The book contains the following features:
- Over 200 detailed descriptions of asanas or poses.
- Around 600 photographs detailing each asana.
- Brief accounts of different yoga practices, such as yoga breathing.
- A Sanskrit glossary for terms used.
Learners using this book will find that they not only are enhancing their knowledge of Sanskrit but their grasp on the fundamentals of yoga overall.
If you are a yoga instructor or aficionado looking to learn Sanskrit to benefit your practice, you are not alone. Sanskrit is a hugely influential language that is foundational to yoga and yogic philosophy. Fortunately, access to this language is no longer limited to in-person classrooms. Online courses are a wonderful resource to maximize your learning experience.
Whichever of these courses you choose, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you are learning content from knowledgeable professionals with a vested interest in yoga. With some time and dedication, you will soon be applying your newfound abilities with the language to your work with students or your own practice.