Trust the Translation

Rachel Whinnery

When you start practicing yoga, the words the instructors say are going to sound weird. And bending and stretching is going to feel weird. And at times you’re going to think you are weird for continuing your practice. The “weird” isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply not being used to the words, the feeling, and the practice. 

As you get further into yoga, you have to trust the translation. First, trust the instructor and what he or she is telling you. They might tell you to move your body in a strange way - try it. They might suggest slowing down your thoughts, which sounds hard in our fast-paced world. They’re going to recommend doing a lot of things that don’t sound possible. But they are possible. Trust them.

Then, you will have to trust yourself. You’re going to want to try an advanced pose, but feel as though you’ll snap in half. Trust that your body will be ok. You might worry that people will see you as a “crunchy granola hippy” for practicing yoga. Nothing wrong with that, but trust that you are doing it for yourself because it makes you feel better. 

Translating Sanskrit

At my first yoga event, the instructor told nearly 400 people to start in “something-something-asana.” My friend and I turned to each other with wild eyes. We had no clue what to do. So we turned to the two girls next to us. They did the same thing - deer in the headlights. Then we all started giggling. As the 60 minute flow progressed, we began to pick up what was happening. 

The instructor didn’t use the sanskrit names for asanas - or poses - the entire time. Instead, she mixed in the English versions and gave simple explanations for transitions. With new teachers, different styles of yoga and various situations, you may encounter words and instructions that you haven’t heard before. Trust that you’ll figure out what to do. And if you don’t, you can catch up or skip the instructed pose.

One yoga instructor will not teach in the exact same style as the next. Experiencing yoga with different teachers will expand your ability to translate the flow. After a few classes, one teacher may describe how to twist into and open up in garudasana and the full expression of the pose will just “click.” Yet every other time you had tried it, you still twisted into a decent eagle pose. 

Translating Your Expression

Remember that one time you peeked over at the person on the mat next you and got really jealous? They were folded up in a strong crow pose and then gracefully expanded into a headstand, while you stayed in a low squat with shaky legs and both heels peeled off the mat.

No matter if you’re a beginning yogi or have a very advanced practice, you’re going to notice that other people are going to approach a pose in different ways. This may depend on their level of strength, flexibility or balance, or it may depend on how they are feeling mentally that day. Your body will tell you what it needs and where it wants to go. Trust the translation of your expression. 

Many - if not all - poses have at least one variation of the traditional expression. There is no right or wrong way, just so long as you’re not pushing yourself too far and feel actual pain. At one class you may feel really balanced and be able to do an extended hand-to-big-toe pose. But at the next class, you may only be able to do tree pose, with your foot resting on the other leg’s calf and your hands at your heart. Translate the expression as needed. 

Translating the Meaning of Yoga

Have you ever run a Spanish sentence through Google translate, just to double check that your translation was correct? But what Google spit back wasn’t what you were going for, and you knew that it was a little “off.” So then you asked your friend, but he went into detail about Spain’s Spanish being different from Latin American Spanish, and you still didn’t get a good answer. Yoga is the same way.

Everyone is going to translate yoga and what it means to them in different ways. One person may see it in a spiritual way, while another yogi will only practice for physical fitness. Someone else may see it as both. Translations will vary.

Don’t be afraid to look at it from different angles. Figure out what it means to you. Your definition may not make sense to a fellow yogi, and that’s ok. Believe in your own meaning, but don’t be afraid to learn from others.

If you think about it, language is not static. It changes as the culture changes and as new ideas are developed. Just as language evolves, so will you and your yoga practice. 

…namaste… (Translation: “The light in me sees and honors the light in you.”)