What yoga teaches me about learning Sanskrit

I still have nightmares of learning Latin as a child. One year my teacher had me reading Caesar with him ‘for fun’ once a week. We read at speed as a bit of a warm up for the real work. One class was particularly punishing: he was impatient and pushing faster, I lost my place completely but was too scared to admit it. So I winged it by ear. He read each sentence out loud and I translated it just as I heard it, head bowed unseeing over my book. “Blind panic” — the phrase suddenly made perfect sense!

IMG_4732Now I’ve started learning Sanskrit and I’m reliving this horror. The pace of the class is far beyond what I’d imagined. You can see here how far through the book we are after just 2 classes. We’re already onto reading full paragraphs of text, with all cases of nouns and two tenses of verbs. And lots of vocabulary. But if that’s what the class as a collective is doing, personally I’m still struggling in the beginner stages getting to grips with Devanagari script. My reading speed is so agonizingly slow that I find I can understand more by ear than I can by eye.  In reading I offer clumsy vocalisation of even simple sentences, repeatedly confusing my vowels and being baffled by each new conjoined consonant, while my classmates leap straight to the translation with a mastery of grammar and vocabulary that amazes me.

I’m trying to go with it for now, hoping that it’ll settle down with time. And I’m wondering what might my yoga practice teach me about this? Not to compare, not to be competitive, not to worry about what others can do that I can’t do? It reminds me of frantically rushing to keep up with surya namaskar in my early yoga classes, the feeling of everything happening at once, insanely quickly. That passed with time.

IMG_4734So for my Sanskrit class I tell myself to take a deep breath, remember that this is something I took up for personal pleasure, not to prove anything to others, and to have patience with myself. In reading Devanagari as in asana — it’s all about practice! I am squeezing these classes in around my day job and I’m trying to hold my own with full-time students who all have some prior knowledge of the language. If I didn’t anticipate being the slowest in the class, I was deluding myself.

But there’s no child’s pose to retreat to in Sanskrit class. And there are no extra hours in the day to find time for the amount of catchup work I already need to do. I fear the next time I write about this it will be to report that I’m dropping out.

My well intentioned deep breath is already turning into a sigh of frustration and defeat.

One thought on “What yoga teaches me about learning Sanskrit

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  1. This is not a defeat! It simply sounds like you’re not registered in a beginner class. You obviously have the ability to acquire new languages and understand grammatical structure (you studied Latin for goodness sakes!). So I think you just need to find a class that will provide you with the foundation you need.
    Did I tell you that you are my hero for actually deciding to learn Sanskrit? (among other things!)

    Liked by 1 person

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