Subtle language

One of the funny things about being in Rome was not speaking the language. I’m not used to being in countries where I don’t know the language at all (which says more about my limited travel than my vast linguistic abilities!). I flicked through a phrase book on the plane and then just went for it, bluffing my way through simple meal ordering and small everyday transactions well enough. Hubby said I got some appreciatively raised eyebrows from waiters, but none of the elaborate questions about family background that I often get in Greece where foreigners can’t so easily pretend the speak the language based on a familiarity with the Pizza Express menu!

I’ve been thinking a lot about words and translations recently in the yoga context. I’ve been driving myself a bit mad (and doubtless my teacher too) as I try to understand what’s meant by various terms. Of course this goes far beyond the one to one equivalence of any simple translation and into defining concepts which don’t exist within my culture and are on the borders of my own experiences. So it’s exciting times, but I don’t like using words that I don’t understand or where I feel I’m simply repeating what I’ve heard elsewhere without personalising it or embodying it through my own experiences.

imageI’m sorting my way through cakras, nāḍīs, bandhas, and prāṇa, wondering what on earth is the subtle body and do I actually have one, and what is the relationship between what is visible and what is perceived (or not perceived). It’s reminding me of the concept of ‘lopa’ that I’ve just met in Sanskrit: the fact that an invisible letter still influences the sounds around it in sandhi. The invisible still exists.

While I’m refining my current level of understanding through exploration on the mat and study off the mat, I’m simultaneously observing my tendencies in learning and tackling new concepts. I like to understand the vocabulary, the very words interest me. So I amused myself considering the metaphor of cakras and nāḍīs, wondering if this arose from the early imperative for successful agriculture — you need wheels (cakra) and you need irrigation (nāḍī) so maybe that’s relevant to this particular imagery? Free-turning cakra wheels releasing us from ‘duhkha’ (prefix duḥ with connotations of dis-, a negative of some kind, plus kha meaning where the wheel hub meets the axle)?

My teacher tells me I’m impatient to learn. Perhaps this is true. Doing a degree at Cambridge encourages this: you’re expected to gain an enormous amount of understanding quickly so you can have a tutorial with a world expert each week, defending your ideas under their scrutiny, sometimes playful, sometimes hostile. Now when I meet a new idea I notice some fear that I’m late to the party, that everyone has been quietly waiting for me to catch up to their level of understanding and ability. Although my yoga teacher usually slows me down, I can’t shake the feeling that I am being a bit dim!

And then I met a friend for coffee, one of my fellow TT graduates, always interesting to bounce ideas around with her. And because I find her easy to talk to (and we’d met after 90 minutes of unravelling yoga), I opened up uncharacteristically and spouted out a load of stuff that’s been floating round in my brain and my body. And she shook her head slightly at me, making me pause, wondering if she was just about to deal a death-blow and tell me I’d got it all wrong, or that although this might seem mind-blowing to me as a baby-yogini the real deal was elsewhere entirely, wanting until I’d grown into it. Something like that. Imposter syndrome to the max. But no, she was just surprised by all these thoughts and experiences that came tumbling out and indicating humbly (and with no hint of recriminating impatience at her level of understanding I noticed!) that her own experiences were as yet more linear and two dimensional, none of the weird spirally floaty zingy stuff that I was wondering about. “It’s just about straight lines for me” was how she put it.

So do I want the safe boundary of straight lines? Or do I want to tumble into unstructured uncertainty, putting my trust in the weird spirally floaty zingy stuff that may or may not exist? When I’m not caught up in the Sanskrit, I’m discovering a new way of inhabiting my body and it can get a bit overwhelming. Old dog, new tricks and all that. No wonder I’m encouraged to slow down.

9 thoughts on “Subtle language

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  1. That’s how I learn! Freewheeling with sounds, words, meaning and symbolism. The cakra nadi connect is not too far off, prana is likened to the energy flow through the turbines of the chakras… I feel Sanskrit is an intuitive language, despite its elaborate structure and rules.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love how you experience Sanskrit “intuitively”… whereas for me it’s a really hard scrabble with grammatical concepts, struggling to read the devanagari, and attempt translations… ; ]

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I doubt you’re driving the yoga teacher mad😋 Sanskrit is such a conceptual, beautiful language. Literal translation doesn’t do it justice. Your ached likely appreciates the interest

    Liked by 1 person

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