The following is an introduction to an article that the National Ayurvedic Medical Association published about the use of Sanskrit in practicing Ayurveda. If you are interested in learning more about Sanskrit, I offer an online class for Ayurveda and Yoga enthusiasts.
The Importance of Sanskrit in Practicing Ayurveda in the U.S.
by Maria Radloff
Like yoga, Ayurveda exists within the language of the gods—Sanskrit. Rooted in poetic Sanskrit verses, Ayurveda had been passed down solely through the memorization of these sacred scriptures until only recently when Ayurveda began its journey beyond the borders of India.
Unlike yoga, whose language and culture have been completely Americanized in this country, Ayurveda has maintained more of its traditional Indian character. It is almost impossible to study Ayurveda in the U.S. without using some Sanskrit terminology. Everyone understands vāta, pitta, and kapha, even if they’re not pronounced properly.
The meaning of so many Ayurvedic concepts is so deeply embedded in the language, that it would be nearly impossible to teach Ayurveda without using Sanskrit. Imagine replacing the word pañcakārma with “cleansing process” every time you refer to this Ayurvedic procedure. The English term hardly does justice to the treatment’s complexities. Likewise, how would you refer to the process of upaśaya without having that word in your Sanskrit vocabulary? Sanskrit words don’t always translate neatly into English because they often convey concepts whose meanings are deeper and more nuanced than their literal definitions suggest. Some of these Sanskrit concepts don’t exist in Western culture, so translating them is impossible; you have to explain them instead, which can be arduous. Without the Sanskrit terms, you have to resort to lengthy explanations or deficient English replacements to speak about Ayurvedic principles and practices.