English is a language with a lot of words. Some even say it has the largest vocabulary, though it’s hard to measure. But in the end, there’s no “competitive linguistics” or trophy for the language with the most words. More on this later!
Because English has so many words, it makes sense that it hosts many homonyms (same word, different meanings) and homophones (same sound, different words with different meanings).
I’ve recently been contemplating one such homonym/homophone: HURDLE/HURDLE/HURTLE, and exploring these words in relationship to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14.
HURDLE (noun): an obstacle or difficulty
HURDLE (verb): to jump over
HURTLE (verb): to move or cause to move at a great speed
It struck me that not only do the homonyms hurdle/hurdle have different meanings, but they actually have the opposite meaning. Same sound, opposite meaning.
Now, try this experiment: repeatedly say “hurdle” out loud for a minute or two. Stop reading this article and actually do it! Then return to reading once you’ve had a chance to experience the exercise.
Did you notice how difficult it became to say the sound? Repeating the word hurdle becomes a hurdle in itself, and requires great determination and persistence to hurdle.
Determination and persistence can hurtle us over our obstacles in our Yoga practice, as well.
Determination and persistence. Don’t they mean the same thing? Aren’t they synonyms? Well, kind of. Determination is an attitude that when practiced over a significant amount of time, is called persistence.
And, this brings us to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra for today:
Yoga Sutra 1.14
Sa Tu Dirghakalanairantaryasatkaradarasevito Drdhabhumih
“Abhyasa (Devoted Practice) is nurtured by a sustained, steady rhythm and a dedicated heart.” (translation, Nischala Joy Devi)
In a preceding Sutra, 1.12, Patanjali describes the two components that bring one’s mind to the state of Yoga: abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment). Yoga Sutra 1.14 explains that abhyasa alone is not enough to overcome the many obstacles and distractions that impede our ability to be in the state of Yoga all the time. Many large hurdles exist on our path. In order for us to find a lasting mental state of Yoga, we need to practice in a sustained manner for a long period of time. In other words, we need persistence along with our determination.
Persistence and determination together build the energy we need to overcome obstacles that arise on our life path.
Surmounting physical hurdles requires physical strength and agility. But surmounting challenges on the Yogic path requires inner strength and mental agility. Many of the necessary mental shifts toward progress can actually be quite small and subtle.
Take a second look at our three words, hurdle, hurdle and hurtle. At first listen, they all sound the same. And, if we didn’t know there was a difference, we might bump into the hurdle of misunderstanding. But the longer we work with the words, listen to their sounds, hear each used in different contexts, spell them and apply them in sentences, we notice the subtle differences, and we eventually discover that a very slight movement of the tongue creates the different sound between “hurdle” and “hurtle.” And, with a slight shift of where we place “hurdle” in a sentence, we change its entire meaning.
Just imagine how different your life could be if you thought you could transform all your obstacles into assets, as long as you had enough time to study and learn their subtleties. As long as you have determination and persistence, your obstacles could all seem to be only temporary, and you could be free to adopt an entirely different attitude towards obstacles in general.
In my personal yoga asana practice, I have been amazed at how slight shifts can make a massive difference. Through small shifts in alignment, I have personally experienced pain disappear, dizziness clear, more freedom of motion and mobility, and deeper breathing. And of course, slight shifts of attitude have at times changed my entire world and the people in it.
Now, let’s circle back to the concept of competitive linguistics. I know there is no such thing as competition between languages. But if there were, to me the language of Yoga would win over English. Why? Because that language, called Sanskrit, is believed to have the most number of words for “love.” Though English may have more words in total, Sanskrit has at least 96 words (and possibly more) that mean “love.” If it were up to me, I’d definitely give the trophy to the language with the most words for “love.”
See you in Yoga class. :)
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About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 500 certified Yoga instructor of over 20 years, while during most of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.