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Exploring Common Sanskrit: Om, Spanda, Sutra, Dharma… WHAT?

Exploring Common Sanskrit: Om, Spanda, Sutra, Dharma… WHAT?

I had the pleasure of taking part in a writing experiment with Susanna Harwood Rubin, a yoga teacher and writer on the East Coast, who prompts students every day with a new Sanskrit word to explore with a few of their own words.

I’m less than a week into this experience, and am already surprised how it has enabled me to look inward and apply the words and concepts to my life personally. Below are a few of my word explorations on the meaning and energy of some of these basic and common Sanskrit terms


As I sit, legs folded, in front of the classroom of novice yogis I can almost palpate their nervousness. They struggle to sit up straight but eventually, with enough props and prompts, they are able to settle into their seats and close their eyes. We all join our palms, thumb-tips touching our breastbones. As the individual breaths lengthen and smooth, I feel the anxiety level dropping. But then I muster up the tough-love, pushing the comfort zone once again by asking the students to join me for three OMs. A few voices in the group lift loud enough for me to hear, but they are shaky and off-key. It is a moment of awkwardness for me, too, but worth it. So worth it.

Sixty, seventy-five or ninety minutes of guided asana follows; stretching, opening, lengthening, the students’ bodies and capturing their attention and mindfulness. Then, savasana. Like bookends to the class, we finish by sitting and breathing. A sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and presence fills the room. This time when I ask for three OMs together the sound resonates clear and strong from each individual, connecting them, and us as a class, to the universal. This is the unfolding beauty of yoga.


These days I only know Shakti in as much as I long for her. She is what’s missing in my 21st-century city world. My whole life, until five years ago, I easily immersed myself in Shakti as I lived close to the land in small towns perched in the High Desert or on the Pacific Coast. Now, struggling to “get ahead” in Denver, I feel removed from nature's pulsations and thus the feminine force of Shakti. Yet I know that Shakti is everywhere. It is up to me to rebel against the fast-paced pressures around me and just sit still and turn inward, to reconnect with Shakti once again.


Despite my best tries to be an independent, free-thinking woman of 2016, I must admit and surrender to the invisible ties that bind me to my ancestors, to the generations before me.

The ethics, the cynicism, the curiosity, the hard-work, the idealism, the posture, the values, the recipes, the habits, the voice, the illnesses, the strength… all are infused by the constellation of my people past.

I am childless; does the thread end here? Or is it possible to continue to stitch forward into time through legacy and influence?


I loved my last yoga teacher. Adored her. She was the who instilled in me the habit of noticing ‘gurus’ all around me, and yet she was my primary, my ‘maha-guru.’ She continuously reminded her students not to put her, or anyone, on a pedestal, which then caused me to raise her up even higher. Until, after her affair with a student, and the messiness that ensued (including the demand that we take her side), my teacher fell hard off that pedestal.

Ironically, or perhaps perfectly, I had been primed to see this fall from grace as ‘guru,’ too. Left without a chosen teacher, I was called upon to enlist my inner guidance and wisdom. I was taught that ultimately the teacher within is the only constant amidst the fluctuations of power hierarchies and human fallibility. I must nurture and uphold it as so.


Dharma: “Our truth, our duty, the guidelines of our lives, particular to each of us.”

In the past few days I’ve been noticing the distinction between wanting to do something and feeling that I must do something. The ‘must’ is a calling, without reason. Perhaps it is my dharma?

It wasn’t reasoning or desire that lead me into nursing school so as to be able to provide medical care to those in rescue/relief situations. I’m now hearing a strong inner call to go to Greece to assist the flood of refugees escaping across the Mediterranean. Reason and logic keep arguing against it. But I’ve spent far too long choosing out of flippant desire or fear, which eventually feels out of alignment. Time to follow my dharma instead.


One moment I luxuriate in my solitude, content to putz around my home, geeking out on podcasts while cooking for myself, cocooned. The next moment I itch to get out and contribute to the world. I travel the globe, dance on pool tables, organize movements. Introversion and extroversion push and pull at me. Honoring the pulsations, the fluctuations of inner and outer life. Spanda.

By Elise Fabricant

Elise Fabricant is a top teacher on She's also always at your service for one-on-one coaching. If you’re ready to make big changes in all aspects of your life, sign up for a complimentary clarity session with her from her website here.

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