In Thomas Egene's Introduction to Sanskrit: Part I, I love that his suggested approach to learning this system, an approach which to me is a practical one, steeped in ahimsa (first of the yamas- nonviolence). He suggests, "review the alphabet, grammar rules, and vocabulary frequently and in a relaxed state of mind... if there is any hesitation in recall, immediately look at the written form, rather than straining and thus 'programming' your mind to forget. Memorization should be easy, comfortable, and frequent." Sounds like yoga to me.
MY lessons begin with "a" seen below:
There are short a's and long a's. Above is the short version. The difference in sound, is the difference between the "a" found in the word "America", and the "a" in the word "father".
Found the following tidbit at LearningSanskrit.org (one can visit this site to hear the vowels being spoken as well). In bold is a part I find particularly exciting:
The importance of the vowel a
The vowel a is especially significant in the Sanskrit tradition, as this verse from the Bhagavad Gita shows:
Of letters I am a. Of compounds I am the dual.
I alone am unending time, the Founder facing every side.Bhagavad Gita 10.33
Why is a so special? The traditional answer is that a is the origin of all vowels and the basis of all speech. If you read this answer carelessly, it might not make much sense; after all, what does a have to do with letters like "k" and "b," and how does it relate to other vowels?
But this answer should not be taken so strictly. Recall that a is the sound of exhalation. a requires no extra effort and no movement of the tongue or lips to come forth. This is what the answer means when it says that a is the origin of all vowels; since a is the unadorned sound of air leaving through the mouth, all other vowels are modifications of it. Since a is the sound of breathing, and since breath is the basis of speech, we can say that a represents the fundamental basis of speech.