The Unexpected Lessons of Practicing Yoga in a Foreign Language

The Unexpected Lessons of Practicing Yoga in a Foreign Language

I thought that by allowing myself an hour to find the yoga studio in the Barri Gothic (the old quarter of Barcelona) that I would arrive far before the 10am class.

But as I make my way through the tiny windy streets, I find myself lost in a labyrinth of twists and turns. The erratic cel coverage in Barcelona does not allow me to access my location, so my phone is not going to be of any assistance in helping me find my destination. Such is life in Spain.

In a last ditch effort, I pop into a bike rental shop, and the young man behind the counter points me to an unmarked apartment building next door.

I find the understated signage refreshingly authentic. It’s almost as if saying, “you find me” as opposed to the commercialization of so many studios in the US with over-the-top marketing.

It is now 10:05, but I ring the buzzer. I’m prepared for them not to answer – or to politely turn me away. (This is what I’m accustomed to when I arrive late to a yoga class in the US). Surprisingly, I am buzzed in and so quickly make my way up an ancient concrete stairway.

There is a friendly woman at the front desk to whom I dictate what is I had transcribes via Google Translation the night before: “Mi gustaria tomar la clase de yoga.” She smiles, takes my six Euro for the class and points me in the direction of the class.

Thankfully it appears that the numbers on the clock only serve as rough guidelines as the class has just started.

I enter the room quietly so as not to disturb the class. Quickly positioning myself cross-legged on my yoga mat, I listen to the teacher’s melodic voice. She is leading us through a closed-eye meditation. My only challenge is that I have absolutely no idea what she is saying, because despite living in Spain for over a month, Catalan is still as foreign to me as when I first got here.

Having overcome the first challenge of actually finding the studio, the reality of the language barrier starts to set in — as does the fact that I will likely make a complete fool of myself.

As he only non-Spanish/Catalan speaker in the class, I find myself hyper self-conscious. Yet I am also a semi-advanced yoga practitioner/yoga teacher.  I know how to get in and out of most poses – often without even thinking about it. But that is when I am leading a class or practicing on my own.

I am listening, but I have no idea what I am supposed to do nor any clue what is coming next.

“Inhalar,” the teacher brings me back to the room. “Exhalar.”

At least I understand the words to breathe.

The teacher goes on again with her dialogue and I am lost until I hear the word “ojos.”

“Ojos” – eyes, I know this word! But is she telling us to open them or keep them closed? I open mine, but everyone else still has theirs closed.

As we begin to move through the asanas, I am slow and awkward. It’s humbling. It was like I was taking yoga for the very first time.

That said, it is not too far along into the class that I realize no one is paying attention to me. Each student is instead struggling with their own practice, as I am with mine – just in different ways.

And there is the lesson I am having to constantly relearn: I did not need to have any other expectations of myself other than to just be in this moment, to go with the flow – and just do the best I could. With that, I let go of my ego.

No longer worrying about the judement of the other students, I immediately connect with them. When they breathe, I breathe. When they move their right leg, I move my right leg.

And when the teacher comes over to give me an adjustment, despite not understanding a word of what she says, I follow her body language instead of my brain.

As we lay in Savasana, I hear the church bells ringing outside, indicating that it is noon and that class is over. I open my eyes to see the puffy white clouds as they pass over the beautiful old Barri Gothic. I know I’m in the right place. And that really all the lessons I need to learn in this yoga room are the ones I need to take off my mat with me: To be a beginner in all things here abroad – a new language, a new culture, new people — new everything.

I close my eyes again and relish in the complete lightness of being so free. Namaste.

Tips for a Successful First Class in a Foreign Language:

  • Have your route planned out to find your studio (this is particularly true in Barcelona, where studios can be tucked away on small side streets with little signage.) Better yet, visit the studio in advance, so you know where you are going.
  • Place yourself in a middle row, if that’s an option. That way, you can also watch what other students are doing both in front of you and behind you, which is particularly helpful when you are in an asana that faces the back wall.
  • Learn a few of the basic words before the class (right/left/eyes/mouth/open/close). Just a few of the basics can make a world of difference.
  • Make sure you double-check schedules online as they can change weekly.
  • Look out the window. And notice what’s there and where you are.

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