My Yoga Practice Goes Italian. ~ Zoe Schiffer

Via elephant journal
on Jul 15, 2011
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Photo: Chris Yunker

On the surface, Italy and yoga have little in common. Some would say, even, that the passionate and sexy country I am currently residing in is almost in opposition with the spiritual and introspective practice of yoga – although Lululemon has been making a valiant effort to find equality on the sexy front of things.

Regardless, until this summer I had always stoically agreed with author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wisely said doing backbends or inversions after eating an entire pizza by oneself, and maybe some gelato, seems slightly counter-intuitive, and that the practice of yoga does not fit all to well in the country of Italy.

For two weeks now, however, my pseudo-older sister and I have been living in an apartment in Florence, trying our best to marry the worlds of yoga and Italian culture and food that have long since captivated both of our hearts. As a chef, she has found it imperative that we not sacrifice our culinary experience while here in Italy. And as a college student, I have found it equally important that we do not sacrifice aperitivo (pre-meal drink) time. (Which, yes, I do call out every evening at around 6:30 or 7 in my best loud opera voice so as to alert as many people as possible within our near vicinity just what time it is).

This time of day usually finds Ashley contorted into some pretzel shaped cube, zenning out in the Florentine sunshine which leaks through the green shutters and illuminates the hardwood floor in a daily poetic reminder of how lucky we are to be where we are. But I digress. Dutifully, my dear Gypsy Chef unpretzels herself and walks to the fridge to select the appropriate mixture of ice and prosecco and whatever else she is inspired to add to the glass that will commence our night. One aperitivo a casa, we sadly shed the sports bras and underwear which have become the uniform at “the nest,” (as the apartment is called), change, then trip down the 6 flights of cold stone steps to the humid street below.

Out the door, round the winding apartment-lined side streets, passed the Piazza della Signoria, which is conveniently close to our house. Then, ah, Artisanal Gelateria, the restaurant we chose, with its four small tables and three dish options (pizza margherita, pizza napoletana, or pizza marinara), already has a line outside the door. We wait, knowing that what is coming is well worth it.

The next morning I wake to the soft sound of chanting coming from the living room stereo. Morning practice must commence, and as I roll out of bed and onto my mat, I take a sidelong look at my friend who has contorted herself into another pretzel-cube at the front of her mat, and is softly attempting to guide me into it as well.

Legs crossed into lotus, back flat against the floor, then lotus legs up overhead and butt supported by hands then simply balance on your shoulders and what?! I fall out, knowing full well I will be coached back in until I get it right (piu o meno). We practice for an hour, then sit in quiet meditation and give thanks to all the gifts we have in our lives. Ham-sa. Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold. I honor the guru within.

So the debate goes on, can yoga and Italy coexist in happy, mutual support, or do we need to choose one?

The answer, I have personally decided, is that for one who is not inclined to give their life fully over to the practice of spirituality, but still desires to splash around the edges and occasionally jump in, it is a perfect union. The experiment continues, however, until the 18th so…


Zoe Schiffer grew up in the lush southern coast of California, where she began writing and reading voraciously at an early age. Her love of traveling has brought her all over the world, and it is a passion she still obtains, though currently tethered down in the Washington area by Seattle University, where she is in her second year. A student of yoga, she takes her practice on the road as often as possible, always trying to gain new experience (and writing material) through travel and adventure.


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6 Responses to “My Yoga Practice Goes Italian. ~ Zoe Schiffer”

  1. Graham says:

    What an awesome article! Only one thing wrong, I wasn't invited to Florence. Also, I don't seem to remember the Yoga in Italy square on the game of Life.

  2. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  3. tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Anna says:

    Hi Zoe
    You might want to try to head to Castello Potentino – just out of florence near sienna – if you get a chance.
    An old castle which the family have turned in to a vineyard and make the most insane organic home produced wine that is made on the basis of etruscan principals and has won a lot of awards, and organic vegetarian food which is utterly incredible with their home made olive oil…. It's absolutely beautiful and one of the nicest places on earth to practise. Also they are part of the WOOFA program so you can always work for your bed and board.

  5. Kajetan says:

    Dear Zoe, thanks for letting me have a glimpse of your Italian-Yoga-Experience! I loved reading your article!

  6. faithhay says:

    As one who likes to eat well, I find doing poses on a full stomach a bit uncomfortable. But that said, it's always a signal for moderation. And since yoga is not about perfection, but learning, it sounds wonderful to incorporate it into such a rich environment as the one you're exploring.