October 23, 2013

Foreign Language Yoga: Breaking the Walls of Ego. ~ Stefani Crabtree

Or, how I didn’t allow a language barrier to get the best of me.

“Inspirare, collegare l’energia intorno a voi. Mettere a terra i piedi. Espirare.”

My beautiful teacher is telling me, in her lilting Italian, to connect to the earth and breathe. The only problem is, I do not speak Italian.

Sure, I can say hello, and after a week in Italy I can get by (I’m fluent in French) but this 90-minute class was a new can of worms. It was embarrassing. I was the only non-Italian at this class. I was slow to get into the postures because I could only guess at some things she was saying (Does “cosce” or “culo” mean “thighs”? I forget. One of them means “ass” so it would be best if I remembered). After this sweaty class in humid Rome I needed to rent a towel. For such a mundane object it has such a beautiful sound—“asciugamano”—but I kept forgetting the word.

Three days before this class, I was in German-speaking Switzerland (I do not speak German) and had to hold in my giggles when my teacher told me to “Schnaufen schnaufen schnaufen” while I was holding bird-of-paradise. Needless to say, I fell right out. (For the record, she was reminding me to breathe).

I have become addicted to foreign language yoga.

It forces me to come up against the walls of my ego.

As a semi-advanced yoga practitioner/yoga teacher I expect certain things of myself when I go to a class. I know how to get in and out of many poses. When a teacher says what pose we’re going into I no longer have to stare helplessly at the teacher and the students around me trying to figure out how the hell I can get my right leg to go there.

Being in a class in a language I do not speak levels my playing field. I can no longer anticipate the pose. In all honesty, I have no idea what we will be doing next.

It also causes me to connect with the others around me. When they breathe, I breathe. When they move, I move. I have to be hyper aware. When a teacher comes to give me an adjustment I cannot understand what they say, but by reading body language and allowing their hands to gently guide, I find the understanding in my body before my brain.

Being an academic, I am always in my brain. I am always analyzing. I try to leave my ego behind, but it’s difficult. Not knowing the language causes me to take things one step at a time. To follow the teacher instead of anticipating.

It also teaches me what I need to work on. Before taking yoga classes in French (where, yes, I can speak the language, but do not always understand what they say in yoga) I didn’t realize I was that student. I was terrified to take the French yoga class because I thought I’d look stupid when I couldn’t understand what the teacher said.

Nobody cared. They thought it was great that a non-French speaker was there.

So now, when I travel, I take yoga classes everywhere I go. Not in English? No problem! I cannot understand everything they say, but I can connect more deeply to those around me. By not understanding the words, I also am more purely in my consciousness. (It has also made Bikram more fun. When you can’t understand the teacher, you think they’re speaking poetry, not telling you to lock your knees).

By being ignorant I can let the ego go; I can be late getting in a pose; I can allow the flow to happen around me and with me. I can be.

Inspirare. Schnaufen. Respire. Breathe.

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Assistant Ed: Jamie Khoo/Ed: Sara Crolick

{Photo via Pixoto}

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