Category Archives: Germany

Yoga auf Deutsch

I’ve been living in Germany for slightly over a year and it seems like my language skills are slowly improving. A friend asked recently how long I’ve been learning German (about a year and a half) and complemented my fluidity when speaking, which I think was a generous remark. It certainly doesn’t feel fluid and I often only catch the grammar mistakes after I’ve made them, assuming I catch them at all. But I am starting to get a sense for the language and I can make more meaning out of what I read and hear without knowing all of the words, which suggests a gradual improvement.

One thing I’ve been trying to do is hear as much German as possible, for example, on the radio, in films or TV shows, and eavesdropping closely when the opportunity arises. It is for this reason that I started following a German yoga instructor on YouTube. I’ve done YouTube yoga for well over ten years and it seemed like a natural progression in language learning. The idea is immersion, after all.

It helps that I am intimately familiar with yoga after years of practice and it helps that Sanskrit is used for many postures. It helps that yoga sequences are deliberately repetitive and that all yoga teachers talk (slowly and calmly) about breath, stillness, movement, and stretching. They use imperative language, which is not always obvious in daily life, and speak as explicitly as possible without simplifying, which is otherwise hard to find. I hadn’t realized all of this when I first began looking for yoga videos in German and perhaps it wouldn’t have taken me so long if I had.

Brand new when I began practicing yoga auf Deutsch were some anatomy words and the German translations for names of postures that I’m used to hearing in English. These are the things one doesn’t typically learn out of textbooks, but also the things that make the difference between living in German (when I try to do that) and learning German. And if experience is the best teacher and language learning requires repetition, yoga is a beautiful way to practice.

A benefit I did not expect is that doing yoga in German requires me to focus in a way that a yoga class in English does not. I’ve done plenty of yoga sequences with my mind accidentally elsewhere the whole time, breathing automatically rather than intentionally following the breath. After such a practice, the body feels better but the mind remains in a whirl. But when the instruction is in German, my whole attention is on listening because I cannot passively absorb language the way I do in English. As a result, I am more engaged when practicing and recognize immediately when my mind has wandered because I lose track of the sequence and literally cannot continue. At the conclusion of practice, my body and mind are very much aligned.

Naturally, there are things that I miss in these videos, perhaps elements of philosophy that go beyond my current vocabulary. But the benefits, both for language learning and for yoga practice itself, are far greater than that, and far greater than I anticipated. The biggest reminder here, I think, is that it is always worth trying something new because you really never know what you’re going to find.

You live a new life for every language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once. – Czech proverb

The Beach

I’m not sure how my parents chose the beach that ultimately became the beach we visited every summer, and then every other summer, and then one last time. I think it was advertised in a catalogue or maybe as part of a vacation package at a wholesale store. Whatever it was, we loved our family beach holidays, which started as soon as we got into the car and began the sixteen-hour or so adventure of reading, license plate spotting, occasional bickering, and listening to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion after dark. Throughout my childhood, the ocean was my happy place.

Until last week, it had been a while since I’d spent a holiday at the ocean, several years since the order of events upon arrival followed a familiar pattern: Unload the car, have something to eat, buy groceries, walk on the beach. It was my first trip to Warnemünde on the Ostsee, or Baltic Sea, where I was thrilled to have been invited, and my heart felt almost like I’d been there before.

Warnemünde is a fishing town with an active port and a popular destination for tourists and cruise ships. A port means boats and lighthouses, both of which remind me warmly of my years working on boats and never fail to capture my attention.

The water was warmer than I’d expected though still a shock each time we waded carefully in, laughing, slipping on rocks, getting tangled in seaweed, playing. The ocean was surprisingly flat even on windy days, and the beach rockier than usual, I was told. We tasted salt on our lips, dried off under the sun and wind, watched the seagulls marching along the sand. And when the sun went down, we walked quietly and in awe.

On the Ostsee, I learned, much of the beach emerges from the forest and this was completely new to me. We found a cozy spot, watched the approaching rainclouds, and walked calmly back in the storm that followed.

In the bright sunshine of my last day, we rented bikes and followed a path through the forest and along the coastline. We passed farms and little towns, stopped to eat and drink overlooking the ocean, and went swimming in the warmest water yet. We searched unsuccessfully for Hühnergotter, stones with a small hole through them that are supposed to bring good luck. The sound of the ocean was soothing and I nearly fell asleep on the sand.

The world is a beautiful place and I was lucky to be somewhere new to me, lucky to share it with people who have such fond memories of being there. The world is a beautiful place and to be part of it is a gift. I am glad to know this – every day.

The Forest

Can you smell the forest?

The question came after hours of walking, after hours of talking, laughing, catching up with some friends and getting to know others.

It came after the marvels and exclamations over rocks we don’t see closer to home, after jokes about how we could (or could not) climb these rocks.

We walked through sunshine, through narrow fissures between massive rock formations, up wire ladders.

We found ourselves up high, able to look down and out and far beyond.

We spent the weekend in Sächsische Schweiz, a national park jointly maintained by the German and Czech governments due to its location along country borders. It’s known for hiking and cycling, as well as for climbing on the beautiful, imposing sandstone that is so different from any rock I have climbed.

Sandstone is so special that different rules apply while climbing it and we spent a few moments watching skilled climbers, suitably impressed. For us, it was enough to play amongst the massive boulders.

As we walked, sand and pollen clung to our clothes. They’re further along in spring than we are.

We camped in an abandoned greenhouse, overgrown with trees and flowers, glass panels lost to time and, perhaps, visitors. We cooked with bottled water and gas that we brought with us, emptied the basin that served as a sink into the bushes, and discussed the merits of the extremely clean compost toilet.

The birds woke us before dawn after a late evening watching the fire turn to embers and then finally to ash, and the sun was slowly drying the dew off our tents when we convened for coffee much later on.

Watching the sky, we headed out again, first to the rapeseed fields that were everywhere and then back into the forest, learning the names of different trees along the way.

I’d never been in a forest with trees like this.

I’d never been in a forest with rock formations like this.

We shared snacks, experiences, stories, and felt the wind change. We found a cave where it was cold inside, and we would have lingered but the sky had changed, too, along with the scent, texture, and weight of the air.

Later that afternoon, the rain came fast. Nature speaks to those who listen.

Can you smell the forest?