Tag Archives: Yoga

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

On Yoga and Writing

Today I thought that maybe I write for the same reasons that I practice yoga. It’s a way of accessing another part of the brain, another part of the body. Perhaps, if you’ll allow me the liberty, another part of the soul.

I was introduced to yoga over ten years ago and have maintained a regular practice since the beginning. It has evolved over time, naturally, and I have written at length on this blog about my experiences with yoga. It tends to come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I practice both yoga and meditation, light incense, look for the spiritual. By this I mean, yoga is a way of accessing, through the body and breath, a different outlook on the world. It is a way of reaching, physically, to parts of my body that I might not fully notice otherwise; it is a way of reaching, spiritually, towards both energy and stillness, towards forces in the universe I cannot explain.

Towards forces in the universe I don’t need to explain.

Maybe I write because writing is a way of expressing what lives in the body, the sensations of being alive on this planet and looking up at the sky. Writing is a way to capture the pulse of energy that sweeps you away when you let it it. Writing brings sensation back to a foundation, back to a centre where it can be grasped, felt, explored.

I write because I am feeling and I practice yoga in order to feel.

Sometimes, and certainly the case in much of my journal writing, I don’t understand what I feel until I write it down. Moving from sensation to articulation requires a conscious slowing down, letting go, a certain objectivity that reduces an emotional component, or at least requires me to detach from it just enough to inquire into it, unpack it. This is what I mean when I say, as I have known to be true for a long time, I think better on paper.

Yoga moves the sensation through the body and begins an exploration of how the body is connected, constructed, understood. I was first fascinated, all those years ago, with the shapes I could create with a breath. Perhaps years of dance training facilitated the ease with which I found my body in a new form, or perhaps innately understanding the possibility of movement in the body meant that I have always approached yoga with curiosity. Let’s see where I am in this body today. And then let go of the body and move with the breath.

Or maybe I’m trying too hard in linking these two aspects of myself together. I have had profound experiences in both contexts, that of doing yoga and that of writing. I do not aim here to explain what those experiences were or where they came from, but rather to make the bold claim that they existed. There are things in the universe we cannot explain, and the statement of such is what makes the claim true.

What is true, however, is malleable. There are days when the body and mind flow as a unit more smoothly than on other days. There are days where we walk easily, calmly, gently though the world. There are days when we are literally and figuratively bent out of shape, and we may or may not know why, or days when someone else knows something is wrong even before we know it.

I cannot write without being vulnerable enough to look inside myself and there is always the threat, sometimes realized, of finding something I don’t like. I cannot practice yoga without the willingness to sometimes feel a little foolish, or to be humbled by what my body is and is not capable of. There’s an element of letting go of control in both contexts and a requirement for honesty, authenticity, sincerity that strips away whatever masks I happen to be wearing. It’s a question of how much I am willing to give in that moment, and the question is answered moment after moment.

Maybe yoga is the physical manifestation of what I look for in writing, or maybe writing is the intellectual element of synchronizing the breath and the body. That they come together in this way is what drives the continued exploration. The satisfaction, the sensation of which lives somewhere beneath the sternum and is captured by clauses and phrases, is in the journey itself.

As for the universe, the magnificence of which is unexplained as far as I am concerned, there is no answer within reach because there is no answer to find.

Building Peace: A Greeting

In May 2016, I started a series of blog posts entitled “Building Peace”. This led, two years later, to a book that tied together many of the ideas presented in these posts, ideas that remain fundamental to the role I want to play in this world. I have written just a couple “Building Peace” posts since then, perhaps because I find this theme far more obvious now than when I first began tugging at stubborn threads. Somewhere along the road, these nascent ideas coalesced into an identity.

And it has been a road.

A significant personal change is that I like who I am; the adult can speak to the child in me without crying. In optimistic moments, it’s enough just to know that. In pessimistic ones, I still find that it helps to spend time among trees.

Rereading, I stand by what I wrote back then. So maybe it’s not that I have changed, but that the way I understand myself has changed. Not so lost after all, perhaps.

December in the Gregorian calendar situates us at the end of a cycle. There are certainly other means of marking time, but standardization allows for a more connected world, and a blog is a product of such a world. Readers of this blog come from 151 countries and this is astonishing to me. I thank you for the privilege of writing and I thank you for your patience in reading.

Western tradition says that this is the time of year for us to reflect on the past year and resolve, in the new year, to act differently. To push back on convention, as usual, I would like to suggest that the best time to make a change is the moment in which you recognize that a change should be made. Walk peacefully.

But in keeping with convention, which has a time and a place, I offer the greeting that ends many yoga classes. It takes different structures, forms, and languages, and it has meant different things to me at different times. I share this greeting because it is a reflection of how I try to walk in the world, behave in relationships with others, and consider my actions in relation to the planet. I hope that it resonates with you, too. And regardless, I wish for you what you wish for you.

Hands to the heart reminding us to have clear and loving intentions.
Hands to the forehead reminding us to have clear and loving thoughts.
Hands to the mouth reminding us to have clear and loving communications.
The light in me recognizes and honours the light in you.

Schalkau, Germany – September 2021