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