I remember attending my first yoga class in a foreign language in Spain around 2011. At the back of a group of sweating students I followed a second or two behind, trying to cover the fact that I had absolutely no idea of what was going on. In shavasana I let the sounds of an alien tongue wash over me - an unexpectedly soothing experience where I paid attention to rhythms and melodies instead of worrying about the content. By the beginning of 2015 I was comfortably leading my own yoga classes in the very same language, guiding breathing exercises and talking about introspection and meditation. I would say that Spanish has been essential to my career as a yoga teacher and has taught me things about my practice that i would not have expected. Here's a little about my journey, and why I would absolutely recommend it to you as a yoga professional.
Learning the language: perseverance
The best method to learn how to teach yoga in a foreign language is not to pick up a teach-yourself book, where you will probably find out how to buy a kilo of tomatoes, or complain about your broken bathroom sink - neither of which have helped me in a class so far. Better to find, if you can, a class in that language and follow it regularly. There are tons of materials both free and paid online, and it should not be difficult for you to find what you need. You will soon start to identify parts of the body, actions and movements and the particular way that language has of expressing certain ideas. It's important to understand that many things cannot be translated directly from one language to another. I remember a particularly confused group of Spanish students who were instructed by a well meaning American teacher to 'melt from the heart centre' - I'm sure they had literal visions of their chests dissolving in the middle of the posture. You may not understand half of the instructions in your first class, but keep going and it will all start to become more familiar. Eventually you will be comfortable with the most technical instructions, identifying easily such words as 'isquiones' (sit bones), 'isquiotibiales' (hamstrings) and 'empeines' (insteps).
Teaching in a foreign language: keep it simple
After my Yoga teacher training, I was equally familiar with both English and Spanish, but I discovered that it was very challenging to lead class in a language that was not my own. Thinking of your asana sequence while you are trying to think of the correct phrasing is not easy. It's best to start with very familiar sequences and keep your instructions to a minimum. Leaving students sweating it out in revolved triangle while you recite a long list of commands is uncomfortable for everyone! And this is an important lesson for all yoga teachers even in their native language. Do we really need to talk as much as we do? Are we giving instructions because we really need to, or are we just reciting a list of commands because they are familiar? Are our students really listening to and understanding what we are saying? Could we simplify our instructions for better understanding? If necessary, demonstrate the asana physically with a couple of key commands - you won't have any difficulty. Use the pattern of verb + noun for simplicity: 'subimos brazos' - let's lift our arms. Demonstrate corrections wile standing by the side of the student instead of tying yourself up linguistically.
So why has teaching yoga in Spanish been so important? Opportunities!
It is estimated that over 400 million people in the world speak Spanish as a native language, putting it second behind Mandarin and ahead of English in the rankings. It can be a huge competitive advantage to be able to work bilingually. Not only can you cater to the Spanish speaking population in your own country, but you can travel and work in Latin America, where yoga is just beginning to explode, or in Spain - a wildly popular yoga-tourism destination, with many well-established studios. After my teacher training I travelled to Colombia, and found it easy to start teaching both to the Spanish and English speaking communities there. Yoga is still relatively new in South America, and you might find it far easier to create opportunities for yourself there than back home where there are already so many established teachers. Who doesn't like the idea of travelling to beautiful and exotic locations to share their craft?
Has this article been useful to you? You might like to consider our 'teaching Yoga in Spanish' language course in Colombia, where we cover everything from simple commands to more complex sequences in a two - week period. Click here for more information about our next course. Or sign up to our newsletter below to receive more articles for yoga teachers: