Yoga is already challenging as it is, right? Why would anyone want to voluntarily add yet another layer of complexity by taking or teaching bilingual yoga classes? As we celebrate International Day of Yoga, I’d like to offer my insights as a bilingual yoga teacher and teacher trainer to shed some light on the unique benefits of this approach to yoga.
The sessions I teach offer the pose sequence in English on the first side of the body. Then, we do the series in Spanish on the second side. This format is appropriate for all levels of experience. I encourage the instructors I train in this modality to offer plentiful demonstrations along the way so the students don’t feel lost. Students don’t need proficiency in either language in order to enjoy bilingual yoga; they just need a willingness to learn, whether the focus is to explore asana or improve their understanding of one of the languages used to instruct class.
The benefits of bilingual yoga
It’s great for your brain
In bilingual yoga, you use many areas of your brain in a holistic way while moving your body. For example, this work strengthens your receptive language (comprehension) abilities. This happens because bilingual classes stimulate the language processing abilities of the angular gyrus. This part of your brain helps you assimilate multiple types of language-related information, whether auditory, visual, or sensory cues. It also allows you to associate a perceived word with different images, sensations, and ideas. Bilingual yoga activates your body and your brain!
It helps you cultivate a beginner’s mindset
Trying something new gives you a chance to practice openness, excitement, eagerness, and possibility with (hopefully) minimal preconceptions. Even seasoned yoga practitioners can benefit from the nourishing dose of curiosity a beginner’s mindset offers. Poses and pranayamas can take on a refreshing new light when you experience them being taught in another language.
It offers an on-ramp to deepening both your language and yoga skills
You can try it for the fun of doing something you already love—yoga. Or perhaps is it the other way around? Perhaps you already know both languages used in the bilingual class but want to try yoga. Either way, this format is engaging and encourages you to be aware and present mentally, physically, and even emotionally. And this all happens as you are diversifying your yoga and language skills.
It expands your empathetic potential
I firmly believe empathy to be a radical force for social transformation. Taking a bilingual yoga class could be the beginning of many outward or inward conversations about all kinds of important subjects, such as ally-ship, implicit biases, power dynamics, intersectionality, privilege, amplification of marginalized voices, to mention just a few. Educational opportunities abound! Plus, practicing bilingual yoga with folks that you would not normally have as mat neighbors cultivates the expansion of empathy.
See also: Empathy Overload?
Why teach bilingual yoga?
If you are a trained yoga teacher and also happen to be bilingual, you may wonder why you would be compelled to teach this format? Firstly, it’s a rare and specialized offering. You get to cater to many aspects of the human realm, as well as to increase the value and variety of your teaching skillset, elevating the competitiveness and demand of your teachings. Not to mention:
You can deepen your brain’s language skills
Specifically, as the teacher you get to access:
- Broca’s area, located in the brain’s left hemisphere, is associated with speech production and articulation. Our ability to articulate ideas, as well as use words accurately in spoken and written language, has been attributed to this crucial area.
- Wernicke’s area is a critical language area in the posterior superior temporal lobe. It connects to the Broca’s area via a neural pathway. Wernicke’s area is primarily involved in both spoken and written language comprehension and processing. Historically, this area has been associated with language processing.
Your teaching creates togetherness and builds community
Offering bilingual yoga gives you the opportunity to create a safe environment that fosters inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, and social equity, and cultivate spaces where students can feel a sense of belonging. If you as a yoga teacher are interested in these causes, teaching bilingual yoga is a great way to walk the talk—while potentially serving the underserved. Seva at its best!
Instructing in two languages demands your presence and clarity
How many times have you drifted away in a class in which the instructor aimlessly continues to talk for the entirety of class? I wager this has happened many more times than you or I would care to recount.
Simplicity rules in bilingual yoga, and teaching it is a great way to get hone your skills of delivering a yoga class in a succinct, effective way. The format demands that you eliminate constant chatter, which allows you to hold space for your students in a deeper way.
Teachers who take my bilingual teacher training often share that cultivating clear, brief instructions helps them authentically offer a safe, focused space for students to be able to check in with themselves instead of checking out.
What a bilingual yoga class looks like
No two yoga classes are alike, just like the humans that impart them. My bilingual yoga format has a couple of consistent principles that will assure the student an experience of clarity, presence, and overall wholesomeness.
These sessions honor the classic structure of a hatha-style class—union of breath and movement—and are sequenced in a symmetrical way.
The right side is usually the first to move. All setting and refining cues provided on the right side are in English; by the time we transition to the left side, we also transition to a different language. (In my classes, this would be Spanish, but this format can be used with any combination of two languages.)
All cues and their time of delivery remain the exact same on both sides and in both languages. For example, if the teacher asks their students to “move slowly, as if they are moving through honey,” then you will keep the same terminology on the second side with the second language.The teacher would never change nouns or verbs. (For example, if you used the word honey on the first side, you wouldn’t say molasses on the second side).
This consistency helps create ease and healthy predictability for the student—if they are learning or practicing in their heads as they move they would translate, which takes them out of their embodied experience. In bilingual yoga, the combination of novelty and familiarity can keep students present and connected in their bodies and minds.
About the Author
Noemi Nunez is a Latinx Renaissance Woman! As an offering to her late mother, she created an innovative bilingual yoga class format and training program based on a somatic learning model. The mission of this bilingual yoga format, which has been featured by NBC Universal, is to provide a cultural bridge to further our understanding and ultimate connection. Her bilingual yoga formula brings diversity and inclusivity to yoga rooms, one community at a time.
She feels blessed in wearing interesting hats in this lifetime, among those: lawyer, competitive athlete, performing artist, environmental social justice activist, beer judge, policy advisor, grant-writer, yoga studio co-owner, and her favorite hat as of late: multilingual wellness educator!
Noemi’s favorite way to show kindness is being of service. Three words that describe her are legacy, advocacy, and activism. Three things that make her smile: Universe’s sense of humor, random acts of kindness, and endless possibilities.
Find her on Instagram: @Renaissance_Yogini