Teaching Non-English Speakers

I go slowly and give clear instructions, with demonstration. However, I feel I don’t put enough emphasis on the internal. I wonder if this is actually helping me improve as a teacher, offering experience to learn to teach the asana movements—or if it’s hindering me since I think I hold back in my teaching because I assume they can’t understand anything that can’t be demonstrated.

Any suggestions on teaching yoga to students who speak a different language would be helpful.


Read Marla Apt’s response:

Dear Wendy,

It sounds like you are doing a good job of bridging the language gap. Keep in mind that the external and the internal experiences are linked, and if your students are fully absorbed in the instructions and actions that you are teaching, and their minds are engaged in the process, they are having an “internal experience.”

The challenge for you is to keep them involved. As they master the basics, you need to convey the physical actions with more subtlety. I recommend that you learn a few Japanese terms for body parts that cannot be pointed to in a demonstration that are involved or that they may be able to feel or observe as a result of your instructions, such as internal organs. When they are ready for this deeper awareness (after they have some mastery over their musculoskeletal systems), your instructions can help them experience beyond contraction and extension; they can begin to look for softness, internal space, and a sense of physical and emotional peace.

I also recommend learning the Japanese for a few key philosophical terms that are central to yoga philosophy. Luckily you are in a country that has translated much Sanskrit in the transmission of Buddhism. One or two words, such as a few of the yamas or niyamas, or the concept of abhyasa</i. and vairagya or effortless effort, can go a long way in helping students shift their intention and approach.