SPRECHEN SIE YOGA?
by Lisa Stowe
Whenever I travel, a key piece of luggage is my lime green yoga mat. It sticks to the belt going through security, and can be annoying to lug around, but it is a constant companion. I always try to take class on my travels and it was no different when I was in Frankfurt for a business trip.
My knowledge of German is limited to what I’ve learned from WWII movies, Cabaret, and basics like “please” and “thank you”. Needless to say, I don’t know how to say “step your right foot forward”, not to mention “class schedule” (kurspläne). But with the help of Google Translate and patient searching of German-language studio websites, I was on my way.
Being a very international city, it seems like everyone speaks English in Frankfurt. At the studio sign in desk, I stammered through “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” with every expectation that I’d be answered in crisp, clear English – and was met with a blank stare and a crisp, clear reply of “No”. Thankfully the studio owner’s teenage daughter came to my rescue and I was signed into class, albeit not as auspiciously as I had hoped. What I had been looking forward to as a blissful practice was starting to feel like a stress factory.
Once in the studio space, I nervously smiled and gestured my way through the process of getting my mat organized in the room and collecting my props. As I settled into the familiarity of supported virasana and focused on my breath, the nervousness began to evaporate – I was breathing, I was on my mat. My stress continued to wane throughout the class as the bliss waxed. I may not have understood a word of her dharma talk, but I did recognize the chant from a class I’d taken at Mala. I did not understand a word of her instructions, but I did recognize the poses, which she called out in Sanskrit.
As the class went on, I picked up some words in German. I learned how to say in and out in the context of breathing (ein / aus), and how to count to five (eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf). I discovered the words for hand (hand), foot (fuss), and floor (boden). I couldn’t intuit the next pose based upon the teacher’s verbal instructions, yet somewhat paradoxically, the sequences seemed to flow more naturally, almost as if my body knew what to do.
The German words I picked up were not SAT words – they were foundational pieces of language. They illuminated my practice for me, reminding me to focus on my breath and the connection of my extremities to the earth, not to dwell on the fancy poses or the flowery language. The flowing nature of my practice was detoxifying and calming as I let the poses come instead of stressing about the inversion that I sensed on the horizon.
As I’ve settled back into the groove at Mala, I’m trying to keep this window into my practice open, focusing on breathing, grounding, and surrendering. It is not always easy, but neither is peeling a sticky mat off the belt at airport security.
Lisa Stowe is a yogi, economist and mom who is as graceful with her arm balances as she is analyzing financial markets and juggling two young children. THE BALANCE SHEET will offer her perspective on integrating and benefiting from a consistent yoga practice amidst the hectic reality of family, work, and home.