art / authenticity / creativity / expat / learning / transitions

Day 4/28: What Happens When You Teach Yoga in a New Country


Hola and welcome to Day 4 of 28! With the craziness of the Super Bowl Weekend in Houston, it has been hard for me to concentrate today and grind out today’s post. And, I am committed to focusing on quantity instead of quality with my writing this month. So, here we go.
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On my Day 2 post, I shared a little about my first phase of learning Spanish. In order to narrow my focus and really find an area where I could really enrich my language skills, I decided to concentrate on being able to teach yoga in Spanish. I’d like to share some highlights on the things that came up for me during my time abroad.

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1) I gained exposure to the various styles of yoga being taught in new communities.

Coming from Houston, I was a little spoiled. The yoga community is strong and varied here (lots of different styles and lots of different studios). By moving to a new country, I noticed a shift in the way yoga was done in Guatemala City, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Medellin.

I am a fan of heated, powerful vinyasa flow yoga. I like the room to be 90 degrees, and I like to be challenged. I want all the binds, the arm balances, and the ab exercises. I expect to see a pool of sweat around me by the end of class. This is not necessarily the case in Latin America.

Luckily the first two yoga studios (Pure Yoga in Zona 16 and Om Yoa in Zona 10) I visited in Guatemala had a lot of teachers who were taught the Baptiste powerful flow sequence that I was familiar. It was easy for me to follow along even though I knew no Spanish. Since I was confident in my practice, I was able to follow along fairly easily.

As I moved outside of the capital, the yoga tended to shift away from the vinyasa flow and into other styles. Ashtanga and haha tend to be very popular in Antigua and Lake Atitlan, and for the most part, I was able to understand the classes because most of the instructors taught in English. Outside of the capital, I found the yoga to be more mystical and at a slower pace for my liking.

2) I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to teach yoga in Spanish.

I connected with two great resources, Jamie at Om Yoga and Marines at Pure Yoga. Jamie trains yoga teachers in the Baptiste sequence and provided me with recorded classes in Spanish and with a translated list of all the poses. And, Marines gave me the opportunity to spend more time in her studio which was in the neighborhood I lived in Guatemala City.

At Pure, I was the only American on staff, and I was able to do hands-on assists and gain time in the studio teaching. This was probably the most valuable experience I had in Guatemala. Assisting students was an interesting challenge because it really forced me to pay attention and listen to the Spanish instructions the teacher was giving. It was a lot more impactful for me because I was seeing the words come alive in front of me versus just writing down words in my notebook. Then, Marines was kind enough to let me teach half of her classes in Spanish and provide me feedback and eventually I was able to teach the full sequence on my own.

Having the opportunity to just be at Pure Yoga daily (each morning and evening) was huge for me. First, it gave me a regimented schedule when I was no longer in Spanish school. Then, I was able to really let the Spanish words sink in by either taking a class, assisting a class, and/or teaching a class. I also noticed that I was able to get out of my shell a little more and gave me a little more confidence in myself as a yoga teacher.

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3) The experience helps you become a better yoga teacher.

Learning how to teach yoga in Spanish basically put me back to square one. While it is scary to speak publicly in front of others, it is most definitely more frightening to teach a class in a language I barely knew.  It was like throwing out my two years of teaching in the States and going back to yoga teacher training again. I had to be effective with the words that I used. I also had to be more aware of watching my students. I’m new. They’re new. It’s all new to everyone.

I couldn’t just shout out the same commands I normally would say in English. I had to really watch what I was saying. In Spanish, a word can totally have a whole new meaning if you change one vowel in a word. It was also an opportunity to brush up on my Sanskrit.

My yoga students in Guatemala knew a lot more Sanskrit than my students back in the States. So if I froze up in the middle of a class, it was good to really on using the Sanskrit terms for things. And, hell, if all else fails, I did rely on my English and did a lot of demonstrating.

After a few months of teaching in Guatemala City, I also did an intensive training in Medellin in order to improve my Spanish. It was nice to have the practical experience in Guatemala under my belt because I was able to have a clear picture of what I really needed to learn. In Medellin, I was able to finally learn how to spell a lot of the body parts and build up on my Spanish vocabulary. (I swear before I attended this training I probably only knew 5 verbs.)

4) I embraced my time abroad as a way to share my unique philosophy of yoga.

One of the most rewarding experiences I got from being in Guatemala was being able to teach art and yoga. My reasoning behind combining the two concepts is because I feel that yoga frees us physically and that sense of freedom can transcend into us being more creative beings. One of my mentors encouraged me to take my unique spin and really see where I could take this.

In the States, many yoga teachers are restricted in the way their classes are let. It is understandable because you need to keep your classes consistent and your clients grow to expect a consistent service. However, when you are given the chance to teach beyond those boundaries, you begin to take chances and really delve deeper into what excites you specifically about the practice.

As I shared in my Day 2 post, I was able to teach my Spanish teacher yoga for the first time ever, and she changed from someone who had doubts about yoga to someone who grew excited about learning more about the practice. Another great experience was when I taught art and yoga classes to middle school and high school kids in inner city Guatemala. Kids are so much more open and engaged than adults are, and they were so much more forgiving when I didn’t know certain words in Spanish. It was great to be able to teach the connection between yoga and art and to see the students really enjoy being creative and taking on new physical challenges.

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