Hello from Germany!
I have disappeared from the teaching scene thanks to an internship in Germany. I lead a bit of a double life as a yoga teacher/ astrophysics student, and my internship has taken me to southern Germany, to a university town just outside Munich. I have not been teaching here, although I’ve had a couple of weekends commuting to Dublin, where I’m taking a 500 hr teacher training course at the moment. So here I am, not teaching yoga, without easy access to classes at a studio where I teach already, and without the usual ‘yoga crowd’ to keep me motivated. 7 weeks before I am due to return to Edinburgh, I thought I’d fill you in on my experiences of practice when circumstances, location and demands on my time changed completely.
Some people have a wonderful ability to focus and practice successfully on their own. This is something I’d love to be able to do eventually, but for this trip I’ve needed to square up to the fact that when I’m extremely busy and have a lot on my mind, it isn’t enough for me to just roll out my mat. I need the focus and the group dynamic that comes with a class, not to mention the motivation and support a good teacher provides. So then comes the challenge of finding classes, paying for them and – in my case – dealing with a serious language barrier.
Many classes are taught in English in Germany, but many aren’t. Fortunately I do actually want to learn German, so even if attending classes taught in German is daunting, I have the feeling that it is helpful. Of course, it is one thing if a teacher demonstrates, but in Germany, as in Edinburgh, the more advanced the class and the more experienced the teacher, the less they demonstrate and the more they teach by verbal instruction and physical adjustment.
Here’s when many of yoga’s wonderfully global qualities come in very useful. Many teachers cue postures in Sanskrit – and that doesn’t change regardless of which country you are in. Different teachers use different phrasing, but certain instructions – such as the rhythmic ‘inhale, exhale’ – crop up in just about every class you go to, anywhere. In fact two of the words I first learnt in German ended up being ‘Einatmen, Ausatmen’!
Physical adjustment is one of the most powerful ways that a teacher can communicate with a student, and never does that become more obvious than when there is a language barrier. Something that has been a real feature of a lot of classes that I’ve attended here has been an emphasis on using adjustments or physical contact to relax students as well as to push them physically. I’ve had some beautiful adjustments when settling into Savasana, with teachers helpings me to relax my shoulders, or to align my neck, in order to make relaxation easier.
The other thing I’ve realised is that it is OK to not beat yourself up if you can’t practise as much as you’d like, all the time. I went through a phase when I first arrived when I was swamped moving in, starting work, learning the transport system, finding a bike, finding a language class . . . . the list went on. I was physically exhausted after running the Edinburgh marathon, and all things considered getting to yoga was one thing too many, for a few weeks. I did try to ‘make’ myself go, but at first that actually wasn’t productive. I was turning yoga into a thing on my ‘to-do’ list, not letting it be a pleasurable part of my day.
A couple of weeks later though, I could feel my body missing classes and I genuinely wanted to start practicing again. I was still busy, and still tired in the evenings, but fitting in classes stopped feeling like a chore, and started feeling like a necessity to feel good.
Before I ramble on for too long, I’ll sum up my main points. Firstly, yoga can be practiced anywhere, and don’t let a language barrier frighten you. It might make the class more challenging, but a good teacher will still be able to communicate somehow, especially if you have some experience already. You might even learn something completely new. Secondly, yoga is a uniquely wonderful physical practice because it can be done for life. Don’t let it become a chore, and if you need some time off because life or your body just won’t let you practice, then take that time, and don’t feel guilty about it. When you start to miss it though, or when you can feel your body missing it – get back to it before practice becomes a distant memory! Take breaks without the guilt, but when it’s time to get back to it – do it.
That’s about all the worldly wisdom I’ve collected (on a yoga front) whilst here in beautiful Bavaria.
Aus Deutschland mit Liebe!