Yoga For Language Learning: Stretching Your Mind and Body

yoga-language-learningPractising yoga and learning foreign languages have more in common than you might imagine.

The results of practising yoga and languages are similar – they are both great for your mind and body.

In this article, I would like to share my experience and hopefully help you with incorporating yoga practice into your language study.

Of course, there are some specific ways to study languages which have nothing in common with yoga and there are specific ways of practising yoga which have nothing to do with studying languages.

Still, here I want to concentrate on the similarities between the two that will hopefully be useful for improving your language skills!

Lesson 1: First Humiliation, Then Reward

The first time I took a yoga class, it was humiliating.

I had never really been a fan of exercise or anything sweaty, and I felt like I could do nothing in class.

That’s when I made my first mistake – I started to compare myself to other people.

This is my number one recommendation – never compare yourself to other people in yoga or in language studies.

Everyone who starts to learn a new language knows this feeling of humiliation. I heard French thousands of times before I started learning it, but I never dared to repeat any words.

I was afraid that I would say something wrong and embarrass myself, and that those mistakes would kill my love for it.

But when I came to my first French class, I understood that I had to put my shyness behind me.

The good thing was that the other students did not speak French well either, so at least I was not the only one.

Taking my first French classes, I tried to avoid speaking French, but my teacher knew how to deal with that.

She pretended that she did not understand me.

With the determination that helped me achieve my first downward facing dog, I was speaking my first French phrases within a fortnight.

language yoga terminology

Credit: J. Nilsson Photo http://bit.ly/2dmAiEV

Lesson 2: Let the Muscles Work

When you decide to study a new language, you do not necessarily consider that you will need to incorporate your face muscles into the practice.

Of course, you know that you need to work on your pronunciation, but you do not even think how it happens.

To pronounce sounds correctly, you need to work with your mouth muscles, with your tongue, and with your jaw.

When we study a new language as small children, our muscles and our joints are more flexible. Kids do not even notice that they sound like native speakers.

It is the same with children doing physical exercise. Children easily do the splits, and they do not feel uncomfortable in a bridge position, even if they are doing it for the first time.

If an adult wants to attempt the splits, they must do so with plenty of proper preparation and months of practice, and even then they may not manage it.

It’s the same with using the muscles involved in speech. Adults need to make more effort to pronounce sounds correctly.

For me, it was difficult to understand how to pronounce French diphthongs, but the most complicated thing was to understand how to pronounce ‘r’ sound in a French style.

I could do nothing with my jaw and I did not understand where my tongue should be. Nevertheless, with almost a year of regular practising, I managed to sound almost like a Frenchwoman.

At least, that’s what my friends say!

Lesson 3: Communicate With Yourself

Yoga and language learning both require muscle memory.Both yoga and language learning require communication.

These activities incorporate the most difficult form – communication with yourself.

You cannot do asana properly until you tell your body how it should move. You need to listen to your body, understand what you should improve, and what requires your attention.

Bring this inner work into your studying of language.

When you study a new language, you need to listen to yourself.

Our mind plays strange games when we learn another language. Sometimes you think that you’ve understood something properly, but you forget those things when you go to use the language.

That is why you need to test yourself and your boundaries with the language. Test yourself again and again until you are sure that you do not forget what you have learned.

You need to stop and analyse each piece of information you receive during yoga classes or during your language classes.

Remember that you do that for yourself, not for other people, and you are the only one who is responsible for a result.

Lesson 4: Find a Teacher You Get Along With

I was lucky enough to meet perfect teachers both in yoga and in French, but I’ve met many people who quit their classes because they could not work with the teacher.

You need to find your spiritual guide who will reveal to you all the benefits of what you are doing.

If this person does not inspire you, and if you do not trust him or her, you will never be able to make a new asana or speak a sentence in a new language.

When I studied Spanish in university I had this problem. My teacher was not bad at all, but when he corrected my mistakes, I wanted to run away.

With my French teacher, everything was different. She found some approach for me so I could forget about my insecurities and focus on learning.

Lesson 5: Practice Regularly

Of course, even the best teacher will be useless if you do not practice yoga or your language regularly.

Regularity is a key of success both in studying a new language and in practising yoga.

When you do not practice language for some time, you forget words, sounds, grammar, and you lose fluency with your speaking.

In yoga, your muscles and joints become tough and you cannot make the asana that you easily made just a couple of weeks before.

I had a one-month break while studying French, and I thought that would not influence what I already knew, but it did.

When I came back to classes, it was clear how much I had forgotten, and that I was lagging behind all other students.

I should have spent at least 20 minutes daily to practising and studying to maintain what I had already learned.

Travel can improve both your yoga and language learning practices.Lesson 6: Be Motivated

The best way to succeed in something that you do is to find proper motivation.

For me, the best motivation is self-improvement. I know that no one can do that for me, so I do it on my own.

Some people are motivated by the desire to find a better job, to visit new countries, or to become healthier.

If you study a language without proper motivation, you are not likely to succeed in it. You will always find thousands of excuses to miss classes and not practice on your own time.

It’s the same with yoga. The desire to be flexible is not enough, you need to find a deeper motivation.

Only then will you have the determination to practice each day and become better.

When I started to practice yoga, my only motivation was to get rid of pain. As I continued learning, I made new, smaller goals for myself – do a handstand, do the splits.

Succeeding in each made me want to continue my classes and work on new goals.

With French, I had a different kind of motivation – a trip to France. I was going on my own so I desperately needed French to be able to communicate there without problems.

This made me determined to progress in the language.

Lesson 7: Travel as Much as You Can

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said:

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

Travelling is the best way to stretch your mind and introduce yourself to new challenges. 

It is also a great way to learn a new language or ‘find yourself’ in yoga practice.

My first trip to India was full of emotions and new discoveries. In India, I learned that the only thing that really matters is my inner world, which changed my yoga practice. It became more spiritual and measured.

Travelling to France did the same thing for my language practice.

Of course, I had problems with communication. The language barrier was a very real obstacle, despite my studies, but I had no choice except to overcome it.

French was all around me so eventually, I felt quite confident to speak.

My pronunciation was bad, but people admired me for speaking their language. It gave me strength and awoke a new desire to continue my studying.

Lesson 8: Surrender To It

There is one important thing that I’ve understood from my yoga practising and studying French.

If you interpret studying a new language or yoga classes as a chore, you will not rise to the challenge.

When you accept the challenge as exciting and new, you are much more likely to enjoy it and rise to meet it.

Looking at learning from this perspective was refreshing for me.

My mind became open to new information, as my body became open to new positions. I started to learn new words with admiration, and I noticed that I became better at writing and speaking.

Perhaps the best thing in studying yoga and new languages is that you start to think differently. You reveal a new culture, new way of living, and new traditions. You grow your inner world and become a new person.

Practice yoga, learn languages and get rid of all possible limits!


This was a guest post written by Sophia Clark. Sophia is a creative writer from New York who loves to share her thoughts with readers. She is a tutor and a freelance writer for this blog, who is interested in education, blogging and sharing her ideas. In her free time she enjoys writing fiction as well as reading it. Her big dream is to publish a novel one day. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+ or find her in other social media.

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