(l-r) Brooke Bierhaus and a yoga instructor from her travels. Courtesy photo


Staying active while traveling isn’t always easy, especially when work and travel coincide. A long walk or a quick run are my favorite ways to combine exercise and sightseeing. However, I have found the best way to stimulate my mind and body is to take a yoga class in a foreign language, combining familiar poses with unfamiliar phrases.

My first experience at a yoga class taught entirely in Spanish was while traveling in Guatemala. I mixed up the times for a small studio in the heart of Antigua, and the last class of the day was in Spanish—a happy accident. That one-hour class six years ago still stands out as a favorite of mine because it was the first time I made myself listen to what the teacher was saying. I had no choice but to focus on his words and on his tone while transitioning between postures. I didn’t know the word for Downward-Facing Dog in Spanish, but the natural rhythm of the class brought enough familiarity that I wasn’t completely lost. It refreshed my yoga practice in a completely new way.

Taking a yoga class in a foreign language also speeds up the process of learning a new language. When I joined a class taught in Arabic for the first time, I had no knowledge of the language and had to rely on watching everyone else to follow along. Luckily, the vernacular of a yoga class tends to repeat itself multiple times, so certain words became easier to identify. Words like “breathe,” “inhale,” “exhale,” “left side,” “right foot,” etc. started to make sense after a while. I found myself learning new vocabulary each time I attended, and it made the subsequent classes in Arabic extremely enjoyable.

Another example of learning a new language through yoga happened while I was staying in Nairobi, Kenya. I joined a Bikram yoga studio taught in both English and Swahili. Since the practice of Bikram yoga is to follow the same 26 poses every class, that made non-English classes much easier. I was actively trying to learn Swahili at the time, so I opted to attend the Swahili- taught classes. While attending a coffee- and-language-exchange event in Nairobi, a woman asked me how I had learned certain words in Swahili so fast, and I credited yoga. Amusing as it seems, the repetition of words is a fantastic way to learn a language.

Attending a yoga class in a different city or country creates a sense of community in an unfamiliar place. It always gives me the feeling of being local. No matter where I am or in what language the yoga session is taught, every class ends with the same word: namaste. The gesture of bowing at the end of a class and responding “namaste” to the teacher is to honor the place in each of us that is the same. A beautiful translation is “my soul recognizes your soul.” I relate this to my travels as I try to find ways to connect with others on a basic human level.

Bloomington native Brooke Bierhaus, 26, is an inveterate traveler, photographer, and videographer.