We Are Yogis
How I Learned to Go Beyond My Comfort Zone and Speak the Language of Union
I’m late and I’m lost. Not completely, but its 9:53 and I can’t find the correct street. I ask a man for directions, which is so not like me. As an avid traveler, my rule of thumb is to find anything and everything on my own, no matter how long it takes, but under the current circumstance, I succumb to breaking it. With French instructions and a hand gesture, he directs me left. Gauche. I make a mental note to remember this for class, if I find the studio in time.
Despite the temperature, I am sweating and nervous.
I rush to the corner and turn left. One more turn and I’m home free! My mind is jumbled and I’m too disoriented to decide if my next turn is right or left, so I go with my gut. I should know by now that 98% of the time going the opposite way of my directional gut is the better move. And sure enough, half a block down, it’s clear I am going the wrong way. It’s 9:57. I spin around and run to the other side of the street. People around me are walking with purpose, probably to work, but I’m too late to observe anything more than their clothing. It’s August in Paris and everyone is donning jackets and scarves. It is a chilly 65ish degrees and flat-out cold for a Miamian like myself. Despite the temperature, I am sweating and nervous.
Finally, I see my destination. An address marker! #3, right there like a shimmering ray of hope, a ray of hope that is instantly squashed when I stumble into a carpentry shop. “Studio de yoga?” I blurt out in pure desperation and shamefully horrible French. A woman walks me to the door and points to a gate, “a droite.” On the bright side, this particular journey is really expanding my French vocabulary. I’ve learned two very important words, right and left.
I arrive at the correct building and enter a code I found listed on the studio’s website the night before when I was searching for yoga possibilities. This was my third studio in four days, and it was my final attempt at taking a class with instruction given totally in French, a language in which I speak five words (well, now maybe seven). Challenge is good, right?
I roll out my silver mat against the satin light wood floor and slip into my first down dog. I made it. Breathe.
I enter the gate and, of course, I can’t find the studio. There are doors everywhere, each one leading to an empty hall or staircase. Sweat is beginning to spill down my temples, and my two-week diet of baguettes, cheese, and wine is revealing itself in the form of a queasy stomach. My anxiety is high as I reach the final door, my last hope. I peer through the glass and lock eyes with the yoga instructor. She’s thin, with mousy brown hair, a sloped nose, and deep-set eyes. I mouth “désolé” as I enter the lobby. 10:05. For a brief moment, I observe five students, three women and two men, moving gracefully in perfect unison to the pattern of her French words. I change quickly and enter. The instructor glides over to me and points me to the mats, calmly and fluidly. I roll out my silver mat against the satin light wood floor and slip into my first down dog. I made it. Breathe.
“Vinyasa” she states firmly. I recognize and take cue. Despite having attended three yoga classes in the past three days, my body is tight and far from graceful. It feels good to be here, intimidating too. This class is a softer form of Ashtanga, strict in its alignment cues, of which I understand nothing. Feeling a little out of place but optionless, I follow the moves of the woman in front of me. The teacher could be giving me cues directly and I wouldn’t have a clue. But I don’t care. I just want to move, to practice and flow with my fellow classmates. And I am present in this moment, impressed by the way my body reacts naturally to sounds I don’t recognize. Here and there I hear a Sanskrit word I know, and I move accordingly.
“La jambe gauche.” A flash of comprehension goes through my mind as I lift my left leg. “Virabhadrasana deux.” Warrior two, left side. And “tête,” that means “head.” I instinctively lengthen through my crown. Respirez, expirez. Inhale, exhale. The rhythm of this class envelopes me. We breathe together and move together like a team, yet individually. In this manner I follow the instructor's commands, picking up French words as I go, stealing glances at my neighbors directly or in the reflections of the glass windows surrounding the tranquil white studio. We finish with a long, well-deserved savasana. I observe an undeniable feeling of glory and satisfaction welling up in my body at having completed what I set out to do—attend a yoga class in France taught totally in French.
In this room, I can hide my foreignness, and none of us here are French or American. We are yogis.
The three classes I had attended prior to this one in Paris had, to my utter disappointment, been conducted in partial or full English. Turns out most of the students attending those studios were expats and English was the unifying language. Hearing English in a Parisian studio made me feel surprisingly like an outsider. But inside this studio, where the only words spoken were French or Sanskrit, I felt my most natural. In this room I can hide my foreignness, and none of us here are French or American. We are yogis.