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Yoga As/Is Language

The encounter of language provokes insight on its nature and function and how its structures and creativity underlie expression, art, and systems. Language is a means for communication based on consentual and mutually understandable symbols/signs of communication between individuals. One may even ask whether language exists without interlocutors within the individual experience of expression, as in art or dance forms. Taking into account the function of language as the means produce or elicit meaning, the transfer of this principle into a study of the body with respect to yoga, is completely possible. What would yoga be without the Body? Within the esoteric studies, yoga as a practice is first anchored in matter (that is body, mind, and sensorial awareness). The foundation is gradually and safely set within the practitioner, and beyond that, once certain practices are mastered, the potential for expansion and growth are limitless. Mastering the Basics within the practice, the flow and alignment within the practice, strengthening weaker areas and energetic locks (muscle groups and bandhas), and most of all learning to regulate the Breath—these guidelines are essential and necessary to building a solid and safe yoga practice.

Building Blocks

As an educator and researcher with several years of experience teaching languages, I have found within language learning, the same principles apply with respect to gaining the adequate repertoire of vocabulary, structure, aspects, flow of the language in order to produce meaning and communication. The analogy of the Yoga Body and Language implements these aspects or principles of hermeneutic understanding, the process of learning a language—whether it is a structural system or a series of poses, or actions and awareness leading to a peak pose, most directly within the use of Sanskrit to designate the poses and other terms. In language one connects separate elements to form a coherent utterance much as in yoga one builds upon actions within a pose beginning with the feet and/or hands. The body as a text registering the voice or language of the instructor is also worth noting. As one can see, language emerges on various levels within the teaching and practice of yoga. It is important to emphasize the transfer of language’s function into the body itself, with movements and actions creating a language which resonates within the actual energy and action of a pose.

Warmup /Linguistic Ceiling/Cool Down

In a communicative language classroom, contemporary pedagogy emphasizes the structure of a class which contains and facilitates the target language. This structure is composed of an initial Warm-Up period reviewing material covered, followed by the Linguistic Ceiling, then a Cool Down or period of probing information already covered (games are also optional). It is worth noting this structure matches up with the structure of an exercise routine and a yoga class. In this case, the Linguistic Ceiling where students are challenged with new information corresponds to a peak pose within a yoga class. The study of yoga also requires a teacher to also be conscious and attentive to the foundation which is set at the beginning of the class or yoga program, which emphasizes the fundamentals, and safety and building knowledge of the breath. The fundamental or mastering of the Basics cannot never be over-emphasized since this careful and essential consideration provides the practitioner to find alignment and functional movement, as well as understanding of poses.

Other Considerations/Sensorial Model/Making Space for Creative Experience

One innovative and creative teaching approach focuses on incorporating the primary faculties of learning by way of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and oral production and communication (ideally the 5 senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell). Through these faculties, within the differentiated approach of pedagogy, I am able to target various types of individual learners who possess different learning strengths based on unique sensitivities and awareness. Naturally a teaching approach which incorporates these various modes provides an effective atmosphere for learning, cognition, and language acquisition to develop. Granted it is nothing new to emphasize the sensorial basis for learning, although within language learning it remains to be developed and explored in a more meaningful way. If one is to think of language learning and production of meaning in order to facilitate communication, it is not difficult to verify the effectiveness of a method in which the brain centers of language acquisition are activated according to the learning tendency of a learner, that is, tapping into a spectrum of language acquisition and production of meaning based on the contemporary innovation of the communicative method.

Keeping in mind this multi-sensory model of teaching and learning, for example, I have implemented lessons in language which have incorporated themes related to visual input, kinesthetic awareness, speech and movement. As a Foreign Language teacher, one example within a first-year course is teaching the imperative command-based verb forms to initiate responses in the target language. In a Spanish course, students are instructed to study the formulation of the verb form as homework, and during class, a quick synopsis is given by the instructor. Having prepared instructions in advance, students are then assigned groups where each student gives commands of movement to the group. This lesson also recycles and reviews key vocabulary of the body and classroom vocabulary, as well as formal and informal forms of address. Students also participate in an activity upon watching a video which conveys the model (such as a sports event, fitness class, or yoga class). As an enrichment activity, students are given the option to create a video of their own as an individual or group project.

This example taught within a language classroom resonates within a yoga class in much the same way. Learning a language and practicing yoga under the instruction and supervision of a teacher incorporate similar elements of input, output, structure, and the multi-sensory dimension (hearing, sight, touch, energetic sense) depending on the depth of study. Within a multi-sensory model of learning, where visual, auditory, oral, kinesthetic input are provided, students gain speaking, listening, observation and body awareness skills—the building blocks to language learning and further study of the language. This approach parallels yoga study as the means to reading the body (on the part of the teacher as well as the practitioner) and attaining expression of this vehicle of matter, flesh and bone, to speak to our highest truths as communicators and interpreters of this ancient technology within a modern framework of understanding and practicality.

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