The class comes to a seated position on their mat. Everyone closes their eyes, sits up tall, and begins to breathe in unison according to the teacher’s instruction. There is a collective calming, a shedding of the stress from the outside world. Except, of course, for the few foreigners who have no idea what the teacher is saying. What they’re experiencing is quite the opposite.
“Empezamos en una posición cómoda, sentados, la espalda erecta y los ojos cerrados.”
Anxiety heightens, eyes dart frantically to neighboring students, searching for a hint of what to do.
I’ve been there.
As a 20-year practitioner and instructor of yoga, I’ve taken classes in many tongues and taught plenty of non-English speakers. I realized quickly that when you have a good command of the practice, the language you speak doesn’t matter much. Especially in yoga, which has a unifying language of Sanskrit. Still, there are words and phrases that are essential to understanding what-the-bleep is going on, and that’s what I’m here to show you.
With this list, you will breeze through your vinyasas with no need to contort your head under your knee in an attempt to stare awkwardly at the teacher’s every move. As a bonus, taking any kind of fitness in Spanish will assist in learning all kinds of different words.
This will require you to study and feel out of place at times. That’s part of the process. You chose to live in Mexico and it’s your responsibility to learn the language. There will be days that you understand everything and there will be days that you’ll understand nothing, and that’s okay. Just keep showing up.
Using yoga, my language teacher Pao Arley taught me command form and spatial adverbs. Going to the real-life classes reinforced the knowledge she’d imparted onto me. I can now tell someone to stand up without thinking (Pónte de pie!), I turn left immediately when the GPS tells me to (something I can still barely do in English), and I can now confidently attend fitness classes of any kind, not just yoga.
However, yoga is still my preferred method of movement. The combination of Pao’s lessons and onsite immersion also showed me that the practice in Mexico, as one might expect, has its particularities. A few months ago I attended a Hatha class in Barcelona and when I asked if the instructor could guide me to the tapetes, which means “mat” in Mexico, he promptly walked me to a shelving unit stuffed full of blankets. In addition, I’ve yet to attend a class in Mexico where the sequence hasn’t included forearm stand and crow pose, and most instructors finish the experience with a group chant of ‘Tres Shantis’.
Before your next yoga class, I invite you to review the following verbs, postures, and phrases. In addition, I suggest knowing basic body parts and Sanskrit names for popular positions. Feel free to try at home with YouTube classes until you’re ready for the real thing.
My best advice is to practice consistently. Along will come a beautiful moment where you’ll simply react to instruction without any need to translate. I don’t know when this moment came for me. All I know is one day, mid-practice, I realized that I understood everything. At no point did I need to sneak a peek at my neighbor for reinforcement. I suddenly felt a rush of endorphins not previously achievable in any fitness classes.
And so, without further ado, empezamos con la clase del vocabulario de yoga.
Verbs to know
- Aguantar – hold
- Colocar – put
- Doblar – fold
- Elevar – raise
- Empujar – push
- Estirar – stretch
- Girar – turn
- Levantar – lift
Postures to know
- Arca – Urdhva Dhanurasana, or Wheel pose
- Árbol – Vrksasana, or Tree pose
- Cadáver – Savasana, or Corpse pose
- Camello – Ustrasana, or Camel pose
- Cuervo – Bakasana, or Crow pose
- Guerrero uno, dos, y tres – Virabhadrasana l, ll, lll or Warrior poses I, ll, lll
- Lagarto – Lizard pose (no Sanskrit term)
- Montaña – Tadasana, or Mountain pose
- Paloma – Kapotasana, or Pigeon pose
- Perro mirando hacia abajo – Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward-facing dog pose
- Perro mirando hacia arriba – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or Upward-facing dog pose
- Plancha (Sometimes referred to as “tabla”) – Plank pose
- Postura del niño – Blasana, or Child’s pose
- Silla – Utkatasana, or Chair pose
- Vela – Salamba Sarvangasana, or Shoulder Stand pose
Phrases to know (not all are direct translations)
- Ponerse de pie – Stand
- Acuéstate boca arriba/abajo – Lay on your back/belly
- Cierre/abre los ojos – Close/open your eyes
- Gira hacia la derecha/izquierda – Turn toward the right/left
- Alarga la espalda – Lengthen your spine
- ¿Tienes algunas lesiones? – Do you have any injuries?
- ¿Me prestas un tapete? – Can I rent a mat?
- Inhala profundamente y exhala lentamente – Inhale deeply and exhale slowly
- Encuentra tu equilibrio – Find your balance
- Mantén la atención en el presente – Stay present
- Encuentra tu propio ritmo – Find your rhythm
- Deja ir cualquier tensión o estrés – Let go of any tension or stress
While I wholly suggest diving headfirst into a Spanish-language class, I understand that there will be times of burnout. Here are a few studios that offer English classes in CDMX:
Atma Studio Roma: Vinyasa & rocket
Luna Studio: Vinyasa & yin
Secret Room Roma: Various
Lila Yoga: Vinyasa and yin (with yours truly!)
Mukta Yoga: Various, bilingual
Light on Yoga Polanco: Various
Questions? Feel free to reach out to me directly.
Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.