Yoga for the brain
August 20, 2013
This summer during my downtime from teaching, I began to take my yoga practice a little more seriously. As I practiced, I couldn’t stop myself from making the comparison between yoga practice and language learning.
What do language learning and yoga practice have in common? They both require patience and practice.
To gain support for this theory of mine, I spoke with Jeanne McCann, yoga instructor at Colorado Mountain College. I asked her to describe to me a difficult pose, a pose that might take years of practice to master.
She described to me garundasana, or “eagle pose.” Jeanne talked about several poses that one should become proficient at before working into garundasana to give the body the flexibility and strength necessary. She explained poses that first open the shoulders and the hips and poses that work on balance.
‘Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children.’
Even more interesting than the descriptions of the poses was the way in which she spoke about the practice of yoga:
“Struggle.” “Grow into a pose.” “Focus.” “Patience.” “Persistence.” “Humility.”
Jeanne confirmed my suspicion that yoga practice and language learning share many of the same challenges and joys.
A novice at yoga practice can’t expect to do garundasana in the first week, months or perhaps even years. After the initial exposure, the poses must be practiced over and over. The beginning yoga practitioner has to become proficient at a series of poses that will lead up to the more difficult and complex pose.
The same can be said of language learning. A beginning learner cannot expect to express complex thoughts and ideas without first acquiring the language and the knowledge of language structure that is required to express those thoughts.
A novice yoga practitioner should not give up his yoga practice simply because he cannot do the eagle pose in the first months of practice. As Jeanne stated, “There is so much that is learned in the process.”
The same can be said of the process of language learning. I have seen many people become frustrated with language learning because it is challenging and does take time (struggle). It is difficult to be an adult and only be able to express oneself in a child-like way (humility). When you do master that next building block in yoga and in language learning, the process has been worth it (joy).
Over the past few years at Colorado Mountain College, we have worked to build a conversational Spanish program that provides language learners with the building blocks necessary to achieve proficiency. The four course conversational Spanish sequence has been aligned so that students can move through the language acquisition process in a consistent and effective manner.
All of the instructors who teach the sequence are working on the same objectives, thereby creating a cohesiveness that will move the students from one level to the next. Colorado Mountain College’s language lab gives students access to the Spanish speaking world through authentic materials.
Adults can become proficient in a foreign language. Many studies show that adults have an easier time attaining an understanding of how the language works and how pieces of language fit together. The benefits of language learning are obvious — from the practical standpoint of the ability to communicate to the health implications for the brain.
Language learning is yoga for the brain.
Registration for fall semester is under way at Colorado Mountain College. Classes begin Aug. 26.
Carol Koch is associate professor of Spanish at Colorado Mountain College.