Teaching in a different language; no more Soy Lattes after class?

I've been teaching in Turkish for a while now, and it's interesting to observe that it's not easy! I was expecting this, it did not come as a surprise. There really was no way to prepare for actual interactions with students in a different language than I have been accustomed to. Even if I rehearsed, read Turkish yoga books, or wrote down a sample class in Turkish (all which I did), nothing can replace the actual moment where the interaction has to take place organically. Only in my 12th class did I feel like I was relaying almost everything I wanted to, in the way I wanted to, that felt natural to me, in Turkish. (and even then it felt incomplete) I felt like my yoga teacher self again, who I had felt had disappeared in the first few classes. In those classes I felt like a child, who'd say to an adult "I know so much more than I can explain, honestly, I can say all this in a more worldly way...really! just wait." My teachings truly felt like they were Lost in Translation, and that was scary. They didn't flow. I felt like a newbie all over again, after six years. The horror. I worried I'd never get my language back! Were my words lost between the lines of all the sophisticated yoga books I had shipped from Canada? Left behind echoing in the rooms of my teachers I had spent endless hours learning from (since so much of yoga teachings are passed on orally)? Left behind on the North American continent, where all my teachers and mentors currently are? Sometimes it felt that way, like they're all packed up in a dot on a map. The T-dot (haha, only Torontonians will get this). What meaning does yoga have when there's no one to practice with, teach to, learn from? Books could never do justice to actual human connections.

Slowly I'm seeing that it's up to me to keep my learning and teachings alive. It just has to happen without the usual resources of "filling my cup" that I had before: I can't just go take a class with my mentors anymore when I feel like it. It's also true that I can't take all the workshops I want whenever I feel like polishing my skills up. There is no "Yoga Show Machine" in Istanbul. What I still have are my colleagues on Facebook at a click's distance if I need to consult or share anything. I can follow what's up through Elephant Journal and Yoga Journal, and watch relevant Youtube videos (as long as Youtube is not banned in Turkey!). At the end of the day, though, it's whoever is in front of you that makes you a teacher and keeps you on your toes.

I currently teach the staff of a private hospital. Nurses, clerks, lab technicians, HR people...stressed out people who stand all day. Sometimes doctors. They all say they can't tell I had a language problem, but it comes up in the funniest of places: when I need to say things like "thumb, index finger, wrist, hips, hamstrings"...I freeze. Even though I know what they are in Turkish. They either sound silly in Turkish or unnatural. Saying "Downward Dog" in Turkish sounds funny too--sometimes I say it in English anyway, since it's so mainstream. We do an evening class, so lots of pranayama and deep relaxation. Tibetan chimes and beautiful music at the end...I think they love it:)

Part of the issue is that there aren't as many yoga books in Turkish, but surely they will come. Who knows, I may end up translating a few myself to fill this need?

As I continue to live here in Istanbul, the city all "Istanbulers" have a love-hate relationship with (come here and you'll see why), I'm sure I'll soon have similar routines and connections to what I had in Toronto: maybe Turkish tea after class instead of Soy Lattes.

Some of the posh yoga studios here have already had "celebrity" teachers visiting. All teaching in English of course. The yoga language here may inevitably end up being more of a fusion of Turkish, English, and Sanskrit. Time will tell, and I'll keep posting about it as I gain more experience in it. Yoga's message is simple, so it may not need so much more than a heart that listens. Words are only a means to the end.


  1. Hi Senem,

    You don't know how ecstatic I am to find you on Twitter! I'm from Toronto and moving to Istanbul with my husband this year. One of my worries moving to Istanbul is not being able to do Yoga. And then I stumbled on your article on Hurriyet on Twitter!

    It's great to know that a fellow Torontonian is teaching Yoga in Istanbul! I will be attending your class for sure. I am currently a Yoga Sanctuary student. I am so glad one of their best Yoga teachers is in Istanbul! I am no longer anxious to leave "T-dot" but now looking forward to living in Istanbul! :)) Looking forward to join your class!


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