A Warning to Yogis Traveling to Germany

In Germany, I was asked a simple question.

“Do you want to go to yoga?”

The question was simple enough. I do yoga. I like yoga. Why not?


Moritz and I trotted into a yoga studio during our visit to Mainz, Germany. In the waiting room, yogis talked while sipping hot self-serve tea and unbundled out of their sweaters.

“Maybe we should tell the teacher you don’t speak German?”

“No. I’ll be fine.”

Famous last words.

I didn’t want to be the lame tourist who causes the entire class to be taught in English or even worse, have a translation follow every instruction. I wanted to blend in with the regal Germans. Sure that the class would be taught at a normal, yoga pace, I was confident that I could keep up by taking cues from everyone around me.

I laid down my mat and the teacher walked into the room. A tall, lanky man with muscles so defined, it was as if his entire body was chiseled by tiny elves. When he moved, his taut skin contracted and furrowed. I flexed my bicep. It looked the same, if not worse, as it did flabby.

The room filled end to end with yogis, only a few centimeters gapped between each mat.

We sat down for a breathing meditation. The teacher asked us to close our eyes. I winced, peering through my eyelashes at the class around me. Everyone huffed and puffed in what seemed to be a completely erratic sequence with no pattern to it whatsoever. I tried to keep up, and hyperventilated.

I cursed Duolingo, the language game that failed to prepare me to understand German yoga teachers.

We struck our first pose, and the teacher walked around. I kept my eyes on the floor. If I can’t see him, he can’t see me. That works for sniper victims, right? My mind was on high alert, reading every cue and looking for any sign of movement. When the human shoelace in front of me moved her pinky toe, I moved my pinky toe.

The teacher scanned the room, zeroing on me as if playing a game of spot the difference.

One is not like the others.

And it was true, I was definitely not like the others. Where humans had sharp right angles, I donned perfect curves. Where others were firm, I was squishy. I’d been placed in a room with German contortionists. I’d never felt so American. He came over and asked me something in German. I stared blankly. Mo said, “Chantae!” I thought he was trying to catch my attention so I nodded and prayed he would leave. Then he repeated the question. As soon as his mouth opened my mind started playing a cartoon theme song, blocking his words completely.

Moritz repeated, “Chantae!”

“You know your name, don’t you?”

The interrogation didn’t stop. He bombed me with another question.

I stared.

Moritz answered, “No she doesn’t really speak German.”

“Oh, you don’t speak German?”

Four minutes and 23 seconds into the class, my cover was blown.

But to my initial relief and eventual demise, the instructor taught in German.

He commanded us to hold poses until our bodies shook like jack hammers. Our respite in movement was in the form of yoga’s version of push ups and squats. After a few minutes, the entire room filled up with steam. Every dynamic vinyasa sent spray showering down on the mats below us.

The teacher leisurely strolled to the side of the room and with his finger, wrote the symbol for “Om ॐ” into the fog of the sweat-frosted window.

I can’t tell you what poses we did or sequences we mastered. I can only tell you that it was painful.

A game of dodgeball against a rock wielding women’s softball team would have been more relaxing.

I heard a woman yelp in the back of the room, followed by a soft thud. “Did someone just faint?” Moritz nodded and kept practicing, unfazed. Later I learned she, “Just sat down because she was feeling dizzy.” But I’m sure that is the precise German translation for passed-out.

I maintained a state of hypervigilance, paranoid that I’d be the only one doing a headstand while everyone else was sitting on the floor.

Just as I’d routed my escape from the hot box, it was savasana. Savasana the last pose of yoga where you lay down and completely relax. I planned to close my eyes, recover from the trauma, and sit up when the talking started again.

But the teacher led the class through another meditation, talking the entire time. I moved my head very slowly from side to side in tiny increments, peering to see if the others had sat up. I kept my ears open for the sound of the teacher walking, snapping my eyes shut when he got close. I didn’t dare to let myself relax, fearing that I’d miss the cue that the class was over. I envisioned myself sleeping on the floor, drooling, while everyone else packed up around me.

After the class, Moritz raved about how it was quite possibly the best class he’d ever been to. I opened the car door and crumbled into the seat in exhaustion.

The next day, I was asked another question.

“Do you want to go to yoga?”

I thought of the mental and physical anguish from the day before.

“Only if it’s yin.”


Have you ever been to a yoga class in another language? Did you survive?

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44 Responses

  1. tim says:

    Hilarious ?

  2. Leo says:

    LOL oh man I have to share this with my girlfriend. She tried to get me to go to yoga in Mexico and I was scared of this happening to me too. I was cracking up.

  3. Jim says:

    Ha! Great story! I enjoy yoga but it’s hard enough in English for me currently. Kudos for stepping out of your comfort zone though!
    Jim recently posted…Best Wakesurf Board For BeginnersMy Profile

  4. Hannah says:

    Oh I would be so awkward. I took yoga classes for a few months in uni and I was honestly the most un-bendy person in the universe. I felt like I stuck out so much- and that was a beginners class! haha
    Hannah recently posted…A Brutally Honest Look at My Budgeting and Travel CostsMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Hahaha I know the feeling! I’m sooooo inflexible it’s not even funny. I JUST was able to touch my toes and I’ve been doing it for a few years now 😛

  5. Never done Yoga and always wanted too until reading this article. I thought is was a soft exercise but that was the wrong information. I did enjoy the article, your humor throughout the article was so much fun. I wish more people would put that into some of their posts as well.
    John and Laurel Rodgers-A Road to Travel recently posted…OMG, I Have A JOBMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Hahah there are all types of yoga – some are very very relaxing and soft while others are more dynamic. This was obviously more dynamic 😉

  6. Duolingo is my go to for language, too. But it is tough for non-touristy stuff like yoga. Sounds like a great class anyway, and I also prefer Yin.
    JenThereDoneThat recently posted…First Visit to El Yunque RainforestMy Profile

  7. Liana says:

    Haha hilarious! I totally get you! It happened to me – at the gym – when I was in Tel Aviv. The guy spoke to me for 10 sec in hebrew, and let me tell you that they speak really fast. So when something happens like that, the situation is beyond funny, but I know how painful it can be. Especially in Germany where their language is so sharp! But you made it and that what count right? Haha x
    Liana recently posted…Five Steps To Launch Your Own BrandMy Profile

  8. Evanne says:

    Haha! This is so hilarious except this is how I feel in yoga class in English. So…
    Evanne recently posted…Six Scenic Flight Tours Around the WorldMy Profile

  9. Michelle says:

    Girl this has definitely happened to me in yoga class…in English. It’s the worst when you get a militant teacher who thinks yoga is about PUSHING YOURSELF and EXERCISING TO YOUR LIMITS instead of meditation which is what it’s actually about!! Aghh it’s just the worst.
    Michelle recently posted…On Falling ApartMy Profile

  10. Rachel says:

    This is hilarious, I love this story. I was debating going to yoga at the gym I just joined but now I’m nervous because I only know about 10 sentences in German, none of which include anything about yoga! I was hoping I’d be able to keep up by being in the back and just kind of looking around every so often.

    • Chantae says:

      I think if it’s a slow class, it’s fine! I did another “normal” yoga class in German and didn’t have problems – just followed along. I think it’s only when the class is super dynamic that it’s a struggle 😛

  11. Tamz says:

    I am thinking of turning to yoga next month. Probably will end up embarrassing myself in the first few days

  12. Tina says:

    Oh god oh gosh! … Kind of similar story for me. When I used to go to school and it was my turn to answer questions in our english lessons! Oh gosh my english teacher hated me! (I am from Germany by the way 😀 ) most of the time I didn’t hat a clue was everybody was up to xD
    It is really intimidating if you are in a situation when you can’t understand a language in a class you are visiting.
    But good on you that you still did it! Love your story!
    Tina recently posted…Perth to Cairns: How to survive a budget airline 101My Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Aghhhh yeah I know what you mean! Happened to me in Spanish – teacher asks a question and you just sit there blinking like *~*I have no idea what’s going on*~*

  13. Liz says:

    I love your writing!!! The rock wielding women’s softball team was a great image. So much fun to read. XO

  14. Bernard Tan says:

    This is a funny experience! I have never try yoga, but am always fascinated by it especially after reading Eat, Pray, Love.
    Bernard Tan recently posted…Wednesday Interview: Travel With Anjaly To North KoreaMy Profile

  15. Ahammed says:

    Am from India from were yoga is originated and in my school we had yoga classes every Wednesday

  16. Sanket D. says:

    I had no idea you were into yoga! This was frankly hilarious, but so proud that you stuck it out 🙂
    Sanket D. recently posted…Auroville – A Hippie Paradise or a Place Ahead of its Time?My Profile

  17. Siniciliya says:

    Oh I understand how frustrating this can be! Yoga is very different from other activities, the energy just has to be pure! I haven’t found my teacher yet for that reason.
    Siniciliya recently posted…The Big BuddhaMy Profile

  18. shivansh says:

    haha, i do yoga all the time, this is damn funny!

  19. Sarah says:

    Hahaa loved this post! Love your honest writing, too. I’m totally with you there – I’m moving to Spain this year and hope a Spanish yoga class won’t be too terrifying!!!
    Sarah recently posted…17 Happiness Quotes from Hector’s Search For HappinessMy Profile

  20. Ann says:

    I’m not quite a yogi yet, but I absolutely love it! I couldn’t imagine taking a class in a foreign language though! Loved the story though – hilarious!

  21. Psychic Nest says:

    Hi Chantae,

    Your story encourages me to keep doing yoga at home! I hate that I have to keep up with the pace with the class, needless to say that is is even worse when you are in foreign country. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Psychic Nest recently posted…Reincarnation and the AfterlifeMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Maybe you might like yin yoga? A bit slower and easier to keep up with 🙂 I need the guidance – at home I end up being too lazy and give up a little ways through! haha

  22. Elen says:

    Ha, I was that tourist who made the class be conducted in English, in Istanbul. Sorry not sorry 🙂

  23. Zoe says:

    Very brave Chantae, when we were there our language pretty much revolved around food and drink only.

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