"Language and movement have an uncanny potential to untangle and manifest our human vulnerabilities"
In the past, I thought of myself as multilingual exclusively because I spoke vernacular Spanish and English as a second language. One language, plus another, equals two; more than one, ergo, multilingual. Easy. On the surface, multilingualism comes across as a central and straightforward concept. It was the same for me when I thought someone who only spoke their native language would be considered monolingual. Apart from its obvious advantage of providing numerous and varied forms to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures, multilingualism can also play a crucial pragmatic role in helping communities who are victims of structural violence rise above stereotypes and language-based prejudices that contribute to violence. In investigating the topic of multilingualism, in addition to other interconnected components such as power, hierarchies, community, culture, nationalism, colonialism and legislation, the meaning of multilingualism has profoundly altered.
This creative project brings forth an unstandardized semiotic repertoire by investigating language on a meta-level through a body movement practice. I do so by combining one mind-body sequence with diverse guiding languages (English, Spanish and Sanskrit, to name poses in their original language) to provide accessibility across languages and cultures that are also meant to serve as a dynamic language learning experience. This Embodied Multilingual Experience is intended to showcase yoga as a practice that aims to cut divisions of language, nationality, culture, ethnicity, and physical limitations, fostering and celebrating diversity.
Throughout human history, the need to communicate forced the exchange of languages to expand the frontiers of trade and cultural exchange. However, our contemporary world does not fully meet that statement anymore. English is one of to most spoken languages worldwide. English-speaking countries perceive no use in learning other languages since most people worldwide know, understand, and are accustomed to speaking English as an international language. People refuse to see multiple language studies - in schools, universities, businesses, and in public service - as a social and cultural resource. This is one reason why there is a phenomenon such as linguaphobia: the declining interest in intellectual pursuits such as language learning. People find excuses to isolate themselves in their comfort zones so that they can avoid the vulnerable experience of learning something new. My work intends to challenge this. Not only through making language learning dynamic and embodied but also by providing rich references to honour the roots of yoga.
Dubiner (2021) suggests, “people’s identities are set in relation to their language practices and the sociolinguistic milieu in which their lives are experienced.” Yoga teaching language is an art form in this sense. Any cognitive system has the potential for constant change, sometimes without external input. Whether a yoga teacher decides to use the word “bum,” “tail,” “ass,” or “glutes” will depend mainly on their personality, personal and cultural background, attitude, the mood at the time of teachingand history of training and instruction. Language learning goes beyond knowledge accumulation, but it is a process of reframing concepts already familiar to us in new ways.
As a yoga teacher, I have previously avoided sharing mantras in Sanskrit or denominating the poses in their Sanskrit denominations for fear of disrespecting the appropriate pronunciation or culturally appropriate the spiritual lineage that heavily lingers in the tradition of yoga. While working on this project and in this course, I realized that learning and using multiple languages are often mixed up with fantasies about appropriation, acquisition, mastery and purchasing power.
Becoming multilingual requires courage and humility to “go into the language and see what the language does” (Gramlin, 2021). It appears, as Gramlin explains in his article, that no one in our era is entitled to such scenarios of ownership or abuse (Gramlin, 2021).
Yoga translates as "union" in Sanskrit. It is intended to describe a union between mind, body, and spirit. However, I would like to think that it extends to the union between ourselves as individuals and others with whom we interact. Initially, Hindu traditions used this ancestral discipline for healing. Its philosophy is based on healing and selflessness and has spread exponentially around the globe and served as a tool for people to find peace, health, balance, and for some like me, purpose. Inspired by this, my project is dedicated to those willing to explore presence and self-discovery through a combination of dynamic, grounding, playful and intentional movement while also being exposed to alternative languages and cultural meanings associated with the exercises and breathwork we do throughout the practice.
Unfortunately, throughout history, the practice of yoga has been utilized as a means of control, abuse, violence, and profit. For instance, the scandal of the founder of Bikram yoga and his multimillion-dollar brand got him away with things such as trainees willing to pay him thousands for his supposedly “life-changing” approach to yoga (practicing in rooms set at extreme high-temperatures) all the way to sexual abuse. It is sad to see yoga practices being used for manipulation and brainwashing.
As mentioned earlier, language can be a politicized tool to address state concerns with national aunty and control, producing forms of racial exclusion and maintaining a white-settler nation. This is why constant reminders for acknowledging the ancestral roots of our land make us aware of our place in the world and history. This serves as a reminder of our privileges and motivates us to continue contributing to our community.
In summary, language and movement have both an uncanny potential for untangling and manifesting our human vulnerabilities, which is both the beauty of it and also the reason why so many reject the mere idea of venturing off the unknown paths of learning a new language. The Embodied Multilingual Experience will serve to challenge this and find playful joy and curiosity in language learning. Beyond the obvious benefit of facilitating communication, multilingualism can aid victims of structural violence in overcoming their language prejudices and stereotypes, which in turn help them overcome violence. As an uninvited visitor to Musqueam territory and as a facilitator for this wellness practice, it is important to me to honour and acknowledge the roots of yoga in a way that will inspire newfound respect for the land, its natural resources, and the cultures that still hold onto their roots despite their past.
By questioning the concept of movement and speech, I explore diverse associations where images, sounds and meanings collide. Movement and breath become sound, and language becomes image. I dedicate this Embodied Multilingual Experience to those seeking a safe and uplifting space to simply breathe and move. Using spoken word and speech in different languages, I create a unilaterally spoken dialogue between myself and my students where light-heartedness rules and practitioners develop their practice through their own rules.
The sequence has several reoccurring themes such as calls to the present moment through mindful breathing, repetition of a series of the established physical sequences known as Sun Salutations A (Engish), Saludo al Sol A (Spanish), and Surya Namaskar A (Sanskrit). I continually use a friendly, calm, and spacious tone of voice instead of a rigid and technical one. I decided to blend the diverse language offerings into the background melodies with alternative genres of culture and media through the culturally diverse background music. Having each track rooted in the same cultures as the languages I present the practices, I hope to complement the diverse, intermingled cultural ethos I aim to bring through a holistic and dynamic experience.
My work isolates the flux of my voice, my breath and visual body movements. Through the synergy of these three components, I guide my students through the language as a crucial tool for movement and breathing. By doing so, the traditional sequence of Sun Salutation A reveals an inseparable relationship between motion, breath, and language as the binding factor for a seamless succession of movements across contexts.
I seek to get participants to experience the metaphor of chaos and confusion as part of yoga and, therefore, of life itself. In a sense, movement reveals a natural awkwardness, a sense of humour that echoes our own personal and collective vulnerabilities.
Outside of this particular Embodied Multilingual Experience, when I share my personally created sequences, curiosity arises for many of my students in the shape of questions, from personal matters, emotional or physical conditions to very practical questions on modifying a physical posture.
Language becomes an ornament when transformed into art. My work questions the conditions of language and its breadth of individual and inter-cultural systematic choices to describe the appearance of embodied, mindful movement and breath in the context of contemporary visual culture.
With my Peruvian heritage and Spanish as my vernacular language, having English as a second language, my repertoire and the words I choose are all unique to my identity, just as every teacher would have their own choices of words, tones, transitions, musical choices, etc. Ultimately, yoga means union, and my work is based on that definition. I use movement as an illustration of how anyone can use language or other expressions to communicate, make meaning, move, breathe, and visualize their body in a multitude of contexts.