Yoga Methods in Learning Foreign Languages

Sannyasi Darshanananda, Sofia, Bulgaria

Yoga is a system of knowledge which gives a variety of methods for improving our learning abilities.

Learning requires a receptive mind, good memory and recalling capacity. A well-developed perceptive ability and a good amount of self-awareness should also be present. If we add clarity and concentration of mind, good imagination and creative power we get nearly all the qualities which one should possess in order to learn new things in life.

I observed from my experience in teaching English, before I started teaching yoga, that people who had the desire to learn a new language needed first of all to relax psychologically before the process of real learning started. They needed to open themselves for experimenting, imitating and acting.

The benefits of yoga

When we have different complexes in the personality, such as lack of self-confidence and lack of good communicative skills, narrow-mindedness or even sometimes negative samskaras in connection with a certain foreign language, then these appear as obstacles in the learning process. The person needs to be open minded and to enjoy studying. The deep psychological relaxation that the yoga practices give lays the perfect base for improving the ability to learn a foreign language or study any subject or science.

My personal experience with practising yoga is very positive regarding my ability to understand and learn. The asanas and pranayamas keep the physical body ft and healthy, they recharge the vital energy system which acts like a power station for the human body and mind to perform their functions and activities. Relaxation practices melt the tensions at all the three levels: physical, mental and emotional. Then body and mind become flexible, calm and the person experiences contentment and joy as well as openness to perceive new information without pre-conditioning. Concentration and meditation practices increase the mental clarity and abilities like one-pointedness, memorizing, recalling. Experiencing all these effects myself and observing my mind becoming free from inhibitions and expanding its capacities in all directions in life, I experimented applying yoga methods and practices in teaching English as a foreign language for Bulgarians in Sofa, Bulgaria.

Wondrous yoga nidra – Construction of a class

I start class with a short introductory meditation and mantras. Secondly, we practise two to three asanas for refreshment after the long working day if the class is in the evening or for removing sleepiness if the class is in the morning. Sometimes we start repeating some texts or exercises immediately after the meditation while still with closed eyes to stir the memory for what was learnt in the previous class in the mind calmed by the meditation and the mantras.

Then exercising what has been learnt in the previous lesson and checking the homework in a fully wakeful state of mind with open eyes follows. Next I ask the students to prepare for yoga nidra. The yoga nidra practice would start for beginners with instructions in their native language, in our case Bulgarian, then gradually I introduce more and more words in English, being repeated in Bulgarian as well, until nearly all the instructions are given in both languages, first English then Bulgarian and towards the end of the beginners classes the instructions are given only in English. There is one class for learning all the body parts and other most often used new words in the yoga nidra and meditation instructions.

Instead of the visualization stage in yoga nidra I read the new words and texts as well as some grammar rules, repeating everything twice plus a Bulgarian translation. Then the last stages of yoga nidra follow. After the students move their body and sit up with closed eyes, they stay with their eyes closed to repeat the new material they have just heard in yoga nidra. They are to repeat the words, phrases, sentences and rules after me, exercising the pronunciation as well as recalling whatever they heard during yoga nidra.

After that exercise they continue with role plays, drills, reading and speaking activities normally done in a language learning class. We do asanas and breathing techniques whenever I observe tiredness or boredom based on intellectual fatigue. We complete our lesson with a short meditation, Om chanting and palming. Palming, eye exercises, pranayama and asana can be done at any time when the need is felt.

Yoga nidra relaxes and opens the mind to perceive new information, it helps to get rid of inhibitions in the personality which prevent people from freely expressing whatever little they know of a foreign language and communicating with others. People open more to imitate the pronunciation and way of expression of native speakers heard in the listening exercises and to absorb the English speaking of the teacher. When they repeat with closed eyes, they still keep the very receptive state of mind developed during yoga nidra but this time it is sure they are fully awake and hear each word.

Students also have to say the words and expressions they hear which gives them the experience of pronouncing and hearing their own voice while repeating. The sounds of the words pronounced by them themselves become deeply imprinted in the open subconscious mind made receptive to the maximum degree by the yoga nidra practised before that. Pronounced in the concentrated and perceptive state of mind the words act like the mantras through their sound vibration bypassing logic and intellect, working with the right hemisphere of the brain. This works well with middle-aged people who may not have exercised their learning abilities regularly and recently, and have forgotten to learn. Stiffness of the mind is removed.

People open more for communicating and expressing themselves generally as a psychological attitude. This enriches the students’ personality in addition to learning a foreign language. Learning a foreign language requires developing communication skills, the abilities to express thoughts, ideas and emotions, self-confidence, positivity, optimism, enthusiasm, inspiration.

All these are psychological and spiritual qualities. I notice that people who have an affinity towards music and mathematics find it easier to learn languages. This is connected with the left hemisphere of the brain. Hence good logic and intuition have to work in combination to build a good learning ability.

In Samkhya philosophy it is said that human beings possess five senses and five organs of actions. The five senses represent the input of information. The five organs of action are the output. In learning a foreign language, we use mainly two of the senses – seeing and hearing. In the process of learning we use and develop these two into the skill of reading, listening and understanding. The organ of action we use is speech. In a language class with yoga methods we become very aware how

we use these three, especially speech. We learn to refine our requirements of what input we allow in life – what we read and listen to – is it positive and nice or gross and negative. What do we produce with our speech in the space around?

We become aware that we change the environment with what we produce by the act of speech and furthermore by the act of thinking. So we learn how to refine our speech.

More than just a language

The experience with my students has been very positive. Let me share about one person who was generally very shy and had difficulty in communication, low self-confidence, bad memory and pronunciation and couldn’t understand grammar rules. After several classes during which she used to be tense even during yoga nidra, she fell asleep for the first time during the practice. When students sat up to repeat with closed eyes and then read the new text she succeeded to read correctly the whole sentence for the first time. That was an amazing experience for her, me and all the students showing the effects of the yoga methods in developing the learning abilities. All students, some more gradually, others more quickly develop with time the ability to pronounce the new words correctly as well as to read and understand the new material right after it has been introduced during the yoga nidra and the meditation learning exercise.

A language lesson conducted through the yogic methods does not make the students mentally tired by making only intellectual efforts. It contains enough relaxation and energizing practices to keep students focused, motivated, inspired to learn and develop. Students learn a lot about themselves, about their habits in talking and communicating. They develop self-awareness, self-confidence and contentment, and improve their self-expression, creativity and imagination. They enrich their life with new roles – that of a learner, communicator and many other roles which they may play in class. As they advance more and more with the language we start studying yoga texts which turns the class into a philosophy discussion where we all share thoughts, ideas and views about the yoga practices, psychology and life. I feel deep contentment being part of this process!