When one of my friends proposes a yoga class on a Sunday morning, I imagine having to will myself out of bed at an inelegant hour. Thankfully, we are in a nation that isn’t so fitness-obsessed that exercise trumps sleep. The class is scheduled for the more respectable hour of 10:00 am.
Except for a few tourists, the streets of the sixth arrondissement are rather peaceful come Sunday. Unfortunately, the night prior seems not to have been so placid, for when I reach the racks where I’ve locked my bike, part of the back wheel is missing – as if the thieves were interrupted and had left without their prize.
I sprint to the metro to catch the train towards Gare d’Austerlitz in time for my class. The clusters of lithe women toting yoga mats waiting on the metro platform signal that I’m not the only one who is en retard.
Our destination is not a yoga studio, but rather the open-air terrace of the restaurant Wanderlust, tucked in under the futuristic edifice that forms the Cité de la Mode et du Design. Perched on the banks of the Seine in the 13th arrondissement, the building was designed by architects Jakob + MacFarlane, who converted an old warehouse into a conspicuous Kermit-green structure. Aside from being a chic locale for Parisians to dine under the stars, Wanderlust is known for its offerings of convivial activities. Markets, movie screenings, workshops and dancing all take place, but today the activity is yoga.
Fortunately, my friend has saved a place for my mat on the deck. As everyone shuffles around, trying to conjure up space, I take in the scene around me. The first thing that strikes me is that this is undoubtedly the most stylish yoga class I’ve ever attended. Denim jackets, patterned tights, designer scarves and red lipstick are all acceptable attire.
Our prof de yoga, who is more traditionally dressed, leads us in a series of relaxation exercises and, as we raise our feet in the air, a rainbow of painted toenails forms.
Far from the soporific pan-flute soundtrack that often accompanies a yoga class, we are instead treated to the soulful warbling of Bob Dylan, followed by Nancy Sinatra’s sultry classic, ‘My Baby Shot Me Down’.
As we begin the sequence of movements, I realise that my vocabulary of French body parts is somewhat lacking. I surreptitiously peek through half-closed eyes to make up for my lack of understanding. The fact that yoga involves repetition of movement works in my favour, and I commit the vocabulary to memory, like an adult version of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.
Noting that I’m facing the opposite direction to the rest of the class for one pose, the teacher stops to ask me if I understand what she’s saying. Sheepishly I nod, not wanting to reveal my penchant for daydreaming – an affliction I suffer in English-speaking yoga classes as well.
After class, I verify my new vocabulary with my friend. She tells me that when she did yoga for the first time in English, every time the teacher said to ‘exhale’, she understood it as ‘Excel’, and couldn’t understand why a yoga class would be so focused on spreadsheets. It’s a relief to hear that I’m not the only one who finds yoga in another language challenging, but I’m excited to have discovered an entertaining way to improve my French.
Originally published in the October-November 2013 issue of France Today