I’ve been going regularly to a yoga studio here in Paris. I first found it by googling “yoga prénatale,” and then by reading a little more about each studio, and then by choosing one that seemed about right and within reasonable walking distance. The one I happened into, called Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche, has been one of the most fortuitous finds of my Paris stay.
I like yoga, but generally do not have a well established, regular yoga practice. I’ll go through surges, but then I’ll have many long months where I have no practice at all. Like many American women and men, I have a pretty good foundation in it, have taken classes in many different lineages, and am reasonably fluent in some of the core concepts. But I’d be lying if I said I were really a student, in that take-it-to-the-next-level kind of way.
Here in Paris, though, I’ve been going 3-4 times a week. It has given me a little community anchor, and I’ve also found it fascinating to dig into a regular practice with a belly that is daily getting larger and more cumbersome. I think the French people find me to be a bit of a curiosity—a third trimester American plopping down in the middle of their class—but that’s fine by me. (Plus, there are a lot of other Americans there. The French seem to like yoga, but I think the Americans flock to it like aliens to the beacon of the Eiffel Tower.) I’m loving yoga like I’ve never loved it before—digging into this wildly changing body and the strong mind and attention that is building with it.
One of the most enchanting things about yoga for me right now is the very fact of studying it in a foreign language. Despite my high level of competence in French, following the cues requires a focus that is completely unnecessary in my mother tongue. This has the side effect of quieting an otherwise busy mind. There is no room for mental wandering when I’m working to determine whether she just said to spread my toes or touch my big toes together. (Or do something with my shoulders—who knows.) More than once I’ve opened my eyes to find myself with my arms over my head when everyone else is starting cat-cow. So being in the studio provokes an intensity of attention that I’ve not previously experienced in a yoga practice.
The other thing that I find fascinating about French yoga instruction is the focus on the pelvis. The French call it the bassin. They use the term in the same way we use the word core in talking about yoga in English-language classes. But, in one of those oddities that makes studying foreign languages a never-ending joy, the actual concept of the bassin is compelling in a way that the term core just really isn’t. When I hear the word core, I think of a focused center. It’s a place of power and resilience. Strength, surely. It’s forceful, firm, solid—very American. Bassin is a word that cradles. Perhaps it’s my current frame of mind, but its implications speak to me of support rather than strength. Of grounding and holding rather than holding-upright. It’s the basin that holds our organs, our bellies, our energy and, for certain of us, our babies.
I went to get a massage the other day from a woman whose card was given to me by a random lady who overheard me talking to the concierge at the yoga studio. Her name is Evelyne and her card reads “Thérapeute de l’Ame et du Corps”—which translates as Therapist of the Spirit and Body. The massage was fascinating, not least of all because she started it off with a whispering session with my belly.
At the end of my massage, as I was coming back out of my drifting snoozy place, Evelyne whispered a few instructions to me, almost a mantra. I had to email her after to get the words again because my half-asleep brain only retained part of it. I knew she was talking to me about my bassin and wanted the exact words.
She emailed back that the mantra she had given was as follows: “Je me sens en sécurité, en paix dans mon bassin.”
I feel myself to be in safety, in peace, in my bassin.” Attempt to translate as you will—pelvis, core—and it doesn’t quite make it. But think the of the bassin as the cradling home of everything we carry, the rooting-down place between our bodies and the earth, this basin, this womb-writ-large, and it’s an incredibly powerful phrase.
So. The study of language, this time via yoga and massage. It opens up those soft differences in world view—strong pillar vs. cradling basin—that are accessible only through learning a language that constructs the world in a way that is different from your own. These are the small doorways we walk through to discover another culture.