I have spent 8 years in Japan. Most of the time when speaking the language it feels as if my tongue is pinned down by the weight of it.
From this month, at our studio, one day a week I will teach all of my classes in English. Today was the first day of this undertaking.
I usually do teach most of the non-asana portions of courses and workshops in English, with Eri providing her impeccable translation. However, I usually teach the asana portions and all of my regular weekly classes in Japanese. The exception is when I have any non-Japanese speaker in class who understands English. I then teach in both languages.
Today I felt like my tongue was set free to express my thoughts without worry of miscommunication. The English words flowed forth without effort or the usual pauses and false starts I face in Japanese. I did use Japanese at times to help the non-English speakers out, but there was one big difference from the usual way I teach in both languages. Normally, I am assisting the English speakers by providing English translations of the Japanese, so I speak in Japanese then translate it into English. But today I was instead speaking English then translating it into Japanese. I noticed three things resulted from this.
1.) I spoke in my normal English expressions that came naturally, which meant I wasn`t thinking “Can I translate this into Japanese?” This meant I used much more natural English inflections and nuances than when I would translate from Japanese, where I would usually kind of shorthand the English in a very straightforward way.
2. ) I found that I was able to translate almost everything I was saying into Japanese without much effort! Even words and phrases I had not before attempted to translate were done with a minimum of searching for the appropriate word. I did have to pause a few times to find a word or phrase, but what was found actually worked quite well.
3.) Most interesting to me was noticing how I used the English language. My way of speaking was actually much different than when I used to regularly teach asana classes in America. I found that my sentences were more to the point, yet still nuanced but in ways that were much clearer and concise than my previous teaching in English. My flow of words was much more…fluid. I was making connections in English I had not made before, both on an instructional and a conceptual level.
In my first class I taught about knowledge, and one of the things I pointed to was the Shanti Mantra we chant in all of my classes. There is a line that says, “Let there be the obtainment of the fire of knowledge together.” I asked the students to think about what knowledge they wished to gain from their practice. I feel like this teaching was really for me. In both classes I came to see new aspects of my ability to speak in both Japanese and English. And I understand that the years of teaching almost exclusively in Japanese in all of my asana classes has been the crucible in which my own understanding of both languages was tempered and refined over and over to produce new aspects of my teaching vocabulary I was able to convey today in both languages.
After the evening class, one student expressed to me that she did not understand most of what I said in English, but that the sound of the words in English had brought her feelings of lightness and ease. She remarked that the quality of the words invoked these feelings.
The tone, color and texture of language can convey powerful vibrational qualities. I had always known this, and even taught about it several times in several different ways over the years. But what a wonderful reminder to receive at the end of this truly blessed day.
My deep heart gratitude to Mikiko, Eri, Akiko, Mayuko and Rossella who gave me the opportunities today to both rediscover my own language and find out that my Japanese is a bit better than I thought.