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Season 1 - Episode 5

Our Shared Language

15 min - Conversation


Kira and Zoe talk about sharing the teachings of yoga across different languages and cultures—specifically in Chinese culture. Zoe explains that although our nuances and traditions may be different, some things like laughter and compassion transcend all cultures.
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Mar 31, 2016
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Hi, welcome. Thanks for being here. And thank you, Zoe, for being here. So, such a true delight to be together these last three days and experience your teaching and your way of sharing the teachings, really. Which is really part of the conversation. So, Zoe and I met, we're thinking it's about three years ago, 2011 in Goa, on a retreat. And since then we've had the chance to be together a couple more times. And Zoe, you were born in Hong Kong and grew up both between Hong Kong and Singapore. And one of the things we've been in conversation about is how, when we're trying to express these teachings of yoga in various languages, how they might need to come out differently or just come out differently depending on the medium that we're using to express. So, it's a bit of a broad question, so we'll just see what comes out of you. But the question that I'm wondering about today is, just what do you notice when you're attempting to share in maybe Mandarin or Cantonese or English? What do you notice is different? Or how do you find yourself sharing the teachings differently? Interestingly, I guess because I've been transplanted into a lot of different cultures, I do carry all of the different cultural leanings with me. But when I teach in Mandarin or Cantonese to somebody that might only understand the class in that language, I find that you might really have to scale back a lot under philosophy because maybe Chinese people were practical people. So, in many ways, the idea of philosophy, the idea of going within, or even just saying things like, love yourself, that would really seem a little bit out there. So, when you're teaching, you wouldn't necessarily be encouraging people to investigate those layers. You would be hoping that just by practicing yoga, they might go there. So, more or less, a lot of students are hoping for goals like weight loss, just more of a yoga body and detoxing and stuff like that. But that doesn't mean that the Chinese people are not into, of course, a lot of this culture and of Taoism and a lot of Buddhism and all that is really deeply rooted into Chinese culture. It's just we tend to keep these things separate. So, for them, yoga is really more of a way to get fit. So, for me, yoga has always been a very curious way of getting people to feel and go into the deeper things without kind of putting it in their face. So, I always find that when my ego is very fragile, when I'm doing a pose that I find very difficult to do and a teacher just reminds me that it doesn't matter, that that's when it drops in for me. And it's like, oh, yes, it doesn't matter. I can't do a split, but I am still lovable. So, when I'm teaching yoga to people in other languages, you still kind of try to bring that in, but in the form of laughter. So, instead of language, instead of especially when I teach in Chinese, I do seem to teach a lot of family and friends and stuff like that and nobody wants to tell you, wants to hear you tell them how to live. So, basically, we laugh together. And basically, maybe it is the job of yoga to kind of let people know that they're doing great. So, basically, as we laugh at ourselves and as we kind of bond over just the sharing of yoga, even just as a physical practice, there's always that background magic that happens just through laughing together. And also, I guess physically, Asians, we don't tend to hug or kiss very much because it's just not part of our culture. So, growing up, maybe I haven't seen a lot of adults, you know, doing things that might be really normal in Western culture. What you call PDA here for us is just like, I've never seen mommy and daddy kiss. Like, you know, they're supposed to be married. It's cool. So, even when you're touching a student, just to help them adjust to a posture. Like, for instance, even for me, I was trained in Singapore. And for that year, just to have somebody with a nurturing intention, just kind of suiting me in areas where I'm gripping, areas where I am resistant or holding, just even a gentle touch. It's way deeper than you would think. Like there's been times where I have felt so supported just to be able to maybe come into a twisted triangle just because she's holding me from falling flat on the floor. And through that, just realizing the trust that comes with the relationship. So, maybe in a way, because language-wise, I mean, it's not really such a grammatical thing. It's not really in terms of the expressions that you use in Chinese because often it's still similar instruction. You know, it's still place your foot here and dah, dah, dah. But I think, for me, yoga and having relationship with a teacher that works in any language.

Yeah, so that was really touching for me. Now, I'm leaning back in on a conversation we had with a teacher, Sonia, from Spain a little bit here. But I'm hearing some similar roots, as I heard there, that because there is maybe aspects of expression are held back. There isn't so much of an intentional surface-level expression of how much we love you and care about you, whether that's through language or affection, as perhaps there is in Western culture. That when there is that touch, when there are those words, perhaps they have more meaning. Oh, for sure, for sure. One of the opening experiences for me in yoga is we went on retreat in Bali. And before that, my teacher was very focused on asana, on every, you know, back bands, forward bands, blah, blah, blah, every category. So we're just training really hard there. But in Bali, she softened, then she took out poetry. And the first line of the poetry that she read to us as we're holding a pose was, it doesn't matter to me what you do for a living. Yeah, it's part of the invitation by Mariah, O-R-I-A, sorry, O-R-I-A Mountain Dreamer. And it's just, it doesn't matter, like all the things that matter so much to, I guess, everybody, but really a lot to Chinese people. Especially in Singapore, we grew up with the five C's, condo, car, credit card, cash. I forgot what the last one is, clout, something. So five C's, you know, we grew up with that. And to hear somebody just go, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. I love you. It doesn't matter. I'm interested in you. It doesn't matter. I think there were many times. So for me, that was the yoga. It wasn't the yoga of can we do a backbend. It was the yoga of can we open to each other. And ever since that has happened, I think the yoga that has changed my life is that form of yoga. Yeah. And I'm realizing now that yoga is everything. So yeah, beautiful.

As we come together, you know, as this global community of yogis and we have a desire to share and work together and learn together, how do we best give room? How do we best listen? How do we best hear each other's backgrounds and differences and stories? Like how are you finding because you now you live in Toronto or Vancouver. Sorry. Yeah. Now you live in Vancouver. Like how are you finding what's, how are you finding that you're learning how to listen and bring and yeah, actually that's so juicy. Like that's really, really cool because I mean, we do all come from really different places and just culturally when I have people come to my class in Asia and they're looking for more ways to sweat, you know, and then you're trying your best to not just give them what they want and instead offer maybe what they need. Maybe I don't really know, but you know, I try. So it really is huge, that thing about compassion. So what we're learning in yoga in so many ways as we become more compassionate to ourselves on the mat, it really opens us to everybody else from every other culture because even within yoga, like the yoga community, sometimes I find it hilariously fractured in terms of hot yoga, yin yoga, you know, hata yoga, ashtanga and different yogis with their different ideas of what is best. Yeah. So thankfully, because I do not have the body that, you know, just immediately becomes a super yogi, super bendy I have had the time to actually reflect and attempt and choose and chew on this. And I do realize that there are benefits of all kinds of yoga just as there are all kinds of people. So I mean, we come from different cultures and even within those different cultures, I would find somebody who has a very relaxed temperament versus somebody who is very quick. And so basically at the end of the day, I really believe that all yoga is good. Yeah. And it's really just what foods are good for you. Yeah. So I mean, as long as we all just keep practicing that compassion and keep staying vulnerable and realizing that what you believe is really important is really important. And if we can just respect each other, and I mean, if somebody doesn't respect you, if you can just understand that that's just, you know, them not understanding at that point, but you never know, like down the road, like everybody someday sometimes, you know, their paths come together and then some days not. So just be okay with everybody playing and finding their voice in this. And if we all sound the same, it would be so boring. So thank goodness, we have different languages and different nuances, different cultures. Yeah. This is why we need yoga teachers around the world. Because unless we have this intimate connection with who we're in relationship with, with whom we're sharing these teachings and my experience, and I'd be curious if it's your experience, it's a little bit like the teachings don't happen unless you're in relationship, like unless there's somebody that you're with, there's nothing to share. And you know, even even though we're talking about China and America, I mean, it's different here between New York and California, very different teachings have arrived. So so this is the call, if you're interested in the teachings of yoga, if you're interested in letting them work more deeply on you, the call is to start teaching. Yeah.

Yeah. And interestingly, even if you feel like you're not ready, once you start teaching, that's when you really learn how to teach. Right? We joke, right? We joke that you can always know what a yoga teacher is trying to learn based on what she's trying to teach. Anyway, thank you so much, dear one for coming all the way to Southern California to be with us. It's been such a pleasure. And of course, this would not be complete. If we didn't acknowledge our friend. And thank you for being with us. Thank you, guys.


Alexandra Kambler
Interesting! I truly can relate.
Thank you!
Kate M
1 person likes this.
Love this exchange! So much to learn here about different cultures and how the yoga practice finds expression within these. Beautiful!
Kira Sloane
Kate, you are deep in the archive closet here! Zoe Ho is the best and lives up closer to you than me! xok
Kate M
1 person likes this.
Kira Sloane Hidden gems!!
Zoe Ho
1 person likes this.
Kate and Kira  thank you ! For sharing so much love here and being in this conversation together. Such a good time to revisit this and remember, as the yoga journey continues and life evolves (I’m now a yoga therapist too and even sillier hahah), but the heart of what I feel magical about yoga remains true - there is so much opportunity to be there for each other in the nuance of care, and magical space to express deeper things when we are open. I’m going to read Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem “The Invitation” again! Hugs! xoxo
Zoe Ho
Alexandra Thank you! I must have been tech challenged and missed this. Sending a warm hug 3 years later haha. Namaste.
Kate M
Zoe Ho are you in Toronto? I hope things are going well, and that you're healthy and safe : ) I'm just just 4 hours down the road in Ottawa - an impossible distance now with no pee-stops along the way!! Be well: )
Zoe Ho
1 person likes this.
Kate thank you! I've been making the best of this time to make art to practice self-care and mindfulness. Totally hear you about pee stops hahah! I'm based in Vancouver these days, although I used to live in the Northwest Territories (where it's a 3 day drive along the Dempster Highway just from Whitehorse to get to Inuvik where I lived, and that means loos-au-naturel - shrubbery - along the highway haha)! Ottawa is lovely. Although were you hit by snow just recently too? Take care and stay safe and well 

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