Take your nose out of your French textbook and into a downward dog.

While many hope that learning a new language will provide fulfillment, their classroom experiences are often tainted by the stress that accompanies exams, papers and the looming prospect of final grades. Acquiring fluency and confidence often falls to the wayside as students strive to earn a certain grade. That’s why 2012 Ph.D. recipient Ian McConnon — a yoga instructor in training — and Ph.D. student and director of the French program in Gregory College House Fiona Moreno decided to create a place for students to step away from the classroom and learn a language in a completely different environment: the yoga studio.

McConnon is teaching a series of yoga classes conducted in French on Monday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday evenings from 8 to 9:15 p.m. throughout the month of September. He practices and teaches yoga in the style of the guru Iyengar, a method that is particularly slow and meditative. The classes are available to Penn students of all language levels, even those who do not speak any French.

The Daily Pennsylvanian took a break on Monday evening to say namaste to this unique yoga experience.

As the three other students and I filed in, we greeted McConnon with a “bonjour” and laid out our mats to begin the class. As someone who only knows a few basic phrases of French, I was expecting to be completely lost. However, although the vocabulary was unfamiliar, I was able to easily follow along with McConnon’s motions and simply enjoyed listening to his beautifully articulated French instructions. As the hour and a half passed, I became progressively more familiar with the French phrases, to the point where I began to remember the words that corresponded to each action.

By the end of the class, my French vocabulary had increased by at least five words: if someone instructed me to plie my jambe and move my derriere de droit, I would gladly oblige.

McConnon and Moreno agree that my experience corresponds with their goal in creating the program: to allow students to relax and “passively absorb” the language without having to worry about memorizing terms or taking notes.

“The mind is in a stiller place,” McConnon said.

The tactile nature of the exercise also reinforces learning of vocabulary, since students perform an action while hearing the body parts and verbs spoken aloud, McConnon said.

After my experience, I would suggest that all students who are learning French, or are simply interested in language and would like to try learning in a completely relaxed environment, [to] embrace their inner yogi. Yoga just may be the je ne sais quoi missing from your language education here at Penn.

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