Health & Beauty

Why I Teach Yoga in Spanglish

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As a Miami native, my first language is literally Spanglish. My household was Spanish-speaking when I was growing up, and my schooling, entertainment, and public spheres were English-speaking. This twofold speaking—and thinking—isn’t uncommon, but it can come with a certain number of challenges. It’s not so much a language barrier per se, but language confusion. Aunque Spanglish es real.  

For example, I might be struggling with thinking of a word in one language while speaking in another, and resort to code switching. This is la práctica of jumping from Spanish to English and back to Spanish, dependiendo on what word best expresses what I need to say.

There are other considerations, like the simultaneous translation in my mind of two languages in order to make sure I’m saying exactly what I intend to say. There’s also word coinage, which is inventing a new word that isn’t Spanish or English but is a derivative that morphs the two. For example, there is no common word in Spanish for “clicking” on a button on your computer mouse or phone. In Spanish, you can conjugate a word into a verb by adding three letters at the end. So in Spanglish, we make the English word “click” into a verb and say clickear (pronounced cleek-eh-ar). Speaking in Spanglish is fun and freeing and also challenging.

The Benefits of Teaching Yoga in Spanglish

Spanglish as a first language can make things interesting in the context of teaching yoga. When I opened my yoga studio in 2005, I taught in English. It never occurred to me to teach in another language because I hadn’t experienced that. Then I saw some of my Spanish-speaking students looking around at other students instead of following my direction. This prompted me to incorporate Spanglish into my classes.

As I began to translate the poses and instructions, more and more Spanish-dominant students started coming to the studio, aware that we were a bilingual staff willing to adapt to their needs. Their faces would light up at being included and given the benefits of yoga in a more accessible and intuitive way. Since yoga isn’t a common resource for those whose first language is Spanish in terms of exercise, philosophy, or relaxation, being able to hear it in their own language makes it more familiar and easier to grasp.

In 2007, I led my first yoga teacher training. I noticed that some of the text and dense terms used to explain complicated concepts in English created an additional barrier for my Latin American students, who seemed to struggle to understand yoga philosophy, and I put a lot of thought into translating these words.

Although this challenged my capacity for explaining the philosophy of yoga in Spanish, the students resonated deeply with the essence of the teachings, helping me understand that regardless of our external differences, all humans can benefit from the same universal teachings. Because of this deeper understanding, connection, and inner similarities, the students in my class—whether English or Spanish speaking—all seemed to experience a sense of belonging.

After 24 years of teaching this way, I still sometimes feel stuck because I am not as fluent as my ego thinks I should be. However, I’ve come to see Spanglish as a blessing. It gives me the freedom to express who I really am, because I am drawing on both worlds as a bridge of familiarity and comfort. I thrive and feel welcomed into a family where I automatically fit in. And I can create those opportunities for connections for my students, too, just by virtue of embracing my own Spanglish-ness.

Another important benefit to a multilingual class is that it naturally opens the mind and generates focus since the words and expresiones used are unexpected and spontaneous. ¿Ves lo que pasa in your brain cuando algo is different? For those who don’t understand Spanish, taking a class where the teacher sometimes cues in Spanish requires the use of contextual clues to figure things out. Although the flow between the languages and the poses happens pretty smoothly for the student, the teacher, on the other hand, is juggling internally between three languages (don’t forget Sanskrit) and it takes a lot of effort for the transitions to be seamless in execution. It can also help people who are new to a language accept and maybe even embrace it more, simply by being exposed to it. It creates an intimate and personal experience.

For example, many English-dominant students have told me they like these classes because they can learn Spanish while doing an activity. It takes the pressure off but also makes it more divertido. And for those who fluently speak and understand the language, they feel grounded in their roots and able to cultivate a deeper connection with yoga—even if there’s some Sanskrit thrown in there, too, for good measure.

The studio becomes an unintentional multicultural meeting point for those who otherwise wouldn’t come in contact with each other. Sometimes when I teach a challenging inversion, such as Handstand, I turn the class into a workshop and partner students with one another so they could connect in a way that wasn’t bound by language or culture. They laugh, open up and support each other. Through yoga, we can all find a common language.

The Challenge of Supporting Yoga in Spanglish

Unfortunately, the market for yoga in Spanglish doesn’t seem very big right now–despite my anecdotal experience. After so many years of observing this industry, I have noticed that yoga studios and brands don’t seem to see the financial value in supporting yoga in any language other than English. But there are 42.5 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. as of 2022. There is a huge opportunity for growth.

Mike Valdes Fauli, president of the multicultural division at Chemistry Cultura, cited important statistics in his recent article in Variety titled “Why U.S. Brands Should Lean into Spanglish.” “The data is in—and tells us that language is fluid for younger generations who toggle back and forth between English and Spanish, sometimes in the same sentence. Brands should artfully and thoughtfully adopt this approach to become organic participants in the Spanglish conversation” wrote Valdes Fauli. He cites a report conducted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that found a full 20 percent of Gen Z Latinos prefer Spanglish over an individual language.

Embracing Our Similarities

There are 22 countries (if you include Miami as its own country) that speak Spanish as their official language. Although they have differences among dialect, food, music, etc., it is the common language that unites and bonds them. This influence inspired me to look beyond the traditional practice and infuse yoga with even more Hispanic culture by occasionally blending yoga poses, Latin music, salsa dance moves, and expressive Spanish phrases.

Yoga teacher Rina Jacubowicz laughing as she teaches yoga and salsa at Mammoth Yoga Festival
Sometimes I get a little too excited while teaching yoga and salsa in Spanglish! (Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Yoga Festival)

Employing this kind of free-spirited mezcla helps students put aside self-conscious thoughts of how they are dancing and immerse themselves in the music and the moment. Laughter, connection, and most importantly, positive vibras create a sense of bonding. Latin culture, broadly speaking, is passionate, vibrant, fun, and community-oriented. We bring all of that onto our mats during a Spanglish yoga class and playlist, which you can experience for yourself ahora mismo in the video embedded below.

Let’s feel la esencia of the legendary Cuban singer and Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz’s famous expression, “Azucar!”, which my mom and I say every time we dance together. (Apparently this expression started when a waiter asked how she wanted her coffee y ella obviamente dijo, “con Azucar!” which means “with sugar.”) So let’s stay sweet and dulce together. Y siempre honoring our yogic roots con un namaste!

Experience a Spice Up Your Life: Salsa + Yoga Class in person at the Mammoth Yoga Festival on September 16, 2023. Join us! Conecta con nosotros!

About Our Contributor

Rina Jakubowicz, founder of Rina Yoga and Super Yogis, is known for her vibrant and uplifting approach for students of all ages. She has been teaching yoga and life coaching in English and Spanish (and Spanglish) for over 24 years and has been a featured presenter at Wanderlust Festivals, Yoga Journal Conferences, Kripalu Center, Himalayan Institute, Omega Institute, Yogaville, Sedona Yoga Festival, Telluride Yoga Festival and Mammoth Yoga Festival. Rina is the best selling author of The Yoga Mind: 52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen Your Practice with over 23K copies sold worldwide and has an international following. You can find over 200+ of her videos at ER Yoga online. Rina is grateful for her teachers Swami A. Parthasarathy, Sarkis Vermilyea and Ceci Lester. She lives in Los Angeles and Miami with her husband Eric and Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Roo. For more information, visit