Friday, July 10, 2009

Les Stereotypes

Stereotypes. We all utter and reinforce them.
We can't help it. It's part of the human condition.
I don't think there's a place on earth with more ingrained stereotypes on its behalf than France. And, as Greg and I have been known to say when responding to a broad general statement about the Land of the Gauls, "If by France, you mean Paris, then you're probably right." But even that logic gets challenged on a daily basis.

For example, before I left the US to teach yoga in France, I had several people offer up a few broad statements about what they had heard the yoga culture was like in France/Paris. I'd like to address and perhaps even debunk a few of these :

1) "Most Parisians can't finish a yoga class without taking a smoke break."

Well, this is kind of like saying most French people eat a plate of fois gras and drink a bottle of wine everyday. It's just absolutely not true. Never once in the months I've been practicing in or teaching public or private classes, has anyone ever left class in the middle to take a smoke break. (After class perhaps, but not during.) I'm not saying it's inconceivable or will never happen, but it's far from the norm.

In fact, since the state mandated smoking ban went into effect, there are fewer people smoking at all.

2) "French people don't like being touched, so you won't be able to do many physical adjustments or massages during a class."

In my experience - FALSE!
While it's true that I have to back off of my tendency toward greeting people with big California bear hugs rather than the barely-touching-two-cheek-air-kiss, which is indeed the norm here, Parisian yogis appreciate a skilled, gentle, respectful touch just as much as anyone else. Anyone in a yoga pose wants to struggle less, not more, and find the maximum benefits of the pose. This is achieved with steady breath and proper alignment and sometimes just a slight physical adjustment will help. I always let students know ahead of time that my teaching incorporates hands on adjustments and massages and if they're not comfortable with that, they can let me know. I haven't yet received an energetic or verbal, "Ne touche pas, s'il vous plait."

Sacrum and svasana massages are crowd pleasers for sure, just as they are the world over.

Of course, conversely the French have many stereotypes about the American yoga community.
So, just as American yogis don't necessarily appreciate all being lumped in the category of "hippie", the French also get a little tired of the ridiculous cliches.

With open minds and open hearts, let's allow each other to grow and evolve.