Spanish students learn while they sweat

Nov. 27, 2013

Students touching hands and leaning toward eachother in a yoga pose in the hot yoga studio, Root Down Yoga.

Students practice hot yoga and Spanish in Assistant Spanish Professor Omar Granados Spanish 304 class.

By UW-L student Breanna Levine

Learning a foreign language can be difficult, but one UW-La Crosse Spanish professor has found an unorthodox way to teach the language.

Assistant Spanish Professor Omar Granados brought students from three of his upper level Spanish classes to Root Down Yoga studio on Nov. 9 to experience their Spanish education in a new way.

“Spanish only ‘comes to life’ when you find it useful outside the classroom and beyond your busy homework,” Granados says. “I am always looking for ways to give students opportunities to take Spanish into the ‘real’ world.”

And he did. The students were able to participate in hot yoga, which is just like regular yoga but with one important difference — the room is heated between 95 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Yoga is nothing but a metaphor for the learning process of a language: you learn to set your own pace, you imitate others, you learn to be at ease with your own mistakes and work to improve yourself, but you are also part of a very spiritual common experience,” Granados says.

Granados says that he wouldn’t miss an opportunity to learn along with his students.

“As a teacher, I have been most effective when I am able to create cultural similarities among my students and myself. When I begin any teaching experience, I have to remind myself of my role as an ambassador of a culture, a situation, and a fellow learner,” Granados explains. “I also make an effort to avoid the power dynamics of the traditional classroom. This is why hot yoga is great — to avoid power structures. Everyone looks equally sweaty and twisted like a pretzel in the oven.”

Granados tries to incorporate a teaching method called Total Physical Response (TPR) into his lessons as much as possible. The method teaches students to hear something in the new language and then physically respond to it. Instead of memorizing vocabulary terms and verb tenses, TPR teaches students to follow commands that will help them learn the language. Granados claims that by the end of the first hot yoga class, his students were able to respond to between 20 and 35 new commands in Spanish.

“Learning Spanish requires constant personal interaction with others,” he says. “As instructors, sometimes we force those interactions with others through preconceived dialogues or role-playing drills which sometimes the students find awkward.”

Senior Lilah Myhre was among the students who went to the studio.

“I was really excited to do hot yoga in Spanish. I had only done normal yoga before, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like,” she says. “Afterwards, I realized how much of a workout it was! I have literally never sweated that much in my life.”

The students thought it was a great experience, and a nice break from the normal lecture structure of class.

“I think this is a great way for our Spanish classes to get out of the classroom, spend time with each other and use Spanish in the real world,” Myhre explained.

Granados says that this experience will become a regular part of his courses. In fact, he is working on a grant proposal for the College of Liberal Studies to give funding to Root Down Yoga as part of a partnership to connect students with the greater La Crosse community.

Granados is very excited to extend an invitation to anyone who is interested in this idea.

“Come practice yoga with us as you learn Spanish!”

Amber Moesch demonstrates the “flipped dog” pose (“perro flipado” in Spanish) with student Tyler Wills from Spanish 304.