An American’s guide to yoga in Madrid

yoga in madrid

I’m not exaggerating when I say you can’t throw a rock in San Diego without hitting three yoga studios. I thought that because I knew some poses and had some Spanish under my belt, I could just pop into a yoga class like it was no big deal.

Um, not so much.

Depending on how seriously you “practice,” you could be in for a whole different experience.

If you’re an American interested in yoga in Madrid, keep reading for a few pointers on what to expect when you om in your new home.

Your instructor will be the real deal 

The U.S. has, like many things, taken yoga and made it its own. Classes run the gamut from HIIT incorporating downward-facing dog to dance parties meant to send love out to the universe. After going to a few classes in Madrid I realized that the vibe is a bit more serious here. It was a good reminder that yoga is, first and foremost, a Hindu spiritual practice.

So what does that look like? This is anecdotal, but the instructors I’ve had seem very deliberate about their work. They have all been practicing for years (if not decades—I’ve asked) and I don’t think I’ve had one instructor under fifty. There are a lot more male teachers than I’ve seen in the U.S. Also, each class has begun with singing a mantra and ended with a series of oms. Burning incense and ringing small bells are optional.

Know which style you like to practice

If you’ve only casually attended classes there’s a chance you’re not sure of the difference in yoga styles. The studios I’ve visited here in Madrid are all very specific about which is being taught in each class whether it’s Astanga, Bikram, Hatha, Iyengar, Kundalini, Vinyasa or Yin. Even this studio that specializes in “Californian hot yoga” specifies different varieties. If you’re not sure, do some googling or ask the studio specifically. I didn’t and spent an hour and a half with a lovely group of septuagenarians, basically flexing and bending my ankles.

A note on studios 

In all my classes I haven’t seen one person bring their own mat. I know, eew. But, I began leaving mine at home because it made me so self-conscious. Also, the majority of people wear simple clothes in basic colors. Again, this may not matter to you but a man stopped me outside of class last week and—shielding his eyes—said, oh my god you look like a carnival dressed like that! So, take all this for what you will.

However, I absolutely recommend that you introduce yourself to your instructor. Classes are small and it’s likely you’ll end up exchanging names with them anyway while they offer adjustments. I have found it’s better to say hello up front, tell them my level of experience and that I’m still learning Spanish. A few of my instructors speak some English and have been more than happy to whisper a confusing word in English while they were correcting a pose. Take it from me, it’s much better to do this before class instead of when you’re struggling to understand and have to ask five times what a wrist is.

Brush up on your vocabulary

Don’t assume that knowing the Sanskrit name of each pose is sufficient because your instructor will also guide you through adjustments verbally. Believe me, there’s no better way to discover how many body parts you don’t know! Below is a list of words I’ve taken note of these past few weeks, but it’s by no means exhaustive since we all know there are a million ways to say everything! And if you’d like to look at the Spanish translations for poses (you know, perro cara abajo), this website is very good.

To begin:

hands to your heart: manos al junto en tu pecho or corazón

close your eyes: cierra tus ojos

to empty: vaciar

to fill: llenar

lungs: pulmones 

deep/deeply: profundo/profundamente

inhale/exhale: inhalar/exhalar or respirar

Your body:

weight: peso

body: cuerpo

head: cabeza

forehead: frente 

eyes: ojos

nose: nariz

tongue: lengua

mouth: boca

chin: mentón

shoulders: hombros 

arms/elbows: brazos/codos

wrist/hands: muñecas/manos

fingers/fingertips: dedos/yemas de los dedos

ribs: costillas

back/spine: espalda/columna

navel: ombligo

core/abdomen/stomach: centro/abdomen/estómago

hips/pelvis/pubis: caderas/pelvis/pubis

sits bones/bottom: parte tracera/culo

legs/knees: piernas/rodillas

heels/toes: talones/dedos de los pies

Movements & directions:

gently/with strength: tierna/con fuerza 

firm/tense: firma/tensión 

rest/relax: descansar/relajarse

to enter (as in, begin a movement): entrar

stand/sit: estar de pie/sentar

open/close: abrir/cerrar

feel: sensación or sentir

turn: girar

lift/lower: levantar/bajar

to place on the ground: poner en el suelo

top of the mat: parte superior de la esterilla 

together/apart: juntos/aparte

left/right/center: izquierda/derecha/centro

front/back: frente/atrás

up/down: arriba/abajo

Even with all of the surprises, it’s been an incredible (and humbling!) opportunity to keep learning yoga. Now tell me your gym stories—I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “An American’s guide to yoga in Madrid

  1. As always, such a way with words! Love his you’ve turned it into a Spanish lesson…two birds with one stone!

  2. I Watch and follow…I’m still not sure of everything being said in Pilates! As for yoga…I’ve resorted to ‘DoYogaWithMe.com’!! Have you tried kundalini yoga?? It is bizzare..you’ll definitely learn some body parts!!
    Side note – Will you/have you visited Portugal yet? Beautiful country…Lisbon is stunning and Porto as well! Happy exploring!

    1. Oh goodness yes, I am a big time copy cat in class!! Exercising in a foreign language is definitely adventurous! As far as kundalini goes, I haven’t tried it and I’m not sure it’s for me ;-) I was intrigued because there are a couple different studios here in Madrid dedicated solely to this type of yoga, but after reading a bit more I think I’ll stick to what I’ve been doing, ha!

      We haven’t been to Porto but of course, have heard such wonderful things. We did get to spend a weekend in Lisbon last summer but it wasn’t nearly enough time! I would love to hear suggestions about Porto!

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