Very few sob stories begin with, “I moved to Paris.” Mine doesn’t either, but when I arrived in the city’s 11th arrondissement (aka, neighborhood) as an 18-year-old college freshman, I’d never felt more lonely. While unpacking the contents of my childhood life into my new adult (!) apartment, I could practically feel the miles of ocean separating me from my family and the only life I’d ever known.
Over the first few weeks, I learned the ins and outs of the metropolis. Paris was gorgeous and enchanting; it somehow outshone its own dazzling reputation. Still, I spent that first August like a stranger in a strange land. When I wasn’t in class learning how to conjugate French verbs, I would explore Paris’ tangled streets—wondering how to connect who I’d been in my hometown (Charleston, South Carolina) with the person who had packed her suitcases and moved to the romantic epicenter of the world.
My answer arrived one evening while I was eating dinner in my itty-bitty Parisian kitchen. Both my windows were open, my building’s resident opera singer had taken up her nightly tune, and I was googling “American meet-ups in Paris” with the hope that my future friends were doing the same in their own neighborhoods. I scrolled past potlucks and philosophy clubs, group outings to the Seine river and fromage (cheese) parties and then, finally, one activity caught my attention: a 5-euro yoga (now 6 euros) class taught in English.
Within 20 minutes of downward dogs, handstands, and warrior IIIs, I’d fallen in love with my practice, this community of transplant yogis, and Paris itself.
In high school, I happily accompanied my mom to yoga on a weekly basis. I liked it then, but now, thanks to the affordable-vinyasa find, I came to love yoga in Paris—and the city by extension. I didn’t know that yet though, as I was still just grasping at straws for any sense of familiarity in my life. So I slipped on my leggings and headed to an old dance studio not far from the Tuileries Garden for my first European flow.
The room had ancient wooden floors, exposed brick walls, and massive windows that poured light into the space. I looked around at the French and American women with their casual-yet-chic ballerina buns. They were stretching and chatting and making the elaborate, almost stylized hand gestures I would come to know well over the next year. And suddenly, even though my usual asana buddy (hi, mom!) wasn’t there with me, I finally felt at home.
The instructor that day was a bubbly English dancer named Meghan who led the class with contagious joy. She didn’t just teach yoga, she choreographed it, à la JVN. Within 20 minutes of downward dogs, handstands, and warrior IIIs, I’d fallen in love with my practice, this community of transplant yogis, and Paris itself. Meghan and I became fast friends, and over the course of my year living la vie Parisienne, she taught me so, so much.
Namely, much like how in Casablanca, when Rick tells Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris,” she taught me that I would always have my yoga practice. That the poses could be learned, collected, and remain a part of me—no matter my zip code.
Meghan’s classes changed venues weekly. Throughout my 52-ish weeks in Paris, I practiced on rooftops overlooking the Eiffel Tower, in gardens and museums, and at fitness studios. I started to build my practice for yoga in Paris, pose by pose—as if I were constructing a house, brick by brick. And at some point along the way, Paris became my home.
When my study-abroad year came to bittersweet end, I moved my life to New York to continue college. But to this day, whenever I roll out my mat, it’s like I’m back in the City of Lights. With each new-to-me Metro stop I reached to meet gaggles of yogis, Paris itself steadily became part of my practice—and vice versa. Now, so long as I have my yoga mat, I know that—just like Rick and Ilsa—I’ll always have Paris.
Yoga is Paris is just one of the many fitness offerings popping up in the City of Lights. But if your travel budget doesn’t include the often steep prices of the area, these four cheaper hot spots will scratch your travel itch.
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