Carolina Vivas, Yoga Instructor in La Jolla, CA
1. How did you get started practicing yoga? What was your first class like?The first class I took was at a gym near my house in New Jersey. Someone told me that yoga would help me chill out and release some of the stress from my demanding corporate job. My first teacher was about 25, with stinky dreads, beads around her neck and wore a tie dyed shirt (I’m not kidding). She practiced with us the entire time, kept her eyes closed but said things like “looking good” and “that’s it.” There was also a lot of chanting and not much flow to the class. I walked out thinking that yoga was weird and definitely not for me The next few classes after that weren’t much more exciting or inspiring either.
2. When did you realize that you wanted to teach?Shortly after 9/11, I remember thinking that I wanted to do something that I was passionate about. I wanted to make a living without sacrificing my soul and I wanted to love my job. For some reason I got it in my head that I should do a yoga teacher training so I started on a search for the lucky studio/teacher. I must have gone to over 20 studios in Manhattan — everything from Bikram to Om Yoga. It wasn’t until I took that first Jhon Tamayo class that I knew I wanted to do what he did — only better. That class changed my life. I was in awe of what people could do with their bodies and how they made it look so easy. The focus in that room was piercing and Jhon’s closing words always left me pensive for days. I saw the depth in the practice and I realized that even if I spent my entire life studying yoga, I could never know enough.
3. Who are your most influencial teachers?
My most influential teachers have been those teachers who focus on a well-rounded practice — People who understand the philosophy as well as the mundane ins and outs of alignment. Teachers who walk the talk, who can put your ego and theirs in check, those who can challenge you, teach you to honor your body and feed your mind with yoga knowledge are the type of teachers that have shaped my own classes. Jhon Tamayo, Bryan Kest, Andrea Marcum, Steven Earth, Ally Hamilton, and Dharma Mittra, I salute you.
4. How has the practice of yoga changed you or affected your life?
The question should read, how has it NOT? The practice of yoga has completely shifted my focus. Prior to yoga I was like everyone else…very preoccupied with the self. Yoga expands you…mentally, physically, emotionally. It has taught me how to be healthy in every way, to listen to what my heart and body are saying. It has taught me moderation, acceptance, compassion, love, determination, letting go, the power of energy and the importance of sharing this practice with as many people as possible.
5. Has your teaching style evolved since you first began teaching? In what ways?
When I first started teaching I was very shy. So much that people had to ask me to raise my voice because they couldn’t hear my instructions. When you first start teaching you’re caught up in logistical stuff — what pose should I have them do next, did I adjust this person or that person, when should I start cooling down, etc…But I had really amazing teachers so I always tried to incorporate a little philosophy, even if I wasn’t 100% confident about it yet. I’d say that I got pretty used to teaching about 6 months in and then you can start to have more fun with sequencing, what you verbally share with the class and how you connect with your students. Now, 10 years later, I don’t think about what I’m going to teach. Instead I try to center myself before class so that I can tune into the energy in the room. I let the practice evolve organically and I only share what I know from experience. I try to touch each student at least once so there’s a personal connection and I give it all I’ve got every single time.
6. What styles of yoga have you tried and what are your reflections on the many different types of yoga available to the modern yoga student?
I’ve tried Bikram, Kundalini, Astanga, Iyengar, Power, Hatha, Anusara, Yin, and Vinyasa. Again, I can only speak from experience but what I’ve noticed is that there is a style of yoga for every type of person. If you’re more of a devotional type of person, I’d say try Kundalini there’s a lot of chanting, visualization, etc. If you’re very meticulous and precise, do Iyengar yoga. All in all, it boils down to the teacher and usually you attract those with similar energy. I personally gravitated towards Vinyasa because of how dynamic it is. I’m not the type of person that likes to know what’s coming next so I never cared too much for Bikram or Astanga. In my option, yoga is like life and when have you been able to predict how things will happen tomorrow?
7. How is yoga different from pilates?
Yoga is a much deeper practice. It’s been around for over 3,000 years and has it’s roots in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Pilates has some movement similarities but in general you need a big piece of equipment for Pilates, complete with pulleys and slides. Yoga uses one’s own body weight and all you need is a mat and the occasional strap or block. From what I know Pilates was started in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates. The sequence of movements attracted mostly dancers. From the various pilates instructors that I know, most have strong abdominal muscles but are very tight in the hips and low back. Yoga tends to stretch and strengthen every body part equally. There are 8 limbs to the yoga path — ranging from ethical observances to meditation and breath work.
8. What are the eight limbs of yoga? Which ones do you think most students tend to neglect the most?
Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi — I think students neglect pratyahara and pranayama the most. Especially new students. When one first starts on the yoga path, the most accessible thing is the body, which is why asana is one of the first few things we work — it’s concrete…you can see your body and you can see your body in the posture. However, most teachers don’t emphasize breath as much as they should so I’ve met students who have been doing yoga for years and they still don’t breath properly. Withdrawing the senses is also hard for newcomers. They’re not sure what they’re doing so they have to look around. There’s also this society obsessed with the external — what we look like, who came in, what everyone else is doing. With time though it gets easier to incorporate all 8 limbs into the practice.
9. Though the practice of yoga is growing worldwide, many people still do not have access to a yoga center where they live (or “yoga” may only be taught as a stretching exercise for elderly, ill, or injured individuals). What is your advice to those “geographically disadvantaged” people who are interested in studying and practicing the eight limbs of yoga? How can they get started with their own practice?
There’s this thing called “books”. These people may have heard of them but I’m not sure. I actually know people here in California who started out doing yoga from books because they were too shy to go to a class. There’s also YouTube. Tons of mini-instructional videos that are very helpful for beginners. DVDs, online classes…sounds to me like these “geographically challenged people” are just looking for excuses not to do it
10. How can long-time yogis advance in their practice and study of yoga?
Again, this goes back to Tapas — burning desire for learning/discipline and Iswara Pranidhana — surrender to higher energy. Study study on your own or seek out teachers that inspire you. I have a hard time with this one because I don’t consider anyone in san diego “my teacher” so I have to travel to NY or LA to visit with those who feed my mind. In terms of asanas …I do it all on my own. Somehow creating dynamic conditioning exercises to strengthen the parts of my body that are keeping me from doing certain poses and I keep doing them every day until it’s locked in
11. What are your favorite yoga-related books and other resources?
yourbuddhi.com articles! My favorite books are Light on Yoga, Buddhism Plain and Simple, Raja Yoga, The Yoga of T. Krishnamacharya, Enlightenment for Idiots, Halfway Up the Mountain, The Book, Power vs. Force
For articles written about yoga, healthy food, and meditation, as well as for live yoga class downloads (audio and video) you can practice with at home or on vacation, please visit YourBuddhi.com.
Carolina Vivas at Black's Beach in La Jolla, CA