Aug '08 Interview

A conversation with Mariela Cruz

by Elise Espat

Living Mysore: When did the Ashtanga bug bite you?

Mariela Cruz: My first teacher, Rebecca Parker, came to Costa Rica. She studies in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the It's Yoga School. When I first saw her practicing, it really touched me how the body could manifest so much grace. Then, I went to India, met Sharath in Mysore...and fell in love with India and Guruji.

LM: Did you travel around a bit on that first trip or did you head straight for Mysore?

MC: Actually, I was in my second trip to India and had the urge to go south. It was complicated to travel all the way down from the north, but I followed my gut. Got to Mysore, only had one week left and had to come back home...Sharath wouldn't let me practice only for one week! "One month" he said. I had to come back to the I cried so much, but got determined in coming back.

LM: Your story with Sharath sounds similar to others like Lino Miele who found Guruji at the end of his trip for instance. Do you think that sending you away and telling you "one month you come" was a bit of a test?

MC: Oh, yes!! I feel this practice demands a lot but also gives a lot. In my case, it asked me to go so far away (it's like 24 hours to get to India from San Jose) and I've done it willingly from my heart because my teachers are there. Such a blessing to have a teacher! Since I don't have any in my home country, I do appreciate their presence. Being around Guruji is very special. I've followed him to California, New York, Miami...I can feel in him the inner radiance that comes from true practice and giving selflessly for so many that's my inspiration.

LM: So what was that first Mysore practice trip like?

MC: I stayed for one month, I enjoyed it so much..Ii was staying in Mysore city (still a little bit lost!) and had to look for a rickshaw everyday at 4:30 am to go to Gokulam to the shala...but I definitely feel that month changed my practice and my life...Sharath was helping me in headstand, still couldn't hold it...learned the first series...just wanted to stay. It's always been hard for me to follow my heart in the yoga and at the same time, leave my kids to travel to other places. They have always been very supportive, especially Hernan and Adri, the older ones who are 18 and 16. The little ones had more trouble...Ariel, 11 and Gabriel 10 definitely missed was hard.

LM: I feel like everyone always has an excuse: they're too busy, too fat, too old, too young, too skinny, too out of shape, too poor, too whatever, and yet, you found the time to make your practice a priority with 5 kids! How did you manage that?

MC: You need to be desperate and know you are not going to find true happiness out there. I feel my determination comes from knowing I found truth. And yes, it's hard...I'm always juggling! But also, I have a lot of support from my husband (who is a triathlete and also practices Ashtanga) and kids. My oldest son has a beautiful practice and I feel very blessed to see how Ashtanga has also touched his heart. For a mother, I feel that that is the best that can happen to your kid.

LM: Does your husband also practice Ashtanga yoga?

MC: Without my husband's support I wouldn't be where I am. Practice has given me a different awareness in relationships also. Before, I feel I wasn't able to listen. Yoga teaches you how to listen: to your own heart, your dreams, but also to those of those around you. I feel in the studio this is what actually happens: we have created a space where we can stop for a while from all the fast-paced craziness and go within and truly listen. My husband Marco is a physical therapist also, so we assist Mysore classes with a different awareness of the body.

LM: For serious Ashtanga practitioners, do you think their partners must be Ashtangis as well?

MC: I feel your partner needs to share the feeling of being passionate and intense about something in their life. My husband is a triathlete and his training is very demanding. He understands that I need to practice and we both respect each other's time to be by ourselves. He also practices Ashtanga once in a while. But I feel the true yoga is to respect and honor each other, not so much doing the same thing.

LM: And before all this yoga, what did you do?

I'm a mother of five, four boys and one girl. I used to be a lawyer, got three Master Degrees thinking I would finally find my dharma...that didn't happen. In the craziness of my days in the office, I used to escape to a Friday noon class...and that yoga class in a gym became the center of my week. Then, I started practicing on my own, Ashtanga with videos and books...then met my first teacher...and went to see Tim Miller in Encinitas, California...just kept doing my that I see my life, running a yoga studio, full time Ashtanga teacher, I can't believe it!

LM: You are the only authorized Ashtanga teacher in Costa Rica, are you from there originally?

MC: Yes, I was born in San Jose, Costa Rica.

LM: Have you lived in Costa Rica your whole life? It sounds like you've done quite a bit of traveling...

MC: I'm a Costa Rican warm-blooded animal and yes, after I started practicing things started moving fast. Been to India 7 times, very grateful for that...last year I was teaching in Tokyo and I'm going back there this next December for two months to sub for my friend Kranti. Been to Encinitas quite a bit also to see my dear Tim Miller. And traveled a lot following my Anusara teachers John Friend and Desiree Rumbaugh.

LM: Do you find that people in Costa Rica are receptive to the teachings?

MC: Yes, in such a deep way! I'm in awe of my students, I admire them and I feel they are the best in the world. It takes a lot of commitment! We celebrate every time one of them manages to stay for 1 year! One of my students gives them a "key"...but we know the true key is steady practice for a long period of time without Patanjali says.

LM: Ashtanga seems to really be spreading amongst the Latin they "get" it? Do you modify your teaching to accommodate the culture and if so, how is it different?

MC: It's a process, I would say. Latin-Americans..we are interesting creatures! We like to be mothered and taken care for... So Mysore practice scares us...we want the teacher to take our hand and stay with us forever... but I know that as we practice more and more we become stronger inside and let go faster. Then Mysore practice becomes everything we always wanted: symbolizes freedom, independence, trust.

LM: In the US, many people get into Ashtanga for the workout (though when they find out that it is more, some are discouraged, others are intrigued...), what are your students looking for? (Of course, that isn't the only reason people find the practice, but much of the yoga pop culture likes to stereotype Ashtanga yoga as the sweaty work out yoga, so many people have this picture of the practice without actually having experienced it.)

MC: I feel some people have come in the past for that, but right now every single student who shows up is looking for something deeper than a nicer butt...they feel the need to search for something real and I feel Ashtanga is perfect for that. Breath, bandhas, drishti are so real. They bring you to the present moment and yoga happens in the NOW. The mind is a rebel and wants to stay in the past or jump to the future..we discipline the mind to stay here now...and then this inner muscle kicks in when things get tough in life.

LM: What is your biggest mental challenge right now in practice and/or teaching?

MC: My biggest mental challenge that I'm facing right now is to keep letting go. My baby is 5 months old, I've been "away from the yoga scene" for more that a year including pregnancy and everything else and now is my time to go back to what Grace is asking of me. For the next year, I have a pretty busy traveling schedule: I'm studying with my Anusara teachers Darren Rhodes and Noah Maze in Phoenix in August, September I go see my beloved teacher John Friend in the first Anusara Teacher Gathering in Colorado; then I head to Japan for two months and finally end up in India next march 2009 with Marco and Gael.

I know i need to do all this and at the same time my heart aches for my kids. Hernan is 18, he is a cellist, sculptor and yogi. Adriana is 16, beautiful dancer and human being; Ariel is 11, awesome guitar player and gymnast; Gabriel is 10, smart sweet precious boy; and finally, Gael is the baby who I have to wean pretty soon to start my it's a handful for which I'm so grateful. Practice gives me the courage to keep going and to trust something bigger is taking care of all of us. I know they will be fine, like they have I all of my trips, but it's pretty hard to have your heart walking in five bodies outside of you! So much love it does hurt...

LM: You have mentioned that you also study anusara yoga. What draws you to anusara and how does it influence your Ashtanga practice? What can Ashtanga practitioners learn from anusara?

MC: An injury in my left wrist brought me to Anusara. I used to practice with pain and started feeling very depressed because I was going nowhere and the pain was getting worse. Anusara healed my body by showing me how to effectively place my bones and muscles in asana. Now, my Ashtanga practice is a breeze! Is simple alignment, but good alignment heals.

LM: Is there a "woman's practice" and a "man's practice" of ashtanga yoga? Are there different standards and expectations for each gender?

MC: Ashtanga was originally created for seventeen year old boys, so it is definitely a very male-yang practice. I feel as a woman you need to practice respecting your moon days, as Guruji says (no practice during menstruation). But besides that, Ashtanga is a healing practice for all mankind and it has many gifts for everyone. The body becomes very healthy, I just went through pregnancy, birth and breast feeding and I feel my body has recovered very fast. My baby is 5 months old and I'm already doing my practice like before. So, yes, I strongly recommend this practice for women all ages.

Expectations come from the mind. We show up in our mats everyday and do the best we can. I know from experience that is the true yoga.

I would like to go deeper in the theme of the invisible and subtle energies around practice. Sometimes, Ashtanga seems very physical but it is a very profound inner mirror. When you do your practice every day, it becomes a mirror of where you are inside. Sometimes stiff in the mind, sometimes letting go and trusting...the body is a great teacher and I've learned to be grateful for this instrument.

LM: What, specifically, do you has this manifested in your own practice or your students?

MC: In my practice, I see how I'm able to let go easier or "my way" or the control issue and accept whatever is happening as if I had chosen it.

LM: Is it an ongoing process?

MC: Of course, every second of the day I'm observing and trying not to's hard!!

LM: Are there times of great change/transformation/insight and times of nothingness?

MC: Yes, for sure there are times when I feel very at ease and some others when I feel like dying, but how I feel practice has helped me is just knowing that whatever emotional waves come, they are temporary and for sure will pass. I don't practice anymore from that space of excitement about something new, I practice because I know that I always feel better afterwards and also, I'm able to be more present with my family and students.

After 7 years of practice, I can see how everything around me has shifted because I know something INSIDE transformed. I trust this practice takes you to your full potential...and sometimes we don't even know what that is. I didn't know for sure! I'm so Guruji says: "Practice and everything comes".

My pregnancy with Gael was a very challenging one. I had to give up my practice (was starting third series) and let go big time. Felt heavy and depressed...and it taught me how attached Iwas to the asana. I had a great breakthrough and with Gael's birth I feel I reached another place inside.

Now I do my practice trusting the asana is just the tip of the iceberg. More awareness, confidence and joy are showing up in my life. More people are coming to the studio, which is the first traditional Ashtanga in my country. More love, more light...very grateful.

I'm going to teach in Tokyo, Japan, for two months next winter. Then, head back to India with my husband Marco and baby Gael. Looking forward to new students, Japanese students have so much devotion..and longing to see my beloved Guruji once more.

Elise is currently publishing this in Mysore, India at Anu's!


Marco said...

Such a delight to read an interview with deep questions and sincere answers! Mariela, you keep surprising me every day. Love and Blessings...

ligiaisa said...

Mariela is a true inspiration and we are very lucky to have her in Costa Rica. She is opening new ways of teaching yoga and being very faithful to the traditional Astanga type of teaching & also introducing Anusara. She is a true yogi, coordinating 5 kids, a home and a studio is amazing, and encouraging for all of us students.