Yoga in LA: A Weightlifter’s Passion for Yoga

Derek Rubiano is a Yoga instructor in Los Angeles, USA. He teaches at CrossFit 1440, Lomita, CA and other places. He started practicing Yoga 10 years ago after he experienced lower back issues while doing weight lifting. In this interview with CSP he talks about his journey with Yoga.

What kind of Yoga is predominant in LA?

In Los Angeles the dominant kind of yoga style is a kind of fitness yoga, and it is not what I like because I have my own fitness workouts that I do here involving weight lifting. So I didn’t want to go to Yoga for the fitness. I wanted it for the breath work and stretching and everything else. I did this class for three years before doing my teacher training.

From time to time I do those intensive yoga exercise classes but for me that is not preferred. I don’t have a problem with that per se. People can do what they want if they enjoy what they are doing. There are people who will say don’t do that. Personally I don't prefer yoga to be my form of exercise. I prefer something that is more of an internal practice and less of a physical practice. More about stretching and awareness rather than trying to work up a sweat.

Yoga studios are mushrooming in LA and in the US in general. Are they being regulated?

I know that there is Yoga Alliance, a governing body. But I don’t think a yoga studio has to be certified by Yoga Alliance in order to open. If a place or teacher is certified, they can claim they are certified by Yoga Alliance and that is what gives us legitimacy. But most people don’t know about it or care about it. Certain studios, I know Yoga Works and SoHo Yoga, you have to be a Yoga Alliance certified teacher in order to teach there, but the clients don’t know that. There is no governing body in the US for Yoga. Anybody can open a yoga studio and say this is yoga.

To a certain extent I think that should be allowed because what Yoga is to one person is not necessarily the same to another person. Yoga has taken on its own kind of life at this point. There is no enforcement or governing body. If I start a center, the Yoga Alliance is not going to come and shut it down as they have no authority.

How did you get introduced to Yoga?

I started practicing yoga 10 years ago. I was doing weight lifting at that time and I started to experience lower back issues. I found Yoga a necessity to remedy the pain issues that I was facing at that time. My girlfriend had started working at a Yoga center and she asked me to go there and take some free classes.

Did you continue Yoga after you got better?

I took classes on and off for the first three years, without having any particular teacher or focus. It was very non-focussed the first three years, whatever was available kind of thing. When I moved to LA in 2013, I started taking classes from two teacher in Yoga Works. One of them was a girl who taught inversion which is what I like to do. This involves things like hand stands. The second was a man called Thomas and he taught traditional Yoga which was more about breath work. He was trained through Yoga Works and Yoga Works styles itself as a Vinyasa style class with an Iyengar like alignment background.

When does Yoga help the most?

There is never going to be a perfect right time but the good thing about Yoga is that it is literally available to anyone at any age from a child to an elderly grandparent. Whether they are athletes or regular students, I think everybody can benefit from it.

I prefer to teach beginners because they have more open minds, they are hungry they are looking to learn. Sometimes you get people who have been around for a couple of years and they think they know everything. They are not looking to learn as much as do what they already do.

There are some things that one follows in India while doing Yoga. Like having a bath before practice. How is it here?

It is not followed as strictly, but some people have rituals that they do. I drink water. When I take a yoga class, I try to take as few things as possible. I don’t bring my cell phone into the building. I leave it in my car. I just bring my car keys and my water. I try to have as few distractions as possible. If you have your phone you have your habits with your phone. You check your phone all the time, like ‘did I get a text’. I try to avoid those things so that I can focus.

Yoga is about inner transformation. Can that happen if one is not working toward it?

It can’t happen if one is not working towards it. It is not happenstance. It has to be something you are directly applying effort into or there is no growth. There is no random growth happening in my mind, it has to be worked towards.

What are the benefits of Yoga for an athlete?

Strength, Flexibility, Mindfulness self-awareness, getting in touch with your physical body and your emotional body, learning to deal with stress, learning to breathe properly, finding out and knowing your limits, in its basis it is a form of controlling yourself and creating awareness of yourself.

Do you plan to visit India to learn more about Yoga?

Potentially. My bothers wife’s family is from Goa. And they have a bunch of family out there. So there is a chance that I may be going to Goa and there is lot of Yoga in Goa.

What are your plans in the near future?

I am heading to Nicaragua next week which is in Central America. There is a four day Yoga festival where teachers from all over the world are coming to teach different workshops. I will be one of the teachers there. I am teaching three different workshops. I am teaching a restorative class workshop, a hand stand and inversion workshop and a pressed hand stand class. So I am specialising in those three areas this time.

Both the teachers and the students will be camping in tents, the meals are vegetarian, and it is in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua. I have been going to Central America for the last five years. So I have come into contact with a lot of people in the Yoga world out there. The people who are conducting this are a husband and wife couple and own a gym down there. I have taught a couple of workshops at their gym before. The teachers will be from all over the world and the students will be mostly local Nicaraguans. I only teach in English and a lot of them are not great in English, and that will be another thing to work with. I have taught local Nicaraguans in my last workshop but with a translator.