Imagine sitting quietly on your mat waiting to begin a yoga class, a class that beforehand people mention cautiously is the hardest that’s offered at the studio. I don’t know who you would be expecting to walk in the room to instruct, but probably not this petite, friendly, smiling face that will have you drop dead blissfully exhausted, but peacefully relaxed by the end of 75 minutes. At the La Jolla Yoga Center, Carolina Vivas teaches Power Vinyasa Yoga. It is a challenging class, and it’s called “power” for a reason.
I’m really glad I was able to interview Carolina because not only is she my teacher, but a mentor I look up to, and a friend. She really hustled to make yoga her career and despite the successes she’s already achieved, she has a hunger to keep challenging herself, which I really admire. When I first met Carolina, I remember thinking to myself something like: This chick masterfully delivers these creatively intense classes, like it’s nothing. She’ll be the perfect person to learn from. And she continues to be. She makes the hardest postures look so effortless as she teaches, which is inspiring for my own personal practice and for my role as a yoga instructor as well.
Carolina is Colombian, but moved to the States at the age of 8, where she lived with her family in Los Angeles. Eventually she found herself in the corporate world, working on Wall Street in New York for Morgan Stanley. Living a much different life now in San Diego, Carolina is both a fulltime Mom and yoga instructor. She has a son, London, who is three and her number one priority. Even though she left the corporate hustle of New York behind, Carolina is still a businesswoman managing her own business: as the Co-Founder of YourBuddhi, she has built an Internet resource for all things yoga—videos, recipes, blogs and beyond. You can find her instructing class a few times a week at the La Jolla Yoga Center, where she also teaches other teachers. This schedule leaves her busy, but she makes time for private yoga sessions with clients as well.
1. What drew you to yoga initially and what made you want to switch career paths to become a yoga instructor?
“I was living in New York during 9/11, and was in Times Square when the events of that day took place. I realized I could die tomorrow yet dislike what I’m doing today. I knew I would just continue to get sucked into the corporate world if I stayed, so I quit. My friends were like, ‘you’re crazy, you make great money.’ However, I wanted to do something I enjoyed more, which at the time was working for a non-profit that held afterschool programs for kids. Working there left me with a lot more time, and for whatever reason I had it in my head that I should do yoga. I had tried it in the past, once or twice at the gym, but wasn’t really crazy about it. I decided to give it another go, and this time tried different studios all around Manhattan to find one I loved. I tried a crazy amount, like 20 studios in a months time. It was when I took Atmananda Yoga with Jhon Tamayo that I fell in love with yoga. His class was incredibly physically demanding and yet it was inspiring to see people move so effortlessly. What hit me the most was all the things he would say at the end of class; what I would walk away with thinking about. I decided to do my teacher training there, and then six months later I moved in L.A. and pursued yoga as a fulltime career.”
2. What struggles did you face in becoming a yoga instructor?
“I don’t really like to be the center of attention. I tend to be a shy, behind the scenes type of person, so getting in front of a crowd to teach was initially something that I had to work on. In the beginning I remember teaching a class and hearing people in the back say, ‘Can you talk louder? We can’t hear you.’ (Laughs). What really helped me pursue a career in yoga was having that business background, but also just living in New York. You learn how to hustle and make moves because everything moves at such a much faster pace in New York. It has always been important to me to take classes from different teachers, even when traveling I try to take yoga wherever I go; it was after the fact that I realized taking class in different places and from different people also helps you build connections. When I visited L.A. I drew inspiration from teachers Ally Hamilton and Bryan Kest, both of whom I learned so much from; they are just amazing teachers and have been very influential to me.”
3. When I taught yoga for the first time, I was struck by how much I could feel everyone’s different energies. It hit me like a wave: where some people have good energy and some, not so much. How do you deal with the different energies of all the people in class?
“When I first started and was subbing a class, I remember this one woman who walked into the room, where I immediately felt it would be a challenge to make a class she could enjoy. As a teacher, I always aim to make classes enjoyable—that’s what it’s all about. It was early on in my sequence that day and she interrupted me to say, ‘I’m not warm enough for a twist yet, is anyone else warm enough to take a twist right now?’ Later in that class, I went over to adjust her she said, ‘Don’t touch me, I haven’t taken class in two years.’ I realized I just couldn’t take it personally. It wasn’t about me. Just like in life, everyone comes to class with their different energies and attitudes and you can’t take it personally. People will walk out, people might not like you for whatever reason, and people might even talk to each other in your class, sometimes. I love the saying: ‘No one can drive you crazy unless you hand them the keys.’” (Laughs).
4. Having you and Jeanie Carlstead as my teachers really taught me to value the spiritual aspects of yoga—it changed my teaching, my practice and my life. In simple terms, how do you define what the spiritual side of yoga is and what that means to be ‘spiritual’?
“I would define ‘being spiritual’ as the ability to be present, loving, quiet and still. It’s not about being holy or being better than anyone. It’s about seeing yourself in everyone and everything around you—especially in those who have hurt you. Having compassion and forgiveness is key. Doing yoga certainly helps you to become more spiritual because you are turning inward to practice: focusing on your breath and being present. It’s an ability that eventually carries over from the mat and into the rest of your life. Connecting to your body, breath and mind is spiritual and leads you in a more compassionate direction. Meditation is something I cannot emphasize enough because it not only amplifies what you practice on your mat, but it helps melt away distractions. People get so caught up in the stuff that’s not important, surface stuff. Meditation helps you clear that. Being spiritual is about leaving all those attachments behind.”
5. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
“So many things. I love that it gives me the freedom to be creative. Being in that sacred space to help guide people to relaxation is something I really enjoy. Seeing my students in final savasana is so satisfying. I also love seeing my students make progress in class and I love taking on that role to help them get there.”
6. What do you like most about teaching teachers?
“It is so much fun because it gives me the opportunity to relearn everything all over again. I really enjoy the philosophical side of yoga, and teaching other teachers allows for me to submerge myself in the philosophy. Each time I always learn something new or see it from a different perspective.”
7. Outside of teaching for the reason that it’s your passion, what are some other benefits that come with the job?
“A flexible schedule. Besides that, yoga can really help you to manage stress, which can be used as a tool to help you enhance all of your relationships in life: I can be a better Mom for my son, London, because I am able to handle any type of stress without passing it on to him, and can be fully present with him. Yoga has helped me live a better life; it’s something I’m really thankful for.”
Least favorite pose: “Center splits because they can be painful”
Favorite type of yoga to practice: “Power vinyasa classes: a strong flow with a lot of arm balances and inversions”
Favorite time of day to practice: Afternoon/early evening