Q&A with Bilingual Yoga Teacher Rina Jakubowicz

Bringing her Hispanic roots, love of ancient yogic texts, and passion for creative movement, this Miami native has rocked the yoga world.
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Bringing her Hispanic roots, love of ancient yogic texts, and passion for creative movement, this Miami native has rocked the yoga world.
Rina Jakubowicz

Bringing her Hispanic roots, love of ancient yogic texts, and passion for creative movement, this Miami native has rocked the yoga world. Join her kids yoga teacher training at YJ LIVE San Francisco, Jan. 13-15. Sign up today!

Yoga Journal: When did you start practicing yoga and why?
Rina Jakubowicz: I was in college, 15 years ago, when my ex-boyfriend suggested I go to yoga, but I was way too much of a type-A personality, and thought it would be too boring. One day my mom saw in the newspaper that Swami Bua was going to be teaching in Miami. I said “well, what better way to start yoga than with a 115-year-old swami?” So my mom and I went to class and these two people helped him walk in, he sat in a chair and he was basically a drill sergeant. It was really intense and fast and I could do none of it. I was totally challenged and loved it. I liked it so much I went the next day, and then I committed to doing yoga three hours every day for six months. I would take two classes back to back every day. It was kind of my way of jumping into this, and after that, I did teacher training.

YJ: With whom did you train?
RJ: My guru is Swami A. Parthasarathy, a true Vedanta master and yogi. Although I only met him this past year, my journey to find him started 15 years ago during my first training, which was in an ashram in Miramar, Florida. I liked the discipline of waking up early and the lifestyle of an ashram, but I didn’t really connect with the teacher. I found two other teachers 15 years ago that really hit a deep chord with me. Ceci Lester and Sarkis Vermilyea, whom, last I heard, is a monk in Nepal. They both taught Ashtanga with specific alignment while blending in Yoga Sutra, and Sarkis added some Tibetan Buddhism. It seemed, at the time, like most teachers I encountered were just following what they were taught without questioning and Ceci and Sarkis both questioned everything, which is what hooked me. Before I chose Sarkis as my teacher, I watched the way he moved during his practice and his focus and discipline were beyond anything I’d seen back then. In one of my first private sessions with him, he had me hold Samasthiti for a whole hour with precise alignment and adjustments. After that class, I realized that once I knew the correct alignment physically, mentally and emotionally of Samasthiti, all the poses were possible. Now, I have my teacher trainees hold Samasthiti as well and it’s a true game changer.

See alsoCreative Yogis where Asana + Art Collide

YJ: After your training with Sarkis, how did you evolve into vinyasa?
RJ: I moved into the vinyasa world because I like music and dancing! I’m a Latina and I’m passionate. I think it’s good for the body to do different movements in order to explore all aspects of one’s self. Since everybody is different physically, Ashtanga felt very limiting for a lot of people who couldn’t put their legs behind their heads. So I started playing around and found a new inspiration in vinyasa yoga. I recently came up with a name for my two yoga loves; vinyasa and Vedanta. There is a philosophy I base my practice on, so I don’t like to say I’m just a vinyasa teacher. I teach Vinyasa and Vedanta—the outer and inner work, respectively.

YJ: And when did you start teaching?
RJ: I got certified in 2003 from the first training, and I started teaching very slowly, in little places here and there, trying to build up my teaching skills. I was trying it out and seeing how it went, using my marketing mind to find places to teach and ways to promote mostly through word of mouth. Then obviously, I fell in love with yoga, it just kept growing and at the end of 2005, I opened my first studio, Rina Yoga. [She now has three locations.]

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YJ: When you opened your studio in 2005, what was the yoga scene like in Miami?
RJ: When I started there wasn’t a lot of yoga. There were only a few good teachers people would go to. I was actually the hired as the lead yoga teacher at the Sports Club L.A. that had opened a couple years prior. But I wanted to work for myself. I liked the feeling and vibe of a yoga studio where everyone could go and relax. Gym yoga doesn’t have the same feeling. I found a location that was pretty central and said, “let’s just see what happens.” But the scene wasn’t as widespread as it is now. Miami is still slow with yoga. There are a lot of people in transit here like the snowbirds and young professionals who move away, so it is hard to keep a consistent client base. And the Hispanic population just hasn’t embraced it the same way westerners have. At least not yet.

YJ: The Hispanic population. How have you been able to work with them?
RJ: There isn’t really a spokesperson for yoga in the Hispanic market; even in Latin America there’s not a go-to person that has widespread exposure. There hasn’t been that person who can explain that yoga is not a religion; and that it can really help their body feel good and their mind feel better and relax. I have started teaching classes in Spanish in Miami and it hasn’t been easy. It’s still slow here even though there are so many Hispanics because it’s a reconditioning and a reprogramming of the mind, which takes time. But there’s definitely an increased interest. I went to Chile last fall to teach at a fair and it was so amazing to see the response. They put me on the news and interviewed me about yoga philosophy. Within an hour, I had 500 people on Facebook add me and so many new comments. People were just so amazed by what yoga really is, because they thought it was something different. It was so inspiring to see that it is possible. I’m working with Gaia to piece together some Spanish videos soon and so hopefully that will help reach more Spanish-speaking yogis from all over the world. In addition, I’m working with Kripalu to do their first Spanish-English Yoga Immersion this Summer.

See alsoThe Future of Yoga Is In Spanish

YJ: Do you notice yourself teaching differently in different languages?
RJ: My first language was Spanish (she was born in Venezuela), but when we came to Miami my confident language became English. My essence is the same when I teach. The execution is different. When I teach in Spanish, a couple of things happen: There is a translation that has to happen first from English to Spanish in my brain and then there aren’t the right words in Spanish. For example, in English I can say “hamstring,” to describe the back of the upper leg, but in Spanish, if I said the actual scientific term for hamstring, nobody would know what I was talking about. The first step is making sure that there’s a word in Spanish that is equivalent to what it is in English. The second thing is acknowledging that in order for me to teach in Spanish, there are five words for the one word I have to say in English so I have to talk a lot more. I have to pace myself more when I teach in Spanish.

YJ: Is it common then for the Spanish expression to be longer than English, do you find that people are holding poses longer? Is it a slower practice?
RJ: Yes, well it’s either a slower practice or I’m talking nonstop, and that can be annoying. No one wants to hear me talking the whole time. So I simplify and only say what is necessary and essential to keep the theme of the class as a focus and also just enough to have the students stay connected in class.

See also Yoga Practice for the Doshas: Calm Your Ayurvedic Traits with Asana

YJ: Do you notice a certain type of yoga resonating more with different communities?
RJ: In Latin America in general what has been taught so far has been more of a slow meditative practice. The dynamic form of yoga like Vinyasa is not as popular. The fact that we’re teaching in the vinyasa style is good because it is a bit of workout and Hispanic women do love to get their exercise and stay fit. I do realize that I am speaking to a Hispanic market so I will change my jokes or play Spanish songs, like “Gracias a la vida,” which means “Thank you for life.” Gives more depth to the movements we are doing together to string in these powerful songs at times.

YJ: What advice do you find yourself giving to students most often?
RJ: Regardless of where I am or who I’m teaching, it is to just reflect on what allowed you to be able to practice today; to be grateful for all the things that had to come into place for you to actually be here reading this right now and have inspiration and do your practice. Lastly, don’t forget to question everything you hear and read not in rebellion but for deeper consciousness and understand of the truth.

See alsoDeepak Chopra’s Guided Meditation for Stressful Moments

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About Rina Jakubowicz

Rina Jakubowicz is a bilingual yoga teacher and Reiki practitioner based in Florida. She is the founder and owner of Rina Yoga, which now has three studios in Miami, and teaches there and at events worldwide, including Yoga Journal LIVE, the Glow Yoga Festival in Puerto Rico, and Feria Mujer in Chile. She is the yoga expert on Univision’s Spanish language music television series Tu Desayuno Alegre, the host of Health & Wellness Channel’s YOUnity Yoga daily morning show, and the creator of a pioneering yoga curriculum for children and teens called Super Yogis’ Schoolhouse.

See alsoRina’s Home Practice: 17 Poses to Prep for Mindful Meditation