Talking Shop with Gabriella Giubilaro

An Italian-born teacher combines the warmth, earthiness, and high spirits of her homeland with the precision and love of detail that led her through a master's degree in physics.

Gabriella Giubilaro combines the warmth, earthiness, and high spirits of her Italian homeland with the precision and love of detail that led her through bachelor's and master's degrees in physics. Since 1977 she's been teaching Iyengar-style yoga in Florence, Italy, and at workshops worldwide.

Yoga Journal: How did you discover yoga?

Gabriella Giubilaro: It was just by chance. I met a friend who was going to a yoga class, so I joined him. That was in 1973 in Florence, with Dona Holleman. I liked it from the beginning, so I stayed. I studied with Dona and assisted her for 16 years.

YJ: Who else has influenced you?

GG: B.K.S. Iyengar has been my biggest influence. I first went to India in 1983, and since then almost every year I study with him and his daughter Gita. The most important thing he passed on to me is not just knowledge; it is the tools of how to work on myself, how to understand the wisdom of the body. The body has its own intelligence: the ways it should move; the proper relation of the outer body with the organs and with the mind. The intelligence of the body is always the same, no matter whether we are practicing forward bends, backbends, twists.

YJ: Do you think there's anything quintessentially Italian about your approach to teaching yoga?

GG: Well, the Italian people use the hands a lot when they talk, yes? So when I teach a class, I do this. It looks very funny sometimes to American students.

YJ: You teach a lot in both Europe and America. Are students different in different places?

GG: A bigger difference is between southern and northern or eastern Europeans. The Italian people, when they do yoga, you can never stop them from talking. I make fun of them; I say their favorite asana is "Talkasana." And the thing they like to talk about is food. Sometimes I will try to do something serious in class, and someone will interrupt, "Would you like a new recipe for artichokes?" or "Have you tried this apple cake?" People from the eastern countries like Poland and Russia, they work so hard and never want to stop. They are very serious.

YJ: So you're not a typical Italian yogi?

GG: No, no, no, I'm much more like a Russian!

YJ: What is your daily practice?

GG: In the morning, I do first meditation, then Pranayama, then the asanas. In the afternoon, I do the restorative poses—Head Balance, Shoulder Balance—to become quiet.

YJ: A lot of students might not see Headstand and Shoulderstand as restorative, since they have to work hard to do them.

GG: Ah, yes, but that's because when you are just starting to do a pose and you're struggling with your muscles, then you feel tired and think the pose is not restorative. But when you learn to do the pose with less effort of the muscles, you can start to feel the effect the asana has on the organs and the mind.

YJ: Do you set goals in your practice?

GG: When I started to practice, my dream was to do Head Balance in the middle of the room. Then my dream was to do Padmasana [Lotus Pose], especially in Head Balance. Then I thought that I had to become flexible, and it took me 10 years to learn that the way was not to become flexible but to become strong. Right now I have a very high goal: to go from Full Arm Balance [Handstand] to Bakasana [Crane Pose]. But I don't care if I reach it. I work on it because it is teaching me to be light and strong at the same time.

YJ: Have you ever invented a yoga pose?

GG: I like to do yoga poses when I'm riding my big Vespa motor scooter. Sometimes I do very funny things, and the people turn and look. I know it's a little dangerous, but we need to have some fun, no? Come to Firenze one day, I'll take you for a ride!