Mariela, can you please share with us your background before yoga
My background before yoga starts when I was 5 years old. Since then I used to have a natural inclination towards spirituality that goes on until now. My favorite story books were Joan of Arch and Lourdes' little shepherds.
My mother started practicing yoga when I was 8 years old. She used to take me with her to class while I played in the backyard. There was a rosicrucian temple in there and I could see white and bright figures walking around while my mother was doing her practice. Eventually, I also started practicing. Back then there were almost no places where to learn yoga in Costa Rica. My mother's teacher was one of the most respected.
I grew up and pursued studies in Law. But, music was my passion, I wanted to be a pianist. I took piano lessons since I was 7 years old. However, I didn't make it because I got married and started having babies right away. At 25 years old, I already had my first two children: Hernan and Adriana. I practiced a little bit on my own while pregnant mainly because there was no such a thing as prenatal yoga.
Yoga found me at a gym, all shattered after a very difficult marriage with four kids and a painful divorce.
I was very depressed, with a job as a lawyer I didn't enjoy. Those yoga classes changed my life.
I found the practice of ashtanga in Costa Rica through a teacher from Ohio. Both the strength and softness in her practice impressed me. I started teaching and then came to India and fell in love with this country. I'm here in Mysore now, in my 12th trip and even more in love every day. Ashtanga gave me back the vitality and energy I had lost. My teachers taught me the art of calming my mind through my body. I've always been kinesthetic since very young. I love movement.
This practice is a dance for me. I found my second husband when my practice was already established and we had three boys. That wasn't on my life plans but they have been my best teachers. Even though that relationship is over, life is rich and full of blessings, always. I feel yoga is a technology to cultivate the joy of living and an art to discover the inherent harmony of our Self at all times.
Many believe that one finds yoga when one is ready for it or when one is ready for a deeper experience in life. Would you say this applied to you?
I think yoga finds us, rather than we finding this transforming-lives science and art. All human beings have a longing for something beyond this reality, a calling from the soul and some of us can clearly hear it. That is when yoga can reach us and we fall in love. Maybe we are wandering souls who couldn't be able to find deep answers in the external world. Or maybe it's just me. I know I've always craved for meaning and a purpose in my life and it wasn't my career as a lawyer, nor the master degrees, not either relationships the ones meant to provide this for me. My children have inspired me not to pursue traditional paths so I can be an example of more real values in this world of today. However, this kind of calling is something very personal and intimate. Nothing can be imposed from the outside.
Guruji used to say that one is dragged toward the practice and to the teachers like a magnet. It's inevitable to answer to this calling, no matter how many obstacles you have to face day after day. In my case, they've been seven pregnancies, childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting, schools, illnesses, my children's homework, falls... A whole myriad of family experiences which I appreciate because it allows me to put into practice what I find on the mat. Patience, intention and love. I feel truly thankful if I can stay centered in a calm place despite all the unexpected arising along the day. My practice is a preparation for my daily life; for my mind being more clear, my heart more open and be willing to serve my family and students.
I think profoundness is in every second of this wonderful life if we are calm and sensitive in order to observe and enjoy it. Even the difficult times have a sweetness if one doesn't resist to change.
Who were your teachers and what role did they play in your growth?
I believe that when one is open to learn, all beings we meet are our teachers. That’s why I consider my closest relationships to be the ones who taught me about the matters of life: love, hate. What happened after yoga is that those tools enabled me to understand that suffering is optional and a lot of the mental conditionings are simple unconscious repetitions. Yoga had helped become aware of them, observe and learn from my mistakes and to also treasure my progress. It’s a daily challenge counting with patience, detachment and tolerance to relate with others with kindness and respect.
The ashtanga practice allows me to start my day being more fresh, open and sensitive to others. That’s why, I would have to say that my primary teachers have been my partners and my children, all seven of them. Each one of my children have taught me so much, even since they were in my womb. They have taught me the power to transmit life, from such a vital and intense experience. Extasis in a smile, a couple of innocent eyes, the power of share a good laugh and tenderness. With yoga I’ve been able to become sensitive to this little world, which so many times I’ve overlooked in the past.
Regarding teachers on this particular path, my teachers and Gurus are Guruji and Sharath since 2003. Before them, I can say I explored, searched for, and many times I found people saying one thing and doing another. Integrity is the quality I most admire in them, besides their strength and approach. Sharath is almost a superhero for me. I also have two teachers who inspire me everyday with their deep connection, Dena Kinsberg and Nancy Gilgoff. Both of them had demonstrated with their own lives, the quality of the commitment which is required for this path; and they still do. They are also mothers like me and they understand the delicate balance it takes to sustain a practice and a family.
My friendships are also my teachers and mirrors. All the beautiful people yoga has brought to my life and the great gift of my students, those with whom I work. Each one of them are persons of a great profoundness, intelligence and devotion. Thank God they come to my studio as if fallen from heaven. I realize this practice doesn’t attract too many people and it’s alright. It requires a lot of seriousness and there are a few who still believe yoga is fun and an entertainment. Ashtanga yoga is, as I’ve learned it, a transformational path; and this implies bringing light to dark areas. I myself had to go through so much and thank to my Gurus support, I’ve trusted it’s possible. Each day I found something new on my mat. Each day I get so much from the people who come to practice to my studio.
I believe gratitude is the greatest teacher in this life; and I can say, I got tons of it in this moment of my life. Despite the misfortune, the broken plans and so many curves the life has put me. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Why do you think students need to continue learning additional asanas? What is the use of advanced postures?
My personal opinion is that Ashtanga is a healing method for the human being; for the body, mind and emotions. An opportunity to calm the system so we can realize our essence of love, truth and joy. Each posture, each series invites us to go deeper with our mental focus and our awareness. The first four limbs asks us effort and dedication, and then, everything starts to settle. New insights come, healthier perspectives, less drama. More love and the willing to help others. Poisons of the soul disappear: laziness, greed, envy, selfishness, desire for the superficial. Peace and harmony come. And even if one couldn’t be able to practice advanced asana anymore, the path travelled so far changes the mind and the perception of life. One becomes softer and starts to trust in our Superior Power will always be in charge. We start seeing God everywhere and in all of us.
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of a routine and how nutrition play in our practice?
Practice daily, preferably early in the morning.
Nothing white: dairy, eggs, pasta, bread.
A lot of ghee and a healthy diet.
Mainly, a vegetarian diet but there are exceptions for health reasons.
How has your time in Mysore at KPJAYI influenced you?
It has totally changed my life and how i perceive the world. India has a way of unsettling our western minds. My teachers have shown me the way: It's tough but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Any final thoughts on the practice?
Everyone can practice. However, this practice is not for everyone. I believe it’s a very intimate and personal choice and there are a lot of very good paths. Eventually, every being wakes up to its essence. It’s a matter of time and we are all in this awakening process. But for those who do choose this path, many gifts await. More than we can imagine. Way beyond any expectations the ego could have sheltered. My life today is a daily opportunity to get to know me better. I can assure the path is hard but the fruits are sweet. Only gratitude to my guides.
*photos provided by Mariela Cruz and photographed by Alessandro Sigismondi, Tom Rosenthal and Alejandro Ramirez.
*Ashtanga Parampara thanks Carol della Crocce for translation assistance
*Ashtanga Parampara thanks Carol della Crocce for translation assistance