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This Latina is Spearheading 1st Spanish-Language Yoga Teacher Training

Rina Jakubowicz
Rina Jakubowicz Jeff Nelson Photography 2013

NAME: Rina Jakubowicz

AGE: 36

HERITAGE: Born in Venezuela, mom from Cuba, dad from Argentina

HOMETOWN: moved to Miami at age 4, now living in Los Angeles, CA

OCCUPATION/TITLE: International bilingual yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, motivational speaker, and author

Rina Jakubowicz has been a teacher of yoga teachers for over eleven years, presenting at Kripalu Center, Wanderlusts, Himalayan Institute, Omega Institute, Yoga Journal Conferences as well as in countries across the globe such as Chile, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Andorra. She recently announced that she would be partnering with the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health to launch the first-ever Spanish-language yoga teacher training at a major school of yoga in the United States.

The two-part program will run from July 31st to August 12th and again from October 30th to November 11th at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and will be delivered entirely in Spanish. The mission: to break down barriers in the yoga community and bring the positive benefits of yoga to more diverse populations including Spanish-speaking communities that may have historically lacked access, or that may be underserved.

How did you get into yoga?

One day my mom was looking at the newspaper and there was an announcement about this 108-year-old swami teaching a class at this yoga studio near where we lived. She said, "Let's go" and so we went to our first class.

We walk into this small little studio and this little old man walks in with two people holding him up. There were only 10 or 15 people in the class and he sat down and literally started drill-sergeanting us even though he wasn't doing the poses because he couldn't.

I was floored. I tried to do the poses and couldn't do any of them. It was really hard and boring and I couldn't do it, but I was so humbled by the experience that I thought: "I'm going to figure this out." So I went back the next day.

How did you get beyond being able to make your body stretch to getting into the philosophical and self-mastery aspect of the discipline?

Well, I had graduated from college with a degree in advertising but I didn't love the agency world. I did some work in movie production but that's a situation where you work really, really hard for months and your end-product isn't going to change a life. So I needed something that had more purpose.

At the same time I had that calling to yoga. I dove in after I started and pretty soon I was working at it 3 hours a day for 6 months straight. It was the biggest challenge I'd ever experienced and then I got into the philosophy of it.

I started to seek out certain teachers, I started reading about yoga sutras and the philosophy of yoga and started to see something beyond what the world is giving us. I know it seems funny but I started reading "The Tao of Pooh" and it was so wise and witty, so well written and that was my introduction to really starting to understand the underlying teachings … it was this whole other journey I didn't even expect was a part of it. That's when I really got hooked.

So you're a part of a practice that has been in the news for not being super inclusive of people of color, what called you to help change that?

Well, a top priority for me was to get yoga out to people and use it to help inspire others and get them to incorporate it into their lives. Then one day a few years ago I taught a weekend workshop at a prestigious yoga center and I was teaching a group of middle-aged white women and for the first time it hit me: I'm Hispanic, I'm representative of the Hispanic community and there is a capacity for the Hispanic community to be a part of the yoga community.

Kripalu Center
Rina Jakubowicz

It was a weird moment for me - I didn't want to be separate from the people I'm teaching or being taught by but it occurred to me that this was a really big opportunity to make a difference. In the Hispanic community there really aren't a lot of people who do yoga or become teachers - unless they're upper class - so for me it hits close to home. It's an opportunity for a whole new market of people to learn what I learned and to be empowered like I am to live the life I want, change my body and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

If I can reach enough Hispanic or Spanish-speaking people that can catch the yoga bug then they can go back to their communities to let them — especially the kids — know that yoga is there for them. From there it will cause a ripple effect.

Why do Latinos need yoga in their lives right now?

Hispanics have been portrayed badly by many people and it is especially important for the Hispanic community to become more conscious and to rise up and show that we're not what they say we are. We need people to think beyond the stereotype about us and yoga is one small way to break the mold a little bit.

It's important for us to pay attention to all the aspects that make a whole human being and yoga is really a combination of physical, spiritual and emotional. Our community has a lot of suffering - from having lower levels of educations, to how we are stereotyped, to how we a treated — how are we going to manage all this?

We have to be able to see the truth beyond ourselves, make a shift and not let ignorance affect and deter us from our dreams. Yoga can help us to understand who we, ourselves, are beyond the layers of being Hispanic, male, female, our class, our status or our jobs. Who we are is way bigger and way deeper than any of that and practicing yoga can help us embrace who we really are.

Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago-based journalist and a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

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