Yoga In-depth Interview with Sandra Navarro-Rubin
By Emma Gabriel
Sandra Navarro-Rubin is a Krav Maga green belt, fitness instructor, and vinyasa yoga specialist. Practicing yoga for thirteen years and teaching for seven, she’s our KMSF Mobility Yoga Instructor. We got a chance to catch up with her to go more in-depth about her experience and insight into yoga, fitness, and life.
Q: Has all your experience been with vinyasa, or have you tried other styles as well in your practice?
SN: I started with rocket, which is a power vinyasa flow yoga, with this teacher who invented this special yoga form here in San Francisco. He was teaching yoga to the Grateful Dead, and it was a really interesting practice. But after I went deeper into other practices and did my teacher training, I learned other practices like yin, restorative, prenatal… They taught most of the styles there, and you become the one that suits itself to you or your interests.
Q: Why did you choose vinyasa?
SN: I think it had to do with my body. I practiced Krav Maga for a long time, so I’ve always liked a very vigorous practice. So I think it resided more in my body. That’s why I fell in love with that style. I like a little more fluidity, a little more movement. And in vinyasa, when you feel a little more like resting, you can also choose to do another technique. That’s the beauty of yoga: you can choose to do other techniques, whatever you can do, even in your house.
Q: What are some other fitness forms that have informed your teaching and yoga?
SN: I’ve been doing CrossFit for a long time, too, so I like both strengths. I’ve done Krav Maga for a long time, too, so I’ve learned being athletic, bringing awareness to your space, and how to get hit. I think that compliments things very well because yoga is kind of the opposite. But at the same time, you need to be focused, you need to breathe, you need to be calm, you need to focus in the situation when you’re challenged. When you’re feeling in danger, these techniques keep you in control of your body and mind.
I’m also a dancer, so I pretty much like to switch it up, try everything, and see what happens with my body, and to know what my state of mind is in life.
Q: This one’s a bit esoteric, but I want to try and tie it in to your life. The term “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit “-yug,” meaning “yoke.” What kind of union has freed you in up your yoga practice and mindset?
SN: It’s very important to not only focus on the physical body because we’re also energy, also spiritual, or whatever you want to call it. The mind can kind of drive us away from the essence of our being. In our everyday life, we’re stressed and in fight-or-flight mode all the time. When we keep training our mind to stay focused and to juggle those three things: mind, body, and spirit, I think that’s very powerful. And it’s really hard. It takes years to practice, years to be aware of where we’re at in each situation.. I think that’s very profound. I think that’s why I love yoga so much-because it’s so complete. Everything’s in union. It unifies those very important three things.
Q: The rechaka, and puraka, or what’s known as inhalation and exhalation, or the purifying breath, and ujjayi in pranayama–these are very technical breathing forms. In your personal practice, how vital is breathing in unifying the mind, body, and spirit?
SN: No breath, no life. As simple as that. If you don’t learn how to breath, then we’re in that shallow breathing all the time, and that causes a lot of unhealthiness and disease that we’re not even aware of. It’s just so important to be aware of the breath. We can all have that time in the day when we can settle the breath. Just be with yourself and just breath, grateful that you’re breathing every day. It’s just so important. It’s like life.
Q: It says on your profile that… “Vinyasa is a vigorous and athletic style of Yoga intended to re-align the spine, de-toxify the body while building strength, flexibility and stamina.” What other kind of alignment does vinyasa accomplish?
SN: I think it aligns the chakras, the energy. It definitely helps you manage your decision-making and emotions. You need to be aware of your emotions, surroundings, your body space, and your mindset, trying to be positive instead of paying attention to the negative stuff. That can help bring a sense of bliss to our nerves. Try to be complete, to feel your dreams, your thoughts, your heart, wherever you are.
Q: What distinguishes ashtanga from vinyasa?
SN: It’s very different. I tried ashtanga for a long time, and it’s very strict, very rigid. It’s a way of life. You need to practice before the sun rises. It can take you a long time, like ten years, to pass to the next level before you’re ready. Of course, the dieting is supposed to be vegetarian. Not only that, but there are other aspects to practice in life. One of those is non-harm toward other people, and non-harm to yourself. It’s a whole new level of practice, which is very interesting. I would love to do it, but of course, in everyday life, in reality, it’s very hard to accomplish that. But it’s very inspiring.
Q: I think it is, too. On a related note, do you meditate? How regularly?
SN: I do. I will say every day. It depends on how much time I have, but usually fifteen minutes to twenty minutes.
Q: Has it helped you become more aware of your body?
SN: More than my body, I’ll say beyond my body. It helps me be aware not so much of the physical body, but everything else.
Q: What’s the hardest asana to master in yoga?
SN: That depends on everybody’s level. I think, to me, nothing is impossible. You just have to practice, and you have a lifetime of practicing. This is like everything. Sometimes you take five steps forward, one step back, and you need to learn patience. That’s the most important lesson because your body’s going to be resistant, your mind is going to be resisting every time you’re feeling depressed. So, you just need to learn to let go, and someday when you’re not thinking about it, you’ll be like, “whoah! I put my leg behind my head!” And its like, wow, it happened after like five years, or whatever it is. And it’s just a sudden sense of bliss, that may or may not happen again. So you just need to be very open and have a flexible mind instead of only being physically flexible.
Q: How important is shavasana, or the “corpse pose,” in yoga?
SN: It’s very important because the philosophy is that you have to go through the body to get deeper into the other layers of spirituality or energy. So in shavasana, that’s the moment when everything gels and unifies if you let yourself let go. If you’re sick, that’s why we keep that physical practice. Because your mind is not there. You’re going to be worrying and in pain you’re not going to be able to let go and relax. The physical practice gets you to the deeper layers of health and well-being.
Q: Does shavasana help put the gunas or impurities at rest?
SN: The theory behind it is that the pose is like a corpse. It’s like the death of your practice for that moment, when you let go, when you receive everything, all your effort and all the energy that you’ve moved through in the thirty minutes, or hour. When you finally let go and feel what happened to your body and try to connect to the other things that are you, that are your being. And then after that, you realize that you are alive, that you’re still breathing, that you did your best in that practice. You go into your fetal position, which is like being reborn, and you again find your new life, your new body, new spirit, your new energy.
Q: And in some of your classes, that fetal position is right where I want to stay for a while!
SN: Yes, definitely [both laughing].
Q: Because it’s very challenging. But it’s nice because in the Krav Maga mindset, you always allow us to adapt our practice to our level. If were having a problem with an asana, we can do a lighter one. And I appreciate that because there’s always a point where, as a competitive person, I can step down and take it easy on myself.
SN: Yeah. We need to be humble, and that’s a very difficult thing to be. Even for myself. I think for every human being, it’s very hard to kind of step down and not try so hard. Knowing that you can step back, that you can modify the techniques whenever you need to, helps-because we all have injuries, we all have difficult times emotionally or whatever-that will show up in your practice. So we need to be humble and receive every practice like a different day and time, and like a new beginning, a new opportunity to grow physically, mentally, and emotionally.