This month, we at Vibe had to say a bittersweet (and fortunately temporary) goodbye to our instructor Cinnamon, who is heading back to her home country of Bolivia. With an eye toward her eventual Bloomington return, Cinnamon shared her gratitude for the “revolutionary yoga” that develops from our 500-hour teacher training: “Everybody finds their own gift,” she said of her fellow Vibe instructors. Cinnamon teaches eclectic classes that draw from her dual training here at Vibe and in Bolivia. Her description of her own teaching style—“you’ll never know what to expect,” she says—mirrors the surprising turns that her yoga journey has taken thus far. Read on to learn about the impact that yoga has had in Cinnamon’s life as well as her plans to develop yoga for her community in rural Bolivia.
What brought you to yoga?
I got into yoga by default. A student of mine in Bolivia—she was Korean, and I was teaching her English—asked me to find her a yoga teacher. I had tried yoga once before that because everyone kept telling me that I’d really like it. When I finally went, it wasn’t what everybody was all excited about. Then four or five years lapsed, and my student asked me to find a teacher. I found the teacher, who was a friend of a friend, and I asked her, “Do you speak English?” She said, “Yeah, yeah.” But then her English was only like 10%, so I ended up translating the anatomical terms from Spanish into English. And of course, my student asked me to practice with her, so there I was in my first downdog in her apartment sweating, shaking to death. In Korea, they do yoga in school. They have little sessions before math class, before reading class. My student told me how this helped her concentrate on the subjects. Every posture was designed for whatever the subject was after that. For example, they did balancing poses before math.
How did your practice grow from there?
After a year of practicing in my student’s apartment, she moved to Texas, and our yoga space was gone. Our teacher, Maria Sol, had another class that she taught in the attic of a daycare. So from our luxury little suite in the city, we moved to the attic storage room of a daycare in La Paz. There were clowns and Halloween decorations and books and all this stuff on the sides. Maria would move all the boxes, and we would do yoga there. It was fun, you know. The references were like, “okay now turn towards the Christmas trees to the left.” I didn’t know any different, so I thought that’s how it is, that’s the space that’s available. I had no idea.
Where in your life has yoga showed up in a significant way?
During my pregnancy. My partner left me when my daughter was about 5 months in the tummy. I went through a super hard time. I met him right before my Korean student left, so I had already been doing yoga. Yoga was like a godsend because maybe God knew what was going to happen. Maybe God was saying, “This dude is going to leave you with your baby, and you have yoga.” Now from the drone image I can see that, but when I was down in the maze, I thought, “I can’t make it. This is insane.” It was a labyrinth. When I got pregnant, I stopped going to yoga, not because I couldn’t, but because I was in a severe depression. When I found out that I was pregnant, he had already decided to leave. I had no idea the hormonal shift you go through when you’re pregnant. Even though I knew what to do to repair myself and get back on board, I couldn’t get back on. I was afraid for myself and questioning why I couldn’t stabilize. Now I know it was because of the chemical change.
And you returned to yoga after he left?
Yeah. Those first five months of my pregnancy, I was struggling. Then he left, and I went back. Nobody even knew I was pregnant because I live in the country outside of the city. I was there when the shit hit the fan, and then I walked into the class one day and said, “By the way, I’m just a little bit pregnant.” I did yoga up until my eighth month. Two days before my daughter Sahela was born—she was born early—I just did my regular class. After she was born, I had to wait six months. I cried a lot. I would call my yoga teacher because I was so in need of the stabilizing element of yoga, but I couldn’t do it. One day, she just totally illuminated me. She said, “Sahela is your practice right now. That’s your yoga.” Freaking hard yoga! From a daycare attic all the way to the master series with a child involved!
It sounds like such an intense shift. What did this “master series” highlight for you?
Time passed, and I lived, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here. I was so frustrated, you know. I was a very pristine, clean city girl living in the country. I wanted everything pretty and nice, and that’s not happening with a kid when you’re alone. My dad told me, “Cinnamon, forget your past life. All you gotta do is just feed yourself and bathe yourself.” I had been trying to keep the room swept and everything, trying to keep up to my past standards, so this was a big step of letting go. Everyone was saying, “You’ve gotta go back to work. You’re a single mom, and you’ve gotta prove to the world that you can raise a kid on your own.” I was wondering how I was going to make this happen, if I should sell my house in the country and move back to the city.
Then the car broke down. I went three months without a car in the country, taking the bus and always carrying my daughter on my back. Bolivia is a developing country, so you’re on the bus for like three hours before you get home. Then the bus broke down one day. I watched all these women loading their metal gas containers and sacks of potatoes and stuff on their backs. They just started walking up the mountain. I had to walk for two hours up the mountain carrying my baby and all my groceries—this happened to me only once—and when I got home, I thought, “I really love this baby because I could have left her.” I told my dad that we had to buy a car, and he just said, “Yeah, go pick one.” I was like, “That’s all I had to say?” I was in punishment phase. I thought I had to live the hard life, that I asked for it. Deprivation totally in the country. That was an interesting point.
What brought you all the way to Bloomington, and how was the yoga practice different here?
My mom invited me to come up to Bloomington in 2014. She knew that I was going through all these hard things, and she invited me here for the summer. I got the one-month trial membership at Vibe and went to a hot class first. Coming from living in the highest city in the world where there’s no humidity, I only lasted about 15-20 minutes. Then I was down. I thought, “What are these Americans doing in here? What is this?” The yoga that we do in Bolivia is a thousand years old. The yoga that you do at Vibe is like the future. Bolivia is traditional. Some say it’s too traditional, that some of the anatomy cues don’t exist anymore. The yoga lineage in Bolivia comes from Mexico, which goes way back to some guru from I don’t know where. That probably makes my yoga classes a little different because I had schooling from the Mexican teachers and from Vibe. I came back to Bloomington in 2016 to start the 500-hour teacher training, and then last June to continue. I really honor and respect all the work Vibe dedicates to putting together their syllabus and curriculum, especially because I am a teacher, so I know what a curriculum is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to build on itself.
As you head back to Bolivia, what’s next for you?
I want to structure a 200-hour teacher training for the people of high altitudes, to develop yoga for the indigenous people of Bolivia. I heard a podcast where a woman from China asked why yoga is only for the people who can pay for it, if yoga is supposed to be for everyone. Why is teacher training formatted to someone who has a mat and a block and a room and the music and all these things? Many communities don’t have this, so how can you structure a training that reaches the actual people?
I look back home, and we live in a community called “gente de carga,” load-bearing people. They carry everything on their backs, as I told you with my baby going up the mountain. They’re bent over from this load of life, so I want to try to access that through our own people, our own foods, our own nutrition, our own medicine. How can we integrate what is already theirs and bring yoga to them? It’s a huge endeavor, but I already live in the community. They already know me, so all I have to do is to facilitate some classes. You know, yoga works. The magic works. They’ll be curious about how yoga makes them feel and how they can share it. That’s what happened to all of us. It might not have happened to everyone, but at least 50% of people want to know what else is in there, what’s going on.
That’s such a beautiful idea. What type of practice do you envision developing within the community?
A slow flow style thing. They cannot do a power vinyasa, and they wouldn’t want to. I had to learn from them how to walk up the mountain. At first, I just thought it’d be a great workout, but I was so sick. I mean, it’s brutal. The wind slices through your lungs and everything, and it’s cold. I thought the faster I go, the faster I’ll get home. They said, “No, no, no, senorita. You have to walk without sweating.” It’s this slow pace, and you can’t stop. When you stop, you lose energy. They would be passing me by after a while because it’s like the tortoise and the hare. I would take that technique into their yoga practice.
Also, some of the posture working. You can’t just tell them we’re going to work birds of paradise. But if you don’t work towards a posture, then you never experience the emotion that it can bring. That’s why it’s important to explore the shape, because it will give you different access to your internal emotion. Teachers always say that it’s not for show. It’s not for show. Ask yourself, what’s in there that you’re avoiding? You might think, “oh, that shape is not for me.” Hmmm. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t want to hurt yourself, but can you explore that further? Doesn’t it feel interesting when you’re shifting around to move into a balance? You’ll notice different sensations, and one day, it’ll happen. Then you’ll be up there and realize, “Oh, this exists for me!” You’ll not win anything by being there. It’s not anything like glory. It’s just a different access to something. We can grow from there.
That relates to our June theme—the right to feel. What is it that you want people to take away from your classes in terms that emotional connection?
Whatever they need. It’s not as set. I’m not even interested in you feeling good when you leave because maybe feeling good is not what you need. It’s like another Vibe teacher says, we’re not here to make people comfortable. Actually, we set them out of their comfort zone, and that’s an opportunity. The journey is not smooth, but it’s so worth it to take the hard road, the bumpy road. There is sweet yoga too, where I cue more internal softness and kindness instead of engagement. You can experience the exact same posture with a totally different feeling to it.
What drives you as a yoga teacher?
What I love about yoga is that anyone can come. Anyone is welcome. Yoga teachers simply offer people this door with access to whatever the spiritual realm looks like for them. It doesn’t have to look like my life or anyone else’s life, but it is a spiritual practice, and that’s what pulled me out when I started. That was the gift I received. I do all of this because, yeah, there are people’s souls in those bodies.