Vinnie Marino is not your usual yoga teacher. A rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast with a drug-infused path, Vinnie began teaching after his mentor Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane graciously gave him the money to pursue the yogi lifestyle. Now Vinnie is a Santa Monica necessity. On a balmy Sunday morning, when the rest of Los Angeles is too hungover to open the blinds, Vinnie Marino enthusiasts will be lined up around the block at 8 a.m. simply to squeeze into a 9:15 session.
If it’s any indication of Vinnie and his breed of yoga cool, his website has a testimonial from Robert Downey Jr. According to Robert, “Vinnie is the ultimate yoga instructor... skilled, occasionally brutal, yet compassionate and witty.” Blending psychedelic rock with heart-pumping core work, Vinnie proves he really is just that awesome.
Out chatted with Vinnie about psychedelic rock, the sutras, and the potential pitfalls of celebrity status.
Out: When did first get introduced to yoga practice?
Vinnie Marino: I started doing yoga when I was a teenager in the seventies. I read a couple of books on it, and my brother was a hippie, so I got a little exposure there. For some reason, I just loved yoga when I was a teenager. It was a lot mellower yoga then. I was into partying and tripping and smoking pot and going to concerts and being a normal kid in the seventies. Then my drug path took over my life. I got really heavy into drugs in San Francisco where I lived in Haight Ashbury. I was shooting cocaine and heroin and traveling across the country when I ended up in New York, where I am originally from. In 1985 I got clean and sober. I gave up everything. My life took a turn for health. I lived in New York for four years and then San Francisco for a minute and then I immediately ended up in LA. I got turned onto yoga again but it was a lot more rigorous. I went to a class that played music similar to what I play. It was hot and heavy and to me this was fun. I’ve never been athletic. I begrudgingly go to the gym but I was never on fire with it. Yoga I really love. It just feels right. That was in the early nineties. I started doing yoga all the time. My friend, Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, told me to do what I love. She convinced me to do a teacher training. She gave me the money and I went in and came back and even after one week I knew it was what I loved. I did the Yoga Works teacher-training and studied there. I started teaching fearfully because a friend of mine was teaching at a gym. He told me I knew so much more than the other teachers on staff and I began teaching four people in a room in Hollywood. My first year of teaching was at 24 Hour Fitness, but I was always going to classes at Yoga Works. Thankfully, the owner of the studio hired me on the spot. That’s when it started happening. I moved to the beach, I started teaching constant classes, and the rest has been a rush.
Do you adhere to any of the spiritual teachings of yoga?
The spiritual teaching of yoga comes hand-in-hand with my recovery, especially the sutras. The sutras are most known for the 8-way path. It’s a way in. It’s a physical movement that gets you back in touch with the breathing. All of yoga is spiritual. If you are interested in how you behave in the world and your relation to people, you are aware of that. Yoga teaches non-violence and truthfulness and discipline. If you're living any sort of a spiritual life -- be it religious or otherwise -- you know the basics of being kind to your neighbor and to always do the best you can -- ideas you learn as a child. This is the spiritual path of yoga for me. It is very practical. People have different experiences with yoga, but I use my practice to keep my breath flowing and to keep me grounded. When I do that I can function better on other emotional levels. My awareness is heightened by the physical practice. The physical practice embodies everything. That level of mindfulness comes from Buddhist teachings. You have to be aware how you step forward and how you step back. The whole routine reveals so much. I don’t talk a lot about the spiritual in class. I play rock 'n’ roll and music to me is spiritual. Music is energy. Music gets you in touch with a higher source and energy.
By using contemporary music you make yoga more accessible because you refrain from the New Age.
I am not New Age at all! I’m a junkie from New York. New Age is a title. I don’t buy into that. I am into the spiritual and I draw from Buddhist practice and different values, but all teachers I go to are straightforward. You put focus on your breath and stay grounded.
What do you think of the yoga superstars who sell out arenas?
Yoga is popular so I think it is great! I don’t travel or go on the road. I like being at a home base more. Yoga is a business too. People make money and people hire you to go places and teach. That’s not how I got into it or why. But it is popular and if you can travel from it, great! The only trap is when the student is lost. People who are lost will cling onto the celebrities of yoga teachings. Like we do in our culture with celebrity, people fill a void with the teacher. Especially with yoga, which is a spiritual condition, people are more inclined to think every yoga teacher has everything going on.
Can you talk more about your yoga playlists?
I have a real connection to music and the psychedelic nature of music. In the seventies, music was a completely representation of what people were feeling. People like Jefferson Airplane would look around and reflect what was happening -- what the government was doing, what the people were doing. In the beginning we used drugs, which didn’t work in the long run, but it opened some doors. Then we used yoga meditation as a healthy way to work through the issues. Music has just had a huge impact on me. The message from music goes hand-in-hand with yoga. It’s about freedom and liberation.
Do you have a go-to song?
I have a whole lot. Mostly Patti Smith and Jefferson Airplane. I also include trance music for rhythmic flow.
How do you see your teachings evolving either personally or for your students?
People always tell me to release DVDs and travel more. I am not business-oriented. I don’t see my teachings going further than what I am doing now. I just want to teach yoga, whether it’s to a group of people or on a retreat or on the beach in Santa Monica. That is all I know.
For classes and retreats visit: http://vinniemarinoyoga.com/
-- COURTNEY NICHOLS
Previously > Yoga with Les Leventhal