This article has everyone so excited! Gather round dear jesters, and greet your Yoga King! (really NYT?) His name is Vinnie Marino and he rules the land of sunshiny Yoga! (that’d be California). Hailing from humble beginnings east coast style, young Vinnie grew up in rock ‘n’ rollin NY; a rapscallion upholding the time honored tradition of music and drug addiction (this was the 70s). In fact, it was “White Rabbit” Grace Slick (of Jefferson Airplane), Vinnie’s boss at the time, who encouraged him to pursue the yoga cloth. But little had they imagined that would translate into royal robes and a throne.
So now decades later King Vinnie holds court with a gaggle of “cult-like” admirers, students who come from far and wide for a yoga fix from his highness. Though it doesn’t seem to have reached Bikram-level bootlicking, adoring students, including celebs like Heather Graham, David Duchovny and Jeremy Piven, mob his classes to sweat with the yogis. And sweat they do; his classes, accompanied by a soundtrack of classic rock (naturally), are supposedly killer in many senses of the word.
“That class is torture if you’re not really good at yoga,” said Ms. Graham, who dragged her boyfriend, the filmmaker Yaniv Raz, to class on her birthday last year. “It nearly destroyed me,” Mr. Raz said.
Yet, loyal subjects return to pack studios and converge in “mat rage.” At least he keeps his morals in check:
“Coming from New York City, I have really good boundaries,” Mr. Marino said. “I know when to let people in and I know when to back off.”
Thank goodness! Don’t want another scandal on our hands. eek.
So ok, we get the draw – just a regular, former drug-addicted, NY-accented, non-preachy, singing-inept, rock ‘n’ roll cult-figured dude, who just happens to teach yoga, just like us! er, wait… (a major part of King Vinnie’s appeal is tapping into his drug-addled past and sharing stories of triumphing from the brink of destruction.)
“The intensity of a drug addict to find peace is a similar thing to someone getting involved with a spiritual practice,” he said. “I think my drug history lets people know that we’ve all been through some heavy stuff and change is possible.”
Dunno if we agree with the parallels exactly, Sire, but right on for sharing your real life trials, which obviously is inspiring to others.
Still, with the tone of the article and celebrity quotes, our first gut reaction was ‘ugh, “Yoga King”? Mat Rage?’, and that brunch photo kinda made us want to toss our cookies. But you know, we’ve never experienced the majesty of a Vinnie Marino class, and for all we know, it could very well live up to all the hootin’ and hollerin’.
“Part of my appeal is that I’m not preachy in any way,” Mr. Marino said. “I’m a regular New York guy who is teaching yoga.”
It’s unanimous: drugs are bad news, and also newsworthy. The mass media continues to create a growing league of yoga superstars, and in this case, informs us recovery isn’t a bad gimmick, whether intentional or not. Nor is “I’m just a regular Yoga Schmo.” If all goes as planned in the yog-glam media machine, we look forward to your memoir Vinnie.
Additional celebri-praise from the King’s website:
He Rocks, They Flock: The Yoga King [NYTimes]
UPDATE: Curious what all the fuss is about? How could we forget, Vinnie plays a starring role in Yoga Journal’s “Ogden” series with the Inappropriate Yoga Guy. Thanks to Margaret in the comments for the reminder.
I’m wondering if this will be as close as I ever get to yoga “fame” (and/or being mentioned in the NYT): I too used to teach privates to rep Jane Harman in DC (in fact, I think I was her first yoga teacher), and Robert Downey Jr. used to come to classes at my DC studio. I remember when Ms. Harman started going to Vinnie’s classes in CA and would rave about him…brunch photo and mat rage make me want to toss my cookies too, but really, what fault of Vinnie’s that he’s become such the yoga celeb? American culture appears to have the need for the celeb-fascination thing, so really, not a surprise to find it in yoga more and more. While I haven’t taken a class with the Vinmeister, I am pretty sure that his life experience + yoga = a powerful offering as a yoga teacher. Guess the whole yoga king shtick is just the icing on the cake. btw, they didn’t mention his appearance in the YJ Ogden series (but that’s a whole other topic).
Margaret, thanks so much for that. Have to agree with your take on American culture craving celeb status/worship. Which is why we give him props, but the article still leaves us feeling icky. Again, it’s most likely the “press” giving him the schtick factor…he didn’t give himself the title, but “fame” can do funny things.
Curious…since we don’t know, is the Ogden video a semi-accurate idea of Vin’s teaching style or is he just playing along for the camera?
‘Brutal’ yoga. Over-crowded classes in over-heated rooms. Ergh!
My own Guru has spoken before of how people recovering from drug addicitions often end up searching for spiritual things. Perhaps there is something in that? But I don’t know if I’d call them ‘the same’.
And I’ve never been a fan of yoga classes with music. I like mine silent, so the focus has to eventually go inwards. Then, I also don’t like the idea of yoga as torture.
I do agree with Vinnie that life experiences will make you a better teacher. But they don’t have to be the sort of life experiences he’s had – just whatever you’ve learned along the way, if you can apply that to your teaching, you will be a better teacher.
Grace Slick’s quote: ‘I’d rather take yoga from you than some weird dude in a robe.’ – is why people are crowned Yoga Kings. They take yoga out of its context, make it a little more like boot camp and suddenly people can’t get enough.
Reminds me of a conversation I once overheard at an Iyengar class: ‘I like it here because you don’t do any of that weird chanting stuff’.
I say, good for them, really. But its not for me. And its not the sort of yoga teacher I’m going to be, that’s for certain! What I never want any future class I teach to be about, is the cult of personality. So, let’s breathe in and out and chant A-U-M!! And close your eyes, damnit! Stop checking yourself or anyone else out in the mirror already!!
the description of Vinnie by Downey sounds exactly like me!
so how come I’m no yoga superstar? I guess I need a crown for that.
Damn, just when I lose my motivation to blog, this shit comes along. And here I was thinking the Olga video was going to be my swan song. At least I can still come here for laughs. Keep up the great snarks….:)
Ok, so yes, the Odgen cameo is Vinnie being Vinnie. He’s droll and dry, ultra-casual. Alpha, but not a prima donna like several of the would-be yoga kings and queens in town (the strivers–Santa Monica is full of teachers who want their backbends to make them famous). It’s also an accurate depiction of the class. It’s a scene; there’s a definite AA flavor around the edges; and yeah, it’s pretty transformative for people.
Every year, a few people who have needed to cross that bridge become dissatisfied with the scene and peel off for a more traditional practice. It’s fine.
There’s no shame in coming to a silent, post-trance-dance kind of yoga through some time with Vinnie. The rest of us around here aren’t threatened by that scene and don’t feel the need to sit around judging it for being “the wrong context” or something our “gurus” wouldn’t like. Vinnie’s got a different karma, a different audience, and is speaking a different language. Great to see that it’s working for people, even if when I roll in to his room it is full-on culture shock.
I got into yoga for its non-judgmental, I can be who I want, attain my best level philosophy. And this nastiness between “gurus” is sad. Isn’t yoga about becoming the best mind and body and soul YOU can. Why then is there so much energy getting wasted on deprecating others?
Have we not found our own inner light? Or is it being extinguished by another?
Find the goodness and humor in the article and you may possibly reclaim them within yourself.
Let Vinnie be Vinnie and you be you. Go to whatever teacher turns you on or don’t go. As you wish; it’s all good and important. No negative judgment needed. if you don’t resonate with it feel free to move along!
yeah. i gotta say. i didn’t know vinnie was so popular before i went to his class. i thought he was just another teacher at main st. yogaworks and that place is ALWAYS packed so, who knows the difference? I just started going to his class and i fell in love. he was the first teacher i have had that has managed to push me to my absolute max and then some over and over and over again. and the flow of his class is intoxicating. the music isn’t soft, subtle, and chant-y like most yoga classes. it is loud and obnoxious and full of base. it actually helps you drown out your neighbor and every other thought you may be having more than you would ever think. it gets you through those 10-minute warrior III’s. anyway- so i had no idea anything about his class except that i loved his flow and class was always packed…. but then, one day, NY times was there shooting photographs of our class…. and then this article comes out that he’s the yoga king. and i read it, and, well, most of it i agreed with. it did have that culty sound to it. but, i mean, he does rock! and, he’s a great teacher! so, why not be famous?
I used to attend Vinnie’s classes when I lived in LA. I didn’t know about Vinnie’s popularity and only stumbled across the class after a friend suggested it. She warned it was a strong practice, but I’d been practicing Ashtanga for about 7 years and thought I could maintain his style and pace. Well, his pace kicked my butt and then some. Vinnie’s classes are intense, and more importantly, they show you what you can achieve with patience. Two, then three, then four times a week, I parked my mat right by the wall and practiced Vinnie’s Vinyasa flow. I always attended alone and soon grew part of the community. Slowly and with patience (which is not my best attribute,) I started to gain strength and expansion. I started to hold my body with an intention I’d never understood before. I really listened to my arms, abdomen, back and legs. I felt such clarity within my body and mind. I also felt this strange duality of calmness and energy. I’ve always been early to rise and early to bed, barely holding my eyelids open past 10:30pm. I soon found a pattern that if attended Vinnie’s class the same day, I could remain energetic well past midnight. Never before or since has a caffeine-drink, extended nap or other yogic approach worked so dependably. And yet at the same time, I felt like I floated through my days with a steady serenity. Because it happened gradually, I didn’t fully notice the effect until my friends and coworkers commented on my personality shift… and they loved it. I’m a Type A personality (until the clock hits 10:30,) and calmness had never before been my best characteristic. Although other yogic practices had brought me calmness, I’d never felt quite so well-balanced.
When I tried to “cheat” in Vinnie’s classes (i.e. hold my legs during a long navasana sequence,) he would call me on it. I needed to listen to my own body and focus on my breath, not drain my energy to maintain a perfect pose. When I started focusing on my breath, instead of a hard pose, my stamina would naturally rise. I’d never before nor since felt such strength and exhilaration as I moved and sweat and inhaled through the strong music. Vinnie often says, “Listen to the rise and fall of your breath,” or, in his droll tone, “Guys, it’s just yoga.” He often says these things during challenging poses – while you’re holding a seemingly 10 minute chair pose or moving from chair to flying eagle to warrior 3, holding each pose for quite some time. I started to keenly follow these recommendations and the commitment allowed the yoga to completely wash over me. I started to understand and feel my body so very deeply. Previously, I was never able to really dive into the spirituality of yoga. I practiced the poses and yes, they calmed and strengthened me, but I never clearly understood such phrases as “mind-body” or “intention.” It wasn’t until Vinnie’s class that I felt such a deep connection and commitment to my entire self. Because of the strength his classes requires, you often have two choices. The first is to focus on your breath and let your patience and intention work through the challenges. This will bring you to a wonderfully clear and elated state. The second is to focus primarily on the most active limbs to attain the “perfect pose,” (e.g. the legs in chair pose.) With this latter approach, one can often lose track of the breath and body as a whole. This approach will not enlighten, but focus attention in a more superficial aspect. And what a shame, because the rest of you can give so much during a challenge like this. Of course I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but this is just what I have found in my practice.
I used to practice with no music and didn’t think anything but a light, ethereal music track would work for my practice. Boy was I wrong. Vinnie’s music follows your practice; it grows and drives you through your sun salutations and chaturangas until the music and your movements feel interwoven. The notes move through you as you accelerate your practice, and the music really makes you look into yourself and see your heart. That’s how it went for me; I brought everything to my yoga mat and slowly worked it through there. I love Vinnie’s classes, and I miss them desperately. I live in another city now, and I’ve never found anything like them. Perhaps his classes draw a certain personality, and that’s fine, as your practice has to work for you and your nature only. I also never minded the full room; it just added to my practice, that we were such a dedicated community, growing together through this experience. Also, because his classes are heavily attended, he will try to learn your name and call out tips if he can’t reach you immediately. If there are two people with your name, he’ll sometimes give you a nickname. And if you’re doing a pose in an inappropriate way, he’ll let you know. He learned my name pretty well as I was a frequent practitioner. I’ve since fallen off, but he still recognizes me. Strangely, he’s now taken to calling me April. There are no other Aprils in the class thus far, so it’s easier to respond than correct him every few months when I’m in town. It’s pretty funny, and I always answer. I guess I never thought of him as a kind of yoga king until I saw that article, but I’ve never found a yoga class quite like his, and I don’t know if I ever will. Vinnie’s classes require strength and dedication, and he will give you as much as you give yourself. His instruction, charm, wit and ever evolving musical soundtrack shaped my classes into the best personal moments of my life. I always look forward to my trips back to Los Angeles.