You all have seen tons of yoga accounts on Instagram, but you’ve never seen one quite like Steph Gongora’s.
The yogi moves her body in a seemingly effortless way that constantly amazes and impresses us. We have even made the promise to ourselves time and time again that we too will start practicing yoga everyday, just so we can attempt to be half as skilled as she is.
There is a difference within Steph’s @casa_colibri account outside of just her skill set though, because when you stumble onto her page, you walk away feeling a little more calm for so many other reasons.
Steph’s honesty and mindset that surrounds her practice is one we have a deep admiration for, and that combination with her musical choices and the rain fall that surrounds her during some of her practices…well, it’s almost magical.
We were lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with Steph Gongora who offered us some of the most thought provoking notions that surround not only her experience in practicing yoga, but the way the world itself has been affected by social media.
Check out our full interview with her below!
1. What first inspired you to start practicing yoga?
I first came into yoga from pole and aerial fitness. I was a gymnast and a dancer growing up, and have always been interested in movement and body control. While I certainly dabbled in yoga practice on and off since the age of 15, I really only started spending daily time on the mat about 5 years ago.
I was in the midst of picking my pole practice back up, and experimenting with increasing my flexibility. The world of social media helped me connect with other aerial artists, and through them, I started to encounter all of these amazing and talented yoga practitioners. They were doing things with their body that I never thought possible, much less considered yoga.
And so, I have to admit. I jumped in from the physical perspective. I wanted to be able to do the cool tricks. And for awhile, that pursuit satisfied me. But I love learning, and that includes all aspects of the word. After a year or so with self practice and focusing only on complex asana, I wanted to go deeper. Less from a physical perspective, and more from a total understanding.
I started backing off of my asana practice in lieu of learning more about alignment and safety. I wanted to know the intricacies of postures, I wanted to learn about meditation and mantra. Like many Westerners, I was drawn in by the flashy pants and handstands. I STAY for the peace of mind and general contentment that my practice (physical, mental, emotional) has brought to me.
2. Have you ever gotten so frustrated in your practice that you considered stopping? If so, what inspired you to keep going?
Absolutely! As I stated, when I first started practicing, it was more for the physical achievement. And having been a dancer/gymnast, my body seemed to remember movement patterns, but couldn’t replicate them after 10 years. I was continually frustrated with not being able to attain things that I thought would be simple or that I once would have done with ease.
I’ve had to to break away from this mentality in general because it’s not productive and can lead to injury. I was chasing something unattainable. I wanted to be the best, which is generally not the purpose of yoga. But I had to let go of the competitive nature that had spilled over from my years as a competing athlete, and admit something to myself. I LIKE yoga. Regardless of what I can do in the physical postures. I enjoy all aspects of it. And so that awakening helped me step away from these posture goals that were never important in the first place.
And sure, to this day, I sometimes don’t want to get on the mat. So I work with my motivation levels. If I’m lacking much excitement, I’ll let myself enjoy the movements I prefer. Inversions, free-form flow, core work. Anything to get myself moving and remind ME how much I love doing it. If I’m over flowing with motivation, I structure a flow around things I know I need to work on.
3. Music is a large part of your account, what about music helps inspire your movement?
I think it’s the dance background, and I was also a musician growing up. I played violin in a little folk band. I sang. Music was always a large part of my life, and being a fairly unemotional person, a good song has always helped me tap into my feelings, and then release them. I started adding music to my personal practice and found that it really helped me get deeper into the flow state, as well as affect my mood (for the better or worse). I now cater my music specifically to what I am practicing these days. At the same time, I think it’s also important to be able to sit with yourself in silence. I usually meditate without music, and also make myself practice occasionally in silence, just listening to the breath or the noises of the jungle around me.
4. Do you believe that you ever reach a point of no longer being a student?
I think everyone is always a student, and not just in yoga. Sure, I teach a lot, but I also study a lot. Both on my own and with others through continued education. I’ve only been a dedicated practitioner for 5 years. There are people who have been doing this all their lives. And I’m not saying that newer teachers don’t have something to share. I think I learn so much from everyone that I practice under, and I even learn from my students, therefore switching the roles slightly, but in a good way.
5. What do you think is the biggest challenge in practicing yoga?
This is a great question. For me, the biggest challenge is staying authentic to myself. I mean this from a teaching and practicing standpoint. Yoga is a controversial topic these days. Have we modernized too much? Have we desecrated traditional practice methods? Is it even yoga anymore? Should you wear fancy pants or plain clothing? Does it matter? With so much debate around everything, I struggle to remain authentically me. To push aside all the chatter about whether what I’m doing is actually yoga or not, and just share what is coming from my heart. Because I do mix things. I draw from my gymnastic and calisthenics world. I draw from pole, from dance, from ballet. I create movements that my body loves and wants to do, and yes, I share them with others despite the criticisms this “yoga” might be met with.
6. You have multiple books for sale that are for beginners, what inspired you to release a book? Is this something you would like to continue to do?
Since I had a growing social media presence, I started to get similar questions again and again about certain topics. Starting Yoga, learning to Handstand; I would see these things popping up again and again. And sure, I travel and teach, but I can only make it so many places in a year, and the people asking these things were from all over the world. I really enjoy writing, as well as organizing things into understandable formats, so I thought…why not write a book…or three? I started with Handstands since it was the most prevalent question, went on to pressing because I didn’t see anything else like that out there and available, and then moved on to Starting Yoga since it’s a complex topic, and I thought it might be helpful to have a simple, usable guide.
I hope to continue to do this work. We just finished translating my Handstand book into Spanish for release this week. We will have my Full Body Backbends book out within another month, and I have another book coming along that is a co-write with my husband (Dr. Ben House), which is titled the Beginner’s Guide to Living Well, and will touch on topics from nutrition to sleep to stress and movement practice.
7. You stand out amongst the many yoga accounts in part due to your honesty, is this something that was scary for you to do on social media?
Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m not a particularly emotional person. I tend to be much more on the rational/analytical side. This definitely has its downsides in the touchy feely world of yoga, but it also has its perks. I’m not really affected by any negative commentary online. I have no problems with anyone who disagrees with me, and I don’t really ever take anything personally. This makes it easy to be honest. It wasn’t particularly scary for me or brave of me. I was just sharing my truth and hope to continue to do so. I suppose I can say that while I’m always working toward betterment, I’m very happy with my life, and nothing anyone says in a small square on the internet is going to change that.
8. What effect do you personally feel social media has on society and culture?
I was just watching a few TED talks the other day about this. There are so many sides to this. I personally believe social media is inevitable. It’s not going away, and to some degree, it is a fundamental part of modern society and connection. That being said, there are definitely negatives, especially in the younger generations who have their whole lives documented, every mistake or blunder blasted on the internet for everyone to see. I watch people of all ages compare themselves to the highlight reels of others or base their self-worth around the number of likes they receive on a photo compared to their friends.
That is not healthy. Does it mean that social media is bad? I don’t think so. It’s a platform. The ability to connect and share with each other immediately. It can be used for bad…but it can also be used for good. I think that as a society, although it might be hard, we need to regulate ourselves when in comes to the online world. Regulate our usage and time spent on these apps versus out in the real world. Regulate how much energy and stress we pour into a picture or a comparison. Let go of the idea that our value is at all tied to the number of followers we have or the number of likes our photo gets. Just enjoy the ability to share our art and our lives (to whatever degree we personally want) with others around us.
9. Outside of yoga, what is your favorite thing to do to help destress?
Well…I have lots of little hobbies. We live in the jungle, and it’s beautiful and serene. I’m happy sitting on the porch with a good book and my furry children. I love hiking in the mountains or down by the rivers/waterfalls. I swim, I paddle board, I write poetry and short stories. I love making things with my hands. Drawing, painting, dancing, hair wraps. I love cooking, meditating, and watching Netflix with my husband. I think it’s important to have a wide arsenal of choices that we can go to in today’s stressful world.
10. What is your favorite part about living in Costa Rica? How has it affected your practice?
My favorite thing about Costa Rica is definitely the pace of life. It’s much slower here, and the jungle rhythm forces you to accept that. Which is just fine by me. We go to bed early (sometimes around 8:30pm), but we wake up with the sun and the howler monkeys. There’s green ALL around me. There’s water (fresh & salt) ALL around me. The people here are content and positive in almost everything they do, despite many having much less than your average American. My practice continues to relax. I enjoy more restorative work here, and I step further from the more advanced asana, and instead, into a deeper understanding of my body’s movements and needs. I feel that my practice becomes more playful with my time in the jungle. Primal movements find their way in, and I have no problem being interrupted to run down the road and see a baby sloth that a neighbor spotted moving between the trees.