Francesca Trapella

Words by Lira Bekbolatova


I met my first yoga teacher, Kate back in 2017 in a yoga ashram in Kerala, India. It was a year when I discovered yoga for myself after a painful breakup with a very toxic guy. And to me, yoga seemed like a perfect and natural act of escapism. No doubt, it helped. But temporarily. I remember, after returning back home from India I texted Kate asking: why everything around me feels so negative? Why I was the happiest person in the world when I was in the ashram? Is it India or is it just me? Why am I feeling worse than before? She said: It’s all about vibes. You have to find a way how to keep those high vibrations in the world that tries to put you down. I didn’t really understand what she meant by that time. But I continued practicing yoga: Sivananda, Vinyasa Flow, Hatha, Iyengar. Then I met Ashtanga. It smoothly and protectively kept me in its arms for a long time.

Five years later, after my first authentic experience in an Indian yoga ashram, I told this story to Francesca – a bright Italian woman, with whom I was sharing an afternoon coffee in the center of Rome. It’s all about vibes – she said. The very same thing. But after she adds more: But hey, we are not in India. We are in Europe and there must be a way how to adjust yoga practice to modern society.

After moving to Rome, I had a serious intention to continue my Ashtanga practice. I was looking for the right yoga school for years and when I found it – I tried the class. And a mysterious thing happened: I realized I am not in love with Ashtanga anymore. It felt the same as if you were going back to your old relationship hoping it will be the same. And then I felt guilty. Felt guilty for not wanting to continue my Ashtanga practice: in fact, Ashtanga and I shared a lot of difficulties and happy moments together. But now the love, this devotion, and admiration – all of it just have gone. Except for the gratitude to this practice that taught me many things. Discipline, for example.   It’s just not your yoga – she explained. And that made sense to me. 

Francesca, a brilliant woman with very strong energy,  beautiful eyes, and a contagious sincere laugh – is one of my yoga teachers in Rome’s famous RYOGA studio. In my opinion, is the best yoga studio that Italy is able to offer you. She practices yoga for more than 10 years and is one of five teachers that spreads the knowledge about Rocket yoga in entire Rome. This woman inspires you to stand on your yoga mat every Friday night after an exhausting working day, instead of going for a relaxing drink with your friends.

Fun fact: yoga studio where teaches Francesca is located in Rome’s neighborhood well known as the center of aperitivo. Of course, every Friday is tempting to skip the class and choose a nice glass of Italian prosecco. But still, after trying Rocket yoga once – you start making healthy choices.

Every week my Roman Rocket guru with ease and fun makes you do handstands, headstands, and unimaginable twists while listening to Aretha Franklin or Bee Gees in the background. But the most important thing here is this: you don’t even feel overwhelmed by doing or trying those postures. You’re actually having fun!

Speaking of fun: Francesca said that during her teaching training, they were asked to watch all parts of “Star Wars”. There is an actual connection between Rocket and Star Wars! Being amazed by this information, I asked her to tell me more about it. For example, we were told that ujjayi breath, one of the core breaths in yoga practice – is the breath of Darth Vader – and then she laughed. Or even sun salutations: they are not traditional Surya Namaskars. They are called Jedi Sun Salutation – we have to jump in a handstand every time we do the vinyasa – she continued. And Yoda – he is a real yogi! Isn’t he?

And this is not the end. Rocket also is a very complete and practical yoga from the practitioner’s perspective: it consists of breathing exercises, the so-called “pranayama”, among them – Darth Vader’s breath, Jedi sun salutations, sequences from Ashtanga yoga: bends, twists, and sitting poses that are connected with each other with “San Francisco twinkle toes” – a walk on your toes from the end of the yoga mat to its beginning. The practice finishes with mild meditation. In other words, full-body and soul experience. But this is not the thing that actually caught my attention. As Kate and Francesca said: it is all about vibes. Everything around Rocket is about vibes: in this practice, I’ve found the creativity and inspiration I’m always craving for. It made me come back again. And again. Until I understood that this is it: Rocket is my new love.

The name “Rocket” may be enough to have you recoil in real confusion. The word makes it sound more weird than the practice actually is. This relatively new practice has only been around for 30 years and has already done wonders for making yoga more accessible to Western yogis. Just like Francesca said. No wonder it has many celebrity followers and attracts many creative people like Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Sting and Christy Turlington. And again: yoga and creativity. How is that possible? Instead of pushing you to learn the poses and adapt to the flow of the instructor, Rocket yoga encourages you to create your own interpretations of the classic Ashtanga poses. That is the beauty of Rocket – says Francesca. It is a tailor-made practice based on the individual body and sensations of every practitioner.

While in Ashtanga you have to wait until your body is “ready” for another posture. But what if you have double scoliosis and you are stuck in the same pose for years? – I asked. This was my personal question since I suffer from several inevitable back problems. And for the record: my last Ashtanga posture for years remained Marichyasana D. It’s not even the middle part of Ashtanga practice! Even though, I physically was able to enter other, more difficult poses but was not allowed to do them. It’s not fair in Ashtanga when you have to wait until your next pose – agreed Francesca. Rocket destroys the posture hierarchy that is common for Ashtanga and gives practitioners full control over the practice. Not the opposite. 

Of course, Rocket didn’t appear by itself. It was created by a real person who probably asked the same questions as all of us, former Ashtanga practitioners. Or maybe he was a person who also was stuck in Marichyasana D for a while. Putting jokes aside, the Rocket was created in the 1980s in San Francisco, California by Larry Schultz, a famous student of a father-founder of Ashtanga yoga – K. Pattabhi Jois. He studied with his teacher in India for almost ten years. After returning to California, mister Schultz decided to modify this traditional practice which, in his opinion, “had certain limitations”. And by “limitation” he meant that very situation that I experienced while practicing Ashtanga: you can’t move to the next pose if you can’t accomplish the current. When you complain about being stuck in the same pose, there is a common phrase-response you hear in the Ashtanga community: it’s just your body is not ready.

But what if it will never be ready? And Larry didn’t like this too. Even if your body is not ready, Larry gave a possibility to prepare it for the desiring posture or at least to taste it. Like a scorpion pose, for example. Can’t afford a scorpion, start with a dolphin! That is why Larry’s students called this practice “Rocket”. It allows you to try poses without waiting for them for years. It gets you there faster – continues Francesca. No wonder Larry’s nickname was “The bad man of Ashtanga”. The bad man who destroyed the whole tradition. And definitely, Pattabhi Jois didn’t like this at all. And now, do you feel the vibes? Rebellious, creative, and badass? Those are real Rocket vibes. 

I ask Francesca if there is a certain type of people who attend her classes. Maybe there is something in common between all of us? Back problems,  uncontrollable curiosity, ambitions, or maybe big ego? Those who practice Rocket are the people who are looking for dynamic and rhythmic yoga. It’s not Yin yoga, I have to tell you. Those are the people who are open and like discovering new things. I remember my first Rocket lesson: it was a disaster! So many postures that never have been a part of my yoga practice! 

I literally couldn’t do anything! But the thing that struck me is that I didn’t come out of there thinking “it is not my level”. I left it thinking “can I really do all these things?”– shared Francesca. 

And that sounds just like me. Even though, despite the Ashtanga rule where I am forever stuck in Marichyasana D until my spine gets better” (which I doubt),  I always had this idea in my head: “if I can’t do this, it doesn’t mean I am not capable of doing and trying other poses”.And then I met Rocket. Rocket that inspired me to continue my yoga practice with great joy, so much fun, and with Aretha Franklin in the background. No kidding. Have you ever tried to do a cobra pose while listening to “I Say a Little Prayer For You”? Indescribable feeling. Or to do a headstand while listening to Madonna’s “Frozen”? That’s what I am talking about! Francesca always creates specific music playlists for our classes. Most of the time, she puts something funky and soul: Whitney Houston, Elton John, Madonna. And there is also an explanation:

Rocket was invented in the 1980s. It helps to keep the mood – says Francesca. 

And happily, not only the mood. Rocket yoga helps you to keep those cool and high vibrations that are easy to lose in this crazy and chaotic world that tries to put you down but in a very modern and joyful way. This is what my dear friend Kate meant five years ago: you have to find a way how to keep those vibes. And I guess, I finally have found it, my “rocket inspired” way.