Thursday, May 25, 2017

Goat Yoga: Good or Baaaaaaad for the Industry?

by Gina Caputo, Director of the Colorado School of Yoga

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a bestselling book called The Tipping Point, which he describes as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point". Welp, while I've felt myself bumping up against the yoga industry tipping point threshold for some time now, something about Goat Yoga pushed me right through it and I'm boiling.

It's not that I don't support goats. They're kind of amazing. They can learn their name and come when called, they're amazing climbers, they have freaky rectangular pupils, they have 4 stomachs and on a personal note, they are responsible for goat cheese, aka chevre. 😛 They're also playful, have a wild streak as baby goats (called kids), there's a breed that faints when stimulated and if you have food, they do not hesitate to come check it out, thoroughly (power stance required!). Goats are great.

So what's my problem? Well, I've been trying to make a career, a profession, out of being a teacher. And in particular, a teacher of a practice some might call spiritual. And however you describe it, it is a practice that has the power to deeply impact our lives, far beyond our physical bodies. I've poured the last 20 years of my life into the study and practice of yoga so that I may be a teacher of benefit. And for me, the main way the power of Yoga is accessed is via the transcendence of conditioned consciousness. And to even begin to explore our conditioned consciousness, we have to first train up our skills in awareness, focus and concentration on subtlety (ie: thoughts, feelings, values, intuition).

These days, those skills are rare. How often do we see people sitting at a meal together looking at their phones because the present is apparently too dull to focus on exclusively? When was the last time you felt you had someone's undivided attention? When was the last time you gave something your undivided attention instead of thinking about the best angle for the photo you'll take of your experience to share on social media? And I'm guilty of all of the above, which is why I'm so clear on the problem.

I hear ALL THE TIME about how people don't like meditating because "it's so hard". And any of us who have meditated know, the "hard" is just sitting with the fabric of your mind, in quietude and focus on it, without engaging with it. Exhausting in it's simplicity compared with being flooded with images and words and connections. Patanjali's 8-Limbed Path of Yoga describes this practice of focus or concentration as the 6th limb or dharana.

One thing I love about Patanjali's path is that it seems to be an accessible funnel made for humans living in the world. We start with the ethical practices to engage with each other, then move to the practices to regulate our physical bodies, our breath, our senses and then we finally get to tackle our conditioned minds. What this tells me is, its not easy given that there were 5 full limbs before it! This path gives us a "big picture" - a why for the asana we love.

What the hell does this have to do with goats? Simply put, Goat Yoga makes me feel like yoga is perceived as a joke. And by extension, that I am too. Goats aren't known for their tranquility. They're playful, mischievous and bold. Given that without goats we struggle to focus (with our own internal goats one could say), I fail to understand how adding actual goats to an already challenging internal practice makes any sense at all?!

"They're gimmicks and every single one of them provides distraction from your own inner landscape, they don't support inner focus."

Let's be honest. Goat Yoga and it's friends Beer Yoga (buuurrrppp), Llama Yoga (yes, real), Voga (fashion and yoga y'all!) and Noga (nude yoga of course) aren't about dharana. They're gimmicks and every single one of them provides distraction from your inner landscape, they don't support subtle inner focus. And they're embarrassing to some of us sincerely trying to help people liberate themselves from the suffering that conditioned consciousness often causes. And before you say "But it gets more people doing yoga!", just know that I get that. It gets people coming together and doing some poses and laughing and that is fantastic! But I don't see ANY of these classes with a Part 2 or a Next Level where these newbies who needed goats or beer to practice get to explore some of the deeper dimensions of the practice without the hook. Why not call them what they are and take Yoga out of it? Baby Goat Therapy! Happy Hour! Farming! Fashion Show! Naked Stretching! All those things sound great! Ok, actually, no naked stretching for me. But there ARE ways to make yoga more accessible without making a joke of it and adding distraction as a gimmick.

It gets really ridiculous when I think of other professions trying to do the same thing. Goat Accounting - meet with your tax advisor and a troop of baby goats, don't forget to laminate your 1099s in case they shit on the desk! Llama Lawyering - meet with our resident llama and then we'll write out your will together. Naked Healthcare - don't bother getting dressed to come for your check up - we didn't! 

It's hard to imagine these things happening because they are perceived as "real" professions. Teaching yoga is just a hobby, right? If we ever want to be respected, it's important that we use some discernment and consideration for how our actions may impact the rest of our industry. Perhaps I'm just naive in saying that since it often means saying no or pushing back for the greater good when the alternative is a momentary flush of students and cash. So what's the motivation? If you respect this practice and believe in it's worth, we could all stand to think about how our actions and presentation impact each other and all our students. When we glorify asana, we limit the power of the practice. When we are willing to do anything for free, we diminish the value of our teaching. When we use any means possible to get students in the door, we risk making a fool of the whole industry.

Let's come together and try harder to find ways to be of service that still highlight the value of transcending conditioned consciousness. Let's have fun together too! I'm driven to reliably resource people in working with the suffering that arises in all our lives. An afternoon playing with goats doesn't usually leave you with a reliable tool, just a temporary bit of joy. 

Now I'm gonna make like a goat and just bleat it,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

If Integrity Falls In The Yoga Forest And Nobody Talks About It, Does It Make A Sound?

by guest blogger Taylor White Moffitt, LCSW, RYT 200

Life is so weird, don’t you think? We live in a world where every day we have a chance to “like” someone’s images, words or actions through social media. Our strange little view into people’s worlds, putting our rubber stamp of approval on their every move. As time goes forward Instagram, Facebook and Snap Chat get shinier and prettier. Especially as it comes to the world of Yoga.  Poses while balancing shots of tequila on ones’ head, a handstand in front of the Taj Mahal, bikini shots by the turquoise waters of someone holding eka pada galavasana while the water and sunlight splashes over them. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t oppose yoga poses or social media.  What I oppose is how often these pictures and posts don’t tell the whole story. They don’t speak to the truth that the yoga teacher at the front of the room just relapsed back into his alcohol or drug use.  They don’t speak to the truth that the student in the back row was injured last week in a pose that she didn’t know how to get in or out of. They don’t speak to the things that matter most—the ethical limbs of yoga and its practitioners upholding them.  If we yogis and the practices of yoga are to survive the intense pressure and growing pains yoga continues to move through, we must start seeing and speaking the whole truth.  The truth that covers topics such as some of the things we learned as teachers and then taught our students we now know were not safe or helpful for the body.  The truth that the blasting heat in the room and everyone’s joy around sweating like pigs was sometimes too much and it blew out some people’s adrenals.

The truth that there is dishonesty, insecurity and struggle in every yoga room, every day.

As a psychotherapist and someone who spends a lot of time in her head, I found yoga asana as a respite from my exhausting mind.  I could practice asana for 60 minutes and feel a reprieve from monkey mind (because unfortunately it is my circus and they are my monkeys).  Yet in addition to a reprieve I felt some serious shit getting stirred up. About who I was, what I stood for, how my actions were affecting me and others.  And yoga asked me to set that shit straight.  To take right action, to apologize, to mend my ways and commit to a new way of being that was already offered to me in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the yamas and niyamas, by everything that is yoga.

We are at a precipice in the yoga movement here in the United States. Shiny Instagram poses, clever “spiritual” slogans and memes, false promises by teachers, studios/schools training and churning out more technicians and teachers than ever before yet the integrity beneath us is shaking and crumbling as we keep stacking more of this falseness on top.  If we are honest it’s all of our responsibilities as to how we got here.  The lack of accountability for teachers and their growth process is modeled for students.  We have teachers lying, cheating, stealing and many who are ill prepared to stand in the space of 5-100 students and have the tools to teach a safe class while holding the space for all the shit this practice stirs up.  If we don’t start giving our teachers skills to do this, our students leave with more disillusionment, injury and confusion from the practice we love.

We have been complicit through collusion. If none of us speaks up about the student with anorexia who practices 2-3 times a day at 3 different studios then we all share the responsibility for not doing our part to truly support that student.  If we train teachers in a week or weekend and throw them in front of students without supervision, mentorship and more training we all share in the conspiracy of letting students think this is what yoga is.  When we see, hear or learn of studios, students or teachers breaking laws, taking shortcuts that puts the health and well being of its community in jeopardy we are cooperating in cheating the system, making sure no one wins.

This practice brought me home. Closer to my bones.  Closer to myself.  I call each of us to look at our practice and ask ourselves how we will take a stand. Not in righteousness or judgment, not in calling people or poses out but in calling people back in.  Calling us back to what the practice has to offer us: a physical place for our bodies to breathe and get strong, a spiritual path to wake up and see where we are out of alignment and a place in our communities where we hold each up from a place of kindness, honesty and integrity.  Without this willingness to get into action we abandon ourselves and even worse, we abandon the practice that is strong enough to hold us up.  And in the world we live in, we need more voices, more resistors, more people willing to speak up and stand up. I call on all of us to start a conversation about how we can do that together.

Taylor White Moffitt, is a psychotherapist of over 22 years, a yoga teacher and student for over 15, and a fallible human for about 47 years. Taylor owns a private therapy practice, teaches yoga and meditation publicly, privately, on retreats and with humor. Find her at

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Mountains Are Calling and We Must Act

by Eve-Lyn Hinckley, CSOY student
Original post on the Oxford University Press Blog

Muir knew that the wilds surrounding him not only fed his soul but sustain us all. Too many of our current elected officials have forgotten his lesson. They seek to sell off our public lands throughout my western home to view them as little more than sources of oil and gas, and to strip federal oversight that has kept these lands there for all of us, generation after generation.

Every time I watch my children run ahead in the mountains above my Colorado home I know why those public lands matter. My training in earth sciences only reinforced what’s always been personal. I’m a mother, a scientist, an educator, and like Muir of late, facing the call to fight for the treasures we all need.

Every year, I take more than my children to the lands around me. I take groups of undergraduate students out of the classroom and into the open spaces around the University of Colorado. I give them their assignment: observe the landscape closely and formulate a question, hypotheses.

Then I hand them shovels and bags and vials. I teach them how to collect soils, plants, water.

They work enthusiastically, even joyously. Then they take their labeled samples to the lab where those vials and bags become data points, data points become graphs, and graphs become the foundation for scientific narrative.

"I want my students to value the beauty of wild open spaces, to know why they matter. I want them to pass what they learn on to friends and family."

In telling a story of the landscape through data, my students follow their curiosity first and learn to think critically. And though they don’t know it, I am starting a movement in my classroom to encourage the growth of more keen observers who turn their knowledge into action.

I want my students to value the beauty of wild open spaces, to know why they matter. I want them to pass what they learn on to friends and family. And I want them to understand that the pressures Muir faced are even greater today, but that we can balance human needs while holding onto nature. But toss out the latter, and the former will begin to erode too.

The wild lands around us that purify our air and water keep us healthier each day even when we cannot be amidst them. According to Muir, the lands feed our souls, bond our families, and open our hearts. I cannot imagine a world where generations to come don’t know how it feels to wander into the wilds without another person in sight.

Now is a critical time to recall the legacy of John Muir: our public lands are not commodities to be bought and sold. They are not part of a real estate empire. They are as inalienable to our nation as the fundamental pillars of our constitution. We must commit to taking the long view and protect public lands, open and free.

One day my children will be grown and able to camp alone under a wide, starlit sky. I want them to know that this gift, initiated by Muir, was stewarded through the years. That I stood up for safeguarding the cool air, the towering trees, the shadowy canyon walls that surround them. And that millions of others did too.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jai Hanuman - A Heroic Sequence To Ignite Your Devotion!

by Gina Caputo, founder and Director of the Colorado School of Yoga

For many of us, “the splits” is an elusive and desirable pose we start striving for from our first time on the mat. Like finally being able to touch our toes, the splits can feel like a valid way to measure our success and evolution on the mat. And in class, it’s one of the asanas that causes the most side to side glances amongst us! But the truth is, I was disappointed to discover on the day I finally touched down in splits, nothing big happened! No fireworks? No spontaneous insight? No shift in self-perception? Soon enough I realized that because I was only practicing the pose physically, it’s potential was still untouched! And it’s true power begins with it’s story...

In the Hindu pantheon of deities, Hanuman is one of the most celebrated and beloved of all. Known for his unwavering devotion and love to Rama, he is the consummate hero and the ideal devotee. Powered by his ardent devotion and bravery, Hanuman is able to achieve the impossible: take one giant leap across the ocean from India to Lanka, outwit hideous and clever demons of all sorts, shapeshift on demand and bring an entire mountain back to Ram in one hand. And when his reverence and love for Rama and Sita is challenged, he rips open his chest to expose them inside him, in the space of his very heart.

When you know Hanuman’s story and what fuels his heroics, “the splits” no longer feels like an adequate name for such a potent asana. HANUMANASANA is named for his impossible, fearless leap across the ocean and when we embody it with courage, devotion to living fully and undying love, we start to feel it’s energetic signature. And that’s when the magic happens - when it ceases to be about your hamstrings’ or hip flexors’ flexibility and becomes a whole body mudra, when you align yourself wholly with Hanuman’s devoted heart.

Hanuman Ki Jai!
You can either start this fun and invigorating practice with a few rounds of Namaskars or just dive right in!

Monkey Utkatasana Variation 3-5x
Like a monkey hanging from the vines, grab on and pulse with your breath. First sit in Utkatasana with your feet hip width apart and extended vine grabbing hands! On an inhale rise up a little, on your exhale sit deeper and repeat. Monkey faces and sounds encouraged.

Anjaneyasana Pulsation with Hanuman Kriya
After Monkey Utkatasana, fold forward and step back to downward dog. From there, step your right leg through to Anjaneyasana and enjoy some prana moving pulsations here! Anjaneyasana or Lunge was named after Hanuman’s mother whose name was Anjana (Anjaneya means son of Anjana). After pulsing 3x on your right leg, jump to switch your feet and pulse 3x on your left leg. Repeat this 3-5x each leg - JUMP SWITCH and smile a lot!

Monkey Utkatasana Variation 3-5x again!
After your last Jump Switch! in Anjaneyasana, step forward to Utkatasana again and finish off this heat building wave with your feet together, squeezing your inseams together to feel your leg power and then sweep your arms up on your inhale and back along your hips on your exhale. Huge breaths here and release anything left that might inhibit you from having fun with this. Repeat 3-5x!

A Hero’s Beginning
We’ll begin the next sequence at the top of the mat in Ardha Virasana or Half Hero. Hanuman is most certainly a hero and he is often depicted in this asana. Start with your left leg folded under you, your right leg bent in front of you. Take a moment and pause connecting with your own heroic heart and what you’re devoted to. From there plant your hands and free the leg under up to Standing Hanumanasana.

Step back from Standing Hanumanasana to a Virabhadrasana 2 base. As you sink in deeper to your powerful base, feel yourself being tested and respond with heroic, victorious breath. Stay here 5 or more breaths before straightening your front leg and extend out, out, out for Trikonasana. Here, feel that radiant quality of Hanuman. From here, rise to the challenge of shifting forward and lifting up into Ardha Chandrasana. Imagine that your extended leg is like Hanuman’s tail and really shine out through your heel. Open wide and be brave enough to maybe fall! Test your limits!

Step back from Ardha Chandrasana into Virabhadrasana 2. Then take both hands down and step back to plank. Enjoy a connecting vinyasa to take you back to Adho Mukha Svanasana. From there, step forward and kneel down into Ardha Virasana again but this time with your right leg folded under you and begin the sequence again, this time on the left!

The Next Leap

After you complete both sides, we’ll begin the next wave the same way. Pause in Ardha Virasana with your left leg folded under you and remind yourself of what you love the most. After a few contemplative breaths there, lift your left leg up into Standing Hanumanasana.

From there, step back into Anjaneyasana (Lunge). Feel your base! And from that strong and steady base, rise up into Crescent Pose. In Crescent we’ll ignite with a HA Kriya. On your inhale, extend your arms up overhead with your hands in fists like Hanuman’s mace and as you exhale, powerfully chant HA! as you pull your fists down. Then on your next inhale, extend your fists forward and as you exhale, chant HA! loudly as you pull them back in. Repeat this cycle up to 9x. Feel the mudra and hear your essential voice!

Son of Anjaneya
From here, slowly release your back knee down into Low Anjaneyasana and enjoy a hip flexor lengthening pulsation that feels a lot like cat/cow in low lunge. Start in low lunge. On your inhale, coil up, hollow out and press your belly away from your front thigh, on your exhale sink your hips down while you press your heart back and away from your front thigh. Ahhhhhhhhhh. Repeat 3-5x.

After pulsing in low lunge, take your elbow across for Parivritta Anjaneyasana (Prayer Twist). Either keep your back knee down or lift your mighty back leg! After 5 breaths there, untwist and release back into Ardha Hanumanasana (Half-Splits). On an inhale, lengthen out over your leg, on your exhale, bend your elbows to go deeper, try keeping your spine very straight and your heroic eyes slightly forward. Repeat that pulsation 3x and then enjoy 5 deep breaths in Ardha Hanumanasana.

From Ardha Hanumanasana, shift forward again to Low Anjaneyasana and then draw your front leg back to Plank. Enjoy a connecting vinyasa to take you back to Adho Mukha Svanasana. From there, step forward and kneel down into Ardha Virasana again but this time with your right leg folded under you and begin the sequence again, this time on the left!

Moment Of Truth!
We’ll begin our final wave just like before, dropping down into Hanuman’s most benevolent asana. Pause in Ardha Virasana with your left leg folded under you and this time connect with selfless service. How can you uniquely serve the people in your life and teach by example? After a few contemplative breaths there, lift your left leg up into Standing Hanumanasana.

From Standing Hanumanasana, step back into Low Anjaneyasana and shift back again into Ardha Hanumanasana. Feel free to explore any micro-movements that will help free up your hamstrings and calves. Begin to slide your front foot forward and edge your back foot back. Pause and remember it’s not just a fancy pose. Putting a block under each hand so that you can keep your hands alongside your hips will have you leaping across the ocean in no time. Blocks under your hands are Hanumanasana’s best friend, I promise! Let go of any attachment to outcome and pay close attention to sensation. Pause at your edge. Puff your heart forward like Hanuman and smile with the thought of your Beloved. Don’t just DO the pose, FEEL it!

After several magnificent breaths, shift yourself back to Ardha Hanumanasana.

From Ardha Hanumanasana, shift forward again to Low Anjaneyasana and then draw your front leg back to Plank. Enjoy a connecting vinyasa to take you back to Adho Mukha Svanasana. From there, step forward and kneel down into Ardha Virasana again but this time with your right leg folded under you and begin the sequence again, this time on the left!

After you enjoy the left side, come forward and all the way down onto your belly. Take anywhere from several breaths to several minutes in Pranamasana. Full prostration before that which you are most devoted to...

Let’s finish this off by coming onto your back for a playful Purna Chandrasana (Happy Baby). And like a monkey might, allow for any spontaneous movement to arise. This is all for you. Eventually, release your feet down, soles together into Supta Baddha Konasana. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly simultaneously feeling your tender heart and the fire in your belly. Enjoy as long as you like and when you’re finally ready, unfurl into a blissful Savasana.

Gina’s passionate and inspirational style of teaching is a balanced fusion of informed, vinyasa flow yoga with attention to holistic alignment, personal evolution and humor called Integrated Vinyasa. Always with a nod to Hatha Yoga’s austere roots and intelligence, she feels its essential for our yoga practices to feel less like busy work and more like a powerful, embodied celebration. When she’s not teaching classes and teacher trainings in Boulder, she’s the Yogini On The Loose spreading the love far and wide.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gurus, Gossip, and Gaslighting: Tending To Ourselves and Our Tribe During Tumultuous Times

by Tali Thomason

“I don’t really know him that well but he practices yoga so he’s got to be a good person, right?”

Have you ever said or heard something like that? Maybe it’s online dating or making new friends or a new business partnership but you’ve said it or thought it. I know I have and lately I am having more and more conversations with friends and even with life-coaching clients about the false sense of trust we have with our fellow yogis.

While yogic studies give us guidelines, the reality is that someone’s ability to press-up to a handstand in the middle of the room or share breathtaking yoga selfies doesn’t guarantee they live in accordance with the Yamas and Niyamas. Bottom line – yoga doesn’t automatically make you a nice or good person. Even though we know this about ourselves, we know that it is an ongoing process, sometimes we just give our trust away and let people in because they’re fellow practitioners and unfortunately, we can end up very hurt.

When it comes to taking care of ourselves and each other there are three areas that we can focus on – Gurus, Gossip, and Gaslighting. With a little transparency and care we can avoid some heartache, dings to our pocket books, and protect our faith in humanity and love.

First let’s talk about Gurus. By definition a Guru is a spiritual teacher and usually one that imparts initiation. However, in Western culture, Guru tends to mean expert. A true Guru is spiritual leader - someone who has dedicated their life to living in accordance with their spiritual beliefs and transmitting that knowledge to others. Often, we fall so in love with how we feel after yoga that we award this title to the teacher. We seek out mentorship with these individuals because our experience in their classes makes feel good about ourselves. Unfortunately, a good yoga class doesn’t always translate to a great teacher training or mentorship. I implore you to research your teachers well if you’re going to study with them for your teacher training or any form of mentorship. Ask questions and ask for references. Ask who they study with. The best teachers are always students. If your intuition tells you to keep looking, then keep looking. The right teacher will show up at the right time.

Now when it comes to asking around about other people’s experiences you may feel like you’re Gossiping or inviting gossip in. This is such a fine line for yogis. We don’t want to talk about people poorly but sometimes people do bad things and by not discussing them honestly we are hurting each other.

In the past year I have heard of people
  • signing teacher training contracts with payment plans and then cancelling their credit card to avoid payment
  • a teacher offering advanced trainings claiming to be registered with the Yoga Alliance and featuring international teachers when in fact none of that was true
  • teachers partnering on retreats with other teachers and then embezzling money from the joint account
BAD THINGS HAPPEN EVEN BY PEOPLE WHO PRACTICE YOGA! So when it comes to asking for referrals notice if the person providing the referral seems as though they’re providing you necessary information in a kind way. If you’re hearing negative experiences are they repeated by others or does it seem to be a one-off incident? What should be taken with a grain of salt and what is something with gravity? When giving referrals always be kind, always be honest, and always give only necessary information.

The final thing we should keep an eye out for is Gaslighting. Manipulation happens everywhere, even in yoga. Unfortunately, when someone is behaving badly there are various steps they will take to protect themselves:
  • They will want to keep you from comparing notes with others. They may tell you that someone said negative things about your or refer to others as “crazy”.
  • They will challenge your dedication to living a yogic life. If you don’t want to work for free you’re being selfish. If you want to work at another studio you’re being disloyal. If you seek advice from others about a situation you’re being a gossip.
  • They may try to convince you that something was your idea like signing up for a training you cannot afford or picking up a class that you didn’t want to teach.
So if you find yourself in a situation with a Gaslighting peer, friend, teacher, and/or mentor what can you do? Take notes, document, interact via email, and if something feels fishy talk to other people. Call out gaslighting and manipulation for what it is and do not be afraid of comparing notes with others. As long as you keep the conversations productive, kind, necessary, and honest you won’t be gossiping but rather protecting yourself and your tribe.

I honestly hope that if you’re reading this you never need this information. The tides seem to be turning a bit and we are learning to protect ourselves and our community through transparency. Please remember – yoga gets tender. We make ourselves vulnerable. We share deeply and love with a vibrancy. It’s okay to guard that love and not give it away and not let just anyone with a nice Pincha Mayurasana in.  When the right mentor, friend, lover, business partner comes to light your intuition will guide you and you have the guidance of your tribe as well.