Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Interview with our Founder Gina Caputo by David Telfer McConaghay

David: We’re here to talk about the Colorado School of Yoga. The new venture you are pioneering that started to take shape amidst some big obstacles last year, right?

Gina: YES! The obstacles that were the catalysts for my motivation to form the Colorado School of Yoga began with a complaint from a yoga teacher in Denver who felt that yoga teacher training standards were too low, were poor quality and that the state of Colorado should start regulating them for fear of people getting injured and ripped off. When I became aware of this happening, though I don't entirely disagree with the opinion that our industry needs some work, I felt that the Colorado Department of Private Occupational Schools was an inappropriate choice of organization to oversee the conduct of Yoga Teacher Trainings. I believed this largely because of the diversity and perspectives that exist within different yoga lineages and styles which makes it incredibly hard for any organization to regulate teacher training programs. Who is to say what is most correct? To make a comparison, there is only one way to drive a truck and therefore regulating truck driving schools educational programs seems feasible. And they do. For yoga, there are infinite ways to teach and practice yoga. So, Yoga Alliance and a group of local teachers went to the DPOS and suggested it would be rather insane to try and regulate something as variable as yoga education. They disagreed with us and said that if we didn't want them to regulate us, we need to get a law passed. So we did.

There were about 2100 yoga teachers, studio owners and practitioners state-wide that came together to voice our opposition. With the invaluable help of a local lobbyist hired by Yoga Alliance, we testified in the Senate and House Education Committee and explained why it was inappropriate for the DPOS to regulate us. We were successful. So, now we have the right to regulate ourselves, so to speak, and the question that I asked myself was “Do I just keep doing things the exact same ways I was before this happened? Do I use my energy to take down the poor quality yoga trainings? Or, do I invest my energy in elevating yoga education and setting the highest possible standard that I can? Obviously the latter won out and my mission at this point is to provide exceptional yoga education for yoga teachers both in Colorado and anyone else who wants to join us. Everything we do must be of the highest possible quality and with utmost professionalism.

D: The Colorado School of Yoga is a name that makes a bold statement. Tell us why you chose it.

G: The intention for this school is far greater than me, far bigger than Gina Caputo as an individual. So to name something related to me like the "Gina Caputo Yoga Method" is limited and in contrast to my vision as a school. So, I looked for another name that represented my vision of us as a community raising the bar. Colorado doesn't attract apathetic, lazy people - on the contrary, it is rich with activists! In a way, the name of the school is an ode to the state and the people that I feel have elevated me to become clearer about what is important and give completely what I have to offer.

D: In major U.S. cities and smaller urban areas like Boulder, there is a deluge of yoga teachers competing for slots at studios. For aspiring yoga teachers, how do you recommend they approach “breaking into yoga” given the competition?

G: The sooner you can get down to the business of knowing yourself, figuring out who you are and identify what your natural gifts are, the sooner you will be able to have a broad impact as a teacher. I’ve heard people say, “The last thing the world needs is another Vinyasa teacher.” I agree to the extent that the last thing we need is another Vinyasa teacher who hasn’t done the work of assessing who they are, what they are passionate about and what the world needs. We DO need teachers who are inspired, lit-up, aligned with their gift and their passions and who feel strongly of being of service in this precious life. That would be my first recommendation, put yourself in a community or with a teacher that can help identify your natural gifts and how to apply that to what the world needs.

Secondly, embrace hard work and thinking outside of the box. We have many communities we have yet to reach out to in a thorough way. To get to these other communities we have to be creative, clever, forge partnerships, think radically, work ten times harder. It will require a lot. That would be my advice, there are the roads less travelled and there are the roads no one has stepped on yet. A lot of teachers see the path ending in major yoga festivals, which are incredibly fun to be a part of, but in the future I see the best opportunities going to people who are thinking much bigger than that.

D: At the end of one of your classes recently, you said that teaching never gets old for you. What is it about teaching that has held your attention and kept dedicated for so many years?

G: It all boils down to relationship. Every time a student shows up and they are ready to investigate, inquire within and look at the inner landscape, I realize what a big deal that is. It took effort, sacrifice and compromise. It took commitment, curiosity, and enthusiasm. When I see that people show up, I remember what it took for them to make space in their lives for this. And then when I watch them struggle with staying focused, getting relaxed, firing themselves up or sustaining something, when I watch their willingness to go through this challenging self-inquiry, I find it deeply moving. Witnessing people in intimate moments of self-transformation, that's what makes me excited to teach every single time. To be a part of that on a regular basis is an incredible privilege. When you see an adult wanting to shake things up and understand, to see more clearly rather than cleaving to the status quo, IT IS AWE-INSPIRING.

D: What’s the most important quality in a yoga teacher?

G: Curiosity. I know the answer most people would give is “compassion” or “wisdom” and I get that but I've thought a lot about this. I say curiosity because I think its the root of all other great qualities in a yoga teacher! It implies an openness and an appetite to learn, evolve and serve. With curiosity as the foundation, all the other great qualities come. So I put it first. 

D: Yeah, that will serve you your whole life. You can always be curious. A yoga teacher is first and foremost a yoga practitioner. You have to do the inner work if you are going to be a guide for others. Maybe that is one of the things you are responding to in the greater community, there are lots of people who teach a great physical class, but not so many that are doing the inner work – which takes irrepressible curiosity, because it can get ugly…

G: Exactly! The thing is, if you are truly doing the inner work, there is no way for that not to come out in your classes. The work that you are doing comes out so naturally in the course of your offerings.

D: It sounds like you have found a group of people who are engaged in that level of self-work and curiosity for your team. Can you tell us about those folks?

G: I am a chronic “Do it yourself” person. So when I felt, with the passing of that law this year, the next step had to be to provide a facility to elevating yoga education and I figured I would build some partnerships with teachers that had strengths that were complimentary to mine. Some of my student alumni approached me about what I was preparing to do and were very enthusiastic and wanted to be a part of it. They are very passionate and professional people that respect the role of teacher and respect the learning process. There’s a quality of not wanting to wait for things to happen to you, but to go out and do them. The teachers I am working with are visionaries and I am really proud that they believe in CSOY and me.

D: Can you talk about day-to-day operations of the Colorado School of Yoga?

G: As of this time, I don’t have a strong interest in running a studio. I won’t rule it out but what we are focusing on right now is year-round Teacher Trainings and Continuing Education intensives. As people start to come to Colorado for these trainings, we want them to be able to practice back home so we are creating online content to serve our alumni community. Finally, we want to give our alumni opportunities to teach classes at the school so we will host sliding-scale public yoga classes where the class income will be split between the teacher, the school and a non-profit organization or scholarship fund.  

D: As you say, it’s elevating the teachers that will then elevate the experience of the public. In this day and age, one can find yoga teacher training in the form of the traditional model where a student sits with a single teacher for years, if not decades, to receive the transmission of yoga wisdom and you can also find studio-based teacher training programs that pump out dozens of newly certified yoga teachers in a few weeks. Where does the Colorado School of Yoga fall on this spectrum?

G: I am a big fan of the Buddha and he would recommend the middle path. I go back to that over and over, what is the middle path? I want to meet people where they are so I am a bridge builder. For example, we have householders who want to teach yoga – they may have another job, children and lots of responsibilities, so to ask them to do an ashram-centric style of teacher training is unrealistic for many of the modern teacher training candidates. I see the beauty and value in the longtime dedication to learning a method or to a teacher, but it may not be meeting people where they are. On the other side of the spectrum, the speed teacher trainings which are sometimes easier on your schedule often don't allow enough time for the digestion, even if the material is top quality, can the students chew and swallow the information that fast? If I have learned anything from teaching yoga for many years now, it is the immense value of time spent doing it. The value of experience surpasses all teacher trainings and transmissions you might get. The teachers and transmissions point you down the experiential path. I fear with the shorter ones that it fails in the experiential component. Yoga education is something you will be drawn to forever. As teachers gain experience, hopefully, they develop an appetite for information that goes beyond 200 and 300-hour trainings and we aim to provide that. I want to honor digestion but still also recognize that we can’t all carve 5 years out of our life for a single program.

D: A lot of what you are saying comes from hard-earned experience. If you could speak to the experience, “If I only knew then what I knew now.” Is there a scenario that you would have handled differently or taken a different path?

G: Two things come to mind. My first teacher Max Strom infused me with a great passion for yoga and I learned a lot from him. Within a few years I had a very adolescent feeling that I had learned everything I could from him, kind of like a teenager with her parents. And maybe five or six years later I truly understood some of his teachings and realized how silly it was to have felt like I really understood it back then. There is "getting it" on the level of intellect and there is "getting it" on the level of experience and the latter cannot be faked or bought. Now as a teacher of teachers, I try to impart that lesson – when you think you really know something, always leave space for more.

The other lesson of equal importance is please, as soon as possible, get down to the business of figuring out what your passions, natural gifts are and what the world needs.  I spent some time feeling like I needed to change into someone and something else, more yogi looking and sounding, and I certainly needed to grow and evolve, but I neglected the things that were inherent and authentic and natural to me because I thought they didn't fit. The changes I sought continued to feel foreign, unnatural and forced. Finally, I let them go and stepped more fully into being just me. Fired up and committed, but just me.

D: Given that being a teacher is an evolutionary process and you are always a student, what is your greatest lesson right now and who is the teacher?

G: Right now, in these last few months of juggling the evolution of the school and our offerings, faculty, students, a brand-new building, travel teaching, local teaching, my practice, my family life... it’s been the time spent in meditation that is keeping my focus really sharp on my inner landscape. It’s the exquisite paying attention of what is happening inside that's keeping me from imploding. Whomever first thought sitting down with your eyes closed, breathing and turning your awareness inside would be a powerful practice was a freakin' genius.