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,