Not Hot Dog

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Email sent on June 14th, 2018:

Last month I caught up with the recent seasons of Silicon Valley. Short comedic episodes are one of the best ways I’ve found to unwind at the end of a long day of teaching or studying. This show really hits the spot. One story line revolved around coder Jian-Yang played by Jimmy O. Yang in which he was working on an app described as “shazam for food”—you take a picture of food with your phone and the app identifies the food. Bear with me here, I’m about to include a section about hot dogs. I promise this will tie into my evolution with teaching yoga very soon. Besides, it’s June! Nothing says summer like hot dogs, right?

Right. So, the shazam for food app was ready for testing and all the developers gathered around a table of various food items. First up, hot dog. Photo snapped of hot dog, app produces label, “hot dog.” Success! Next, pizza was tested. The label on the screen read “not hot dog.” Then a plate of spaghetti. Again, “not hot dog.” You get the idea. The shitty app this kid created could only recognize “hot dog” or “not hot dog.” Too little effort, care, and consideration created a narrow scope of identification. Watch a clip if you feel like a laugh.

There are people out there who I consider yoga evangelists—zealous advocates for upholding lineage and tradition through a narrow lens. When teachers present a way as the way (because so-and-so said), this snuffs out critical thinking. Much like the shazam for food platform, the yoga evangelist identifies only “yoga” or “not yoga.” For a practice that claims to free the practitioner from attachment and habitual patterns, this sure does perpetuate a lot of attachment and habitual patterning, am I right? It’s wild how these patterns cut deep grooves and there's definitely some comfort and complacency in hiding in the grooves. I know. I was there for a long time. Yoga supposedly asks us to identify and strip away these patterns but at the same time, the practice is marked by them at every turn.

I recently stopped saying “namaste” at the end of my classes. Whoa, was that awkward and uncomfortable! I have to actively work at not saying it and my students still seem confused, like “Is class over now?” “Do I just say thank you and go put my props away, or what?!” I’m missing that magical “annnnd, scene” to signal the end of my high school improv comedy bit. I’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out together. Awkwardness is a great tool for learning.

Anyway, back to hot dogs. Who can (or wants to) survive on hot dogs alone?

I certainly cannot survive on hot dogs alone. I’m venturing out into the wide and expansive terrain that is “not yoga” which includes anything and everything else I find illuminating and useful as a human living in the world. I might eat a hot dog every once in a while, or offer my students some alternate version of hot dog that the evangelists’ app might classify as “yoga.” Just as we have building blocks for yoga poses, some yoga poses serve as building blocks for valuable human movement. It can all live together in my world and I don’t care what anybody calls it. 

Ahh, we’re through the hot dog bit, and not one downward facing dog joke. Aren’t you relieved?

This quote by Moshe Feldenkrais got lodged in my brain the other day and here it sits for continued contemplation:

“The truly important learning is to be able to do the thing you already know in another way. The more ways you have to do the things you know, the freer is your choice. And the freer your choice, the more you’re a human being.”

By the way, I must reeeally love food (I do!) because all of my yoga metaphors are tied to it. If you missed my last email where I describe the yoga sutras as a mixture of pizza toppings I can’t stomach, you can check that out here. I’ve received many responses and it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. Below are just a few. Thank you for contributing to the conversation!

“This resonates with me on soooo many levels. Thank you for your honesty, your transparency, and your boldness! I hope that as Yoga continues to gain popularity and momentum, more instructors have this same epiphany.”

“I laughed.

I swooned.

I said uh-huh!

My brain had questions

and my body felt at ease.

All from your email.

I await the next one…”

“Caitlin, I love this!! I can't wait to see where you take it. The freedom from no longer trying to fit into something you didn't realize you didn't have to fit into is THE BEST. I feel like the last couple of years have been all about this, in almost every arena—and getting to discover what DOES fit is like the greatest reward at the end of that.”

“This is some powerful writing right here, Caitlin. Full of truth-telling and reflection and controversy. I loved reading about what you're up to! I so wish I still lived in the city; I'd come to your classes in a heartbeat.”

“I hope you feel lighter after sending this email, and I hope the responses you’ll receive will only continue to send you soaring. I wish this for you as you’ve given this to me. Your emails and constant reinforcement has been the little nudge I’ve been needing... just to know that we aren’t alone in these thoughts... and we aren’t wrong by thinking or feeling this way! Thank you for using your voice. I see you. And through you, I can see me now too.”

In other news, my first two weeks of PT school have been awesome. It’s a treat to study with passionate professionals and highly interested learners. Also super grounding in this moment to speak in precise terms that everyone understands. I’m reviewing every nook and cranny of the human body along with clinical applications in a lightning fast 8 week summer term. Cadaver lab is blowing my mind. I love, love, love it. More on all of this coming soon in my next email. 

I’m still teaching classes at YogaWorks. Since I’ve fully let go of trying to read as “yoga” to any unsuspecting stranger who wanders into my class (my regular students already know what I’m up to), I’ve been getting some interesting feedback. At the end of my level 1 class, one new student told me that she feels like she can go home and practice the things she learned. She told me that when taking other beginner classes, she always felt like the instructions were too dense and complicated and she felt like she was just holding unfamiliar poses for a long time. Because of this, she didn’t feel confident practicing anything on her own. She told me that she didn’t realize all the ways she could move intuitively, and after taking my class had many things she could easily reproduce. This is the best possible feedback I could receive—knowing that my teaching has empowered agency for self-guided practice.

My summer PT term has slowed progress on online videos, but I promise to get more to you soon. I’m working on a one hour class called “The Class That Leads Nowhere.” It will be an hour of warm-up for the whole body. Lots of intuitive movement. Nothing fancy. No pursuit. No experience necessary. No equipment required. Light cuing so you can enjoy silence or play your own music in the background. You’ll be able to do one or two short sections or the entire hour as time allows. I’m stoked to roll it out for you.

Cheers to summer! 

Caitlin