Meet Cathy Connors: A Sattva Yoga Sensation
By Shirin Karimi Tararani
It isn't everyday that you meet a yoga teacher that leaves you totally awestruck. This is exactly what it felt like to meet Cathy Connor's and take her yoga classes. She is so genuine and passionate that it is hard not to be captivated by her humble grace. Yoga styles are varied and the multitude of teachers are just as complex, yet Cathy has something very unique to share, fusing Sattva Yoga with Vinyasa yoga and adding her own personal twist. There is something very special about Sattva Yoga, being that its' wholeness is ever-present. It doesn't miss a beat. On a mission to learn more about her teaching style and her personal journey, I had the honor of asking her some questions. Here is what she had to share with us at SF Yoga:
Here at SF Yoga, we are honored to be a part of your Chakra Program. Can you share with readers what they can expect to gain from participating in this new, unique online program?
Many people in our culture are over-busy, over-stressed, feeling depleted and struggling to cope. This can lead to feeling insecure, unsteady and un-grounded (all things that happen when you aren’t stable in your 1st chakra). I know because this used to be me - I would do anything to find peace within - over-exercise, alcohol, food etc. These “worked” in the moment, but left me feeling ashamed and stuck. The Kriya practices I learned have shown me a different way to connect to an empowered, grounded presence. This 7 day program is about just that and when you are stable in the first Chakra you feel secure, grounded, stable and fearless even in the face of fear.
My hope is that you will walk away with practices you can carry with you long beyond the 7 days. Yoga practices off the mat that you will have access to any time you can’t get to a studio to practice; practices that support you in shifting your energy in a matter of minutes. So I invite you try something new and join me for this journey; and know that you will be honored, accepted and loved along the way.
What exactly is Sattva Yoga and what led you to this form of yoga? Is there something about it that differentiates it from the more common types practiced in the West?
Sattva Yoga was developed by Anand Mehrotra. I met Anand in 2014 and was immediately drawn to him and his teachings. I then took a yoga class from him and was blown away: it was everything I had been looking for in one class. The physicality, Kriya, breath, mantra and devotional aspects--it was all-encompassing and balanced. I had been a Vinyasa teacher and practitioner for years and had also grown quite fond of Kundalini yoga during that time, but I knew that wasn’t quite my practice. So, when I took Anand’s Sattva class my heart broke wide open and screamed “this is it!!!’ This is what I had been waiting for - a practice that intermixed Kriya with flow - I loved it and immediately knew Sattva was what I was meant to teach. It was the best of both worlds and brought a layer of depth to the practice that I was seeking.
I especially love the Kriyas. Kriyas tap into the subtle body, shift your level of consciousness, and wake you up to something new within yourself. The Kriyas in Sattva yoga come from the tantra tradition of yoga and are a way for one to master their own energy. Here is a short video on Kriya:
Tell us a little bit about your personal journey and how teaching yoga came to be. What do you hope to share with future teachers that are afraid of taking the leap to sharing their yoga practice with others?
I was first introduced to yoga as a kid. I remember playing my mom's yoga records and doing the poses– but sports always took priority. In my early 30's I was doing triathlons and I practiced Bikram yoga because my friends did, but there was never a spark or an awakening with that form of practice. I wasn't very flexible in my body and therefore stayed away from yoga because I felt I wasn't "good" at it and I liked to be “good” at things I did (I look back at this point of view and giggle at myself). My hesitation surrounding yoga dissolved in the year 2009 when I discovered Power Vinyasa yoga. I was hooked from the get go!
Power Vinyasa yoga was the perfect combination of strength and flexibility, and the flow aspect of it was captivating. Not to mention the community, tasteful incorporation of music and the spiritual component (something I was craving): it was a complete practice that felt amazing. At the time, I was a psychologist at Sacramento State and was co-leading a therapy/yoga group for women who had been sexually assaulted. We lost funding for the yoga teacher so I took it upon myself to take teacher training so I could keep the group going. I never had the intention to teach, but you can never say never. In fact, during my teacher training, I was asked to audition to teach and so I ultimately "had" to teach via the audition.
I am an introvert by nature, but something was calling me. I was offered the 6 am class and at that time I was newly divorced and had two small children at home. It was my day to have the kids, but when I asked the owner of the studio if I could teach another class, her answer wasn't what I expected.
"No. But if you want to teach, you're a smart girl and you will figure it out," she said. In my mind, I screamed “fuck you," but I instantly got on the phone with my babysitter and set it up (I was paying the babysitter $10 more than I was making so I was losing $10 every time I taught). None of it made any sense in my logical mind. What was I doing? But my heart felt happy and alive and the crazy thing is that by the time I left that first teaching gig, I was making my mortgage payment through teaching. The passion I had for it outweighed the apprehension and I knew I had to do it. So to others, I urge you to follow your heart, even if it makes no sense to your logical mind. Share what you love and be fearless in that.
Who are your greatest inspirations in the yoga world? Is there anyone in particular that you draw the most insight and awakening from?
My teacher Anand Mehrotra – when I met him I knew – every word he said landed in my soul as truth. And the classes I take from him bring me to states of consciousness I could have never achieved without these practices. I had my spiritual awakening at age 27 -- I discovered meditation and felt a connection to God: ever since then I was searching for ways to find that connection again. In 2009, I returned to this search by way of Power Vinyasa yoga, but wanted to go even deeper. Anand knew that this was my path. In fact, Anand says that the true guru leads you to you and that is what has occurred through our connection.
My heart has been split wide open. I remember being at one training with him in March 2016 and after every journey (he calls his classes journeys), I would look over at him and tears would fill my eyes -- tears of love, gratitude, and pure joy. I am deeply devoted to my practice (the full practice -- meditation, Kriya, mantra, pranayama, asana, wisdom) because it has made me a better person, has helped me enjoy life more, to release the struggle, and experience deeper states of love.
It appears that your own practice and way of being in the world has shifted from merely studio classroom teaching to guiding students in newfound ways. Can you delve into how your own teaching has evolved over the years?
I started teaching Power Vinyasa and as I look back I realize that I was in my ego. I was authentic and shared from my heart, but I was invested in how many people came to my class and if I was doing "better" than other teachers. I was essentially looking for validation from the external because of my own feelings of inadequacy and not being good enough. Now, I have more of a desire to share the practices from a deeper experience of love. I don't need anyone to validate me. I share what I share and if it lands for people, that's wonderful, but if not, that's wonderful too. There are so many amazing teachers out there and I trust students will find the teacher that breaks their heart wide open.
I realize that my life's purpose is to share these practices and do so without being consumed in my own head. My best classes are those in which I am fully present, opening the channels for the teachings to flow through. I love to be with my students, seeing them in their entirety, enjoying their presence, and sharing these beautiful practices with them. We come together in a state of yoga (a state of play, love, and grace). Teaching comes from personal experience. The more I have been able to surrender to my path and experience it genuinely, the easier it is for me to teach it. The more I meditate and practice it on my own, the better I am able to teach it. I am not faking it any longer. Teaching comes from within and as I continue to evolve, I am sure my teaching will as well. I am eternally a student and grateful for that.
You appear to be passionate about meditation, which is wonderful. For those of us who are new to the practice, how can we get started on gently incorporating it in our lives?
Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. I think people stay away from meditation because they think they should be calm when meditating or should have a full stoppage of thoughts, or participate in it for unnecessarily long periods of time. There is no set formula for meditation. Yes, there are many types of meditation and it can be very helpful to have a teacher to guide you, but it isn't a rigid practice. Meditation is simply being with yourself in silence. You can start by sitting for 5 minutes a day and witnessing your breath. That's it! Simple right? And if your mind is active or chaotic, there is no need to worry. Our mind is meant to think, but will eventually settle. An increase in the time you meditate will happened organically and isn't something you have to pressure yourself into. The most important thing is to merely do it (not judge it) and trust that no matter what happens during the time you sit with yourself, you are gradually building more silence within. It is hard to sit with yourself, but it is like building any muscle, with consistency you will notice an impact in your life, I promise! And usually I don't promise things but I have seen it over and over again with my students. They tell me that they notice the impact of meditation most when they aren't meditating. They don't realize how much calmer they felt when they were meditating until they stop doing it. Personally, I love doing Kriya before meditating because it helps me to access silence within. Feel free to check out my free video library to try a meditation or Kriya set today.
What is the number one thing you want the world to capture with your teachings?
My wish is for people to realize their beauty, strength, and to experience a sense of peace within. I believe the biggest battle in life is with the self and if we can come into a place of self-acceptance, love, non-judgement, and compassion, the battle will stop and life can be so much sweeter. And it is from a sense of love within that our relationship with the other changes and there will be a natural compassion that grows. If we are able to be kind and loving with ourselves, we will be kind and loving to others. Our relationship to self impacts our relationship with others. So as we make peace with ourselves, everything changes in our lives. It like a domino effect that begins on the inside. We all have unique paths! There is no "right" or "wrong" way to live. As you spend time on your meditation cushion or yoga mat, you will start to awaken to the way you are meant to share in this world. You will awaken to your gifts, and hopefully you will deeply trust what is arising within you and start sharing from that space.
I wish to support people on this path. We all need support, encouragement, and acceptance. It is from that space where we can accept the shadow and step into more light.
To learn more about Cathy Connors, visit www.youromtime.com.