When you see Raghunath Cappo in class or on the street, at first his aesthetic may remind you of a punk rock musician, and you wouldn't be totally off track. Back in the day, he performed with two popular punk bands, Youth of Today and Shelter, and was one of the founders of Revelation Records. Yet even back then, he was a seeker and yogi weaving spiritual messages into his music.
These days, you can find him spreading his own brand of yoga magic in studios across in NYC, practicing Bhakti, and leading his hardcore flight school classes focusing on arm balances and inversions. While they are challenging, they are also designed to put his students focus back on the spirituality of yoga, which isn't surprising since he spent years as a monk in India; although these days he is married and the father of four. YogaCity NYC's Dar Dowling recently sat down with Raghunath to get a deeper insight into this dynamic teacher to find out more about what he was all about.
Dar Dowling: You've been a musician, a celibate monk at Krishna Bhakti ashram and now your married with children. How has it all come together?
Raghunath Cappo: I love advanced asanas but my real passion is spiritual re-connection as taught through the tradition of bhakti yoga or the yoga of the heart. The philosophy and music (kirtan) is peppered through even my physical classes. Yoga has never been a "practice" for me. It's a life style. It's not a condiment, it's the meal.
Even in my hardcore musician days - it’s actually a misnomer - as I was a practicing yogi all those years. My band's message was practically no different than my message today. We were strict vegetarians, yogis, meditators - didn't drink or smoke and were propagating positive living, compassion, and empathy. Teaching yoga was a very natural transition for me.
It's natural to integrate all the facets of yogic lifestyle. It's what we are called to do as teachers. In the West we tend to isolate family, recreation, spirituality, physical fitness etc. When I take groups through India on pilgrimage the students get to see how yoga is more of a lifestyle then a "practice." Having lived in India at a young age (I first left for India at 22 in 1988), I learned yoga culture in a different way than people get it here, so it has helped me incorporate it into the way I live, the way I teacher, the way I raise my children, etc.
DD: What was the first class you taught like?
RC: Well I took yoga for years and never taught. And I played harmonium which I loved - but I just played it privately. One day a girl I did Astanga with, a teacher, asked me to sub all her classes while she was out of town. I said "I don't teach - and if I do I chant with my harmonium".
She said "no problem.” So I started subbing all these big classes in Los Angeles. Every place I subbed I got hired on the spot-and over night I had a teaching career even though I wasn't looking for one. I was a singer of a band but I was losing my passion doing it. At the time I was really into practicing yoga, chanting, and doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. But I fell in love with teaching yoga. It just appealed to me and was an extension of what I was doing on stage with music.
DD: How would you describe your Bhakti yoga practice?
RC: Prayer. Japa. Song. Pilgrimage. Service.
DD: Your classes have been described as being physically and spiritually hardcore and demanding – do you think that is an apt description?
RC: Yoga is reconnection. It can be through song, meditation, breath, movement.... my flight school class are for those who want to push themselves through some mental fears about going upside and climb to a new place perhaps they would never go.
It's definitely a metaphor for life, so during the classes I speak the message of the Gita and Vedic wisdom to put this physical jumping around into perspective with the Jiva, with the Guna's, and with God. And we sing. It's like Church meets Parkour.
DD: Flight school classes tend to draw students from all different levels of yoga experience. How does that work in class?
RC: I do get a lot of teachers. And generally it's best beginners don't show up for flight school as it requires some basic understanding of poses. That being said, I try to break everything down to keep it non-competitive and give options for a rainbow variety of levels.
DD: I've heard you have some new endeavors on the horizon, is there anything you want to share?
RC: I'm teaching all over. I love it. I releasing a series of videos from my Born To Fly 100 hour training. "thepractice of bhakti and the study of inversions". I'm also working on creating an intimate retreat center that will provide a sanctuary for students to come for an in-depth study of yoga culture and philosophy and sustainability in upstate NY.