Cat McCarthy Transforms Conflict Into Connection

As an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and Fulbright Scholar, Cat McCarthy found herself overworked and wrung out. After a bout with Salmonella food poisoning, McCarthy committed herself to a healthful yogic path, while in grad school, finding her niche leading non-violent communication training and yoga and conflict transformation workshops.

Trained in Anusara, Kripalu, and the Barnes Method, Cat blends her precision as a yoga instructor and as a storyteller, her first passion, both on and off the mat. YogaCity NYC's Kathleen Kraft recently caught up with McCarthy to find out more about her and her upcoming workshop at Twisted Trunk Yoga on January 16th and 17th.

Kathleen Kraft: Tell us about your take on yoga and how it has informed your conflict transformation workshop.

Cat McCarthy: My whole take on yoga is about cultivating awareness and curiosity, and being able to put ourselves in different perspectives, whether it’s physically, through asana, or mentally. The more perspectives and the more choices we have, the more fluency we have as yogis.

Asana is a great entry point into this realm, but sometimes taking the practice off the mat is a leap and very challenging. The transformation training I’ve been doing is non-violent communication, and the transformation workshop is based on the term ahimsa, which is the first ethical precept of ‘no intent to harm.’ It’s a way of translating what one’s habitual patterns are into feelings and needs. Many of the yogis who take it are pretty embodied in the sense that they have more than just a physical practice, but I also work with yogis who are newer to asana. We practice the ideas in asana and follow it with exercises that shift emotional patterns. The physicality is there to shed light on a new understanding, for example, seeing the difference in how we make observations and judgments and how they are not one in the same.

We all get attached to the strategies we use to get our needs met; the workshop helps you realize what the needs are and that there are often other choices you can make to meet them.

KK: Can you give us a concrete example of how you’ll do this in the workshop?

CMC: In symmetrical poses, we will first explore the energetic matrix connecting opposite sides, for example, between right hand and left foot or left hand and right foot. Then we will bring this awareness to asymmetrical poses. This helps bring a sense of balance to and from the midline of the body. And when our two different brain hemispheres communicate, there's more possibility of introducing new neural pathways. Yoga is about integrating the heart, mind, and body. When you re-pattern on the physical level, it can affect the mental and emotional realms, and vice versa. It all depends from which entry point you choose.

KK: How did you get interested in this type of work?

CMC: I started doing it because I wanted to be a better partner in my marriage. I needed more tools, but, in getting clarity, I realized that I wasn’t having a lot of my needs met. I was stuck in it being a certain way—and I was focused on strategies more than needs.

KK: It takes a steady practice to figure that out, doesn’t it? Can you tell us about how you came to the practice of yoga and how it changed you?

CMC: I came to New York to go to grad school, at NYU, and to work in film, and I pretty much only had a head. I wasn’t in my body much, and it wasn’t until I got food poisoning, ironically at Life Café, that I got into yoga to rebuild and refuel. I was exhausted. Yoga helped me get my energy back. But it became a practice of being in the midst of organized chaos, which is what film production is, and in how to stay calm and centered, as opposed to reacting and doing the habitual thing... Mental flexibility through the physical practice. What I didn’t realize was that it was secretly taking over my life; I took things more personally when I wasn’t practicing yoga.

I remember after 9/11 people were gravitating towards yoga, and people were asking the big questions, including me, so after Hurricane Katrina I went down to New Orleans to help rebuild the yoga community. That parlayed into a lot more travel and becoming a traveling teacher.

KK: Regarding your films, are there any aspects of them that are related to yoga?

CMC: All of the shows I’ve done are about relationships—one that comes to mind was a show called Family Plot about family dynamics set in a funeral home, which had a tragic-comic tone. Another was a docu-reality show set in an emergency room about how doctors impact families, and, in general, how we impact each other. Through the practice of yoga I became more integrated, which helped me connect more fully with other. People let me into difficult, often traumatic times, in their lives.

KK: Can you point to one influence—something or someone who first comes to mind—that has impacted how you think about your life, your yoga?

CMC: In the broad range, the person who first comes to mind is my fifth grade teacher! We made a detective film that year. It was a democratic process—we all voted on it. So that was my entry point into storytelling. We did a lot of things that were unique. He was a renegade teacher—what I learned from him was go to the beat of your own drum. And to have different perspectives on things; there is no one true perspective, it’s just the one you have right now. We’re constantly writing our own narrative, and we re-write it every time we step on the mat.

Catch McCarthy at her upcoming workshop, The Yoga of Conscious Communication: Transforming Conflict to Connection, at Twisted Trunk Yoga, on January 16th and 17th.

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