the world of subtle energies in ubud
“Yoga for me isn’t anything that’s compartmentalized for 2 hours a day, it’s everything. It’s an expression of what we are and where we are in life right now and how we meet it. The practice keeps changing because we change and life happens.”
Cat is a world-renowned yoga teacher and master of the subtle energetics art. Originally from the United States, she’s been living in Bali for the past few years and shares her teachings all over the world. YOGI TIMES caught up with her in between workshops at the Asia Yoga Conference in Hong Kong to chat about her world of yoga.
Natalie Soderstrom for YOGI TIMES: How did you first encounter yoga?
Cat Kabira: When I was 4 years old my babysitter was always doing it around me all the time so I would copy her, but I found her a bit weird so I was thinking to myself I’m definitely not doing yoga. Then my cross-country coach made us do yoga but it was an uncool thing to do for inflexible people. As I grew up and turned 18 I became anorexic and I knew when I was going to college that the normal psychiatric things they do to help people wouldn’t work for me. I knew it was a spiritual crisis but I couldn’t name it that way. I just knew I had to learn how to meditate, it was so clear to me so I started with the meditation practice and it just felt like I came home. Everything made sense.
Later on, my best friend made me go to my first yoga class and I just saw it as an exercise. I didn’t like the poses because I’m highly competitive and I didn’t have the strength but what made me keep going back was the sensations between the poses. I asked myself ‘what is this’ and I got these sparkling and tingling sensations and it’s funny to mention it now because so much of my work has to do with subtle energies. I would look around the classroom to see if anyone else was feeling these sensations. It was until I started teaching myself when I got into a strong asana practice more of a Vinyasa style.
I loved having practices where no one had to tell me what was real or true. I wouldn’t have to read a book, I could just sit down and feel things and discover what was happening in my body. I could feel things realigning. I felt like I discovered some potent magical relationship with myself. It fed my creativity, it helped with my school work, and it helped me navigate my family.
At that time I was pre-med and quickly realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do– but I didn’t want to be a yoga teacher either.
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I then started traveling around the world in my early twenties. The only consistent thing in my life at that time was my yoga and meditation practice so when I got back home I was kind of lost. My teacher told me it was time for me to teach at 22 years old. I felt like a fraud since I wasn’t certified but this was back in 2002 so there weren’t any yoga programs like we have today. I came into it in a very sincere way.
There weren’t a lot of teachers in the community I was in so I had no idea what style I was teaching, I was just teaching what I practiced. Then I got training with a tantric perspective and immediately I was in the subtle energetic world. They also weren’t rigid on the sequencing. My style and practice have always evolved and I like the challenges and the intensity of the movements.
The energetic part has always been there. I went to a mystery school and had a medicine man at 14 years old who taught me how to read spirit animals. At that time I didn’t know I was sensitive. I didn’t know that other people didn’t see or feel the things I felt. Pain and illness have always been a fascination because I myself have never had any pain that didn’t have some deeper undercurrent, and that’s connected to a lot of the work I do today.
YT: Where do you think yoga is heading?
Cat Kabira: It’s a hard question for me since my friends always call me the yogi rebel because I’m out of the scene. Seeing how yoga has exploded in America and all over the world it’s actually been a relief to step outside that world as a teacher. I started teaching pre-social media, pre-Instagram, and I personally get really turned off by all the photos and “check me out in all these poses.” As I was cycling in and out of anorexia, body image was a huge thing for me, and so feeling that I would have to stay in a certain ‘thing’ wasn’t me. If yoga is freedom and meeting our own depth… you can’t really Instagram that!
For me, it was always about the energetics and meeting ourselves at our core, and that can freak some people out. I’m not for everyone! Some people say energy is bullshit and it’s interesting that we have all this science research coming out proving otherwise. It’s cool because I feel there’s a hunger for it now; there’s a hunger for a different depth. Is yoga really about improving ourselves all the time? Because I can feel that that’s addiction itself or can become one. There’s more to it!
I definitely think it’s going to shift but there are still people that think yoga is dancers pose and a workout. I also think it’s cool that it’s mainstream and at some point if we are focusing on our breath and movement we can’t help but start to feel something. That’s the gateway, that’s all that matters. Actually whatever gets us meeting ourselves- and there are billions of ways to do that- that’s the magic. There’s a positivity with getting us to connect inside and I know what I share is the real deal. It’s sacred.
YT: Do you feel as a teacher that you need to keep reinventing yourself? Coming up with new ways of teaching things that follow your own practice as it changes and deepens?
Cat Kabira: Reinvention is the mantra I’ve been sitting under for the past month. Different things come in and I find inspiration everywhere. I tell all the studios that I never teach anything twice, I never repeat myself. The group I’m meeting, where we are in the world, what’s going on at that time– I can’t help but bring forth something new.
Now that I’ve brought my energy school together I’m still testing things out with people and seeing what works. I think for every teacher, there’s the owning of what we actually do that’s authentically real; our gift. We all get insecure, we all compare ourselves. It took a lot for me to be okay with not being “the handstand queen” or anything else because that’s not who I am. It was distracting me from my work when I felt like I had to be everything. I had to learn to own what’s actually valuable and what did I come here to bring through so there’s reinventing in that.
It’s toughest for me in Bali where people know me and I have the strongest reputation so people expect ‘Cat 2012’ or ‘Cat 2014’ and it’s different what comes through. It’s important not to cater to or fall into those expectations, and be clear with people that I’m constantly changing. So that’s there– the pressure. And then, there’s the ‘I can’t help but rewrite things.’
YT: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Cat Kabira: Most of it comes from inside of me when I’m just messing around. I used to be a musician back in the day and the most important advice I got was from a professor at a music school. He said if you want to be a good musician make sure you have a life outside music. I tell my students the same thing.
I do go to classes sometimes. There are some teachers I go to and they give me something that I go home and mess around with it. I’m not a very good student– if you want me to do exactly what you’re telling me, I can’t help but be intrigued while doing something and discover new things. Out of respect, I know now that I wouldn’t study under someone that tells me that if I share it, it has to be in a certain way. I have to work with people that tell me I can mess around with things in any way I want to. That’s just me, I’m always curious.
Students inspire me! That’s how I learned to work with injuries and how I really understood anatomy. I also had to find a way with my eating disorder. I didn’t want to be that person that walked around telling people I was healed because I wasn’t. I found a person who was working with energy healing and who was a psychotherapist who helped and inspired me.
YT: What makes you a great teacher?
Cat Kabira: ’m very particular… (laughs) I think there’s an important part in the transmission and that is humility. I don’t think I’m almighty or that I know everything. I actually care about people, which has also been a problem. I built my entire student base and it’s my whole heart. It is about connections and I keep my trainings small so I actually get to know people. I still keep in touch with students from my first training!
I have a different sort of intelligence and that’s something I used to judge myself for. It’s very multidimensional but in that way, I have access to a lot of different things. What I love about myself, even though sometimes it freaks me out, is that I am a little bit of a pioneer in what I bring and how I play.
My joy and fun of being a teacher. I love to do deep work with people. I never have an easy student, people that come to me have been highly traumatized, not wanting to live. That’s my kind of people and for some reason, I’m very good at that.
I can see someone for who they really are and their potential. I have a real knack for bringing someone in and I have learned to be really fierce which I’m very good at now. When I know there’s a student that won’t make it work with me, I’m good at having them step out. It took me a while to realize I’m not for everyone and I can hold that space. I’m not going to convince someone to work with me.
I think support is important in trainings, mainly because I went through training where I haven’t supported myself. There are times where the deeper work happens, old stuff comes up and no one is getting a language or a context to it. It’s helpful if someone is naming it.
YT: What’s your superpower?
Cat Kabira: I can see and feel the emotional imprints that people are ready to digest. I can just see it and I can put my hand there and things just clear out. My integrity, my ability to see, feel, hear and sense things. The gift I have is that I can see powerful possibilities that I know are there, they just need to move an inch over and it’s there.
I think we all possess it but in different expressions. It’s not magic or any particular skill; I’m just present. We are all wired differently and it all comes through differently. I definitely believe we have access to more things then we lead on. I think we’ve been hindered by how we are conditioned and our fears and the emphasis on what kind of intelligence is wonderful. We are all different.
YT: Any last words of wisdom for our YOGI TIMES readers?
Cat Kabira: So many of us are confused about our yes’s and no’s. I see so many issues in relationships, work situations where we aren’t honest. It creates so much sadness because we hold ourselves back from what matters to us. It’s important that we’re not selfish and we’re actually respecting what creates flow for ourselves. Because when we are in that flow we are doing it not only for ourselves and each other but also for the planet.
When we do things from a place where our hearts light up and we don’t feel like we have to carry things there, then things come to us.