Movement: A Conversation with Adrian McCavitt

As the child of an artist/pottery teacher, I spent a large portion of my childhood at the local Arts Center. My siblings and I spent many summer days roaming the studios and the art gallery there. It was wonderful to spend time surrounded by artists, teachers and their students. Although I am sure we were more trouble than we were worth, many of the teachers were happy to see us and would invite us into their studios before and after classes. We played school/art teacher on the chalkboards and in the studios of empty classrooms or sat outside on the steps of the building, located on a college campus. We would sit watching the students there for the summer walking with books and cigarettes, desperately hoping one of them would stop and give us some attention. It was a wonderful place and a wonderful way to spend summer days. Now and then, my mother would sign us up for classes there. There was a stunningly beautiful dance teacher, let’s say her name was Roxie (in honor of powerful, smart, sexy women everywhere), and I thought she was the most stunning human I had ever seen. I was almost afraid of her. She wore deep scoop neck leotards and leg warmers. She had a pixie cut and she was strong as fuck. She did ballet, jazz, and modern dance. She was almost animalistic. She was loud and unafraid. Her laugh carried through the entire Art Center. My mother loved her and signed her three ratty farm girls up for ballet class. I don’t remember my sisters being in my first ballet class with me, although I am sure they were there. I just remember trying not to see myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors in my hand-me-down pink tights, black leotard and pink shoes. I looked ridiculous and I felt ridiculous. We lined up at the barre and my first plie felt more awkward than any movement I had made in my life heretofore. Do what? Toes out, knees out? Belly IN??? What the fuck did that even mean? Roxie, in her lovely, powerful, I don’t take shit from anyone voice sing-song-ed in a “you will do what I say” way… “I don’t want to see your lunch, Emily!”. I was traumatized. I loved her and I had already screwed up. That evening I begged my mother to let me out of the class. I promised to take anything else- anything at all. The next week I found myself in “Creative Movement”. Worse. Way worse. Roxie dropped the needle on a record, instructed us to close our eyes and to simply “Mooovvveee with the music, let it take you somewhere new”. (The word sounded luscious when she said it, although I find that hard to type.) I stood there like a statue. Eyes wide open. Belly out. Stuck. I watched Roxie move through the room; strong, graceful, animal-stalking-prey-ish. Belly to the floor, fingertips grasping and pulling her along, then heart to the sky, then toes to the back of her head… I felt like I was watching something inappropriate, but I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to move like that. Needless to say, that was the end of my dance career. I was somewhat saddened by what must have been an immediate mutual agreement between Roxie and my mother about my future as a dancer. The thing is, I loved to move. I loved all movement. My rich grandmother once took all three of us girls to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to see Baryshnikov dance, and to this day it remains one of the highlights of my life. I did move: I rode horses, did cartwheels and eventually played sports. I practiced hard but spent a lot of time on the bench during basketball games. Running was the first time movement was easy and fluid for me. It always felt like a bit of a scam though. Running. You just run. It worked for my body, and it helped heal me in many, many ways. It literally carried me through college. No high was ever as good as a running high, and therefore not worth sacrificing my daily run for. Without it, I can’t imagine my life from age 10-35. It was my health, my therapy, my meditation, my steady. There weren’t many days in those 25 years that I didn’t run. I ran drunk. I ran high. I ran broken hearted. I ran 8 months pregnant. I ran when I was at my best. I ran at my worst. I ran with friends. I ran with my siblings. Running had a way of taking me directly where I needed to be.

And then yoga happened. I watched hours of yoga before I ever attempted it and I had that same feeling I had when I first saw Roxie creatively-moving in the dance studio in the basement of the old Arts Center. It was the feeling that took up residence in the pit of my belly when I saw Baryshnikov float from the floor of the Kennedy Center. It lived there for years. Could humans really fly? In terms of yoga, Patricia Walden did it for me first, then Shiva Rea, Meghan Currie (Have you seen her?), and finally Adrian McCavitt. Here is the thing, I will never, not in a million years, move like any of these women. I don’t have it in me. I don’t feel the music. Adrian on the other hand… he is simply the most disciplined movement artist I have ever seen. Although his movement is insanely creative, it is so disciplined that you can actually see it! To see a photo or a video of Adrian moving is to see disciplined artistry. Oxymoron? No! No way. Creating lines in the body that test the physiology of the human form? Taking strength and flexibility and intertwining them so exquisitely that you’re not sure if the movement is based on one or the other? This is the yoga of Adrian McCavitt.

Think Architecture. Think of stacking bones instead of wood or steel. Imagine some of the most creative architecture in the world today and then imagine using that same philosophy and transferring it to the human body. The first few Instagram photos and videos of Adrian that I saw left me fascinated in a “Huh?” or “WTF” kind of way. I would screenshot them and send them to other yogis interested in creative shapes: “Is this even possible?” I would text. It is. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. I didn’t take me long to decide to reach out to Adrian to see if he would come to Flex Yoga to teach. I imagined he knew some magical alignment secret that was eluding the rest of us. Of course, he doesn’t and there isn’t… its always just the commitment to putting in the work. However, during Adrian’s first visit I was astonished at how many students were able to make a shape with their bodies that they had never made before. It happened with me and I watched it happen with many others. Working on Eka Bada Bakasana had always been more effort than it was worth for me. I was able to muscle my way into it on occasion, but there was no lightness to the shape at all. As I pushed and pressed and tried to lift my left knee from my left triceps, Adrian floated (his feet hardly touch the floor) over and knelt down. “Emily. The work isn’t here (he pointed to my left knee struggling to leave my aching left arm), it’s stacking the knee directly on top of the flat part of your elbow over here.” My feet slammed to the floor. What? “Place your knee here.” He showed me the flat bone on the back of his elbow. I did as I was told. “Now. Pull your heel in tight.” Nothing. My left toes stayed glued to the floor behind me. Seemingly all of the weight of my entire body had slid into my back leg. See?, I internally fumed. Not so easy Magical Floating Yogi. Adrian is a patient man. “Again.” I set myself up again. “Now. (Pause) Move your elbow directly on top of the crease in your wrist.” He took one finger and lightly pressed my forearm forward; elbow above the wrist, heel above the elbow. My back foot floated from the floor. Easily. Gracefully. I literally stacked my bones like building blocks and the work all but went away. I made a shape that has been made by millions of human bodies millions of times before. This conversation, this tiny correction took all of three minutes. Adrian went around the room and worked individually with everyone. “Where are you? What are you working on? Okay. Let’s see it…”

His commitment to this practice and to this way of life is undeniable and insatiable. I don’t think Adrian falters much, although when pressed he does admit that this whole road to yoga happened in the first place because “things had to change”. He isn’t effusive in any way, so I thought I would formally ask Adrian if I could interview him for a story. I wanted to understand how one gets from here to there. I wanted to learn where he had studied and how he knew all of these things about alignment and anatomy that I so wanted to know as a yoga teacher. The answer is (always, damnit) passion and patience. But… learning from those who inspire you is the best way to re-ignite passion and patience. Seeing someone so far along the road ahead of you can be the impetus for change that we all need to keep learning, to keep moving forward. I want to teach like Adrian teaches. I want my cues to be so precise, my movements to be so controlled, my headspace to be so right that I inspire students to do more, to ask for more and to work harder. This is precisely what happens to me after I take a class from Adrian. I finish feeling that the possibility for all shapes exists, it just needs nurtured with time and effort. Adrian stressed over and over again that all of life can provide the benefits of a disciplined asana practice. He stressed that it shows up in many forms as well, that not everyone chooses asana as their vehicle for change.   Several times he mentioned artists, chefs and circus performers as holding the principles of yoga: movement, meditation, discipline, being present and focused. He talked about how any form of “singularly focused meditation” might be the yoga of choice for someone. I could see where Adrian was now, but I wanted to go back to the beginning of all of this and so asked about Adrian’s training. The story is interesting in that it seems like it went from 0-60 pretty quickly. Adrian was visiting his mother on the west coast lamenting a bit about the current state of his life (he was working at a publishing warehouse at the time, before that he spent seven years on a horse ranch doing audio engineering and music production and fixing fences – I get the sense he can do almost anything!) when his mother, a yoga and meditation teacher, suggested he try yoga. They left the restaurant and immediately came face to face with a studio a mere block from the table they had just left. Adrian changed his clothes and was on a yoga mat within the hour. He says that the innate fundamentals for movement were already inside him; he had been a long time climber and his twin brother was juggling fire and knives, he says he and his siblings were all born with “circus blood” and creativity clearly pulses equally strongly through McCavitt veins. It wasn’t long after that that Adrian travelled to San Fransisco for a 200 hour Ashtanga Vinyasa Teacher Training. 50 hour Rocket Training soon followed and yoga became all encompassing. I asked how that worked. Job? He asked for a leave of absence he wasn’t granted. He quit. Adrian navigates this question more carefully than some of the others: I ask him if this lifestyle has to be all or nothing. “Not necessarily, but it is my connection with it.” He mentions that he pretty much holed up in his room practicing asana and studying anatomy for the first year. He says he didn’t really talk to anybody during that time (I believe it, he’s no chatty Cathy. I have a feeling he couldn’t wait to get off the phone with me). He talked about how his community has expanded and that this yoga community is where he spends all of his time. He is at the studio or with other yogis almost every moment. He says this is on purpose, “not in opposition to their lifestyle but as a dedication to mine.” His philosophy that the middle path is not where he needs to be is fascinating, “what I needed to do was to tip the scales in the other direction”. He elaborated a bit on this all-encompassing lifestyle he has chosen, but you won’t find him feeling guilty about it. He understands that spending so much time on self-improvement can seem selfish, but he doesn’t see it that way. It’s the same work of doctors and scientists; the desire to develop yourself and your work as deeply as you possibly can. That if we could each “peel the layers to reveal a deep understanding of ourselves, we can then understand the world”. He believes that from a place of solid internal understanding we will not be “victim(s) to propaganda, but move from an intuitive place, from universal intelligence.” Adrian believes in creativity; many times throughout our conversation he talked about how wide open this lifestyle is, he stresses again and again that this philosophy he has chosen to build his life upon is universal; that we each have a duty to perform a creative solution that the world is asking for, that we each have an obligation to understand ourselves so cleanly, that that expression is inevitable. He talks again about how the best chefs and artists and scientists in the world are doing this same work. It might look different than the asana work we do on our yoga mats, but the practice and dedication are the same. Beyond that, the other aspects of the yogi lifestyle are bound to follow suit: mindfulness will show up readily, meditation will surely be soon to follow.

Let’s break it down a little bit: When Adrian so clearly said “Something had to change”, wasn’t he really speaking of Ahimsa/Nonviolence: a stance of right relationship with the others and self? Wasn’t the immediate dedication to the practice and an unwillingness to go back to where he had been before (socially) a commitment to Satya/Truthfulness and nonviolence, “not in opposition to their lifestyle but as a dedication to mine”? Here we are at the third of the Yamas or “moral restraints”; Asteya/Nonstealing: Looking within for satisfaction and a commitment to not stealing from others or yourself. Adrian spoke eloquently about how this practice and his specific movement goals are just the vehicle to understand himself at a deeper level. Brachmacharya/Nonexcess. Trust me. There is no excess with Adrian. He seems to gracefully live within the limits of enough. His commitment to this tenant is solid. Aparigraha/Nonpossessiveness: The life of a yoga teacher is one of sharing- some certainly do this better than others, but Adrian holds no secrets and one gets the sense that he is highly committed to sharing the benefits of the practice with anyone who will listen. I could go on and on… There are the 5 Observances (Niyamas), followed by Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dyana and Samadhi. I didn’t ask Adrian where he feels he lands on each of these limbs, mostly because it’s probably not my business. I do know that Adrian has committed himself to this lifestyle, that he will continue to creatively express himself through asana, that the shapes he makes with his body would not work if he did not have a handle on Pranayama (study of the breath) and especially Dharana, translated as “holding steady”, “single focus” or “concentration”. He knows and is pleased that the journey is a long one, and that the joy is in the journey. The last bit of our conversation revolved around the tools of yoga opening “room after room” for him: that “mind math, body math and muscle memory” were all rooms that had opened his way of understanding himself and others. He said that each room “opens the door into a room that has lots of other rooms in it”. He is now residing mostly in a very “liberating room that is so clean and obvious that I wanted to base my instructions on greatest stability, control and ultimate balance”. One gets the sense that Adrian has done an immense amount of work to open the door to each of these rooms, and that the size of each room seems to be growing. I get the sense that he doesn’t open too many of the wrong doors. I also believe that it isn’t luck, but a commitment to being disciplined and singularly focused. I don’t mind at all that this particular yoga teacher isn’t the most creative yoga sequence-er out there, and that his movements aren’t sultry or soulful. His practice belongs to him alone. It is artistry in motion that eventually lands in stillness, in shapes so unimaginable that you have to look twice to make sure they are real.

What did I learn from Adrian McCavitt? Not only a light Eka Pada Bakasana, but that asana is simply an artistic expression of self-awareness.

 

To find the other yogis mentioned here on instagram, go to:

Adrian McCavitt – @adrian_mccavitt

Shiva Rea – @shivarea108

Meghan Currie – @meghancurrieyoga

Erin Stehle (Adrian’s partner) – @erinsdownsideup

Naomi McCavitt (Adrian’s sister) – @thicketdesign

The Yoga Dojo (Adrian’s Yoga Studio) – @theyogadojo


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There is one comment

  1. Leah

    I love this! It is so true that there is movement in all of us but we express it in different ways. Beautifully written and it makes me really want to have a class with Adrian (and at Flex!) Thank you for sharing!

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