City yogi goes country: Catching up with Raghunath
Popular longtime teacher Raghunath (born Ray Cappo) took the New York City yoga scene by surprise last September when he announced that he was giving up his regular yoga classes and moving to the Berkshires. It was as if Derek Jeter were leaving the city to step out of the limelight. Imagine.
As a marquee name at the city’s top studios, Raghu built a devoted following of yogis both on his personal story and on his boundary-pushing teaching style. His inversion-focused Flight School classes became a must for intermediate-to-serious students looking to get their practice ready for takeoff.
Now, the former monk says he’s focusing on workshops, mini–teacher trainings, and his perennially sold-out retreats to India each year. Here’s a recap of why you should plan to roll out your mat with this teacher when he’s in next in town.
Raghu came to yoga in the late ’80s, when he was working at a vegan restaurant on the Lower East Side, performing with a straight-edge punk band, coping with the death of his father, and becoming “materially exhausted”—a state that led him to study yoga with Dharma Mittra and eventually spend six years as a celibate monk in India.
Back in the U.S., he began teaching yoga in a style that’s both known for being physically demanding and spiritually rigorous. His goal? To bring yoga back to its spiritual foundations. “We aren’t in training to become great acrobats,” he says. Though that’s kind of a result.
While class with him includes plenty of chanting and dharma talks, Ragu’s signature offering now is Flight School, a workshop centered on arm balances and inversions—and was plenty challenging at the Shala when I took a visiting class recently. The grand finale was an attempt at transitioning from a handstand into Ashta Vakrasana, a feat sort of accomplished by exactly one student of 40.
Not that he expects most students to do that: “It doesn’t matter what level people are at,” he says.
His real purpose for this killer practice? “I use inversions to help people push their fears,” and move the ceiling on what they think they’re capable of. Failing and falling is not only accepted but encouraged.
It’s that spirit that earned him a reputation as a teachers’ teacher—a sobriquet that makes him blush. “I’d rather be known as a teachers’ student,” he insists. So it came as something of a shock when he announced he was moving to a small town near the Berkshires.
So what’s behind the move?
Two of his children, ages 4 and 6, had been diagnosed with selective muteness, meaning they hadn’t spoken in months. New York doctors recommended medication; Raghu, and his wife, Brij, had a better idea: relocating the family upstate, where the kids were enrolled in a farm school and began speaking within a week. “It’s magic when you put your body in the natural world,” he says.
The move has been a good one for the whole family, and he’s maintaining a packed visiting schedule in New York City and beyond, while kicking around ideas to create a home that’s also a center. “I want to give people in the city a chance to get into the country.”
And with Raghu as the impetus, we expect yogis to pack their mats for the trip. Or should we say, flight? — Ann Abel