Today on our blog, we’re excited to feature one of our community’s favorite teachers, Dustin McCallister. Dustin has been teaching at Yoga Garden SF for over three years and has grown a wonderful community of dedicated yogis and friends.
If you’ve ever been to Dustin’s class, it may come as no surprise that he has one of the most loyal following in his classes, and if you haven’t, be sure to catch one of his Hatha Align classes that he teaches throughout the week. Dustin’s commitment to alignment and accessibility for all body types makes his class an incredible experience and a deeply satisfying practice!
(YGSF) Tell us about yourself! What are some things that your students might not know?
(Dustin) Hmm… I have a conservatory-style music degree in vocal performance. I have read the entire Harry Potter series more times than perhaps I care to admit. I look exactly like my mother with different hair when she was my age. Teaching at Yoga Garden is the longest I have held any employment in my life (3 years and 6 months!!).
My bicycle, Rafa, a black Bianchi Campione, is my most-prized possession.
I wear floral prints on Fridays religiously (#floralfridays), but I love a good floral print any day of the week! My best friend in the Bay hates yoga.
(YGSF) How did you become interested in yoga?
(Dustin) Well, it’s a bit of a ridiculous story when I tell it honestly… I was living in New York City, was horribly depressed, and so bought myself a membership to a fancy gym (the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers), because I knew that exercise would help me feel better, and because the facility was California-style huge at a time when the rest of my life was New York City small. Now, Chelsea Piers was full of good-looking men already, but the MOST attractive men were all in yoga class, so I started going to yoga class.
Luckily for me, not only was the class full of hot dudes, but the gym had some awesome teachers, and I started practicing with Paulo Hudson regularly and learned a ton. I found that not only did my body feel amazing, but that my mood was improved beyond the familiar effects of exercise.
Yoga helped with my depression, and it helped give me the clarity to admit that I was straight-up miserable in New York City and needed to get away. As I described to my friends and family at the time, yoga helped me “feel better about the world.”
As a side note, the only reason I’m willing to put that so publicly in writing is that my teacher in San Diego, Nikole Fortier, with whom I did my teacher training, has long included in her yoga biography that she started practicing because she was interested in developing a “yoga butt.”
(YGSF) Tell us about your yoga journey. What style did you start in and with whom do you study now?
(Dustin) This needs a bit of background: when I was 10 years old, I started studying Chinese martial arts. I practiced Choy Li Fut kung fu and Yang family tai chi chuan for more than a decade. After ten years, I was finally starting to understand how to move, but a dedicated practice was too much to keep up while studying away at college.
The two systems I practiced were interesting in that they started at opposite ends and moved toward one another. By that I mean that in tai chi, I started by learning to move as slowly as possible, but by the end of my studies I was learning forms that included sharp, sudden, explosive movements.
In the kung fu system, I began by moving quickly, with force and vigor, and by the end of my studies I was learning forms that were slow and seemed to mimic tai chi. I also remember, in my last summer of intense study, my teacher telling me that I probably needed to start lying on the mat for an hour or more and learning the effects of breathing. So, I had a nice grounding in the study of movement and the capabilities of the body from an early age.
As I said above, I started practicing yoga at Chelsea Piers in New York with Paulo Hudson. Paulo taught an alignment-based vinyasa class on Wednesdays and a hatha class on Fridays. In addition to Paulo’s excellent teaching, I learned a lot from the other students in his classes, as well.
For example, one of the Pilates teachers from Chelsea Piers, Juel Bedford, would regularly take Paulo’s class, and I was able to see, up close, an incredible example of distributed body awareness and control. Even though I was new to yoga, the 12 or so years I studied martial arts gave me a strong foundation on which to build my yoga practice.
I moved from New York back to San Diego, and was lucky enough to stumble into Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga, where Nikole Fortier teaches. I really didn’t know enough about yoga yet to make an informed decision about a teacher training, but by some grace landed with a fantastic teacher.
I completed my 200 hour teacher training at Pilgrimage of the Heart. I cannot emphasize enough how much I learned from Nikole–she is a natural teacher, her practice is subtle and powerful, and hers is still the voice I hear in my head when I practice on my own. Nikole studies with Carolyn Belko at Iyengar Yoga North County in Encinitas.
After moving to San Francisco, I have met and studied in spurts with a variety of superb teachers, including Katrin Kuttner, Cynthia Bates, Heather Haxo Phillips, and Sean Haleen. I currently study most frequently with Sean Haleen, a former Anusara teacher who now studies in the Iyengar tradition with Cynthia Bates and Brian Hogencamp.
I have, on multiple occasions, rearranged my schedule to study more regularly with Cynthia Bates, but my schedule changes always seem to coincide with hers…
(YGSF) Why do you teach the way that you do?
(Dustin) I hope that my students will learn how to address and engage with their bodies without me. One of the great boons of yoga is that it can teach us to live with less wild anxiety and physical pain by being present with the body.
I want everyone to have the skills to engage with awareness, action, and alignment as tools for self-improvement, even if it’s something as simple as alleviating a little hip pain from working a job that makes you sit too much.
The first public class that I taught regularly was at Kaiser San Francisco. I taught “Yoga and Stress Reduction for the HIV+ Community,” facilitated by a lovely man at Kaiser who was a yogi himself, and who practiced at Yoga Garden!
No one came for the first five weeks. Then, on the sixth, two men came: one was legally blind, and the other had had a life of good hard living, including being hit by a truck and multiple multiple-story falls. Everything I had thought I was prepared with was thrown out the window, and I had the most effective crash course in engaging with students as teachers that you could ever hope for.
I learned to watch bodies for needed modifications, to adjust my class plans on the fly, to respond to energy and mood, and I learned about the incredible value of attention. That class built into a small but dedicated community, and I owe those men an incredible debt.
At Yoga Garden, I have had the great fortune of finding another dedicated community. I tell my students regularly, but it’s worth repeating: I love teaching at Yoga Garden, and nothing currently in my life is as meaningful to me as the group of students who trust me with their time and practices. It’s an honor to work with such a wonderful group of people.
(YGSF) What is next for Dustin?
(Dustin) Within the year, I hope to finish my flashcard project!!! I am creating a deck of photo flashcards so that students can learn the English and Sanskrit names of poses, and a generous group of students has volunteered to model.
We have 55 or so poses already photographed and edited, and we will do one more photoshoot for a total of at least 75 images. Thank you SO MUCH to the students who have modeled, and thank you all for your patience; this has ended up a more involved (and more expensive) project than I had anticipated.
As an example of these flaschards, here is our good friend Kerri in utthita trikonasana, and Yoga Garden’s own Hannah Moran in parsva bakasana.
In October, I’ll lead my first small retreat in Yukiah, a few hours north. If you are interested, please ask me for details.
In the next several years, I intend to open a yoga retreat center. I’ve been working on the idea of it for several years now, and I’m now at the beginning of moving toward making it a reality. My mom and I are going to work on the project together, and we have a lot to learn, and a lot of work to do.
When it’s up and running well, I’d like to add on a residential school for disenfranchised youth, where kids can live, study, and graduate with practical skills.
I’d also, someday, like to keep my ribs under control. Rib jutters of the world, I see you because I am one of you.
(YGSF) Anything else to say?
(Dustin) Black lives matter.
I am passionate about access and equity. Be you black, brown, trans, queer, fat, differently abled… everyone is welcome in my classes. I still have a lot to learn about the realities of inclusion, but I am willing to do the work and learn.
So please come, join us, challenge me, and help make the whole group’s experience more meaningful and worthwhile. We all benefit from diversity.
(YGSF) We hope this interview inspired your own personal practice and your own path to yoga. We hope to see you on the mat!
See Dustin’s schedule!