by Ali Valdez
In addition to hopes for prolonged sunny spring weather, there is more than just Florida sunshine coming our Washington way. Master Astangi, IG sweetheart and yogi extraordinaire, Kino MacGregor will be traveling to Seattle May 1st through 3rd to share her love of the Astanga method, her secret to happiness, joy and inner transformation.
On the surface, the Astanga practice, known for its Vinyasa cycles, big poses and physical rigor can seem like merely the ultimate body workout, the yoga of choice for celebrities and a showcase for bodily perfection.
But as seen through the eyes of its joyful ambassador, there is also a softer side of the Astanga method which Kino shares as the real fruit of her yoga practice. With so many yogi-celebs out there and young yogis eager to self-brand and promote, it is refreshing to see someone of such international success remain so down to earth, rooted to yoga philosophical principles and remaining reverent to her teacher and the preservation of the lineage as handed down. From Mysore to Miami, Kino MacGregor uses social media, print, video and her own Miami Life Center to share the wisdom and practical benefits of this popular yoga practice.
Yoga is in an incredible stage of blossoming into mainstream American life. Do you think yoga to the masses will remain popular or will it be replaced by the next new thing? If not, why?
Kino: There is no real way to see what the future will be for yoga. I believe that it can be as eternal as the quest for meaning in life. If the yoga stays true to its essence as the answer for our purpose in life then more will join in on the spiritual path.
Now, what form of yoga is the question? That is where openness to variety comes in.
Yoga in a hundred years will not look like the yoga of today. But examination of action and search for meaning in life has survived many generations and will continue to do so.
You are the All-American woman and an excellent role model for teachers and students as an avid long time practitioner of Astanga yoga. How do you best motivate students to stay in the practice, to consistently continue to work harder to reach new heights in asana but also internal transformation?
Kino: That’s what I like most about Instagram. Asana is cool, a great way to crack open places of ego within us. For example, you may think you are really strong, but then something comes along in yoga to show you that you’re not. Same when you do a flexibility posture but then you realize there is another one that you are not so flexible that needs further study.
In yoga, there is always something to learn.
I encourage people to use the asana as a tool for inner reflection. It’s never about the shape or form of the body, but the lesson. What are you learning that is making you a better person? Are you becoming more kind and compassionate today?
What can yoga teachers today do to keep the flame of authentic yoga teaching alive? With so many teacher trainings, it seems like the quality of the teachings are being watered down. Brand new teachers are teaching even newer teachers, the philosophies are washing away as the yoga studios are building out. What are your thoughts on this?
Kino: Most important part of the teacher’s journey is to forever remain a student. I hear many new teachers not making their own practice a priority but teachers should continue to study and practice and humble themselves. The philosophy of yoga is so deep and multi-faceted that when you hit a block, there is always something deeper to study. That is why one should remain forever a student. As an example, if you study the Yoga Sutras, they will come into your teachings, infusing them and taking them deeper.
You had the opportunity at a young age to study with a true lineage bearer, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, your Guruji and also with his daughter Sarasvati and grandson Sharat. Few yoga teachers today will ever have that level of rigor in the practice or exposure to Krishnamacharya’s lineage. Please share what the experience was like to study in India under a true master of the craft.
Kino: Studying under my Guruji was extremely humbling, a life-changing event. Just being in such a pure presence made me feel more at peace allowing psychological obstacles to melt away and soften.
Someone whose every waking moment is devoted to the spiritual path enables them to hold a charge so I devote myself to this practice.
Every time I go to the Astanga Yoga Institute in Mysore I acquire some new depth. It is a very intensive format free from distraction. All of my advanced asana I credit to my teacher because he had faith in me, cultivated skills in me and saw something in me before I saw it in myself. It has made me stronger and I have truly benefitted from studying under the master of the Astanga method.
There is increased scrutiny on students’ safety in public classes for poses such as inversions, notably shoulderstand and headstands, including statements that there are no scientifically validated benefits in doing them, not to mention common repetitive use injuries such as wrists in chatturanga. As a teacher, what is your philosophy on teaching inversions notably in a packed room of hundreds where it’s impossible to control the crowd getting people safely in and out of poses?
Kino: I believe the Astanga Yoga Method is the answer. In the Astanga Primary series, students are not taught shoulderstand or headstand until half way through the program. Leading up to that, they are building shoulder and core strength as well as the upper back. That is how the Astanga method was built. In workshops I intentionally build up sequentially with foundational techniques. I focus on the basics, shoulder strength, alignments and always encourage students to respect their limits. Only with all the foundational tools in place will I get people into headstand.
I have a responsibility as a teacher to keep people safe.
As for headstand from a scientific benefit, I don’t know, but from a yogic text perspective, the spiritual benefits of the pose only come when someone can safely hold the pose for three minutes. Building the strength required also has measurable benefits, but in terms of metabolic rate or for spirituality, it’s more about the meditative mind than asana. And the benefits of achieving the meditative mind is a feeling I have felt.
In your opinion, what makes the Astanga tradition so profound a system that you have dedicated your life to this particular practice without diversion into other systems?
Kino: Astanga yoga method is bigger than the individual person.
It’s not about liking or disliking, it’s a grander paradigm that’s about surrender.
It is the discipline behind the practice that can lead you to understand what true surrender is. I don’t know better than Guruji; I am just honored to share the practice. I don’t need to brand it or call it my own.
What other types of yoga, if any, do you practice and why?
Kino: When I am at yoga conference I like to pop in and show my support for my fellow presenters but that’s not about the yoga, but more about the community. What I do in addition to my practice is I take handstand training twice a week. It is useful to remove myself from the yoga world and receive more training in a gymnastics style to make sure I have the right alignments, but really Astanga method is my practice.
If someone came up to you and asked, “Kino, what does it take to have a successful career as a yoga teacher?” What would you say?
Kino: Number one, always be a student and never lose your integrity. Keep compassion as your highest value. Don’t think in terms of lower life values like money. But also do not be afraid to put yourself out there either.
It’s about sharing the gift. Any time I did something in yoga with the intention of making money, it has blown up in my face.
You do an excellent job making yoga philosophy accessible. Your studio also carries a wonderful reference library on a variety of yoga topics. How do you personally integrate the philosophy non asana aspects of the practice into your sadhana?
Kino: I used to make chanting the Sutras part of my daily sadhana to the point where the Sutras live in my mind, they are now in my cells. As a result, I don’t just make quick decisions, I pause. I apply the teachings of the Yoga Sutras to every situation and obstacle. Every decision I make now is weighed against yoga values before they become action.