Ashtanga Magic: Lessons from Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor and Samantha Reynolds

Postures, looking, and breathing. Many years. Shanti (peace) is coming!" -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Did you ever feel that the Ashtanga yoga practice was overwhelming and that the idea of jumping back seamlessly into chaturanga dandasana was impossible? I did, until I went to Kino MacGregor's workshop. 

Ashtanga yoga wasn't always my practice of choice. When I started yoga, no classes were available in my city and the closest studio with an authorized teacher is 2.5 hours away. I was introduced to Ashtanga by Amy Cheung and Andrew Petker, who offered a free introductory workshop about Ashtanga at the Shangri-La Springs Wellness Center in Bonita Springs. Since I was new to yoga, I attended every style of yoga I could. After that workshop my curiosity grew. When I traveled, I found Ashtanga classes and I purchased David Swenson's Ashtanga manual. But there is only so much you can get out of reading a book and the Ashtanga method (or any style of yoga) requires guidance from a teacher. 

I've never taken one of Kino's classes and at the last minute I booked her Saturday workshop on the magic of Ashtanga. Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher and one of the most prominent Ashtanga teachers in the world, studying directly under Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. She is also the co-founder of the Miami Life Center.

Here is what I learned:

It's All About the Tristana: Postures, Breath, and Gaze.

The magic of Ashtanga lies in the combination of the poses (including bandhas), gaze, and the breath. It's a series of set postures that links movement with the breath. I understand the postures, but I often overlook the bandhas and gaze. The magic happens with all three. Kino told the group that Guruji used to say, "Postures, looking, and breathing. Many years. Shanti (peace) is coming!" Through this approach, practitioners can gain a deep sense of inner peace and equanimity of mind if practiced over time with devotion.  

Humility - It's Okay to Fall and to Fail

Have you ever seen someone transition effortlessly from pose to pose as if they're floating? Yes, it is possible, but maybe not today. "No problem," Kino said. Kino described her first few yoga classes when she began practicing about 20 years ago at Bally Total Fitness. She just happened to pass a class one day at the gym and she thought she'd check it out. She had no clue what Ashtanga was or what the poses were called. She came to the Ashtanga practice because it fit her schedule. When she moved to New York, she thought she would be able to do it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She had no idea that it was a six day practice, until her teacher instructed her to come at 8am the next day (which was a Wednesday)!

She also said it took her a good five years to feel comfortable jumping back and through. Phew!  Every time I try to jump back or jump through, I collapse into a heap on my mat. I even struggle in revolved side angle, twisting enough to get my hand to the ground.

There is something humbling about the Ashtanga practice. Gaining the strength or flexibility to do the poses takes work and time. Each person steps onto their mat with their own lessons to learn and with the body that they were given. Maybe it comes, maybe it doesn't. It's a practice of humility.  

You Gotta Have Faith

Yoga requires faith. You have to believe in the impossible and trust the process, even if it takes an entire lifetime. Kino reminded us that Guruji said it takes many, many years. What is many years? It's definitely not the few years I've been practicing. Yoga is a lifelong practice and a long road ahead, one I am willing to take.

My Arms are Too Short: Things that Set Us Back

But wait, maybe my arms are too short? How many times have you said something like this in your practice? I vividly remember thinking my arms were too short when trying to lift myself off the ground.  In Kino's Be Strong segment of the workshop, she discussed a few key points that limit one's potential:

  • Entitlement: The feeling that we should be able to do something with out the effort. It should be easy. I should be able to do a handstand by now. This belief just doesn't cut it in the practice.   

  • Unwilling to do the work: Ashtanga and anything you're trying to accomplish requires effort. I realized in my own practice that I skip certain poses and chaturangas. Why? Because it's hard and sometimes I rush through the practice to start my day. Admittedly, I didn't want to put in the work. I realized that if I'm ever going to progress, I need to put in the work.

  • Quitting mentality: My arms are long enough. If they weren't then there is nothing I can do to progress in jumping back and through. What I'm lacking is shoulder strength and body control, which is something that can be developed. This may not be the case in every circumstance. Some people truly have physical limitations. Find out what excuses you're saying to yourself that limit your progress.

Deeper Pose vs. Deeper Peace

Yoga is a path to the self with sincere effort and dedication. As Kino described, "The measurement of the practice is how you are in this world, not how long you can hold a handstand." It's a lifelong practice, and a continual process of self-inquiry. It doesn't matter how deep you go into the pose, it matters how deeply you are at peace in this world. 

Every workshop I attend, every person I meet, is a learning opportunity. The workshop with Kino was a refreshing reminder to stay the course even in times of difficulty. She offered insightful tools to the Ashtanga method that made it seem less daunting. It may take me a lifetime (or two) to jump back, and I'm okay with that. No problem!

Love & Peace!