June 22, 2012

Kino MacGregor: Interview with an Ashtanga Goddess. ~ Laura Stefani

Photo: John Miller Photography

I’ve met Kino twice. The first at Miami airport, when I happened to sit next to her at our gate and I asked the dumbest question to break the ice.

“Are you Kino MacGregor?”

In those five minutes waiting for the plane, we talked about yoga, Miami and the workshop she was to give in New Orleans. I found her just as I imagined: perfectly at ease, relaxed, smiling, confident and enthusiastic.

The second time was during a two hour workshop titled Fearless Backbends that I chose because the backbends are my bogey. Kino began with a reassuring introduction, of which I can remember this passage:

“It is perfectly normal,” she said, “feeling uncomfortable during a backbend, because the breath is physically constrained and this can give you a slight feeling of panic.”

Then she spoke of her experiences with Guruji in India and her journey in the practice, with a surprising sense of humor. Her contagious laughter tickled us all. It was liberating to me. I found that a bit of irony was just what I needed to prepare for my backbends. Within minutes she was able to create a true complicity with us.

So yes, now we were ready to start the asanas, guided by her accurate explanations and adjustments. Despite our own fears and emotional blocks, we were ready to explore new territories inside us. I can do it too, I thought. And I did. That’s what I learned from Kino that day.

Did you remember your first yoga class? How did you come into the yoga journey and when did you decide to practice the Ashtanga yoga method?

I first started yoga when I was 19-years-old in a Sivananda class, but it was when I tried Ashtanga Yoga three years later that I really felt I began a serious study of yoga. Within the first few months of Ashtanga Yoga practice I moved to New York City to begin my Master’s Degree program at New York University. It was there that I joined my first traditional Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga class. Students in this class were regularly going to Mysore, India to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and I felt an irresistible urge to go as well. After I finished reading Guruji’s book Yoga Mala I had a dream about Guruji and decided to go to Mysore. When I arrived in India I had been doing Ashtanga Yoga less than a year, but when I return my life changed.

What are the main gifts that yoga brought into your life and what are the ones it brings after years of practice?

Yoga has brought me more peace and more inner strength than I ever imagined possible. The lesson that I have learned in the yoga practice is one of inner fortitude, how to find the strength to stay through the difficult spaces of life. Yoga has also given me the gift of consciousness and clarity.

What were the biggest difficulties you had on your yoga journey and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest difficulties in my yoga journey has been the constant feeling of weakness. No one could teach me how to be strong, yet that is exactly what I needed to learn. My teachers in Mysore, Guruji and Sharath, always encouraged and asked me to be stronger. Every time that I reached a physical limit they asked me to surpass it. Whenever I felt finally there, they asked me to be stronger. After more than twelve years of consistent daily practice I finally felt like I have some strength, but I know that I can always be stronger.

You are one of the few people to receive the certification from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. Please, tell us something special about this teacher. What was the most important lesson you learned from him?

When I first traveled to Mysore I was young, naive and lost. I had more attitude than knowledge, but I was sincere about my quest for the inner journey of yoga. It was that first trip to India that changed my life because Guruji saw the possibility in me and spoke to my sincerity. Guruji and Sharath believed in me before I believed in myself.

What distinguishes a yoga teacher from an inspiring yoga teacher?

The ability to speak to a student’s greatness and believe in that possibility even before the student is personally aware of it.

In your blog posts you often reveal that to master difficult poses it took years of practice, facing your fears and emotional blockages. Now you are learning the Ashtanga yoga fourth series. What is at the moment the biggest challenge you are deal with?

There is a posture called Parivrttasana A & B. This is so challenging that I wrote a blog about it. It feels like being at the bottom of the ocean drowning. When I first tried I couldn’t tell what was right or left, up or down, inhale or exhale. But slowly with regular practice it’s getting a little better. Here’s a clip of my home practice of the A version of this posture, the B version is still too messy and noisy to share.

You are very well known, you travel around the world giving workshops and you have a famous yoga studio in Miami. Is it difficult to stay grounded and humble without increasing the ego in the middle of a such big popular appeal? How do you balance these both sides of being a successful yoga teacher?

The practice itself provides a solution for this because I am an eternal student facing the same struggles as every student on the path. There are constantly things that I cannot do like the Fourth Series postures I mentioned above. These keep me humble. If not for that the “reality” of being married, running a business and dealing with the simple things that arise in “normal” life are always good to keep any sort of ego in check. But more than that when I am teaching I honestly feel that it is not about me, it is about inspiring people to come to the spiritual practice. I open myself up to be a vehicle for their own discovery and I try to get my own ego out of the way when I am teaching. It is my hope that people leave my workshops inspired to practice for themselves and that I am just a catalyst for their own personal transformation. Anything they truly take away from my teaching is their own.

What is the first thing you are grateful for every morning?

There is so much to be grateful for. But when I open my eyes in the morning the first thing that I usually see is the brilliant blue sky illuminated by the Florida sunshine, the first thing that I hear is the sound of the parrots that live in the palm trees in front of our house and the first thing that I am truly grateful for is the gift of life.

Why did you decide to be a contributor to elephant journal?

I love reading elephant so of course I wanted to be a contributor as well.

How do you choose the topics for your blogs?

I get a lot of student requests for blog and video topics so there is a never a shortage of questions and topics. I also get inspired by things I’m reading or life experiences and of course my own struggles.

In your opinion, is there a relationship between writing and practicing yoga?

Writing is a practice too. Sometimes you don’t feel inspired but you have to get it done. Sometimes when you do the practice you start off uninspired but by the end some energy starts to flow.

What is the hardest part in writing about yoga?

The hardest thing for me in writing about yoga is finding the words for the most subtle inner experiences, translating those experiences into a logical format and coming up with a clear message about the total journey of yoga. I also think it is very hard to write about physical movement. Last year, I started my own YouTube channel because the combination of listening and viewing is extremely effective for communicating physical concepts. Sometimes all you need to do to get a movement is watch someone else do it. Here’s a link.

Is there a blog post you have written which represents you most and why? If not, what is the best post you ever wrote on elephant journal to recommend to a new readers?

Yes, these two:

A Suffering Animal & the Navy Seals: The Journey from Weakness into the Brave Heart of a Yogi.

Let Her Fall: the Road through Pain, to Suffering to Forearm Balance.

Your life’s quote

Be strong, strong enough to believe in your dreams and let yoga show you the way.


Laura Stefani is a freelance Italian journalist. You can read her articles, among others, on Slowfood Magazine and Io Donna (the weekly magazine of Corriere della Sera). In 2005 she left Italy to travel around South America. Currently, she is living on a tiny island in the Caribbean, where she swims and practices yoga, writes and makes homemade pasta—learning the best she can from every living being she meets, whether a turtle, a iguana or a person





Editor: Seychelles Pitton


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