People love and hate me. I am, after much deliberation, okay with that.
I’m a bad Ashtangi.
I wear small shorts and mascara. I’m not a natural blonde. I color my hair and blow dry it, even while in India. I’m also vain and I love beautiful and sometimes expensive things. I’ve been called an Ashtanga cheerleader, a slutty yoga teacher (I’m married), a good businesswoman (as if that’s a derogatory term for a yoga teacher) and a sell-out for fame and fortune. I’ve lost really important friendships and hurt the people I love the most through the delusion of blind ambition. I am far from perfect, most likely more flawed than most.
In the mad rush to success I have produced five Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, written two books, started a line of yoga products, filmed online yoga classes, taught in over 100 different cities all over the world, co-founded a yoga center on Miami Beach (Miami Life Center) and founded Miami Yoga Magazine. I’ve figured out how to use social media and build an online presence, dare I say my own “brand.” I tweet, blog, vlog and film for my YouTube channel.
For all these reasons I am, as Guruji used to say, a “bad lady.”
But I’m also a good Ashtangi. I practice six days a week and follow the guidelines for practice as best I can from my teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore. I go back to Mysore to continue my studies and be a student at least once a year. I follow the simple vegetarian diet that my teachers recommend. I do my best to be self-reflective in everything I do, I try (not always successfully) to be a nice person all the time.
I work hard at everything I do, take nothing for granted and am above nothing. I am thankful every day for my students, both the real people in my classes and the real people watching my videos and reading my books at home. I wasn’t strong or patient when I started the practice, and yoga has taught me both strength and patience. You can only push so hard before you break—I’ve learned that all the rest of success in both yoga and life you have to receive through grace and surrender.
So maybe I’m also a little bit good.
Some people would say that what I do is all in the interest of building my own personal yoga empire, in the aggrandizement of my ego. To them I am something akin to the Kim Kardashian of the yoga world.
But to myself, I hope I’m more like Oprah Winfrey. I would love to take the message of yoga to millions of people, because I believe in the power of yoga to transform the world. Someone once asked me,
“If you knew you could reach a billion people with the message of yoga and half would hate you and half would you love you, would you still do it?”
Yes, for sure.
I honestly, perhaps naively, believe that if every person in the world practiced yoga it would be a better place. I would personally like to be a vehicle of inspiration for people to practice yoga, and if having some people hate me is a price I pay for putting my message out there, then I am strong enough to pay that price. At the same time, I admit that I am not as saintly as that sounds. I enjoy seeing myself in videos, on the covers of my books and I like seeing the results of my efforts. I also like that my husband and I can make a good living doing something we love and believe in. While I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of what I’ve done, I do feel a sense of self-confidence that comes from the real world experience of accomplishing some of my dreams.
One of the reasons that some people have taken issue with me is that they feel that the way that I put my teaching out there in the world is against the fundamentals of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage.
First of all, people don’t like the clothes I wear. I’m not going to apologize for my choice in clothes, whether they are too small, skimpy, bright or whatever. At the risk of sounding callous and elitist, I think the discussion about telling women to cover their bodies lest they offend or stimulate someone’s sexual desire belongs to a by-gone era, not the year 2013.
The men’s traditional yoga gear is a loin cloth that barely covers anything.
I wear short shorts, they cover everything that needs to be covered, and I honestly think people should just get over it. I’ve had numerous conversations where I explain my choice of yoga clothing to people, and I am getting exhausted by it. I’m from Miami—where it’s hot and a lot of people wear shorts and show a lot of skin.
I figured out long ago that if I wore pants I would use friction instead of core strength and that no men were wearing tights to hold themselves up in the challenging arm balances. So I made a conscious choice to wear shorts even though I slipped and fell off my arms for years. Here I go…explaining my choice in clothes again and I’m honestly sick of it! My choice is mine alone—I certainly don’t force anyone else to wear shorts.
If you don’t like shorts, don’t wear them. If you don’t like seeing my wear shorts, don’t watch. My freedom of choice is rooted in the history of women who gave their heart and soul to feminism so that I could vote, wear mini-skirts and tiny shorts, burn my bras, go to college, pursue any career that I am qualified to do, lift up into handstand and marry whomever I want freely. I will not betray the heart and soul of feminism to appease anyone’s else’s discomfort with my skin.
Second, I guess you could say that I have broken the taboo against marketing in the so-called purist world of Ashtanga Yoga.
I am a yoga teacher who is a yoga entrepreneur as well. There are benefits and disadvantages to this, depending on how you look at it. Krishnamacharya said to make yoga propaganda and get the message out there. I’ve really taken that to heart.
My teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, also said, much to the contrary, that we should not make yoga an advertisement, that the teaching itself will bring the students. Guruji would also get really excited when there were hundreds of students in Mysore or on his world tours. Whenever he asked me asked me how many students I taught in my classes he would also be so happy to hear that the numbers were growing. In my experience, Guruji loved the idea of Ashtanga Yoga reaching more and more people all over the world. I’ve taken the mission to bring Ashtanga Yoga to people all over the world to heart.
So where do I fit in to the traditional Ashtanga Yoga lineage? I guess that’s the question I am seeking to offer up for discussion here.
Let me say that I have the utmost respect for teachers who teach an under-the-radar Mysore program early in the morning with little advertising and get their students through the power of their own dedication and word of mouth. You rock! I love each of you for your humility, your quiet strength and the un-sung heroism of your work.
I, however, am not one of you. It’s not my path. It’s not that I want more, I want different. I want to be the ambassador of yoga in the “public” sphere. I want to share the message of yoga, authentic real, lineage based yoga, with as many people as possible. I want to be a bridge between the average person and the authentic experience that I’ve known in India with my teachers and the Ashtanga Yoga method.
I want to inspire people to find their yoga path, the inner devotion and the spiritual lineage.
I do not care if they ultimately choose me as their teacher or not. I would be honored if a person that I inspired practices Ashtanga Yoga with me, goes to Mysore and develops a daily Ashtanga Yoga practice for the rest of their life. But I would also be honored if a person that I inspired develops a daily meditation practice or a daily yoga practice following another lineage.
My work in the “public” sector is perhaps the biggest sticking point between me and the more traditional teachers of Ashtanga Yoga. Guruji taught in relative obscurity for the majority of his life, waiting patiently for the yoga that he believed in to attract students. In some ways he waited his whole life for his dream to come to fruition.
The lesson that I take from this is to never give up on your dreams, to work for them patiently even if the results are not immediately evident. The lesson some of my colleagues take from this is that the correct way to teach is exactly how Guruji did in the old days. With the steady humility of reaching one student at a time, these traditional teachers aim to emulate the exact methodology of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. They ask the question, why is it necessary to spread the message of Ashtanga Yoga Oprah-style? Why not just be humble, and teach whoever shows up?
The only thing that I can really say is that each person must choose their own path and learn the lessons that life presents to them. You cannot choose for another person, nor beat anyone into submission to your views. We are all free to live and let live, to find and discover our destiny and live out our dharma in the world. I remember feeling lost in my early twenties before I really discovered Ashtanga Yoga.
I prayed that I would be guided to find the one thing that God put me on this Earth to do and then I would do it with all my heart. With the message of Ashtanga Yoga, I feel that I have found this mission. My dharma, my path is mine alone and I may need to accept that it is a non-traditional approach to Ashtanga Yoga. While I seek to honor my teachers and the tradition I seek to do it in the spirit of what I believe the tradition to be, rather than the letter or dogma of the tradition. Just like for some people it would not feel right to make YouTube videos, yoga DVDs or offer classes online, it is not right for me to sit silently by while other voices carry the message of yoga to the world.
One point worth making is that the message is going to get out there. There are many other yoga teachers on YouTube, creating DVDs and offering online classes. In fact some of the Ashtanga Yoga teachers who appear on YouTube have not been to Mysore to study with Guruji or Sharath. There are yet still more teachers online who eschew tradition all together and present yoga as a glorified stretching and fitness routine.
I see myself as a link between the pop culture of yoga and the more traditional lineage based spiritual practice.
Many feel that I am harming the tradition by providing the teaching of Ashtanga Yoga to the people via books and electronic media. I agree that it is best to learn directly from a teacher, one on one. Not everyone has the time, financial resources or access to a teacher. I intend my videos and writing to be a source of inspiration for new students, to be a reference manual for existing students and to be a teaching resource for those without a teacher.
Whenever I am learning something new in the yoga practice I use all available resources. I Google, YouTube, read anatomy, study movement mechanics and dissect the psycho-spiritual-emotional components of the posture. Rather than be without information I want more of it. I seek to contribute to the information publicly and readily available in the world of yoga. In the freedom of the information available on the internet I do not believe it is possible or really relevant to hold precious things hostage. Give them freely and they will grow, share your heart and it will expand. In this vein I share my work in the public sphere. I get enough feedback from people all over the world who use my videos as a resource to know that they are doing more good than harm in the world.
I’ve been saddened recently by the realization that some of my colleagues in Mysore prefer not to associated with me.
This came crashing down into my field of awareness because of people’s objections to being part of the video on my YouTube channel about Mysore:
People are upset that I did not ask their permission prior to using the extra footage from the Mysore Magic film shoot.
I should have asked their permission directly and I am sorry that I didn’t! It honestly did not cross my mind, and I can see that it is my own naivete to think that people would not mind. I wish that people would have contacted me directly with their concerns, but I understand it’s harder to confront someone with negative feedback.
For the record, I am open to any negative feedback anyone wishes to share with me.
It would help me grow and I am definitely learning from this experience on many levels. I had no idea that the people that I practice with in Mysore who are friendly with me post-practice hold such strong negative views of my teaching and presence in the world. I have read the negative blogs complaining about my shorts, my Youtube videos, and generally me but I just didn’t think that it was from people I shared practice space with in Mysore.
That limited view is just another reflection of my own naivete. I am currently considering what action to take, e.g., contacting each individual person in the video directly and apologizing/asking permission, whether to take the video down or leave it up and of course speaking with Sharath next week when I am in Mysore. I honestly love the video as a link and inspiration for people who may be inspired by my teaching and presence to find their way to the power and magic of Mysore.
My hope is that we can reach a peaceful resolution where the video is okayed to stay available on YouTube. I hope that I’m not being naive about that, too!
One of the most controversial things that I want to do in the yoga world is take the message of yoga to a wider audience through television and video. That desire definitely pushes people’s buttons. My YouTube channel has reached more than 6 million views in a little over a year and a half. I hope it’s the start of the actualization of my dream to take yoga to more people through the vehicle of video.
A little over a year ago I was in NYC meeting with some television executives about my ideas for a TV project and I dropped in to practice with Eddie Stern. When we were chatting after practice he asked me what I was doing in New York. I was more than nervous to say that I was shopping around an idea to take the yoga lifestyle to television. But his response was liberating.
He said, “Someone is going to do it, and it’s better that it’s you.” You can be sure of one thing: I will work tirelessly to be sure that it is me, not just for the fame and fortune, but also (perhaps most importantly) to be sure that the lineage of yoga is represented authentically.
Kino MacGregor’s next book, The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, is set to come out in the spring of 2013 from Shambhala Publications.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta