The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: An Interview with Kino MacGregor

Kino McGregor talks to YogaJournal.com about Ashtanga yoga and about her new book.
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Kino McGregor talks to YogaJournal.com about Ashtanga yoga and about her new book.
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If you've never practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you might be wondering about the practice that was the basis of a recent trial about a school yoga program in Encinitas. Is it religious? Can it be adapted? How is it different from any other kind of yoga? The Power of Ashtanga Yoga answers some of these questions. Written by Kino MacGregor, one of the youngest teachers to have received her certification to teach the style from Ashtanga Yoga founder, the late K. Pattabhi Jois, it shares a comprehensive look at the the history, theory, and physical practice of Ashtanga's Primary Series.

We talked to MacGregor to get the scoop on what the practice of Ashtanga Yoga means to her, how her practice has changed since the passing of her teacher, and the contributions she's making to the yoga community.

What are some misconceptions about Ashtanga Yoga that you'd like to clear up?

I think people are intimated by Ashtanga Yoga’s rigorous, traditional practice, but in fact the basics of the practice can be broken down and made accessible to anyone of any age. Most people assume that you have to be really strong and flexible in order to do the practice, but if you have a good teacher who can break things down as little as five minutes a day can be a place to start your Ashtanga Yoga journey. While Ashtanga Yoga is traditional, meaning that it comes from a spiritual lineage that traces its roots along India’s historic path, it is not dogmatic. Instead the lineage lives in the hearts of teachers and students and can be adjusted as needed so that the tool of yoga is effective and accessible for all people.

What do you hope people will learn from reading The Power of Ashtanga Yoga?

I hope that readers take away the essence of the spiritual practice of yoga, which is that through the practice of postures, breathing, and focus points you can gain a direct experience of the inner self. The postures are merely tools to help students tap into the limitless nature of their inner being. The yoga practice has the power to open your mind, heal your body, and transform your whole world. I would like my book to help make Ashtanga Yoga more accessible to more people and to be an invitation to the inner journey of yoga. Beginners will find a friend to be their guide into the world of yoga. Established students will find tools and techniques to help them go deeper.

We love your YouTube channel for quick asana tutorials and tips, but it's so different from the way yoga has traditionally been handed down from teacher to student in the way you learned from Jois. Why do you put so much energy into using social media in your teaching?

I love sharing yoga on social media, from YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram and all other social media platforms that are out there. There are many people who practice at home whether for lack of money to attend classes, lack of teachers in their hometown, or other reasons. I’ve gotten so many responses from people who use my YouTube channel for tips and technical instructions to supplement their home practice that I am inspired to do and give more. I guess I’m inspired by this media because whenever I want to learn about something I Google or YouTube it and see what comes up. I also like the immediacy of social media so that when I make videos all over the world I can kind of take my students with me and include them in my travels and teaching, too.

How has your practice and your teaching changed since Pattabhi Jois passed in 2009?

My practice is still inspired and guided by the hands of my teacher. Guruji is always in my heart and I see him and feel him every day when I practice. I continue to practice the Ashtanga Yoga method six days a week and return to Mysore to practice with Guruji’s grandson, R. Sharath Jois, who is my teacher now.

Is Ashtanga Yoga religious?

Yoga is inherently spiritual, but not religious. Yoga as a philosophy is theistic in nature, meaning, it takes the belief in some type of universal force that is bigger than the individual ego to be the underlying truth of existence. But yoga does not say that that force has to be a particular deity or religion. In fact, I think the reason yoga is so transformational is because we directly experience the limitless nature of our inner selves. This higher Self is not limited by any religion, but it is essentially spiritual. Just like the way the sunrise illuminates the sky at dawn in a way that speaks to the essence of beauty and freedom and belongs to no one, yoga illuminates the human spirit in a way the embodies the essence of our greatness and limitlessness in a way that cannot be defined or owned by any dogma.