By Alexia Bauer
In this recurring column, we ask Chicago-area teachers to interview their teacher about lineage and the teacher/student relationship.
At the age of 29, Kino MacGregor was one of the youngest women to be certified to teach Ashtanga yoga at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, the school created by the founder of the popular, disciplined style of yoga. Now an internationally renowned yoga teacher, she is also an author, vlogger, creator of MiamiYoga magazine and co-founder of Miami Life Center, a yoga and spiritual center in Florida. MacGregor inspired me to practice Ashtanga yoga six years ago, when I became immediately hooked after taking one of her workshops. Her open heart, energetic personality and accessible approach have inspired thousands of practitioners around the world.
How did you come to yoga, and what about yoga spoke to you?
MacGregor: My first yoga class when I was 19 was Sivananda style; it was more restorative and relaxation-based. I was looking for something different in my life, and although I didn’t really connect physically with it, it left an imprint on me about yoga as a spiritual path. There was something about being able to tune into a space inside of yourself, even from that very first class.
Three years later when I joined my first Ashtanga class, I started integrating yoga in my daily life. It felt like the whole package, including the physical aspect that really spoke to my body. Yet the most important thing is that yoga is a spiritual path and provides an answer to how to live a more peaceful life.
Could you speak about the style of Ashtanga yoga and how it is taught?
MacGregor: Although known for its six predefined series of dynamic postures, Ashtanga yoga is traditionally taught in what’s called the Mysore-style setting, where the teacher guides the students at their own individual level. It’s named after the city in the south of India where the Institute in honor of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is located. The more contemporary way of teaching Ashtanga in Western-style group fitness classes has everyone doing the same thing at the same time, but to get to the advanced postures it’s really recommended to practice the Mysore-style way. Ashtanga gets a bad rep for being really disciplined and dogmatic, and it may seem rigid and regimented if you don’t experience the Mysore method. In a Mysore-style room, people are doing all different things, working with different injuries. When you practice within a Mysore-style frame, you can find the freedom to explore the different aspects of your body, the practice and ultimately your life as well.
What made you seek out your teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois?
MacGregor: At a Mysore-method class in New York City one day, the teacher said he wanted to wish two students a good trip to Mysore because they were going to meet his teacher. I immediately felt this yearning and thought, “Oh, I want to do that.” I really didn’t know who Pattabhi Jois was; I was just trying to do my backbends every day! I asked the teacher how I could go to India, and he recommended that I read Yoga Mala, Guruji’s [Pattabhi Jois’] book.
The night I finished Guruji’s book, I had a dream about him and woke up with a sensation that I just had to go to India. That was the first moment in my life I definitely knew that there was something I wanted to do. I bought my ticket two weeks later. When I looked into Guruji’s eyes, I knew I had found my teacher, and this heart opening happened. I can look back now and see how that meeting really changed the course of my life.
What is your experience as a female practitioner of yoga? How do gender roles inform one’s practice?
MacGregor: For me, the interesting thing about being a female practitioner is trying to understand what it means for me to be strong as a woman. Sometimes what happens with gender identity is that women try to be “strong” like men, or men think that they need to be more like women. Over the 15 years that I’ve been practicing, I feel there has been a neutralization of those assumptions. Younger students are simply people, and everything else is secondary.
Yoga can change the subjective experience of our own bodies, which is so rooted in gender identity. So as we change the subjective experience of our bodies, our gender identity shifts as well. That can be really liberating. Instead of usurping someone else’s gender identity, you start to become more of your authentic self, and we all come to this equanimous place free of preconceived notions of gender or class. I really saw Guruji embrace that shift within the men and women who were practicing. It didn’t really matter if you were a man or woman, you could do any of the asanas.
How important is it to have a teacher who is part of a lineage, that is, one who has been a student of another teacher?
MacGregor: I think the most important quality of a teacher is compassion, the ability to embrace the student in totality in their journey. Only teachers who have been on the student’s journey can have true empathy for the moments of suffering that come with confusion. It’s the fallibility of the teacher that makes it possible for students to believe that one day they might be able to attain similar results through practice. It’s not the perfection of the teacher that gives students inspiration, it’s their imperfections that inspire students to keep going.
How do you approach passing on the wisdom of Ashtanga from your teachers to your students?
MacGregor: The traditional way the yoga tradition has given information from teacher to student has been dependent upon the questions of the student. For me, sometimes I wake up with an idea, and I end up making a video or writing an article about it, or it will eventually be a part of a larger project that I’m working on. After that point, the questions students ask affect how the message is transmitted. For example, if I have a student who’s really interested in learning backbends, I would teach them about that journey. Or if I have another student who is interested in creating a little more peace in their lives, I would approach yoga from that perspective. I think it’s really about meeting the students where they are.
Why did you start the Miami Life Center? Was there a turning point in your journey that prompted you to start it?
MacGregor: My husband, Tim [Feldmann], is from Denmark, so we travel around Europe, particularly Northern Europe, in the summers. We were in Ireland one cold and rainy August, and I remember thinking, “Wow, if I have a beautiful, sunny, warm place by the sea, what am I doing here?”
That’s when I got the idea to create a spiritual center in Miami. There are beautiful centers all over the world, but there was nothing here in Miami. It was really about coming back to where my family is from, and what says home to me is the sunshine, the sunrise and sunset, a warm day, a blue sky, the clear ocean and a little bit of sand.
What is your hope for your students all over the world?
MacGregor: My hope is that they’re inspired to practice every day and that they understand that yoga is a spiritual lineage. It’s not just about the physical form and the shapes of the postures. It’s a disciplined, spiritual practice that can transform every aspect of your life—in other words, yoga is a spiritual lifestyle.
Alexia Bauer is an Ashtanga yoga practitioner and teacher in Chicago. She left Guatemala, her home country, to start her teacher training and share the transformative and awakening experience of yoga with others.