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How Yoga can change the world with Kino MacGregor

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Kino MacGregor is someone that comes with a long list of credentials. Co-Founder of Miami Life Center and Omstar Official, International Ashtanga Yoga Teacher, and self-professed ‘Beachbum’, life as Kino involves living on the road, daily practice and doing business with heart. On her current visit to London, Yogamatters Contributing Writer, Pippa, caught up with Kino straight off the plane to talk daily intentions and dedication, the student-teacher relationship, elevating female teachers and some of the biggest challenges facing the yoga community at large right now – heads up – she believes yoga truly has the power to change the world and she’s up for running a daily yoga class in the White House. If there’s anyone to do it, Kino might just be the one….

Hi Kino – A warm welcome to London! We are so pleased to welcome you at triyoga Camden for your weekend of workshops.

To start, we would love to know what a day in the life of Kino looks like! I know every day is probably very different but do you have any rituals or daily commitments that you do every day alongside your practice?

No matter where I am in the world or how early or late I wake-up, the very first thing I do is set my intention to have my day guided by divine presence. I try to do a meditation practice as close to waking up as possible so there is a little space between that and the rest of the world. I feel like I am a better person after I meditate and my mind is clear. That prepares me to interact with others and keep my centre. I notice that anything I do before my meditation practice is not as good as what I do after my meditation practice. So that is the first thing, no matter where I am, I meditate everyday.

I usually then take a little bit of time. I drink earl grey in the morning, add a little bit of soya milk and honey and then I will start my practice. My physical yoga practice, which is the ashtanga method, that I have been practising for about 20 years and I do that 6 days a week. Depending on what series I am working on I will do that and then I often have a class to teach. If it is an in-person class either at my yoga centre or when I am travelling, like here in London, then I will teach or sometimes it’s a filmed class. It might be an asana based class or a more philosophical class or some other content that I am filming for my online channel and that will usually take most of the day. The only time I change my schedule, is if I have a big writing project. For me writing happens best first thing in the morning, so I do meditation, drink tea and then write for a good 1 or 2 hours – so this can delay my practice a little bit!

Then the reality of running a business, which is more than just my teaching and includes all of my online channels. There are always emails and business decisions and phone calls and meetings to take. I usually like to put those in after I have done my practice and after I have done the teaching so I try to be immersed in the yoga world as much as possible first and then I try to put that entrepreneurial hat on and focus on business. At the end of my day I love to get a little bit of fresh air, so if I am at home you can often find me walking on the beach around sunset time and that is where I will usually snap some pictures or share the ocean, sometimes my husband joins me, sometimes not and then we will usually eat dinner. He likes to watch TV shows, so sometimes we watch TV together and just chill in the evenings or if I am alone I often read or devote a some time to study.

We will have to find you some beautiful nature close by – we do have some great parks here in London! The example you just shared is a dedicated, daily commitment.  What would your advice be to someone who is looking to start their practice but also how they can stay with it. It seems that stepping onto the mat for the first time can be a big challenge but the second challenge is how do we keep it up?

Just start! So many people think ‘I am the wrong size’, ‘I am the wrong shape’, ‘I am the wrong age’, physically they judge themselves really harshly. They may be bigger than the average yoga student they see online and so feel intimidated. I think the most important thing to understand is that you don’t even need to go to class to start yoga. There are a lot of videos online or you can get a book and start with as little as 5 minutes a day of breathing exercises, some simple stretches, simple poses, a mindfulness practice – I would say that is a great way for most people to start whilst they build their confidence, until they feel inspired enough to take a class. The second thing is to find a teacher, someone that you connect with and find inspirational.

If you take a little bit of time to do your 5 minute practice at home, maybe it will bloom into  20 minutes, or perhaps you’ll find yourself being drawn to do it more often. So do the research, find a teacher, look at their bio, their online presence, whether they have written a book or if they have some videos or maybe it’s just their picture but see if you feel drawn to their presence and then go to their class and don’t be let down if it wasn’t a good connection. Keep looking, find a teacher that you connect with and that is going to keep you inspired and coming back to class.

The third thing is to create a continuity of practice. It’s important that we set, small attainable goals for ourselves. I find most people come to the yoga practice, recognise how good it is but then it becomes an ‘all or nothing’ approach. They feel they have to practice 6 days a week or nothing at all or they see people on instagram doing handstands and they feel like “well I am not going to be able to do that so why bother trying” – this couldn’t be further from the truth.  I think if you make a commitment to yourself and say “I am going to practice once a week”, set the time, put it in your calendar as a repeat event. Let your friends and family know that for that hour you will be practising and once you have the support around you, it will happen. From one day a week move to two days a week, whether it is a class or at home. Then 2 days a week to 3 days a week and then if that gets easy 4 days a week, and then 10 years later you will have stuck with it and it will probably bloom into a 6 day a week practice. OR not, maybe 2 days a week is good for you and that’s OK! It’s just about setting that small obtainable goal, then really celebrating when we reach it, this is the yoga, the internal work of learning to celebrate where you are and the small steps forwards that we take everyday.

I think you touched on a couple of really interesting things there, one being the fear that stops us coming to practice – this potential intimidating  perspective of what a yoga practice looks like. Social media of course is a big influence on this. What do you think as teachers and as a community we can do to dispel any myths that yoga is just for a certain body shape, so that across all styles we are encouraging a more inclusive, accessible practice.

As teachers we need to be well versed in how to make the practice accessible for different body types and different ages etc. Study with an open mind. If you practice a traditional style of yoga like the ashtanga yoga method it can be really intimidating. If you look from the outside it almost looks like yoga soldiers! Everybody is exactly on the count and they are dropping through and dropping back, and then you come in for the first time and think “well I don’t even have a good yoga mat!”, “how will I do this?”. If somebody comes into your class never judge that student. There are so many stories from bigger bodied students that say when they first walked into a class the teacher just assumed the class wasn’t for them. This is a mistake. Your role as a teacher is to figure out a way to make the practice accessible for every student that walks in. So if someone has had knee replacement surgery, your job is to make your practice (whether it is traditional or modern) accessible for that student. The teachers job is to meet the student where they are, so just on a practical level this is really important.

The second part of this is how you portray yourself on social media.This is a multi tiered perspective to think about. You can’t really change your size or your shape, you are who you are. Some people may have a very tall thin muscular body, other people may have a bigger body, other people like me, may have a small muscular body. No matter what shape you are I have noticed that nobody feels like they are good. If you’re tall and skinny then you are self conscious about being too skinny or looking too long. If you are bigger bodied then you may have a self-consciousness around that, or if you’re small like I am, you have a self consciousness about that! So in terms of social media we have to be very conscious about sharing our truth, our naked transparent reality and not engaging in this competition of extreme ableism. A way we can do that is to not only post our best pictures where everything is perfect, manufactured and it’s taken 300 shots to get the picture. Be vulnerable in your captions or in your stories, creating a bit less of a filter between you and your world.

The last thing is to open your mind to who you follow. If you are a teacher and you only follow comments and stay engaged with other people who look exactly like you and who perpetuate that exact same messaging, then you perpetuate the monotony of what a yogi is. As a teacher, see if you can find inspiration in people who don’t look like you and people whose practice is different fp, yours. If you are an ashtangi, find inspiration in someone who is doing a different type of yoga to you. If you are someone that is blessed with natural strength and flexibility, and can do handstand presses and all that crazy, beautiful, inspiring stuff, see if you can find people that you can follow who may be struggling. Find people who don’t look like you, from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age and see if you can support them to create this micro community of people you are engaged with. This helps us expand our minds and not just auto select and echo chamber, where there are people who look like us and speak like us – this further entrenches us into a self-created narrow bubble. One of the things we really like to do on  the instagram of my online channel OMstars is feature the participants that are in the yoga challenges that we sponsor and that we host because this shows a natural diversity of the actual people that are practising and this is really important for us. And then our teachers, we really strive to be diverse, not only in terms of style but also age and ethnicity to create a really welcoming atmosphere of inclusivity.

Amazing. On the topic of social media, you have over a million people following your account. We know this comes with a huge amount of responsibility that you take very seriously. How do you manage and navigate this?

For me, one of the things that has been really important is not trying to be perfect. I make mistakes all the time and I believe very much in admitting those mistakes when I make them. I try my best to communicate as personally and directly to everybody who comments or sends me a message. I can’t get to everyone but I respond to as many comments in whatever time I can devote so people can see that I am present. It is a great responsibility to be a teacher because then you are a leader in the yoga world and I believe as teachers we have a voice that we must stand up for. Holding ourselves and holding any companies that are in the yoga world accountable in accordance with yoga values. We all have blind spots. When students in our community can point out “hey I think you’re out of alignment here”, that’s great. The danger with this is you’re never going to please everyone! Check in with yourself and recognise whether or not you feel you’re in accordance with yogic values, whether you feel like you have done the best you can do in that situation. Always take time to comment with your personal practice. If you come from a place of purity, genuineness and your engaged with speaking the truth, then you are responsible for what you’re putting out into the world but not responsible for how people respond. There have been times where I have posted online and if 90% have responded really positively, there will be 10% who respond really negatively. Some of that 10% will be constructive criticism which I believe we must be strong enough to take in, listen and grow from, but then out of the 10% that is ‘negative’, 5% is just mean spirit and hate. I don’t believe we need to engage with that. But if someone in your community says in a very kind and loving way “hey I am a supporter of yours and I hope you’re not going to take this the wrong way but I find your actions to be a little out of congruence with some of your  other messaging, you can say, maybe I have it wrong, would you please explain?” So that we can learn and grow from it together.

What  impact do you think the commercialisation of yoga is having on our community and how can we navigate this in a conscious way?

As yogis in the world, one of our responsibilities is to make the world a better place. The easiest way that we vote again and again is with our dollars. We go to the supermarket, what do we buy? Are we going to buy the soya milk or dairy milk? Are we going to buy organic bananas or regular bananas? We have a choice. That vote with our dollars can be far reaching. There are so many people practising yoga in the world today, we are a powerful community, we’re a movement, there is a global yoga movement. If this is just poses on the mat then why are we doing it? I think we need to offer the same mindfulness that we take about feeling our hip joints and opening our hearts on the yoga mat as we do when we go to a grocery store, a clothing store, or shopping online. We need to stop and think and apply that same sensitivity and feel for a moment – “oh wait a minute, so if I buy milk right now, what am I supporting? I am supporting industrialised dairy and it is not organic so that means I am probably supporting the growth hormone and all sorts of other things that are going into that and do I want to contribute to that?”. If you say ‘yes’, then OK you have said yes to it and it should be mindful and conscious. If you say ‘no’ then you have to follow the consequence. The same applies to our yoga world. You are a yoga practitioner so you need yoga gear, leggings, a mat etc. Ask, “If I am going to buy products from this yoga company, who are they and what do they represent?”. Look at their social media, research who the founders are, their actions and then decide if that is a company you want to support.

One of the things I love when Instagram first started, was a blooming of yogi entrepreneurs. There are so many yogi businesses that were just the upstart of a moment of inspiration. It is really important for yogis to find and research and support these companies. I think if we do that we will be able to have a positive impact on embracing less commercialism and more genuineness and authenticity in the yoga world.

And essentially that is ‘the yoga’, how we take it beyond the mat…

Absolutely. It is about moving with the heart, being vulnerable and empathetic.  For example, you call a taxi, you get into the taxi and don’t interact with the driver. Maybe you would prefer to just sit and be quiet but he wants to talk to you, so you have to make a choice in that moment…am I going to be vulnerable? Maybe you are registering it as a distraction, so instead of registering it as a distraction, pause and realise that this is a human being and they were placed in my life right now for a reason so maybe I can open and share a few moments. What was I going to do anyway? Stare out the window or scroll through Instagram? Wait a minute, here is human to human contact, and so be conscious about that. Whether it is shopping for leggings, talking to people in every moment of your life, that is your yoga. Keeping mindfulness as a thread that ties every decision. You’re not always going to get it right, you’ll be mindful and you will make a mistake, you’ll be mindful and you’ll mindfully tell someone to leave you alone. You are not going to be perfect, like in our practice, you are going to be mindfully practising and then maybe you will push too hard one day and injure yourself. I hope it never happens but this does happen so we have to understand to forgive ourselves for our inevitable failures but then set the goal to return to the path with a little more wisdom, each time.

You mentioned earlier the student teacher relationship which I feel really passionate about as I have worked with my teacher 1-2-1 for about 5 years. You mentioned the importance of finding a teacher who can also support and guide your practice. You have also spoken openly in the media about teachers who have perhaps abused their position and the #metoo movement that also came into the yoga community. I am interested to know how you think that has affected the yoga world and how it could inspire positive change for us moving forwards?

I don’t know if you read my #metoo story but it is heartbreaking to think that there are so many young, vulnerable, mostly female students who find themselves in a relationship with an older male yoga teacher who has presented themselves as a spiritual teacher and because of that the student is willing to surrender themselves and go beyond their boundaries in a way that is a violation. I think it’s a horrible thing that threatens the heart of yoga.

As more female teachers get elevated to the same status as these respected male yoga teachers of the past, then I think the dialog or the power dynamic will change. Not to say that women can’t abuse their position, but I think it is extremely helpful to have women leaders in the yoga community that are respected in equal measure as these predominantly male gurus. When I was starting ashtanga yoga there was no female teachers and I think what ends up happening when there is a majority of female students but all the teachers are male it creates a kind of gender power dynamic.

The second thing that is really important is that the yoga teacher is a human being. In the ancient spiritual traditions, in the sacred texts of Patanjali more than 2,000 years ago we talk about, surrender not to the guru but to God and this is a very important distinction. The yoga teachers are not God and so if the yoga teacher asks you to do something that doesn’t register correct with you, then you need to speak up and hold your own because they’re not God. The only true place that is safe for any human being to let their guard down, to give all your heart and all your soul to is God. Perhaps we could go back to the idea that the teacher is there to lead you to know God and to reintroduce this idea into the practice. Then we shift into “hey you are not surrendering to me, your surrendering to God. Perhaps I hold the candle on your path and light the way.” It requires humility and a great personal devotion to God on the part of the teacher themselves and if that is missing in anyway I feel there is the danger, when you become very popular, to start to believe your own story or popularity – we are all just human beings stumbling and falling and making mistakes.

Beautiful, thank you. With your #practiceyogachangetheworld hashtag in mind – what would you like to change in the yoga community and world?

Well for the world I think everyone should practice! My dream would be that every President or every Prime Minister of every country would have an hour each day allocated to mandatory spiritual practice – that would be my dream! I believe that could change the world!

I think you would have to be the one to teach it Kino!

I would be most happy! It’s needed now I would totally do it. My dream is that not only the leaders of the countries but also the leaders of all the corporations would do this. If every person on this planet had a one hour spiritual devotional practice, the earth would be a better place. We have these companies that administer mass amount of resources for example Amazon, if every morning, every single employee of Amazon had a one hour spiritual practice I believe good things would happen. Someone might get the idea one morning, “hey maybe we could do biodegradable packaging? “Hey wait a minute, we’re making so much money, what are we paying our lowest level employees, we actually have a lot of money in the bank, why don’t we distribute that more fairly? Why don’t we give better benefits to the workers? Why don’t we create a charity?.” Spiritual practice opens your heart .

What about the yoga community?

I think we are doing a pretty good job. Something that is really present for me is this question of how we support dialog and development within the community. What I am noticing is that we are relying on social media as a vehicle to express thoughts and communicate with each other and no matter how well spoken you are, how well written you are, there’s so much that gets lost in social media based communication. There are things that you would never say to someone looking at them in the eye that you would say online. I don’t know how to do this but one thing I would really like is if there’s a way we can model for the world what enlightened dialog is. So even if we are communicating online it never veres into hate, we always communicate in alignment with the core yogic values. I think that would be really powerful.

Do you have some advice for living well?

Meditate and do your practice everyday! Number 2 I would say is, give it all away. Don’t hold onto anything. Don’t feel like your gifts are yours, don’t feel like your ideas are yours and never be afraid to give credit where it is due. If you have a teacher, reference them.  If you read something in a book, reference the book.

I think it is just as important in terms of your interactions to give your pride away, be quick to say you’re sorry, be quick to admit your mistakes. It creates so much more ease. The  last thing is just drink water. I know this sounds dumb but so many people just don’t drink water, and if you can start every morning with meditation, yoga and a glass of water or two, then taking time to care for yourself makes a big impact in the world.

Do you have any last words?

I am really looking forward to seeing so many inspired yogis this Bank Holiday Weekend in London and I just look forward to seeing everybody in class!

Book onto Kino’s classes at triyoga here.

The post How Yoga can change the world with Kino MacGregor appeared first on Yogamatters Blog.

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