Sitting down with Kino
Earlier this year, Oscillation Yoga and Hotel Stripes Kuala Lumpur had the pleasure of hosting Kino MacGregor, international yoga teacher and one of the pioneering yogis to embrace both the traditional teaching of yoga and the contemporary social media channels of today—she has over 1 million followers on Instagram. Before we sat down for the interview, I caught a glimpse of Kino in her element, slipping in a little practice on the rooftop of Hotel Stripes overlooking the city skyline.
How and when did you find yoga?
"I started the practice of yoga out of the desire to live a more peaceful life. When I did my first class at the age of 19, yoga left an impression on me that it was a path of healing, and when I wanted to make some major lifestyle changes it was to the path of yoga that I turned, to lead me out of a period of intense searching.
I went to my first yoga class when I was 19 years old, then I started practising Ashtanga yoga daily when I was 22 years old—so yoga has been a part of my life for 20 years. And I've been making trips to India every year for the last 17 years to continue my practice with my teacher there. I think that is one of the reasons why my practice has gone so deeply, it's because I've made the commitment to be a student each year."
What drew you to Ashtanga yoga?
"I didn't research Ashtanga yoga when I started, it was just the class that seemed to work best with my schedule. When I started practising, it was more the experience of peace that the practice gave me that really drew me into it. There was an aspect of the discipline and the tradition that I trusted. It was when I went to India to meet Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson R. Sharath Jois that I really began to understand the depth and the power of the practice."
Ashtanga is typically seen as one of the most intense methods of yoga. Is that a misconception, or do you agree with the statement?
"There are some things that the traditional practice asks of you in the Ashtanga yoga method that some of the more contemporary styles of yoga don't. For example, if you drop in for a beginners Ashtanga class, everything will be relatively approachable, but if you joined a traditional class, first thing they'll say is that you have to practise for six days a week—that's already hard. Even if the poses were easy, just to do them six days a week is challenging.
There's an element of discipline and rigour that gives Ashtanga yoga its reputation of being challenging, but I think that's also the magic of the practice, because Ashtanga yoga wants to make a lifestyle change in the hearts and minds of practitioners. So by asking students to do it everyday when they're serious about the practice, that opens up the doorway for transformation."
What was the biggest challenge you faced on your yoga journey, and how did you overcome it?
"My biggest challenge in the practice is always strength. I was never a dancer or gymnast, so it's not something that comes naturally for me. To really work on the powerful moves, to lift up and jump back or to do a handstand, all that stuff was almost impossible when I first started the practice. So I work on strength everyday, because if I don't, there's a residual level of strength that stays with the practice, but I do my own strength drills everyday, just kind of like therapy techniques to build strength and stability in my body. And I find that I have to keep those up in addition to my regular practice."
How do you think yoga has changed or impacted your life?
"The first thing that yoga taught me was how to believe in myself. I never learned that, I never really had a discipline of any type—I'd do the things that I excelled in, but when it came to things that I was bad at, I didn't do them. But when I came to yoga, there was a whole bunch of stuff I was bad at, yet I kept doing it. So it taught me how to believe in myself, to achieve the things I wasn't naturally good at.
Yoga has also given me a forum to experience a relationship with God. This was something I never grew up with, I never thought it was possible for people to have that in a really meaningful and personal way, and my practice created a foundation for that."
Tell us about your yoga journey in Mysore, India.
"When I first went to India, I had no idea what to expect. I was just this American girl from Florida who flew to India, and it was completely overwhelming. I had no idea where I was, I had almost no form of communication with people back home—this was almost 20 years ago, so there was almost no internet, nobody had phones. It was before the whole technology revolution hit India.
There were only 40 students in the class, and that number dwindled to half before I left, so there were only 20 of us in that trip to India. It really just changed my whole perspective. I realised that the first gift that India gave me was patience. When I came home, I appreciated so many things about home that I just took for granted before. There were so many things that I was so grateful for, and had more patience about—just small little things."
What are some of the most important lessons you've learnt from your guruji, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois?
"When I first met guruji, I've never met anyone like him. The first thing about guruji is that his presence seemed to give me hope, first in the practice and then ultimately in myself—when he believed that I could do this practice and all these poses, then I started to believe that I could too. The second thing that he gave me is the gift of faith, in God and the sense of divine. Guruji used to say when you do your practice, you think about God. It took me almost 10 years to hear what he said, to realise he really means that—he means for you to find the divine, to find it for yourself."
Your journey in yoga has brought you to many places around the world. Do you have a favourite city you love going back to?
"No matter where I am, I tend to genuinely love where I am. It is really interesting to see the world through the eyes of yoga and it never ceases to amaze me."
What's a typical day like for you?
"Most of my classes are special events around the world. On a typical teaching day, I don't force myself to wake up too early in the morning—I make sure I get enough sleep, so that I'm an effective teacher. I wake up with enough time to do my meditation and spiritual practice, and then I'll make tea, have a little bit of breakfast before I go teach in the morning. I usually teach twice a day, and I'll do my own practice in between the classes. At the end of the day when I'm done teaching, I feel that it is important for me to balance my energy, so I'll usually kind of withdraw and zone out, this is the time where I might be really quiet, or I'll call my husband and parents back home, or maybe take a walk—it's really just some me-time."
Tips for practising yoga at home?
"Try to practise at the same time everyday. This might be challenging for many people because their schedules fluctuate, but try to make a programme and stick to it—that is really important because if you have a routine around it, then the people in your life start to respect that routine. Also, try to practise in the same spot everyday. Don't take your mat and migrate around the house, you want to have a spot that is kind of like your space, and that is important because it builds a sense of energy and respect, so it's kind of like a sacred space.
The last thing is don't be too hard on yourself. Don't feel like you have to hit it real hard and do like three hours of practice—as little as five minutes a day can make a difference."
"Yoga taught me how to believe in myself, to achieve the things I wasn't naturally good at."
What is your life mantra?
"Let go and let God. That is something that I would say to myself to give myself a sense of deep peace, and it's this idea that I may want all of these things. But those things might not be in alignment with my destiny or my life path."
And finally, what is your parting advice for those who aspire to pursue yoga?
"For anyone who desires to pursue yoga, I would say just do it. Just start. Don't talk yourself out of it, and don't feel like you're the wrong shape, size, age or anything like that—it's just about starting, and there are so many ways to start now. If you don't feel comfortable going to a yoga class, you can watch some videos at home. I just created this online channel called Om Stars with Kerri Verna, so people can actually practise with those online, and it's a really good tool for people who live far away from the studio or can't afford a class. Just get the ball rolling."