Kino MacGregor making news in the Ashtanga world — why is this not surprising?

Kino MacGregor on

I ate two meals at my desk today and barely got up from my chair over the course of eight hours  — headphones on because I had so much to finish that I needed laser focus — and yet I still managed to learn about Kino MacGregor’s new piece in (while managing a client’s Facebook account, I saw the share in my newsfeed):

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.

It’s hardly surprising that Kino MacGregor has managed to become the focus of a lot of attention — she is brilliant at that, and she explains in this piece why she is so driven.

I only had time to take a quick glance earlier today. Now that I am home, I just read it through, even though I should be finishing up the work I need to email out by tomorrow morning. My first reaction, though, is that I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I used to love Ashtanga yoga gossip. OK, I still do — but I think I will probably be in a better place to reflect on this after practicing tomorrow morning. There’s a lot of fodder for juicy considerations here — a nexus of a low-fi yoga method rooted in India (nothing glitzy or sexy about the silent transmission of the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system) as experienced in a highly visual age of digital marketing, social media promotion and unapologetic entrepreneurship (all of which swirl in a sphere where you can find lots of glitz and sex).

Hilltop Yoga, where I teach one Ashtanga class each week, put this up on its Facebook page tonight:

We couldn’t be more excited for Kino’s visit to Hilltop this coming April. As you can tell from this article, she’ll have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to share with all in attendance. We are honored to be hosting a yogi who is both real and in the world, while still honoring her lineage and the tradition of this practice. Registration details coming soon. You won’t want to miss this!

My second reaction is that I give Kino props for laying it all out there the way that she did. She sounds sincere in saying:

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 work in the marketing communications world now and I think a lot about how effective use of social media can help spread yoga. And yet part of me wonders whether an Oprah-like figure can transmit the heart of this type of lineage authentically.

And in the next instant, I wonder if that is even a relevant question.

The Confluence Countdown, by the way, offers up this:

This is sure to dominate Ashtanga blogs and more than a few studios in the days ahead. What I imagine will be even more exciting will come after her planned arrival in Mysore next week.

We aren’t going to add to that chatter. The main reason is that we don’t know Kino MacGregor. Like any Ashtanga practitioner who doesn’t live in an Internet-less cave, we know of her. (We have always heard more positive than negative, but we have heard the negatives she addresses.) But nothing more. And so we can’t and won’t judge whether we think she’s being honest, whether she is serving the Ashtanga tradition faithfully or if one can be a good yogi and color her hair. (I’m kidding. We don’t think that matters.) We will continue to look forward to her coming to Los Angeles this spring so we can meet and can learn from her. Probably like anyone else, once we have spent a weekend workshop with her, we will reach some kind of basic judgement about her.

Steve instead returns to a past I’ve found interesting and have long wanted to blog about (though the thoughts are still simmering on this one): the “controversy” in the 1990s over then-up-and-coming style of power yoga versus Ashtanga yoga.

I would say more, but work really does call. I have a fair amount of work left to do tonight, and tomorrow is another early morning. I suppose being a householder has its advantages: I have to stay focused on what needs to get done, or something — either practice or work — gets thrown out of balance. (Otherwise, I’d be staying up late thinking about this some more and checking to see what ashtangis are saying over social media and on blogs.)

Making your living through Ashtanga yoga does seem like a fantasy to me, but the need for Kino to share this brutally honest piece reminds you that living the dream can come with a price; there are some weighty decisions you get to avoid when that door is closed.

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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14 thoughts on “Kino MacGregor making news in the Ashtanga world — why is this not surprising?

  1. Thanks Rose, great perspective. And thanks for the link to the power yoga article from the 90’s. I had seen Tim’s piece on alchemy before, but not the rest.
    There’s a fair bit of upheaval in the Ashtanga world on some varied fronts right now: this; the new Jois studios with their bazillionaire sponsors; teaching Ashtanga in the Encinitas schools. Regarding the current topic, I appreciate Kino’s forthrightness. I don’t know enough about her to comment further.

    With the passing of Pattabhi Jois and Mr. Iyengar not getting any younger, we are in a very interesting time, of transition from the two most prolific and learned students of Krishnamacharya. What these traditional lineages transition to in the next decade will be fascinating to watch. Personally I am optimistic.

    All of this discussion however brings me back to something I read on the AY:A2 website. “Practice way more than you talk about practice; show up twenty, or a hundred, times more than you email.” So while I’m very thankful that you take the time to write this blog, and build the social media grid, both of which are awesome and have certainly advanced my understanding of the practice, and which i truly hope will continue to evolve and expand…If I was smart I’d simply be on my mat…

    • I agree, Dave — such simple and straightforward guidance: “Practice way more than you talk about practice…” And happy to see that you are optimistic. We need that.

  2. Thanks for your perspective. I was curious about your take on this. My main quibble with Kino MacGregor’s piece is how the title refers to the extremes of love and hate–as if the only choice is to love and hate here. I avoid extremes. I think there is a lot of gray–probably as much gray as would be revealed in my own particular head of hair if I didn’t color it.

    • I like your thought. Extreme attitudes lead to extreme behavior. Yoga is the smoothing of the Self, not Self-extreme-ing. :) Sounds like people who have reacted so severely to Kino may need to study more than just asana :)

    • Great point, Janet. But the thing is, as you know, so many people enjoy those polarizing extremes. I would think a good percentage of the most-viewed articles on elephant journal are the ones that pit ideas or schools against each other.

      I, too, like the gray. I always have, even as a reporter — which is why I ended up gravitating toward writing profiles and features, where nuances and grays are more welcomed.

  3. Its an interesting piece, the timing of which is no coincidence considering she arrives in Mysore imminently and her comments regarding fellow practitioners there. My other thought is what she does, and how she chooses to move through the world doesn’t require explanation. Be who you want,why explain, why care what others think if you are following the path you absolutely believe in? Her teacher never justified himself. The skeptic in me thinks perhaps this is just more media agrandisement and that the lady protest too much. I do not think she would have written such an article without knowing the attention it would attract. I am neither a lover nor a hater, just curious as to why the piece was necessary at all.

      • Yoga politics. The more a you intentionally put yourself “out there”, the more “explaining” you may feel is needed. This is exactly why Guruji said: “99% practice, 1% theory”. Practice, practice. All is coming. No explaining required. :)

    • The overarching theme of everyone’s comments here seems to hit at unnecessary polarity, which quite refreshing to see. It’s a great balance for a world that enjoys division and conflict.

  4. Interesting article. It reminds me that even in the Yoga world people are people and can be terrible gossips. People can also be jealous and indeed harder on women then men.
    I especially liked your last quote “We don’t know Kino..” That is true so how can anyone who doesn’t know her pass judgement. Why would you want to? Whether she is genuine or not isn’t important to ones own yogic path.
    Thanks for your insights. I wish you happy contemplation while on your mat. :)

  5. I don’t know Kino and assume she has the best of intentions but it seems incredibly naive of her to not have gotten written consent from other students at the Shala in Mysore to be included in a copyrighted commercial video. It’s standard practice at events to have to sign a consent form for your image and likeness to be potentially used for promotional purposes, etc. I had to sign a consent form when I attended the 2013 Confluence for example. I would imagine everyone in the Shala during taping should have been asked to sign a similar waiver. Oooops.

    Also, if I found it strange that if people have protested about being in a video without permission why would you then upload that very video as part of an article on a public forum? Isn’t that putting gasoline on a fire?

    She seems a bit tone deaf on this issue for sure.

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