The lesson a ‘Hated Ashtangi’ taught me today

There’s an Ashtanga story swirling around the Internet that, I’m afraid, we can’t ignore.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Kino MacGregor has put up a piece at elephant journal defending or describing her approach to spreading Ashtanga and yoga to the world. “Confessions of a Love & Hated Ashtangi.” it is called. (That period is included.)

The most specific impetus is something we mentioned a few posts back: Apparently some people in her video about Ashtanga and Mysore didn’t appreciate being included without their knowledge. But according to MacGregor, it goes deeper:

I had no idea that the people that I practice with in Mysore who are friendly with me post-practice hold such strong negative views of my teaching and presence in the world. I have read the negative blogs complaining about my shorts, my Youtube videos, and generally me but I just didn’t think that it was from people I shared practice space with in Mysore.

More generally, the piece allows MacGregor to explain her rationale for spreading the “gospel” of yoga the way she does. Yes, she talks about the clothes she wears. She explains all the videos and her embracing of social media. She makes it clear it all is a very conscious decision.

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.

That’s natural.

Instead, I want to trace for you where reading MacGregor’s piece led me. Maybe because it seemed like a bit of an antidote. I first ended up at Guruji’s famous (or infamous) letter to Yoga Journal back in 1995. And then to the article to which he was responding.

I found Guruji’s letter here. In part it says:

The title ‘Power Yoga’ itself degrades the depth, purpose and method of the yoga system that I received from my guru, Sri. T. Krishnamacharya. Power is the property of God. It is not something to be collected for one’s ego. Partial yoga methods out of line with their internal purpose can build up the ‘six enemies’ (desire, anger, greed, illusion, infatuation and envy) around the heart. The full ashtanga system practiced with devotion leads to freedom within one’s heart. … The Ashtanga yoga system should never be confused with ‘power yoga’ or any whimsical creation which goes against the tradition of the many types of yoga shastras (scriptures). It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building.

What may be more informative is the Yoga Journal article, sort of a pre-craziness Vanity Fair piece. Although even then there was craziness, as the article makes clear. I found it here. It tells Ashtanga’s history, from David Williams and Norman Allen’s encounter with Manju Jois, to Guruji’s first trip to Encinitas (at which point Tim Miller makes his appearance) and then Williams and Nancy Gilgoff’s bringing Ashtanga to Hawaii.

But you probably know this and are familiar with the article.  (Is it the first history of Ashtanga that “the masses” would have seen? Does anyone know?) Still, it is a good reminder of, I don’t know take your choice, that there’s nothing new under the sun; that everything is impermanent; that this, too, will pass. By which I mean, take a look at this from the article:

And like any family, the Ashtanga community has its disagreements. Off the record, every instructor I spoke with had his or her own list of who wasand was nota bona fide Ashtanga teacher: No two lists were exactly the same. Even the venerable Pattabhi Jois comes in for his share of criticism, from practitioners who feel that his method of firmly pushing students into the desired posture is risky or even violent. In some heretical Ashtanga circles, rumors abound about torn muscles, blown-out knees, and even crushed vertebrae resulting from overly forceful adjustments.

Sound familiar?

The piece then explores the different strands of yoga that were emerging at that time: Bryan Kest’s, Beryl Bender Birch’s, among others. It includes quotes from Richard Freeman and Maty Ezraty.

It’s a little goldmine, in other words, that captures Ashtanga nearly 20 years ago. One I was glad to be forced, or encouraged, to find again. Like with the practice of Ashtanga itself, reading through it this time — with a trip to India under my belt, more time with Tim, a home practice now — I discovered new moments that resonated, new strands of illumination, new ideas to consider.

That doesn’t mean the gossipy side of me wouldn’t love to be a fly on the walls of Mysore in the days ahead.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

8 thoughts on “The lesson a ‘Hated Ashtangi’ taught me today”

  1. Having practiced with Kino and experienced her enthusiasm and spirit embracing the ashtanga method, I think the ciriticisms of her are not justified. Sitting in judgment of how someone dresses, that they use social media, that they are good at not just passing on the method but at business, simply does not seem consistant with the spirit of our practice.

  2. Makes me a little sad for her. I reminds me of that scene in Forrest Gump where his troubled love is playing guitar in the nude. She had real talent, but felt she needed to exploit her womanhood to promote her music.

  3. Having heard about Kino a few years ago, i was a bit surprised (in a bad way) by her Barbie-does-yoga look. I was just starting ashtanga and she was the kind of person i did not want to become (yeah, well, that’s judgemental isn’t it?)

    When her book “The power of Ashtanga yoga” was published, I noticed it had very good reviews so i decided to give it a try. I was looking for a book on Primary series to combine with David swenson’s one.
    The book is actually VERY good and the explanation are extremely precise and clear in regards of anatomical knowledge. She clearly sates the difficulties of poses, the progressive steps to do the pose safely and sometimes mention how many time she needed to attain the complete pose (and that helps putting things into perpective 😉 )
    It helps me a lot to understand the mecanism of the asana and the limit of my own body.
    It’s a gem!

    So now, even if i’m still rolling my eyes every time she talk about an “Easy” way to do I-don’t-know-which-asana that requires at least ten-ish years of practice, i know i may have to admit she undertstands the work needed to attain the right level probably better than I do. And she does the work when I only theorize.

    Sometime I love to hate Kino Mac Gregor, the rest of the time, I try to learn from her 🙂

    (Sorry for the bad english)
    Magali

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