Another workshop for Southern California — this one with Kino MacGregor

We just noted that Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor will be here at the end of the week — here being in Los Angeles.

Turns out, that’s not the only Ashtanga-related workshop for those in Southern California.

Kino MacGregor is returning to Omkar 108 in Culver City later this month. Info here. It’s Feb. 23 and 24.

Here’s a new video from Kino to whet your appetite:

I’d say, “See you there,” but we are tied up that weekend.

Posted by Steve

Friday asana aid: Shirshasana (aka headstand help)

As I’ve been lamenting, there are only so many asanas one can feature in a weekly asana aid before, voila! All done.

I considered looking all the way to Third/Advanced A, but… nah. Maybe Vasishthasana, but, really… who needs help with that?

And then inspiration struck: The finishing poses! And thus, on to Shirshasana. Up first, David Swenson, which is fun to watch even if you don’t need much headstand help:

Then, Kino MacGregor:

To prove that irony is alive and well at our blog, Lululemon:

And finally, Kiki Flynn, whom I don’t think we’ve ever featured before but did spend a few days on our Yatra earlier this year:

For those who care, I toyed with spelling this Sirshasana or even Sirsasana (I prefer Siva to Shiva) but somehow Shirshasana looks best to me.

Posted by Steve

Your chance to win Kino’s new book

I’ll admit it always feels a bit redundant to point people in Kino MacGregor’s online direction. It’s not like she’s flying under the radar.

But, for those of you who haven’t seen this, we do pass it on: She’s running a contest, the winner of which gets a copy of her new book.

Here’s the video, but really you need to go to this link and leave a comment to enter.

For those wondering, all I know about the book is that David Swenson, Tim Miller and Richard Freeman wrote blurbs for it, and I guess she goes into lots of deep detail about the poses. As such, it is probably either for those Ashtanga practitioners who don’t have a teacher or those who want to have every bit of information possible. I can’t help wondering at what point we have too much information rolling around in our heads (this is somehow related to the 99% practice, 1% theory idea, I’m sure). I always feel like I’ve had the best practices (or best short bursts during a practice) when I sort of wake back up and don’t necessarily know how I got where I am.

Of course, you can’t get that too much info if you don’t have the resource. So there’s zero harm in having it — I’d just be curious if anyone feels overwhelmed ever.

You have until Monday to post a comment at the above link.

Posted by Steve


Friday asana aid: Karandavasana

I hear tell that Karandavasana is another one of those Second Series poses. You know, along with Kapotasana.

And that makes it a great candidate for our not every Friday asana aid. Also, there’s this new video of the pose that would seem to request some notice:

Gotta love all the phones capturing video. Just because of the timing, another demo for you to study (i.e. no instruction) that also seems new to the Interweb:

There is a ton of demo videos for this pose — which probably proves its position as one of those poses.

OK, on with the show. This first one is a bit hard to hear, but it’s Tim Miller and so we are guru-contractually obligated to begin with it:

Next, a Kino MacGregor video (with more than 25,000 views, which is a lot of Karandavasaners):

More instruction:

And a teacher, Greg Nardi, with a student:

Posted by Steve

Further adventures in backbending with Kino

I’ll hand this to Kino MacGregor: People are interested in her.

Start of Kino’s Led Primary on Saturday, from her tumblr page.

And because so many people seem curious about the goings-on in her workshops, I thought I’d try to pull a few more threads out from my notes on her backbending workshop this past weekend in Los Angeles.

A few people have emailed about her mentioning of the Navy SEALS training advice. Here it is in a bit more details:

  1. Visualization / mental rehearsal. She talked about having the “protocol for the posture” and the specifics of the pose worked out ahead of time. Know what your body needs to be doing (thighs rolling in, big toes pressed to the ground, shoulders back, etc.)
  2. Positive self-talk. She stressed this is “realistically positive.” So I think I can rule out saying, “I can do backbends!” But, “I can straighten my arms more” or “I can hold that one for five full breaths” is realistic. Sort of. She also said to focus on the positives and the task at hand: Don’t think about future poses.
  3. Goal setting. Ala the suggestion above: “I can hold that pose for five breaths. It’s not that long.” She noted that Ashtanga is perfect for this because there are such obvious benchmarks (the length of the poses).
  4. Nervous system control. Breath control is the key to this. If you want to control your nervous system — avoid that fight or flight urge, keep yourself steady in a difficult posture — you have to control your breath. And Ashtanga is all about that: even out the in and out breath, and go from there.

And now a few other things I can glean from my notes:

  • She stressed in backbending the nutation of the sacrum. If, like me, you don’t know precisely what that means, here you go.
  • At one point, she divided up the backbend into two halves of an arch. The main muscles of one half are the erector spinae and the quadratus lumborum (QL); the main muscle of the other is the latissimus dorsi. The whole body has to be part of the arch.
  • She may have emphasized the internal rotation of the things/legs more than any other Ashtanga teacher I’ve heard. Not that I haven’t heard that suggestion, but it was one she stressed — for whatever reason.

And some final reflections:

  • As I wrote in the first post about her Led Primary, Kino brings a very physical and dynamic approach to the practice. That continued in the workshop. She promised we’d be sore. She urged people to be OK with burning muscles. But she was clear about the difference between injury — a sharp pain in the joints, for instance — and an OK muscle fatigue. She in no way shied away from pushing people, even during an afternoon workshop.
  • Kino talked about how this — and all, I suspect — of her workshops change over time. Different things resonate, come to the forefront. And so someone taking this backbending workshop would find it different from three or five years ago. Given how the practice changes, that makes complete sense to me.
  • And a little more on her suggestion that asana practice is about walking “the middle path,” between pleasure and pain. (Just having a happy asana practice is going to create happy, pleasurable samskaras — not any different from wanting to eat ice cream, candy bars, drink beer, etc.) It should be a “daily ritual,” she said. It is one that involves the body and the nervous system, and thus can disrupt the nervous system. (Sleepless nights. Jittery nature. Short temper.) The goal isn’t a happy asana practice. It’s finding the limit between pleasure and pain, and touching both extremes.

Posted by Steve

Backbending workshop with Kino: It isn’t supposed to be fun

Two distinct things to report about Sunday’s backbending workshop with Kino MacGregor here in Los Angeles.

ONE: Nuts and Bolts

For those curious about the nuts and bolts, I’ll try to give you the rundown. Overall, and in no way meant to downplay what was a very good workshop, this seemed like a pretty straight-forward backbending workshop. Kino hits the high points, gave them her own spin and provided a lot of information: anatomical, about the subtle body, the stories of Guruji. You name it.

Here’s how it went:

  • She talked in general for about 30 minutes. (I hear she treated the arm balance workshop similarly, and people said it was hard. She also described the arm balance workshop as focusing on inward energy; the backbending one was on outward energy.)
  • She highlighted four pieces of training advice that Navy SEALS get in order to pass the group’s toughest test: 1. Visualization. 2. Positive Self-Talk. 3. Goal Setting. (I.e.: This pose is only five breaths; I can do that.) 4. Nervous System Control, which is best managed via breath control.
  • She took us through the following poses on our way to backbends: Samastitihi (with an exaggerated backbend); Lunges, to allow for a focus on rotating the shoulders; Warrior I; Salabhasana (first with the hands under the hips, then removed); Purvottanasana; Ustrasana; Laghuvajrasana, including the final version in which students either could drop their head to the ground and come back up immediately or hold if for 15 breaths (as she walked around picking people up from it); Kapotasana, with partners; and finally a few backbends, with a focus on opening up the upper back (by straightening the legs).
  • She finished with a few more stories and a couple of chants.

TWO: Walking the middle path

This really resonated with me. At the beginning, as she described how hard backbends are for everyone (flexible and stiff, alike), she talked about how Guruji had the ability to take her, each practice, just to that day’s limit but not further. He knew where it was, that point where asana isn’t fun but isn’t an injury waiting to happen.

What’s the purpose of that limit, she asked? Asana, she said as an answer, isn’t supposed to be fun. If you’re always having fun, if asana practice is always a pleasure, you aren’t doing it right. You’re creating a “happy” samskara. Asana is about walking the middle path between the pleasure and the pain, about experiencing those moments when you think you’re going to die, when you hope you’re going to die, as well as the happier moments. Stira and sukham, not one in exaggeration.

You have to know that appealed to me. (Although maybe I need more sukham.)

Posted by Steve

How to describe a Led Primary by Kino MacGregor? Athletic

The room on Saturday was packed for Kino MacGregor’s Led Primary.

As James — one of the teachers at Omkar 108 — said as he had everyone move their mats a few inches over, “You’ll get the full Mysore experience.”

We did. Although I suspect in Mysore, where people are used to that crowding, there’s a bit less chaos. Bobbie and I were fortunate to be next to each other, so that minimized the chaos a bit. It didn’t intrude too often.

To steal the word Bobbie used to describe the class: It was athletic. We could see why people are so entranced by Kino’s classes. Other teachers we’ve practiced with — the ones on the Confluence list most notably, but others, too — have perhaps moved more into the contemplative region of the practice. I think it is safe to say that was a reoccurring theme at both Confluences. There’s a a bit more conservation of energy going on with them.

Kino’s was full-out, especially in the places you’d expect: long Navasanas, deep Warriors, a focus on proper alignment (that also deepens the poses), the occasional long counts in poses. Not that she didn’t talk about focusing inward or about the importance of the breath. It’s just that the physical body felt very fore-fronted.

It felt, in another phrase, pretty Miami. I would imagine that the stereotypical Miami resident — image conscious, beach- and club-going, party-balancing (wait, did I just describe LA?) — would flock to this class. It was more of a body-wrecker; Kino promised we’d be sore in places we’d never been sore in before, although I’m happy to report I’m not. (I credit all those mildly terrified classes with Tim Miller when I gave 150%; I can still manage 100% and survive unscathed.) It felt more like the beginning of the Ashtanga journey, where one needs to get the Sacred Fire stoked. And it makes sense that that would be the class she’s take on the road. One would want to light the fires. (Meaning: I’m sure her classes at her home base are varied and different; I don’t mean she’s somehow a beginner.)

At the same time, while athletic, it wasn’t overly flashy. People weren’t encouraged to lift into handstands or any of the flourishes that exist out there. But she did want everyone to pick up in the seated poses. She wanted everyone “up” in between Navasanas. It was solid and the count true. Kino knows her stuff.

Ultimately, the class reinforced something David Swenson said at the Confluence: It’s amazing that the Ashtanga asana practice hasn’t changed more over the years. I was expecting a few more unexpected tweaks — something new out of Mysore, perhaps — but the small differences from how I’ve learned the Primary were ones I’ve encountered before.

I think we all know how easy it is to get caught up in questions and arguments about this style of Ashtanga versus that, this teacher’s take versus that one’s. Reflecting on Kino’s class, I’m more struck by all that’s the same, all that’s shared, and I figure that what’s shared is what’s Ashtanga yoga: breath, focus, intensity.

We’ll see if we get to her backbend workshop today. Householder duties continue to intrude mightily!

Posted by Steve