Have you heard of Kino MacGregor? If you haven't heard of her, I encourage you to look her up on YouTube and watch some of her amazing videos.
She has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for over fifteen years, and I find her to be truly inspirational.
I have to be honest, before I found Kino on Instagram, I didn't know a whole lot about Ashtanga Yoga, but if there is a person to make you curious about Ashtanga, it's Kino.
My latest obsession is Ashtanga Yoga.
...and I can thank Kino for introducing me to this obsession.
Kino's yoga practice appears to be flawless. She smiles in almost every single picture and video that she posts, as if every pose is easy for her, which makes her seem almost not human. She puts her legs behind her head with ease, presses her little body into a handstand, and twists in ways that seem impossible to any normal person.
Many of my yogi friends find her annoying. They say, "she's too good." They wonder, "how can she do those crazy poses and still smile?!"
There was a brief period of time where those comments influenced me. I wondered how genuine she was. If she was really the yogi that she appeared to be.
Then I took a workshop with her earlier this year and blogged about it in my post, I want to be better. I discovered that she is even more amazing than she appears to be.
Kino is the reason that I decided to begin practicing Ashtanga Yoga. Last year, before I ever practiced with her in person, I bought her Primary Series DVD and practiced the series at home.
In summary: it's ridiculously challenging.
(Check out the series of postures in the primary series.)
I am not an Ashtanga Yogi, so bear with me as I tell you about what I have learned so far about Ashtanga Yoga based on the research I have done and classes I have taken.
First, feel free to read a little history of Ashtanga Yoga.
Second, from what I know, serious Ashtanga Yoga students are supposed to practice almost every day of the week, with the exception of when there is a full moon or a new moon (learn why).
Knowing this, you can see why Kino's yoga practice appears to be amazing. It's because her practice IS amazing! She has been practicing an incredibly challenging style of yoga almost every day for over fifteen years. It would be more of a surprise if she did not have an impressive practice.
Ashtanga Yoga requires a lot of discipline. When practicing in a Mysore class, which is a self led practice, the teacher dictates when you are ready to move on to the next posture in the series, initially practicing only a few poses of the series. Some students can be "stuck on a pose" for weeks, months, or even years.
I have only practiced Ashtanga in a class led by a teacher because I am very intimidated to try a self led, Mysore class. My ego fears that I won't make it very far into the practice. In fact, I'm not confident that I will make it beyond sun salutations!
Knowing about my latest obsession with Ashtanga, one of my friends recently sent me a great article which describes what to expect in a Mysore class. It was a really interesting article and put some of my fear aside momentarily, however, I am still not mentally prepared to try a Mysore class just yet. I plan to continue with led classes to establish a relationship with the teacher. Over the next few months, I hope to be courageous enough to practice in a Mysore class.
Why do I love Ashtanga?
First and foremost, I love Ashtanga for the history of the practice and the discipline required to excel in the practice. Most of us want to take the easy road to success. Most of us want results without putting in hard work. Ashtanga teaches us that we must work hard in order to excel in the practice. That there is no skipping ahead and no short cuts. Ashtanga teaches us to value the history of the practice and to learn from the mistakes and successes of our teachers.
I love Ashtanga because the practice requires you to trust your teacher. I recently took a led class, and when the teacher cued for us to go into headstand, she said, "This is not a time to learn headstand. If you do not have headstand in your practice, you must learn one on one with your teacher to learn the proper form before you attempt the pose in a class setting."
As a teacher, there is nothing more dangerous and terrifying than to watch a student attempt a pose they cannot do. I have seen brand new students attempt to do headstands and shoulder stands without any training and end up hurting themselves.
Most of the time, a teacher will cue a pose, like extended side angle, followed by a cue that says, "if you have a more advanced version of this pose in your practice, like a bind, feel welcome to go there now." More often than not, the students who attempt the advanced pose are the students who should not be attempting the advanced pose. As a teacher, I find this frustrating, however, I know that in the early days of my practice, I was guilty of doing this, too.
Please ask your teacher. Trust that they can guide you to a safe version of the pose that is appropriate for your body and your practice. And, listen to your body. If your body is screaming at you to stop, please leave the pose!
Finally, I love Ashtanga because it makes you "deal with your shit." You cannot move on to a new posture until you work out your issues with the posture you are "stuck on". The series was designed so intelligently that each pose prepares you for what is to come next. Which is why you cannot move forward until you have conquered each pose individually.
Doesn't this teach us a great lesson about life? Each experience in our lives, whether good or bad, prepares us for what is to come next. So often, we make the same mistakes over and over again, rarely reviewing our own history as something we can learn from. We think we know what is best for ourselves, and sometimes we do, but sometimes we should look to guidance from our teachers -- our parents, friends, elders -- who may have had similar experiences and can guide us into our future with less bumps in the road.
I believe that when practiced safely, and under the guidance of a trusted teacher, Ashtanga Yoga can prepare the mind and the body for anything.
Kino MacGregor has inspired me to practice Ashtanga and I hope this post inspires and encourages you to practice Ashtanga, too.
Stay tuned. This is likely not the last time you will hear about my experience will Ashtanga.
Whatever you do in life, yoga shows you how to do it better.
Keep practicing, every day.
P.S. Do you practice Ashtanga or have a new obsession you want to share? I'd love to hear about your experience! Leave me a comment below :)