On Dedication, Devotion, and Dharma (A Three Part Series)
Part I : On Dedication
A vibrant, blonde woman walks into the room—her small stature is no indication of her energy. There is no denying the bubbly, vivacious presence that comes across in the first few moments of meeting international yoga teacher, Kino MacGregor.
On her website it reads : “She is one of the few people in the world of yoga to embrace both the traditional teaching of India’s historic past and the popular contemporary social media channels.” She has over 400,000 followers on Instagram, and yet is also one of a select group of people to receive certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Some would declare this a stark contradiction, but Kino has found a path that feels authentic and true to all parts of who she is.
When we sit down for the interview, she doesn’t waste any time. A question about her upcoming workshop in Amsterdam on backasana (crane posture) propels her off into a discussion of challenge, dedication, and how asana becomes a reflective teacher for life.
“What often goes on is that we think that things are going to be easier than they actually are. . .many people are inspired to practice yoga. . .and then they realize it’s really, really hard, and they have to put in a lot of work. . .and some people get discouraged by that. They put in a little bit of work and they want the result. It is this sort of instantaneous gratification that I think is actually cultivated a lot by our contemporary culture.
"What I love about the process of yoga is when you reach that obstacle, there’s nothing you can do. You can hire the world’s best yoga teacher and they can guide you through the process but you still have to go through it yourself. They aren’t going to do the posture for you, you can’t buy your way out of it, you can’t beg your way out of it, you can’t cheat it, you can’t do anything except do the work. And this is one of the great humbling moments of the practice.” - Kino MacGregor
After these words pour forth in the first few minutes of my interview with Kino, I know that the highlight of this next hour is not going to be the authentic jasmine oolong tea that we share, though it is calming and serene to be with her while drinking tea. There is much wisdom here to sip on, within this young vivacious yogi from Miami.
Once you are exposed to her physical practice, you cannot deny that this is a practitioner of yoga who knows the essence of dedication. In fact, her practice has become as much a part of her daily, morning routine as brushing her teeth.
“I don’t doubt whether I am going to brush my teeth in the morning, I don’t doubt whether I’m going to have a shower everyday. So, like that, this yoga is who I am.”
But with dedication comes diligence, perseverance, and courage, and Kino is no stranger to suffering, to coming directly up against obstacles that shake her to the very core. This is where she says that the practice of yoga is a microcosm to the macrocosm of your life. This, she believes, is where the true aim of the practice is revealed.
She defines this true aim as contacting and revealing the limitless part of the true Self. This, much more than jumping into a handstand or getting both legs behind the head (both of which Kino does with grace and beauty), seems a worthy cause to dedicate ourselves to, as yogis.
“Its only when you reach that point of absolute limitation, of absolute impossibility that you are forced to contact a place inside of yourself that is beyond the world of limitation. In other words, the limitless part of yourself. It is only when you reach that obstacle, only when you reach that difficulty that your soul can really shine and come out—so the limitless expanse of the inner self is really a catalyst that brings about the removal of those blockages. But without the blockages, we don’t necessarily get that push back, that forces us to feel.”
She goes on passionately, almost without taking a breath, about how this process reflects our dreams in life. She declares, with positive authority, that our dreams do not land in our lap. We are not entitled to them, simply because they are our dreams. According to Kino, we have to work for them, to live and die for them, to be willing to dedicate all that we have to realizing them.
“Your dreams come true because you live and die for them, because you will work for them tirelessly, every single, day of your life to make them true. But if you’re not willing to work for your dream, if you’re not willing to stand alone and do the work and stand up for that, against anyone who doesn’t believe or against all odds that are out there, then who will?”
Indeed, who will ?
It is no secret that many practitioners of yoga find a passionate dedication in the start of their journey, and find it waning over many years of practice. Plateaus are reached, emotional turmoil is faced, boredom appears, anger and resistance surface, fatigue lingers, and true, inner peace still, somehow, seems a distant mirage. . .sound familiar? We find ourselves wondering if there is something else, if we should just drop it all together, if we are dedicating ourselves to a lost cause.
Kino giggles through a story she shares with me about a moment she had with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, her teacher, during her initial year of practicing yoga. During her first trip to Mysore, India, she found herself still wondering how the practice of asana correlates to the discovery and maintenance of inner peace. She had been practicing for ten months (she pauses to laugh about how this to her, at the time, felt like an immense amount of time and her longest relationship to that date).
During a conversation she had with Pattabhi Jois, she asked him the question of how the postures related to inner peace. While relaying his answer, her voice changes, to emulate an older Indian man, with broken English. Her brow furrows to imitate his gesture as if she is bringing him into the room : You do these three things : posture, looking, and breathing—MANY YEARS—then. . .Shanti is coming, no problem!
She laughs more, and it becomes contagious. I cannot help but laugh along with her. She explains to me what her teacher meant by those three things, in her own interpretation. “Posture”, she declares, referred to the consistent practice of asana in the Ashtanga yoga method. “Looking” referred to the drishti—the gazing point, the focal point during the practice, which steadies the mind. Breathing, according to Kino, gives us an access point into the inner body and controls the nervous system and the emotional body.
After explaining all of this to me she declares (still laughing) that her teacher, of course, never explained any of that to her. Only that single line :
You do these three things : posture, looking, and breathing—MANY YEARS—then. . .Shanti is coming, no problem!
He said it to her twice. The second time, double the volume.
Following this story, one of the most beautiful passages of the whole interview emerges. Kino declares that whenever she doubted the practice (which she says has happened often in the fourteen years she has dedicated herself to it), she would simply remember what Guruji (the respectful name she uses to refer to Pattabhi Jois) said: MANY YEARS.
“I felt like when I stared yoga I was looking for the answer. And after many years of practice I feel like I have found that answer, and that answer is the same thing which Guruji said. The answer is that this practice doesn’t work in the short term, it works in the long term. It is a lifestyle, something you commit yourself to. And it slowly brings about who you really are. And who you are, is so much grander and more beautiful than you could ever possibly imagine.”
I think to myself, “I could stop the interview right here.” Such a powerful declaration and my heart resonates deeply with what she has just said—that the practice of yoga, when embraced with longevity, commitment, and dedication, holds a promise that transcends the physical practice and slowly brings about who we really are—spiritual beings with a beauty unimaginable.
But Kino continues that in order to keep the longevity of the practice, the yogi must learn to calibrate the practice to what is happening in that moment, to support the physical body and its phases. You can maintain the continuity of the practice, without diverting from the method, by modifying your practice, when you need to.
“I practice when I’m sick, I practice when I’m injured, I practice when I feel really good. . .But if I’m injured or sick I think now is my opportunity to learn. . .That’s an important lesson to learn, particularly for Ashtanga yogis: how not to always be giving 150% of your effort.”
This leads her back to an impassioned discussion about obstacles, or samskaras (the sanskrit word that means impressions or imprints left on the subconscious mind, that are often declared as inner obstacles on the yogic path to enlightenment).
She declares that there is a posture that is meant to break everyone. And when you are broken, that is where the work of yoga begins.
She believes that these samskaras accumulate around us and consume some of the energy of our true Self. Each time one of the asanas places you up against an obstacle, a particular samskara is being purified. And every time you move past it, whatever energy it had taken from your true Self returns, so you are brighter, and more full.
“And each time that happens, you are a better person in the world.”
This seems a beautiful process that is worthy of our patience, heart, and dedication, that truly holds inner peace as its promise. As yogis, this is the practice we dedicate ourselves to, for many years.
“MANY YEARS, Shanti is coming. No problem!”