Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ding-ding, Round 2! Kino MaGregor in London (part 1)

This weekend I had the opportunity to practice with the wonderful Kino MacGregor when she came to London for a series of workshops – my second “bout” with her (read about my first one in March 2010 here) and one which left me reinvigorated, happy, exhausted and physically broken! I took notes, I took photos, I took some video, I took tremendous inspiration...but most of all I took away some lessons and changes which are affecting my practice already. But where to begin?
The weekend kicked off with a Friday night session, the asana demo, breathwork and Q&A. As I am local I had a normal day at work then headed down to the yoga centre, the only issue being that as a colleague was leaving that day we had a bottle of champagne in the office before we left – whoops! Of course it went straight to my head and I had to drink oodles of camomile tea before I got there to calm down my hot flushes – great start! Happily as I arrived I bumped into my friend S (who I met in Goa) and his partner A, neither of whom I knew would be there, so chatted to them before going in, always lovely to see familiar faces. Unfortunately our social moment out the front meant that we were right at the back of the room, so none of my photos of the demo are much cop, but there are plenty on facebook taken in her other workshops by other people if you want to ogle them! Interestingly for me, I found that during the breath exercises we did together I was able to sit very still and peacefully, and I wasn’t wishing the time away. When I took her workshop in March I am sure that this was more of a challenge for me, but in the past weeks I have been joining those who sit together after Friday’s Led class, so I am more accustomed to it now.
Watching Kino’s demo was amazing (of course), but whereas before I think I was just agog at what she could do (and I love the expression on her face throughout, she looks so chilled), this time I was watching the technique in certain things which were appropriate to me. She mentioned later that when people ask her why she does a demo, Krishnamacharya described yoga demos as “propaganda” which everybody found funny, but as Kino said, they can only be performed with sincerity otherwise the message will be lost (i.e. if a contortionist gave a demo it would be a quite a different thing). 
Watching the audience
After the demonstration Kino spoke - and as she says, she can talk all night! It's always hard to capture the essence of what she's saying as she moves so fast through complex concepts but I scribbled some notes while she talked which I will attempt to make some sense of now...bear in mind this is just a flavour of what she said, I may have got some up it mixed up and it's just my recollection. 
·        - The purpose of the primary series is to create a base level of health in the body. This can come from just sun salutations – the purpose of advanced asana is to peer into the soul and see who we really are.
She also went on to say that the harder the asana, the more opportunity there is for growth – so if you come up against major difficulty with the first forward bend of the sun salutations then you are very lucky, you don’t need the other asanas!
·        - The holy trinity of breath, movement and drishti can lead to a small pause in the fluctuations of the mind – beyond emotion, mental chatter, judgement. This is why we practice.
·        -  Hatha Yoga Pradipika talks about the body being a temple with a flame at it’s centre. Every inhalation ignites this spirituality and stimulates this agni. When we burn through the impurities in the body the flame does not stop burning.
Think of it as brushing your teeth (to make it seem less precious) – asana practice is the same in that we do it daily because we know that if we don’t, negative results will occur. Asana practice is also like cleaning the temple grounds – we do it not because it’s precious and special but essential. If we don’t practice, pain can occur which transcends lifetimes.

·        - Breath: in stressful situations, both the breath and the heartbeat react – there is a certain point of no return where this can’t be slowed down. Maintaining a long slow steady breath means the situation may never reach that point of no return (she was talking about an argument in particular). This can be used as a tool when reaching avenues of fear  - the only thing that can help us is breath.
·        - Samskaras: through asana practice we can awaken sleeping body parts or put energy into areas of our bodies that we don’t usually inhabit – this is the physical manifestation of our samskaras. Reaching the depth of physical practice is the only way we indentify our samskaras and breath is the only way to work through them.
·       -  I also asked a question in one of the afternoon workshops about shaking – we were attempting a one armed  balance (side plank) and I was shaking like a crazy person. Knowing that in exercise classes the shaking often means you are pushing a muscle to your limit I asked about this, and she said that as long as you can keep breathing then it’s ok to keep working there (as soon as you stop breathing then you need to worry!). She also said the other theory is that the shaking is a sign of samskaras leaving your body – which is of course a GOOD thing!
·        - When we feel that our unique problems are ours and ours alone this is ego talking. We need to use the same tools that we use in our yoga practice: reaching the depths of our samskaras we use maitri (friendliness) to come to terms with the samskaras at the depths of our being.
·        - Facing ourselves at the depths of who we are can be seen as a heroic journey – this is in fact the definition of a spiritual journey.
·        - Discipline can be re-formed as ritual, then it becomes a spiritual practice.
·        - Four step process: she talked a lot about this over the weekend, explaining that before initiating movement we should follow this:
1.      Body awareness.
2.      Satya – honesty. What does this really feel like? Is it tight?
3.      Maitra – friendliness. This is the active state of ahimsa, it’s what we do when we gently nurse a knee to warm it up rather than just ramming it into half lotus.
4.      Initiation of movement-  let’s see what happens.
If instead of following this you listen to the ego instead of the method of the asana, pain and injury are inevitable.
Not a great view, but still a great view :)
Somebody asked a question about how she deals with big world events like 9/11, or injustice in the world. (??) Turned out to be a good question because after talking in a quite a funny way  about her relative thoughts towards Osama Bin Laden,  Sarah Palin and George Bush she went on to say some things which I could apply directly to me.
·        - Don’t start off trying to practice compassion towards a person who has screwed you over – it’s not going to happen. Start small. Similarly if we think about world events and we feel like “that shouldn’t happen” (injustice for example) then we come from a place of antagonism i.e. not ahimsa. Instead we need to apply the same process we apply to the physical body – we feel, we go to the root, experience awareness (before we act).
·        Find the places where we have anger and start the work: treat it like an injury, use this process (as above). But don’t start trying to practice from 4th series, start with surya A – practice on a level that is easy, first practice loving the people who are easy to love (small babies, dogs – the equivalent of a sun salutation) then move onto the people who are much harder to love (the harder postures).

The Q&A part was interesting in itself for a few reasons (not least what Kino had to say of course!). In Edinburgh I seem to remember it being quite low key but this being London, people were practically trampling over one another to ask questions. I exaggerate slightly, but sitting at the back I raised my hand several times as it seemd that a previous question was near to being answered. I had decided in advance that I wanted to ask a question, and had devised one I thought interesting enough to the group which I did genuinely want to know the answer to (about bandhas in the first few years of practice). Unfortunately a few people sitting at the front preferred instead to ask multiple questions, turning it into more of a dialogue than a Q&A and I found myself getting quite wound-up. My friends were trying to encourage me to keep raising my hand but eventually I realised that it was my ego which was so very desperate to ask a questions so instead of getting frustrated and not listening to what was being said, I lowered my hand and adopted a softer approach. OK so it seems strange to come along on an ashtanga weekend and not be aware of who Pattabhi Jois/Manju/Sharath are or what goes on in Mysore, but everyone has to learn sometime don’t they? And true, personally I don’t consider a Q&A session to be a “this is your life” where we ask the teacher what was the hardest pose for them, questions about their personal practice and history (especially not when I’m a swot so I know all this stuff!) but again, it made me realise that I am very fortunate to have been guided in my early weeks of ashtanga by wonderful teachers and friends so that I had a base of knowledge right from the start. Additionally although I am immersed in the world of ashtanga with a regular teacher, a daily asana practice at a shala filled with like-minded individuals and a bookshelf full of resources, not everybody is (or would want to be). And this weekend was as much for them as it was for me. So I started practicing a little more compassion and instead of getting frustrated I stopped rolling my eyes and started just listened to whatever questions that came.

So that was the Friday night! This post has turned epic already so I plan to write up the rest of the weekend separately. Although that sounds a bit like famous last words... 
Read more in parts 2 and 3


  1. Great that you ended up doing the compassion thing towards the people in the front row asking and asking there own personal stuff.

    However, this kind of Q&A sessions is a major reason why I do not like to attend workshops with many participants. Looking at your photos it seems you were quite a big crowd. My experience is that for asana instructions and lectures it might be ok with a larger group, but for anything more personal or individual, such as asking questions or wanting individual advice, it just does not work very well.

    And for unknown reasons the price for a workshop with only 20 participants is usually the same as one with 60-70-80 participants ...

  2. I'm not sure I did a very good job of it, but I tried! There were 70-75 for the workshops/led class, less for the Q&A (maybe 50ish) but still a big group I suppose. The problem is, being in London, if you want to see a big name teacher (and that's a whole other discussion!) then it will always be a big group. To be honest I think it should be up to the participants to realise what's an appropriate level of questioning for the group as there are always chances to take a teacher aside and ask a personal question - luckily I had the chance to do this later, but not about my bandha question! Alternatively you could end up paying thousands for Kino's "old shala" workshops in Miami with only 12 people and find that 11 of them ask silly questions....or maybe 12! ;) Funny how we don't think of our own questions as silly or annoying...

  3. Great post Mel, I could feel your frustration with the question, but great that you were able to let it go.

    Kino has a gift for making sense of the practice.

  4. I love this, especially:
    'if you come up against major difficulty with the first forward bend of the sun salutations then you are very lucky, you don’t need the other asanas!'
    I like it because I've sort of caught myself thinking it already, albeit in a more negative slant - i.e. thank god I don't have any more asana to cram into my day! Instead I can rephrase it to think how lucky I am to get so much work and benefit from just the few poses I do.

    Also, your comments about the ignorance (in the literal, non judgemental sense) of some people at the workshop. I'd have been those people! Admittedly I wouldn't have asked questions, but I am probably as ignorant about the history of the practice.
    It is frustrating in any situation where someone monopolises the floor like that (and I'll just take care in my glass house now . . .).

    I realised recently I don't even know what 'ego' means in the yoga context. I only know it in the Freudian id/ego/superego triumvirate. Interesting how it's often written about in this context as being a negative thing, that kind of needs controlling. Sounds more like the way Freudians (and I'm not one, BTW) define the id - the childlike, demanding, me me me now now now part of our psyche.

  5. Thanks for responding. In fact you did a good job reporting and I enjoyed reading many of the details from the workshop, sorry if I did not communicate that well. Your post was so good that it even inspired me to comment :)

    I once attended a workshop with Richard Freeman with around 80 people and wish I had been better at showing compassion towards the people in the front asking about their own sore knees. So my comment was also a reflection of my own frustration, I guess.