“Ashtanga yoga is powerful because it’s humbling. It asks the strong to become flexible, the weak to become strong, the bored to become inspired, the excited to relax. It is the perfect balance of yin and yang, and the equalisation of the two opposing forces of sun and moon” – Kino MacGregor
I arrive in Dubai late evening and after a quick walk along the marina boardwalk I head to bed with butterflies in my stomach. I’m here for a 2-day workshop with the one and only Kino MacGregor. If you haven’t heard of Kino then I have no idea where you’ve been! She’s all over YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
In case you’ve been in hiding, Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author, blogger, vlogger, Producer of DVDs and co-founder of Miami Life Center. She is one of the few people in the world to have gained her certification direct from Sri K Pattabhi Jois himself and is currently working her way through the Fourth Series of Ashtanga Yoga with her teacher Sharath Jois in Mysore.
The fact that she blends the traditional yoga practice with modern social media makes her really accessible and approachable as a teacher and practitioner.
I don’t normally jet off across the world for a 2-day workshop, but seeing as I have a friend who also practises Ashtanga and lives in Dubai, this seemed like the perfect time to head out for some sun, friend and yoga time!
We arrive on Friday morning (the weekend starts on Friday in Dubai) at the Yoga Room. The Yoga Room is an Ashtanga school run by Joumana Saber, a student and teacher of the traditional Ashtanga method. The room is bright yellow, light and spacious. Well, spacious until 50 of us fill it up completely – you can’t even see the floor there are so many mats!
Kino walks in and the energy in the room changes. Nerves disappear and her presence is soothing and exciting at the same time.
We start the workshop with a guided primary series. The energy is immense and the heat we generate quickly fills the room. This is such a new experience for me – I’m used to morning practice in a Brighton studio where leg warmers are a must and the heating is always on to help soften the muscles and joints. But here the 24°C at 10am certainly brings the practice to a new level. I love every moment of it. My mat is a mess, my hair is indescribable, but the smile on my face as I lay resting at the end says it all.
After a lunch break in the sun (bliss) we come back for some backbending work.
The word backbend makes most people shudder with fear but Kino has her own way of approaching this. She makes us all giggle with stories about crying over lemons after deep backbending, which releases emotions in all of us. She keeps everything lighthearted and approachable; she’s so down to earth and we can all relate to her. All 50 of us sit around her, laughing and crying, as she describes the emotional and physical journey that is backbending.
I thought I understood backbends, but after an afternoon of breaking them down and working with them deeply, I realise there’s a whole lot more to learn. I get back to the flat and collapse on the sofa, falling into a deep sleep. The next morning I wake up with cramps – something only us ladies really know the meaning of – but something I had not experienced in a long time.
“Backbending is a journey into the emotional self” – Kino MacGregor
In 2012 I had a couple of miscarriages and completely shut down emotionally. I never wanted to feel the pain of being a woman, particularly an expectant mother in that kind of pain, ever again. I stopped having a menstrual cycle and in the last 2 years have only had about 2 periods. Both times happened after an Ashtanga class, and the second one was the day after the emotional backbending session. I had let go, I had let the journey happen and stopped forcing it. It was amazing and still to this moment just thinking about it brings me to tears.
That’s how powerful a session with Kino can be. She surrounds you with a light, a glimmer of hope in everything you do, and when she said “let it go and surrender” I truly believe for the first time in my yoga practice that I understood and just let it happen.
The second day was filled with hip work and handstands – breaking down the anatomy of each posture to really understand where the work should go and where the ego must be left behind. The emphasis was on how you felt in the posture as opposed to how the posture looked. I think this had a profound effect on each of us in that studio, as the excitement of wanting to look good in front of such a great teacher melted away with the sweat.
“The goal is to feel everything, the pose doesn’t matter. If you can feel the subtle movements of the inner body by simply lifting your arms up on Ekam, inhale then this is your yoga. The purpose of yoga is to feel the physical sensations that take you deeper through the emotional geography of the body. More postures don’t make you a good person” – Kino MacGregor
By the end of that second day I honestly felt my body and mind were truly opened and I finally understood what I was doing and why. Ashtanga yoga has changed my life; it’s a journey I look forward to every day when I step on my mat at home or in a class. This workshop with Kino affected me in a way I never thought it would; I found peace with myself and with my body.
After the workshop I had a day to myself to hit the beach of Dubai. I was alone with only my thoughts and, as I walked into the blue sea, I remember saying to myself “I let it go, I am happy and I am at peace” and plunged my head beneath the crystal water. I emerged out of the sea and suddenly felt like I was right where I needed to be. The right place in my life, in my practice, in my mind and in my body.
The key word that covered the whole workshop when facing fears and anxieties is to remain equanimous. To keep a balance in the mind, a place between joy and fear, pleasure and pain. To remain calm in all situations – on or off the mat.
If you ever get the chance to practice with Kino, do it! You won’t regret it and you’ll never look at your practice the same way again.
– Laurene Anstee
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