Category Archives: teachers

Instructors lead us down the path

Shiva Rea and the Evolution of Vinyasa Flow Practice

Photo: Donavan Wilson
Donavan Wilson interviewed Shiva Rea

Born in California, Shiva Rea developed a love of life and passion for yoga at an early age, by drawing on the inspiration of the rhythms of the Pacific Ocean. The passion for movement is Shiva Rea’s approach in Prana Flow Yoga and Yoga Trance Dance practices. Rea sat and discussed multiple passions and the evolution of the vinyasa flow practice with my friend and guest contributor Donavan Wilson when she swung through the East Coast recently. Shiva Rea will be coming to DC next Sunday (11/14) at Flow Yoga Center for three sessions. Rea’s previous visit to DC elicited a blog posting by Jessica Lazar.

Can you tell me about where you started your practice?

I was raised in Berkeley, California and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. The blues is in me since my time at birth.

Photo: yoga class in Warrior I pose
Virabhadrasana I at the Master Class at Thrive Yoga

You have southern roots?

I do, on my grandfather’s side. I came across a book on Asia and then a book on Zen Buddhism. I found a book by the Himalayan Institute on yoga asana when I was 14 years old. I would take this book into the living room and practice when no one was there. I remember my first asana, Vasisthasana, and a shift in consciousness in that very first asana. This feeling blew me away.

Continue reading Shiva Rea and the Evolution of Vinyasa Flow Practice

Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part IV

Final installment of Donavan Wilson’s interview with Kino MacGregor. Photos are provided from Kino MacGregor’s website. Contact Donavan at dwilson95 AT gmail_com.

The American Yoga Scene

Photo: portrait of Kino MacGregor with resting student in background
Kino MacGregor headshot

“I loved how many people are doing yoga today,” commented Kino as she offered her perspective on the direction of American yoga. “I think it’s great. What is really inspiring is how dedicated people are, not only in the U.S. but all over the world and how many people are getting turned on to it. The most inspirational thing about the American Yoga community is its embrace of yoga as lifestyle,” she said. “Also, what else that is exciting is the generation of children born into Yoga families and who have the exposure to a lifestyle committed to inner peace at an early age.” Continue reading Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part IV

Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part III

Installment III of Donavan Wilson’s extended conversation with Kino MacGregor about her yoga evolution. Since I have already apologized to Donavan for taking so long to get this article online, I should probably apologize to Kino now as well because she invested time and thought in answering Donavan’s persistent questions and did not see the end product for months. Photos are provided from Kino MacGregor’s website. In case you have not figure it out yet, just click on an image to see a larger format.

Finding a Home

Photo: Kino MacGregor, headshot
Kino MacGregor, yoga teacher

Kino discussed the direction of practice after Jois left New York. She identified Jois as her teacher. She practiced at few places, but with no success. Govinda Kai left New York City to assist Eddie Stern. The issues of affordability, convenience and schedule conflicts prevented Kino from practicing in a studio. Also, Kino had used her money to pay for her first trip to Mysore and Jois’ practice in New York City. She believed that her trip to Mysore and Jois’s tour of New York served as a message. Kino unrolled her yoga mat and practice in her apartment every single day. Govinda moved into Kino’s apartment and they became roommates. Kino participated in an occasional workshop, but identified Jois as her teacher. In the subsequent years, Kino returned to Mysore to practice with Jois. The longest time she stayed in Mysore was six months, doing so two years in a row. During her third trip to Mysore, she received the authorization to teach.

Continue reading Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part III

Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part II

Here is the second installment of Donavan Wilson’s interview with Kino MacGregor. We pick up the story when Kino has just flown off to India to tap into the source of Ashtanga yoga.

Watershed

Kino spent two months practicing with Jois at his yoga center in Mysore. Her dreams are a source of inspiration for her yoga practice and in life.

“The thing about Mysore that was amazing was meeting Guruji,” said Kino. “The practice was one thing; it is really his presence that was amazing. It was him, more than just the asanas. My first memory of Mysore was questioning whether or not I would really be open to the idea of a guru, someone to have authority over me” she said.

Continue reading Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat – Part II

Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat

Photo: Donavan Wilson
Donavan Wilson wrote this extended interview with Kino MacGregor

Donavan Wilson has been using yoga to develop patience, and he needed it when he sent me an extended interview with Kino MacGregor, the Miami-based Ashtanga master teacher. I sat on it for months. I’ve got my excuses, but none of them can account for all the time that’s slipped by since the 3000-word article landed in my inbox. He and Mary Naeger wrote up a Kino workshop at Woodley Park Yoga in December. Donavan wrote up an even more extended exchange with Kino, so much that I am breaking it up into separate notes. He provides a look into the personal evolution of a yoga teacher.  Contact Donavan at dwilson95 AT gmail_com.

First Taste

“I was 19, fast and wanted the world to happen yesterday” said Kino MacGregor whose passion for life exuded from her. Kino is from Miami, Florida and is an only child. Kino’s mother is Japanese and father Scottish. She has spent her college years at the University of Miami and earned a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Later, she obtained a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration on science studies from New York University (NYU).

After suffering injuring her Achilles tendon from taking too many aerobics classes, her desire to remain physically active led her to yoga. As she was working out she wanted to experience something new and different. “I went into this Sivananda-style class and just hated it,” said Kino. The class was relaxing and calm, which happened to be the exact opposite of what she was looking for.

Continue reading Kino MacGregor: Passion on the Mat

Yoga for Pain Relief — what I read during the snow storm

Cover art of McGonigal's bookKelly McGonigal sent me a copy of her book Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind & Heal Your Chronic Pain (New Harbinger Publications, 2009) and I’ve been sitting on it for nearly two months.

Kelly does not need another review of her book. Eighteen endorsements from yoga experts, health advocates, pain relief specialists, and scientific researchers are spread over four pages. Timothy McCall, the medical editor of Yoga Journal and author of Yoga as Medicine, wrote her foreword. She got a review from Yoga Journal in the March issue and also publishes an article on Surya Namaskar (Sun Salulation) in the same issue.

She has a blog, The Science of Will Power, on Psychology Today (looks like it comes out twice a month), as well as her personal blog, Science and Sutras. Also check out her Facebook page.

She’s giving seminars at the Omega Institute (New York). She’s quoted in Time magazine, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She’s starting to make appearances on TV.

As a psychologist at Stanford University, she’s uniquely positioned to see where yoga is interfacing with Western scientific investigation and medical practice, both in terms of theory and practice, at a time when neuroscience is redefining and re-dimensioning our understanding of the human mind. She’s also an accomplished yoga instructor and teacher of instructors, as well as the editor for the International Journal of Yoga Therapy.

Do we see a pattern developing here?

She definitely does not need another book review or endorsement from a blogger.

New Harbinger has produced an understated book format, looking similar to the scores of other “Yoga for …. [name your disease, symptom or preferred body part].” Clean design, large font size, gray scale photos. So what sets this book apart from all the stock in the self-help section?

Photo: deepening the twistOnce I started reading her book, it impressed me as an important blueprint for yoga in the United States. It’s a book that I would recommended to anyone who wants to understand what you can get from yoga/meditation. The book hits a kind of “sweat spot:” this is yoga’s entry point with the minimal initial physical investment, the lowest opportunity cost and the biggest pay-off. You don’t have to get in shape, build up your aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility before seeing results. You don’t even need to know what’s wrong with you for yoga to do you some good.

The book is extraordinarily accessible: No jargon, either from the Sanskrit or from the academic/scientific lingua franca, no intellectual arrogance, no magical incantation, no gateway to esoteric wisdom, no complicated sequences of poses. Within the first 25 pages (out of 183 pp), she’s giving you easy routines to start using what’s she teaching, in this case, observing your breath.

One of the things that Kelly said five years ago has stayed with me and she repeats it in the book: people seek out yoga because they are suffering, either physically, psychologically or spiritually. Human suffering is a great motivator and a constant of human existence. The book’s virtue is simplifying yoga down to a concise, clear message: Relieve your suffering; start with these easy steps. If Patanjali had written like Kelly, yoga would have taken over the world (kidding — a little).

Kelly also understands the value of personal narrative alongside the findings of randomized, blind control experiments, and she has included compelling stories of people impacted by yoga throughout the book.

I also appreciate her thoughtful listing of resources: meditation and yoga instruction books, audio/DVD, music for movement, meditation and relaxation, books for people with pain, non-profit organizations supporting people with pain, and organizations supporting research, education, and professional training in yoga and meditation. In addition, she has 50-item bibliography. If you poke around her blogs, personal website or her book site, you’ll find lots of pointers to central reference texts, scientific studies, resource centers and specialized knowledge hubs — stuff that she did not include in the book because they would have gotten in the way.

New yoga book comes highly recommended

Cover art of Kelly McGonigal's book— and I haven’t even read it yet. Kelly McGonigal has written a book Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind & Heal Your Chronic Pain (New Harbinger Publications, 2009). Kelly is a health psychologist at Stanford University (and got the PhD to prove it) and teaches multiple classes on campus and in the San Francisco area, as well as workshops and teacher training. She is also the editor of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, a peer-reviewed journal of research on yoga and meditation.

Why am I so sure that Kelly’s book would be worth reading? Because I took an online course on the question of “Can Yoga Really Change Your Life?” and I followed her career over the past six year. She was instrumental in steering me through the first year (maybe, more) of my yoga immersion. She came to yoga because of her own pain, helped others by becoming a teacher, applied the rigors of Western scientific methodology to yoga and finally shared her knowledge, skills and gifts by writing about yoga and editing others’ articles.

I’ll tell you more once I get my hands on the book.

Postscript: Kelly has contacted me and offered to send me the book.

Learn, Awaken and Focus: Kino MacGregor’s Weekend Workshop at Woodley Park Yoga

Photo: Mary Naeger and Donavan Wilson, authors of reviewGuest bloggers: Mary Naeger and Donavan Wilson went to the Brian Kest workshop with me earlier this year. They both attended the Kino MacGregor weekend workshop.

Photos come from Kino MacGregor’s personal site, and were not taken at her DC workshop, which I subsequently found to be here.

Kino MacGregor is the youngest women certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. A founding director of the Miami Life Center and devoted student of Ashtanga, Kino travels internationally leading classes, workshops and retreats in Ashtanga yoga and total life transformation. Recently on December 12-13, Kino held a weekend workshop at Woodley Park Yoga in Washington, DC. The workshops consisted of the following elements: a guided Ashtanga class, a Mysore class, a class on inversions, handstands and the art of balance and a class on hips and hamstrings. Through her dynamic presence, limitless energy, radiant personality, masterful instruction and graceful, consistent and strong demonstrations, Kino was a source of inspiration to all participants.

Guided Ashtanga: “Guided” is the term used to describe the traditional vinyasa yoga class in which students are led as a group through all or part of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The Primary Series (or First Series) is the first sequence of asanas (postures) taught to beginning Ashtanga yoga students and provides the foundation for all advanced postures in Ashtanga. The Primary Series consists of 75 poses that begins with Sun Salutations (five rounds of Surya Namaskar A and B) and moves on to standing postures, seated postures, inversions, and back-bends before ending with finishing postures and final relaxation.

Kino’s Guided Ashtanga class was challenging and rigorous for even the most experienced Ashtanga student. She led the class through two intense hours of the entire 75 postures of the Primary Series using the traditional Sanskrit count of each vinyasa. Kino’s habit of counting slowly and deliberately succeeded in intensifying the experience for each student turning it into a dynamic and painstaking class for both the experienced and novice student. Her expert guidance and appropriate adjustments enabled students to explore new heights (and depths) in their practice safely. Not a class for the fainthearted, students with limited experience practicing the full Primary Series and those with little or no proficiency in Sanskrit were challenged further by the vigorous physical demands of the practice and the absence of instruction in English.

Workshop Footnote: With two hours to spare between the two workshop classes on Saturday and another Guided Ashtanga class scheduled in the studio, most participants left the studio for a light lunch while Kino opted to practice in one of the changing rooms.

Inversions: Establish a Foundation

The second workshop of the day focused on inversions, handstands and the art of balance. Kino spent the first hour discussing a meticulous and analytical approach to inversions. Designed to instill a sense of confidence and hope in the most doubtful student, Kino taught students to embrace a new mantra of “pelvis forward” rather than “up” when approaching headstands and handstands along with techniques that students can employ to engage their upper back muscles to establish a strong, supportive foundation for the poses. For the yoga student used to “kicking up” to propel the torso into an inversion, Kino’s approach proved challenging in that it required drishti (focus) and emphasized controlled movement initiating from the pelvis and not physical momentum using the strength of one’s legs.

Mysore: A Symphony of Breath

The Mysore practice is an opportunity for each student to be taught individually in a class setting. Participants receive a one-on-one lesson based on where they are in the Primary Series. Students practice their own portion of the Primary Series at their own pace. The teacher assists each student individually through verbal instruction and physical adjustments. The smaller the class, the more individual attention a student can receive from a teacher. After the invocation and chanting, each participant began their practice with the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) at their own pace. The conditions for the Mysore class were mat-to-mat as it was for each segment of the workshop segment and participants were very accommodating to students who needed additional space or arrived late. The numbers or the mat-to-mat conditions did not affect the quality of instruction students received from Kino. Kino masterfully provided each student with adjustments, instruction and guidance. Kino moved throughout the studio floor and kept a keen eye on everyone. There is nothing so sublime as to watch students in their own movement and breath in the Mysore practice. The room was filled with Ujjayi breathing which was almost in complete concert with each participant.

Hips and Hamstrings: Open To The Possibilities

Some yoga students cringe when it comes to practicing certain postures because they are “tight” or stiff in the hamstrings and hips. Kino’s “Hips and Hamstrings” class offered an approach to this predicament. Kino began the class with a short lecture on body mechanics and demonstrations on the important role of the pelvis, hips, and hamstrings in forward bends and balancing poses. In a fun and non-threatening way she sought to simplify the mystery of the bandhas and instruct the class in the foundation of healthy poses by emphasizing three key elements: 1) establish a strong foundation by pushing down through the heels; 2) engage the core by hollowing out the belly, and 3) achieve length and depth by elongating the spine. By applying these three elements and her techniques on proper hip and pelvic rotation, soon the once skeptical yogis and yoginis in class were “making phone calls” with their right or left foot while envisioning some day being able to place their feet behind their head without pain or stress on the neck.

Yin yoga in ascendence

Dana Cohen has returned to Thrive Yoga, sadly for a brief stay before heading off to Asia. She will be taking over some of Susan’s teaching load during the Holidays, but she will also be starting up Yin Yoga classes. On Saturday, there will be an extended, 3-hour workshop that will expose participants to the approach of targeting connective tissue, specifically ligaments and tendons in the joints and spine, in holds that last 3-5 minutes. This approach differs from the emphasis on movement in a vinyasa/Yang Yoga practice. In both cases, breathing is still central.

During December, Dana will be leading Yin Yoga classes in the normal schedule of classes, and Michelle Fry will be continuing them in January. I took a Tuesday evening class with Dana this week. She made several adjustments in my Downward-facing Dog pose that really helped me focus on accessing the right combination of muscles in the alignment. Amazing what a few gentle touches can do for awareness.

Dana has been out on the West Coast, grabbing lots of opportunities to practice her Thai yoga therapy, give classes and play with fire: