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.