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The Spirtual Side of Yoga w/ Kino MacGregor

 

Kino MacGregor is a certified Ashtanga teacher from Miami, author of three books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, co-founder of Miami Life Center (www.miamilifecenter.com), co-founder of Yoga Challenge (www.yogachallenge.com) and OmStars Clothing (www.liquidoative.com/omstars). You may know her from Instagram where she has over  (www.instagram.com/kinoyoga) 960,000 followers and on Kino Yoga YouTube channel with over 90 million views(www.youtube.com/kinoyoga).

I have followed Kino on the interwebs for many years, practiced with her several times and interacted with her via the net, on a few occasions.  I love Kino because she is genuine and honest.  I am a simple girl. Mysterious strangers with secrets aren’t my thing. I love straight up people who are straight up about their lives. Kino is straight up which makes her my kind of girl.

Contrary to the name of this website, 90% of the APP’s content is about living yoga. When Kino and I discussed doing an interview, I immediately knew that I wanted to talk to her about Yoga philosophy and spirituality. Many people only know Kino for her beautiful inspiring asana practice. I wanted you guys to see another aspect of Kino.

If you are looking for information on Kino’s shorts or how to do handstand, go ahead and “x” out of your browser. If you would like to delve more into the spiritual side of Kino MacGregor, keep reading.

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APP: I’ve been to a couple of workshops you’ve done and I follow you on Periscope. A lot of times when you talk, you quote from the Sutras, and a lot of times you quote in Sanskrit. I’ve always wondered, do you have them memorized?
Kino: That’s a really good question. I have gone through a period where I studied the yoga Sutras with two Indian teachers. Part of my study was to chant the Sutras. We survey how we made it through the chanting of book one and book two in relation to the Sutra studies. As I was chanting, I was able to commit a good portion of them to memory. I don’t have them completely memorized, but a good portion of them are stuck in my mind from the chanting practice.
APP: Do you still chant them, or not as much?
Kino: Well, it used to be like every day. There was a period where I was just chanting book one and book two every single day. I did it like a devotional practice. I don’t do that every day. My daily devotional practice has, I would say, evolved. There are times when I go through to review the philosophy. Or if I feel that I’m disconnected from yoga’s spiritual heart, I will go back, and chant them, and review them again. My daily devotional practice has, sort of, shifted a little bit from chanting now. I do have an intention to go back and do the same thing in greater detail with book three and book four, but I haven’t been able to do that just yet.
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APP: What’s your favorite Sutra?
Kino: Well I think my favorite … I have … Oh gosh. I was about to answer right away and then I realized that there are so many that are just amazing that really just fill the essence of the practice. I would probably say, if I could choose 1 from book 1, and 1 from book 2, then I would probably be able to answer that in a very appropriate way. For book 1, my favorite Sutra is, I think it’s number 1:33. It’s, “Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhkha Punyapunya Visayanam,” kind of long, “Bhavanatas Citta Prasadanam.” Which is the Sutra that talks about, you should cultivate an attitude of friendliness for those who are virtuous, so those who have Punya, which is virtue. Maitri, which is friendliness. You should cultivate an attitude of Karuna, compassion for those who are experiencing … Oh, I think I actually got that connection wrong. It’s an attitude of friendliness for those who are happy. It might be for the ones who are experiencing Sukha. An attitude of compassion for those who are experiencing Duhkha, or pain. Then, an attitude of Mudito, or joy, for those who are Punya, virtue, or with success. An attitude of Opeksanam, or the remaining equanimous or taking no action, not being bothered by. Those who you deem as evil, or non virtuous, in the world.
This Sutra is a really good, sort of, life lesson for Yogi’s. You know, because this gives us how to create what Pattabhi Jois calls the balanced mind of the Yogi. This is a really good tool to draw upon in social interactions. If you’re about to join a negative blog, or you’re about to post anonymous comments that are negative on someone’s Instagram, or something like that. As a Yogi, I feel you have to remember, “Oh, Maitri Karuna.” You just check yourself a little bit, and you can realize, “Oh, wait a minute. What is my intention in doing this? What’s going on?” You just ask yourself that question.
I think that also helps a lot, not just in the anonymous fear of social media, but if we could truly find a connection to people who are suffering. For example, the next time that we’re in an argument with a friend or family member, then instead of just responding to those sort of deeply entrenched triggers that are embedded within our consciousness, we take a moment and we say, “Well, wait a minute. Actually, my sister, my uncle is actually suffering right now. My daughter is suffering right now.” The response is compassion from the Yogi, instead of lashing out and speaking harsh words of judgement. It gives you so much peace because I feel that actions that are not spoken from this state are just so dangerous because they can trap us so easily.
That’s book 1. It was a long answer. Then, in book 2, there’s a really wonderful Sutra that talks about the Yogi’s mind. I can’t remember the number (2:41), but it starts off by talking about, “What are the qualifications of the Yogi’s mind?” The Yogi’s mind is in a state of [sattavasuddhi], associated with peace and harmony. ” ekagrya Indriyajaya” is able to keep the mind on a single point of attention. “Atmadarshana” is able to experience the “Atman”, the true and high directly, and is able to control the “indriyajaya” or the organs of the five senses. “saumanasya”, creating the peaceful disposition of a Yogi’s mind….which is that cheerful, happy attitude. 
Whenever I read that Sutra, it reminds me of Guruji, speaking with happy joy. I remember his cheerful disposition, his boundless energy, and his ability to be so single-pointed. His ability to kind of embody the deeper essence of the spiritual practice. You could look at him and see that he was a man who has known God directly, not intellectually, but you could see that he is someone in whom the spirit has lived and touched. That was something so powerful to be around. When I think of that Sutra from book 2, I always think of Guruji and, really, the hope that he represents for each of us to go on that same path and that same inner quest.
APP Awesome. The first one, 1:33, is one of my favorite ones, too.
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APP:  Some people think that in order to understand, especially like Book 1 (of the Yoga Sutras), that you have to have been through some awakening experience, or be on some serious spiritual Sadhana to understand it. Specifically Book 1, but I know people who believe that you have to be that way to understand any of the Sutras. What do you think?
Kino: One of the things that Guruji would always talk about, is that to be a Yogi is to be a [Sadaka], a true spiritual seeker. I think that this notion of yoga as a personal practice creates the doorway for every single person to have a very deep and direct communion with God, the Spirit within them. I think this idea of having a transformational experience is not so far off, you know? It’s all about how we define that life changing, transformational experience, you know? Some people’s lives change from a really deep back bend, you know? Some people’s lives change the moment they go up into a headstand, because it just changes the way they inhabit their body so much, or it sparks a new realization of … A sleeping emotion comes to surface and bubbles up to the surface. It changes you.
I think that this idea of all of the truths that are in the yoga Sutras must be grounded in the reality of true spiritual practice, is absolutely valid. The Sutras, and really yoga as a philosophy, is really created on the benchmark of the necessity to truly practice and commit yourself on that level of sincere spiritual investigation. I don’t think we need to make it as a lofty goal, but as just a reality of it. You have to get on the practice with the right intention of the spiritual journey. Then that gives you the framework to understand any of the philosophy, whether it’s Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras, or it’s any of the classical yoga texts.
APP: Do you feel that the Asana alone can lead someone to the spiritual path?
Kino: Guruji said, “You take Asana, Asana, Asana,” for many years and basically I think that when Guruji was saying that, what he meant was you don’t need to understand how it’s working, but if you take a look at theories of consciousness, and theories of embodied consciousnesses, one of the things that we can sort of readily see is that how we inhabit our bodies is a direct impact on how we think, how we feel, and, really, who we are in the world. One of the most transformational aspects of the yoga Asana practice, is that it changes the way we inhabit our bodies. It changes our notion of strength. It changes our feeling relationship with our hips, it changes the way our consciousness is embodied in the physical form of our corpse, our body. That, in-and-of-itself, I believe is a doorway that is an invitation to subtle spiritual shifts.
It’s up to the practitioner to follow that and I feel that Asana is such a powerful tool, that it sends a brighter, brighter, and brighter light, almost like a beacon, into the darkness. It’s up to the practitioner to follow that. I don’t think it’s a guarantee, but I think it’s a very strong lighthouse into the darkness of the mind, into the untrained mind rather. I think it’s very likely that many people who start with pure Asana eventually find their way into being fully immersed in that spiritual light.
APP:  Do  teachers have a duty to introduce their students to the other 7 limbs?
Kino: I think there’s 2 parts to that. I think that when you’re the teacher, you’re first responsibility is to “walk the talk.” To live your life as much as possible in accordance with the yogi values. That you stand there and you embody that truth. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, and none of us are perfect. We’re humans and even the yoga teacher will never get it 100 percent right, but there should be a sincere effort, so that purely by example, the students are then inspired to inquiry about diet, inquire about lifestyle, inquire about choice. I think, more than anything else, that, first and foremost.
For example, if you take it back to Guruji, you never saw Guruji out partying, drinking lots of wine, and smoking pot, and things like that. I mean, it just makes me laugh at the idea of seeing Guruji like that. Just his presence embodied this immense integrity. It was this natural inspiration to ask him, “Well, Guruji, what should I eat? Well Guruji, where should I look to find Yogi values? How should I live my life?” His presence inspired the students to act. That’s 1 aspect of it, but I think that’s probably the first and foremost, is that as a teacher, your responsibility is first and foremost to “walk the talk.” To embody in your life the principles of what you want your students to aspire towards.
Then the second aspect is, carefully introduce key aspects of the yoga philosophy as is appropriate and applicable to the students’ individual practice. (It) is an absolute necessity to deepen the teaching of yoga and the traditional teachers relationship. For example, if we use Asana as a base, and we have a student who is coming to class and continually smells of alcohol and cigarettes, the yoga teacher, at some moment, has the responsibility to mention the impact of lifestyle choices on the Asana practice, with the hope that they may be able to shine a little light in that area of darkness, and inspire the students to make some considerable lifestyle changes. If that holds true, really whether it’s alcohol and cigarettes, or anger or depression, or addictions, of any kind.
APP: Pattabhi Jois’ famous quote, “99 percent practice and 1 percent theory.” What do you think it means?
Kino: Well, you know what’s really funny is if you look a little bit earlier,  the first time Guruji came to the United States, he actually said, “95 percent practice and 5 percent theory.” Then, after about, I don’t know, 5 or 10 years of teaching outside of India, he changed it to 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory.
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 We approach the yoga practice from a rational, intellectual perspective, that’s our first mode of study. It’s a very traditional, kind of western pedagogical framework. You know, we study and we analyze. We look for the definite, we look for a box. We tend to have this idea of, well, as an example, if we take the posture called Trikonasana, or the Triangle pose, and we say, “Exactly what angle should the hips be externally rotating towards? Should it be 90 degrees, or should it be 87 degrees? Should it be heel aligned with the heel, or should the heel along with the arc, and should it align with the inner arch or the outer arch?” We obsess about these little details. Essentially, these are the theory Guruji is saying with the 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory. Essentially, “Don’t get obsessed with the finger pointing at the moon, it is the moon that we’re interested in.” It’s the spiritual experience, it’s the inner experience, it’s the heart and soul of the practice. You’ll find that through practice. You could get lost in the minutiae of …
You know, how many wars are waged online, or in the yoga world, between a posture like Trikonasana? It’s astounding to me. People in 1 tradition say that you should hold your toe, Ashtanga, we like to hold our toes. If you’re Iyengar, you don’t like to hold your toe. You want to put your fingers, or your hand on the ground. Other styles of yoga want to hold the shin, other styles of yoga want to hold the block. Some people want a long Trikonasana, some people want a short Trikonasana. It’s the triangle pose and we’re yelling at each other about it. Who has the right answer? This is Guruji saying, “Just practice. The practice will give you the key. You’ll understand it. If somebody wants to hold their toe, it’s okay. If they don’t want to hold their toe, it’s also okay. It’s practice. We’re all on the mat, let’s just practice and to use that same analogy, “keep our attention on the moon, not on the finger pointing at the moon.” Keep our attention at the deeper dimension of the practice.
APP:  I’ve never heard it broken down that way, that the 1 percent theory also includes the little things, like the direction of my hips in Trikonasana. I’ve never heard that. Most people, when they talk about the theory, they’re like, “Oh, well that means, like the yoga philosophy is the theory.”
Kino: That’s interesting. I feel that alignment and technique is all part of the theory, because it’s an intellectual idea. You can see that there’s so much thought given into it about, “How should the shoulder rotate? It should rotate like …” We get lost in this minutiae of the body, and it’s mechanical functions, when it’s the spirit that inhabits the body and the essence of yoga, you know? Without the spirit, the body is a bag of bones. Without saying it too harshly, it’s the spirit that gives us life.
APP: “Isvara Pranidhana”, what is that to you?
Kino: “Isvara Pranidhana”, first and foremost, surrender my will into God’s will. This is something I do every morning. I have a relationship with God and I surrender my will into God’s will every morning. I know what it means to live with my will, and that doesn’t really get me anywhere. Every day, surrender and devotion to God. 2 things: First, surrender your will into God’s will. Recognize that you cannot control all the pieces of your life. Have the humility to surrender, and to a power that’s bigger and grander than you can imagine. Trust that that power loves you and has good things in store for you, bigger and more amazing than you could ever imagine.
The second part of that is what are you devoted to? You’re devoted to things that you love. You have to love the Lord, you have to love God. You have to love his presence, his greatness, and want to be close to him and want to have his presence infuse every aspect of your life. To have sacredness be a blessing in every breath, in every moment, and in every action that you take. In each breath that you practice, and each pose that you do, so that it is about this devotion, this love of the Lord, and wanting to be close to the spirit world. Close to his spirit, really, in every breath and in every moment of your life, in the highest devotion, in the highest reverence, in the highest sense of the Sacred.
APP:  Does a student have to have some type of relationship with God in order to practice the 8 limbs of yoga?
Kino: If we look back, I think there’s 2 ways of, sort of, seeing this. To what Guruji said, Guruji always said, “You do your practice, you think about God.” You know? “Guruji, what should I think about when I practice? Should I think about my hip joint, and should I think about how to lift up higher? Should I this?” Guruji, “Oh, you do your practice. You think about God.” He would smile and he would say, “Oh any God you like.” Your God. A lot of people would say, “So Guruji, do I need to become a Hindu?” He would say, “Nope, don’t do that. Don’t pick up Hindu.” Your God. This is the whole notion of yoga. Your direct experience and relationship of God.
I wasn’t raised with any religion. My grandfather is Buddhist. My parents never really went to church. My dad was raised in a Protestant family. My grandfather was Buddhist, but my mom went to Catholic school because they used to beat her up because she’s Japanese. She grew up in post World War II America. He sent her to Catholic school because it was … I don’t know … It was the less likelihood that she would get beaten up. She got her teeth knocked out of her jaw when she was, like, 5 years old.
APP: Oh my God.
Kino: It was pretty nasty. Again, the Japanese people faced a lot of discrimination in the post World War II era. I guess they’re easy to single out. Like, my grandfather was in an internment camp during World War II, as well. They grew up in that America. She went to Catholic school, but he was Buddhist so she got this Catholic education. They raised me, they said, “We’re not going to tell you what to believe, you have to make that decision for yourself at some moment.” For a long time, I didn’t know whether God existed, and I had a very strong reaction to cultural presentations of God, particularly extreme forms of any religion, whether that would be Christianity or the Muslim faith, or Judaism, or really any extreme form of religious doctrinal-based structure of worship. I really didn’t like any of that, and I found it patriarchal, and hierarchical, and I found it to entrench centuries old power structures that I didn’t want anything to do with.
For me, its a very good question. I found a relationship with God through the practice, through yoga. I don’t think that you need to have a faith to begin the practice, but I think that the magic of the inner world starts to be revealed to you. To be a Yogi is to be on a spiritual adventure. You don’t know what you’re going to find. That world will reveal itself to you, and it is only necessary to be curious. To have a receptive heart, to have a yearning for truth, to have a yearning to be strong enough, really, to realize who you are and what you’re deepest potentials. The practice itself will open those doors and it will never tell you what to believe, but it will invite you to experience a deeper truth.
Then you make your own decisions based on your experience, but the experience that’s happened for me is that I’ve experienced the presence of God for me beyond the shadow of a doubt. For me, it’s not just a question of, “Does God exist?” This would be the question of asking me if my mom exists. I know my mom exists. She exists. That’s not a question because I have a relationship with her, I talk to her, I feel her presence. I know what it’s like to hang out with her and I feel that through “Isvara Pranidhana”.  Through the practice, through devotion to the Lord, to surrendering my will to God, that I feel his presence wrap around me and guide me in a way that I just never imagined possible. I can definitively, it’s nothing like these organized structures, and dogmas, and doctrines, that I never liked growing up. We try to put the infinite into a box of the finite. Whenever we do that, it just doesn’t work.
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APP: I haven’t been to Mysore, so this is just like conference notes that I’ve read. I do hope to go this season, I’m just a broke yoga teacher. Anyway, in the conferences, Sharath talks about meditation as being something that arises spontaneously within you, or it’s something that arises as you practice, as you’re just living your life. Is seated meditation necessary?
Kino: Well, I asked Guruji about meditation. When I went to Mysore for the second time, I really wanted to learn meditation. “Guruji, should I meditate?” He looked at me and he said, “Oh, you have meditation trying. Sitting, thinking, thinking, thinking, one hour”. (There was a break in the recording, but essentially Guruji told her not to meditate and then she asked him again and he said, to meditate.) I sat there and I thought for an hour. Then I asked him again. He said, “You Padmasana, lotus position. Sitting one hour meditation trying, no problem.” I thought, “Wait a minute. Did he just tell me to sit in meditation for an hour.  That’s hard.” I tried that and I didn’t make it. I made it to like 57 minutes. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t do it. The last … I was like, “I’m going to die.” The worst pain that I’ve ever felt.
Now, for me, I’ve heard Sharath say that and then Sharath also, I’ve heard him also say, “If you want to sit there and calm your mind, go ahead.” Is it necessary? No. Is it extremely useful? Absolutely. For me, from my perspective, the meditative mind, you can get that through the Asana practice. There’s a lesson about the meditative mind, or the equanimis mind, that I think every Yogi needs to learn. Whether they learn that through Asana, or they learn that through seated meditation, I think that is an essential part of the yoga path, is the ability to cultivate the meditative mind, which is the watching mind, the objective mind, the neutral mind. The mind that is not disturbed by pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness. The mind that’s strong enough to walk the middle way, and that is a very important lesson for the yoga practitioner, whether they can gain that core through the sitting practice, or gain that core through the Asana practice, it’s more of a principle than a shift.
From my perspective, so many of my struggles have been mental. I suffered from depression since I was 9 years old. It’s come in periods of, sort of, on again and off again. I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. You know, I’ve been working with different types of therapists. For me, the meditation practice was more effective than any therapeutic tool, any pharmaceutical tool, to train my mind and, really, instead of fighting those mental demons, to learn how to make friends with them. Really, to remain equanimous in their presence, and to, sort of, shift my paradigm for how to be, really. For me, it’s been an amazing tool. I can only recommend it, but I don’t think that it’s necessary. Is it necessary? No. Is it extremely useful? Absolutely.
APP:  A lot of people have made yoga totally physical, especially a lot of teachers and a lot of people who own studios, have made yoga really physical, work-out orientated. It’s always the same reason, “Well, you know, people don’t relate to the spiritual part of it. I’ve got to pay these bills. I’ve got to keep the studio open. I’ve got to fill up the classes.” Does the means justify the ends?
Kino: There’s sort of 2 aspects of being a contemporary Yogi. You could say, if you’re going to be a yoga teacher, or you’re going to be a studio owner, which is that you’re coming from a place of sharing the spiritual traditions that changed your life. At the same time, you’re looking at the necessity to pay your bill.  I remember when we first opened Miami Life Center, we were like, “Wow, are we going to make our rent this month?” It was like, “We have to make the rent, we have to pay our bills, we have to do electricity, there’s insurance. We got to pay the teachers.” “Is anyone going to come to class?” We used to have all of these sort of big meetings around, “What are we going to do to get people to class? What are we going to do, and how are we going to market?” Then, you know, it was before we opened, we were sitting there thinking about that. Then, the first day we opened, people came. I just realized the whole success of yoga is built on the efficacy of the practice. You don’t need to worry about it. We need to be true to ourselves, and be true to what we know and experience as a practice, and have faith in that.
I feel like if we don’t have faith, if we take action outside of faith, then that means we operate in fear. This is, again, we bring ourselves back to, “What does it mean to be a Yogi? Are we going to take action based in fear, or are we going to take action based in trust and love? Are we going to understand that we aren’t going to solve the worlds biggest problems, but maybe if we turn it over to God, maybe God can.” If it is in His will that we’re meant to be a yoga teacher, if it’s His will that we’re meant to have a yoga studio, then the people are going to show up. Our job is to go and do what we’ve been put on this earth to do. To share our truth, to share our message, to shine as bright as we can, like a lamp in the darkness, and to trust in the grand scheme of things. It’s going to work out in our favor. This, I think, is a huge leap of faith. I think Yogi’s, we’re strong enough to be able to take that leap. I think it’s a testimony to the efficacy of the practice to operate in faith.
You know, like I said, I know what it means to sit there and think, “Oh, I’ve got to pay my bills, is it going to work? Should I do like this, should I do like that?” It’s to trust that your presence, and your power, and what you’ve experienced in the practice, to stay truth to the heart and the message of yoga. I think that people respond to that. People respond to you when you’re living your truth. When you’re being exactly who you are. Not trying to be anyone else, not trying to please them. People respond to that and, at the very least, they’ll respect it. If you don’t understand the Sanskrit references, and they don’t understand on an introductory level themselves, they’ll respect it and you as a teacher. You can reach out and make it accessible, without necessarily removing the heart of the practice.
I guess the flip-side of that is at our studio, what we’ve done is put a lot of work in how to make the traditional practice accessible without removing the essence of the practice. You know, in Ashtanga tradition, we count all of the Vinyasa’s. The class is like 50 percent in Sanskrit. You come in and if someone, maybe you’ve never done yoga, and it says “Intro to Yoga,” and you come in to the class in our studio. We don’t just start teaching in Sanskrit, but we’ll build up to it, explaining why it’s there, and speaking plain English, and saying, “There are 9 movements in this, called the sun salutations.” We’ll actually count the breaths in English, we say, “The first breath, you raise your hand. Inhale, arms up. Second breath.” Then, as the students get more proficient, then we’ll layer in the Sanskrit. It’s always about keeping the heart and soul in the practice pure, while reaching a hand, extending a hand, extending an olive branch, and really meeting people where they are. I believe that that works. I believe that being your true self, standing up for yourself, who you are, and standing your ground, that eventually, I think, pays off.
APP: You often tell the story where you ask Guruji how do you find peace, and he tells you about the Tristana method. Do you feel that you found it, or that you’re close to it, or you’re anywhere near it?
Kino: You know, I can look back now, and I can see that I started my practice out of a sincere desire to find a more peaceful life. My question for Guruji, “Where does the peace in the practice come from?” It was so sincere, it was so true. His simple answer, “You do this practice, you take these 3 things for many years, Shanti is coming, no problem.” I can tell you definitively that, after 16 years of practice, that that promise is true. That that promise is not empty. It’s totally true. It’s not just for me, it’s for every single person that comes to the practice. If you get on the mat, and you practice every day, and you apply the simple tools to practice one style of yoga, many, many years of practice with a disciplined effort, and an open heart, and a sincere spiritual intention, Shanti is coming, no problem.

For more Information on Kino, visit KinoYoga.com

All pictures by Wanda Koch and taken at Enlighten Yoga.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

4 Comments

  • Sarah Boulter

    Great interview! Thank you for sharing this side of a wonderful teacher. I was fortunate enough to practice Mysore at Miami Life Center in March (Kino was not there, however it is a wonderful and welcoming shala) and will be attending a workshop with Kino in September in Copenhagen. I admire and respect her, and look forward to learning more from her.

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