If you’re reading this review, then the chances are you’ve already been acquainted with Kino MacGregor’s work. With hundreds of ‘how-to’ clips on YouTube and a schedule that spans the entire globe, Kino’s missionary work to spread Ashtanga Yoga far and wide is well and truly under-way.
As with any discipline though, Kino’s method of promoting Ashtanga has drawn criticism not from those of other traditions but within Ashtanga itself. Her effervescent personality, groomed locks, and not to mention teeny shorts have led a minority to accuse her shamelessly self-promoting to ‘cash-in’ on the Ashtanga tradition. Kino is more aware of these criticisms than anyone, and posted a rebuttal on Elephant Yoga to address the most popular critiques of her and the Kino ‘brand’ which was a very yogic way of showing the Vs to all the haters.
When I went on the hunt for my first ever yoga book, there was a plethora of male-authored practical guides, with David Swenson’s The Practice Manual ruling supreme, however, female-authored books were more to do with the subtle aspects of the yoga practice than asanas. Don’t get me wrong, the meditative side of yoga is now a firm part of my practice, but three years ago, I wanted to know the quickest way to bind in Marichyasana C not how to stimulate my chakras.
So why do I make the identification between male and female-authored books? In an Ashtanga class, students will notice the usual 70/30 (give or take) ratio of women to men, but the literature, workshops, and figureheads of the Ashtanga tradition is probably 80/20 men to women, which in no way represents actual practitioners. Given that the practice of yoga is aimed at uniting the masculine (Shiva, consciousness) and feminine (Shakti, energy) parts that make us who we are, the resources on the Ashtanga tradition as it stands is firmly governed by Shiva with Shakti occasionally getting a look-in.
And this is where The Power of Ashtanga Yoga steps in.
Taught directly by Pattabhi Jois during her countless visits to Mysore, Kino is one of only 14 people in the United States to receive Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga, so is well-placed to be writing a 217-page book on the practice. Split into Part One: Theory, and Part Two: Practice, Kino’s knowledge of the former and its application to the latter is thorough, academic but experiential. In her trademark colourful style, she explains the history and tradition of Ashtanga Yoga before highlighting how the method taps into and cuts through our habitual modes of being to help us reveal who we really are.
In less than 57 pages, she shuns the airy-fairy rhetoric often written on yoga but stops short of bogging the reader down in detail to convey the complicated and subtle side of Ashtanga Yoga. Her explanation of the tristana method (gaze, breath and posture) unique to Ashtanga clearly explains before emphasises the importance of not getting so fixated on the asana that we forget to breathe and focus our gaze, thus miss the point on what Ashtanga is working us towards: the balance of the Shiva and Shakti within to create union and end the incorrect idea of dualism.
In Part One, Kino goes to great lengths to highlight the physical and spiritual benefits of a disciplined practice. Including her own experiences to encourage the reader to stay on the difficult Ashtanga path, it is almost as she is providing as much inspiration as possible before moving to Part Two which is the asana practice itself.
Forming the largest section of the book, Part Two is dedicated to the Primary Series, with illustrations of the posture and modifications included. The ‘how-to’ descriptions are thorough, with the occasional anecdote alongside a list of benefits included which act to spur the reader on whilst shouting: “Practice and all is coming!!!” Kino’s descriptions command attention to detail whilst labouring the points of breath and gaze, just in case the reader forgot/skipped the Theory section.
In the appendices, Kino goes that extra mile to include ‘cheat sheets’ including the vinyasa (breath and posture), gaze (drishti), and the Sanskrit count for every asana of the Primary Series, as well as the opening and closing chants. This added bonus at the end of the book is probably a good indication to the reader that they’re taking the practice up a notch when they begin and end their practice with an OM, and are concerned with the correct vinyasa.
Her dedication and passion for Ashtanga is truly conveyed in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, however, in terms of usability, David Swenson’s The Practice Manual for me is still number one as the formatting allows the practitioner to quickly check the next step whilst attempting a new posture. That said, once a posture is familiar then this is where Kino steps in to provide more detail to Swenson’s instructions thus allowing us to fine tune the posture.
Perhaps as an act of recognition to the imbalance of gender representation in Ashtanga Yoga, Kino includes a small section entitled ‘The Quiet Strength of a Woman’s Body’ which explains the differing but equal strengths of the male and female physique. The inclusion of this small but important section works to encourage the female practitioner to modify the posture if the bosom is too large to do the binds, keep working on the lift-ups to increase strength, but most of all, embrace her femininity as part of a balanced yoga practice.
If the aim of Ashtanga Yoga is to create strength and flexibility in equal doses whilst working internally to maintain the balance between our inherent masculine and feminine aspects, then The Power of Ashtanga Yoga is a great resource to all practitioners, and a worthwhile contribution to the outward portrayal of the tradition itself.
Kino MacGregor is in Manchester on 13th August to teach a yoga workshop for everyone.
We will have copies of Kino’s book ‘The Power of Ashtanga Yoga’ available to buy at the workshop.