Interview with Mary Kirkendoll by New Territory contributor Kate Strum
How did your life journey take you to Kansas, Oklahoma, and back to Kansas and what do you love about the Lower Midwest?
This is a great question! I am originally from Long Beach, California, and at the age of 20 I moved to New York City to “make it” as a musician. Three years later I met a guy from Kansas…
At this point I wouldn’t have been able point to Kansas on a map. Now after living in the Lower Midwest for about 10 years, I am proud to call it home. After struggling to pay rent and find work in New York, Mike and I jumped on an opportunity to pursue doctoral degrees at The University of Kansas. The idea of getting a doctorate in flute had never crossed my mind. We finished these degrees with a new perspective on “careers” in music and it was time to apply for college teaching positions. We were both offered jobs at universities that were 200 miles apart. We accepted them and decided to move to Stillwater, Oklahoma where Mike accepted a teaching position at Oklahoma State University. I started commuting to Pittsburg, KS every week to teach at Pittsburg State University. This was obviously not ideal, but we accepted the hardships for the opportunity to take on our first jobs as music professors. As you can imagine this commute was hard on my body and my spirit, and it was during this time that I began a serious yoga practice. Fast forward 7 years later, I opened a yoga studio in Eudora, Kansas and my husband was offered a teaching position at The University of Kansas.
You have a passion for music and yoga. How do those two passions complement each other in your life?
I wish I could say that I have been able to balance my life as a musician and a yoga teacher. When I lived in Oklahoma I tried to do both and was pretty unhappy. I was constantly pulled in so many directions and felt that I couldn’t focus on doing anything well. Two years ago I made the difficult decision to transition to a full time yoga teacher. A year and three months ago I opened the Eudora Yoga Center and have committed my life to sharing this beautiful practice with others. I am still interested in learning about other styles of music and flute playing but will never go back to my life as a professional flutist. I have closed that chapter after 30 years of training, 3 degrees in music, and many wonderful opportunities to perform with my husband around the world. My husband and pianist, Michael Kirkendoll, and I still collaborate, though, and we have a new CD out [website] [iTunes]
Kansas and OSU, maybe among other schools in the region, seem to have excellent music programs. Why do you think there is so much interest and talent in these “no-coast” areas?
To be honest I was a “coastal” snob before I moved to this region. In my bubble, nothing existed outside of Los Angeles and New York City. Little did I know that some of my best musical experiences and collaborations have been away from the coast. World-class musicians are accepting teaching positions in smaller cities around the nation and elevating programs at universities such as Oklahoma State and The University of Kansas. People are starting to catch on that they don’t have to go broke in New York City to get a great education and study with amazing teachers.
You have experienced yoga in many places beyond this region. What has been special/worth noting nothing about teaching and practicing yoga in Oklahoma and Kansas?
As a musician I had the privilege to travel around the world and visit many yoga studios on these adventures. I had some good experiences and many not so good experiences. I noticed that many studios had an unwelcoming vibe and if you didn’t fit their mold then you went unnoticed. Of course being noticed is not the point of yoga practice, but if you are looking to join a community of like-minded people, then this type of vibe isn’t conducive.
I used to commute from Queens to the Upper West Side without looking one person in the eye. Now when I walk across the street to the post office I get to wave and smile at so many community members who I might not even know by name. Last week I was traveling home from a business workshop in Colorado and sat next to two retired football players who moved from California to Kansas. For an hour and half we talked (loudly) about what we loved about our Kansas communities. We did have a good laugh about Midwesterners who complain about traffic though!
What is the yoga community like in Lawrence and what are your hopes and dreams for the future of your studio?
My number one hope is that I can offer a warm and inviting space where everyone feels welcome to practice. Having huge classes would be fun but is not the main goal.
Our community is also fortunate to have two Zen Masters from the Kwan Um School of Zen who live and teach in the area and established the Kansas Zen Center in 1978. Zen Master Stanley Lombardo teaches weekly Zen meditation classes at the yoga studio which are FREE! A dream come true!
Three months ago I began a studio partnership with an amazing woman, Geetanjali Tiwari, who has similar dreams. We are working tirelessly to host events and workshops that showcase a broader view of what yoga has to offer and this summer we will direct a yoga teacher training program in Italy and a guided trip to India.