Catch Bibi McGill and other musicians Wanderlust Squaw Valley July 20-23. For a complete summer festival lineup, click here.
Bibi McGill, renowned rock guitarist, yoga teacher, wellness educator, and sustainable living and health food advocate, is nothing short of a Renaissance Woman. Not only has she toured as lead guitarist for artists Pink and Beyoncé, she is also the founder of Bibi Kale Chips and has traveled extensively, teaching and studying the ancient tradition of yoga and its iterations in various countries across the globe. So how does this wonder woman keep up with her busy schedule? Balance, she says.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Bibi about performing, touring, and cultivating mindfulness while traveling the world. Growing up on Earth Wind and Fire, Heart, The Isley Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, it’s no surprise that McGill grew to become a shredder of the same caliber. Her style is unapologetic, enthralling, and ecstatic.
“Randy Rhoads was and still is my favorite guitar player,” she tells me. Her taste has since become more eclectic, evidenced by her fusion of Hendrix-esque riffs with Beyoncé’s contemporary R&B, pop and soul. The synthesis of these two incredibly adroit, albeit distinct musicians is akin to pure magic. “I love any music as long as it sounds good to me.”
Forever a Student
Bibi began playing guitar when she was 12 years young. She reminisces on her youth, explaining that her family was also very musical—Bibi’s older brother and sister played the classical piano.
“My mom would have liked to play an instrument, but she grew up on a farm and had to work to help her family. She loves to live vicariously through me and my music,” she says. McGill received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music, Scoring and Arranging from the University of Colorado. When she graduated, she moved to LA to work for a record company. She found yoga in 1996.
“I went to a class in Santa Monica and when I came out, I felt like my life was changed,” Bibi says. She began to explore different yogic lineages, including Kundalini, Hatha, Anusara. Later on she discovered Ashtanga and fell in love.
“I realized it was a practice I could do on my own while I traveled the world. Doing yoga at studios in LA just wasn’t taking me deep enough, so I traveled to Ko Samui Thailand in 2004 to do my teacher training with Paul Dallaghan at Centered Yoga.”
Touring and traveling for music allowed McGill to explore yogic traditions around the world.
“Whenever I toured I would always immediately ask the hotel concierge where the nearest yoga was,” she tells me. She estimates that she has practiced in over 50 countries while touring.
“Spiritually, yoga is still helping me to evolve and find a greater sense of understanding of myself and all things. I draw on it for strength and peace. I’ll forever be a student.”
Bibi is also a strong advocate of studying yoga from its philosophic roots, as opposed to the diluted Western interpretation of this ancient practice. She wants people to know that yoga is for everyone, not just the ultra-limber millennials we so prevalently see on social media. Citing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, McGill says that yoga is “really about calming the fluctuations of the mind and breathing.”
She notes that calming the mind does wonders for creativity. For McGill, the creative process happens spontaneously, and possessing a quiet mind allows those ideas to flow without interruption.
“Mindfulness helps me to create music from a place of clarity and space,” she explains. “I’m one of those people who can work well under pressure if I have to, but I need to be grounded and have peace in order to create and be in the Divine flow.”
The Art of Finding Balance
Bibi notes that despite the joy of touring, there are a challenges. She’s constantly moving, and taking on a lot of responsibility, which makes it hard to find time for herself. To stay grounded, she prioritizes consistent yoga practice as well as simply breathing and eating clean.
But even with self-care practices and boundaries, Bibi notes that she’s often still exhausted. The best way to combat this exhaustion, she notes, is to foster kindness to herself, or doing what is necessary in the moment, and being gentle, knowing that she can’t do it all. When she does have a sliver of down-time, she takes a moment to rest and do things that don’t require too much thought.
“It’s really all about finding the balance,” she says.
Balance, indeed. Even with her schedule, Bibi still makes time for philanthropy. The artist has worked with numerous youth organizations including an organization called Street Yoga, teaching youth who struggle with difficult living situations. She shares her mindfulness, music, and writing practice with students, and helps young people to develop compassion, emotional resilience, calm, and self-awareness.
Still, one of her most impressive characteristics is her onstage presence. Bibi’s energy on stage is electrifying, her dexterity and natural grace awe-inspiring. I ask her how she prepares for these performances.
“My entire life and all of my daily practices are a pre-show ritual,” she says. “They keep me ready for just about anything.”
When she needs to ground herself, “before teaching or playing a show” she practices a method called a “Call Upon,” in which she makes gestures with her body and hands and repeats “I am Bibi McGill, I call upon Father Sky to come down and join Mother Earth for the benefit of the children of light.” This mantra helps to center her mind and prepare to outward grace.
“Touring is not easy or glamorous,” she says. “But I wouldn’t trade my high level touring days for anything.”
For more Bibi, visit her official website, or check her out at Wanderlust Squaw Valley, July 20-23, where she’ll be performing with Madame Ghandi.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.