The enigmatic Bibi McGill is as comfortable channeling the divine through the harmonium in the quiet of her own home as she is rocking a flaming guitar in front of thousands of screaming fans as Beyoncé’s lead guitarist. While the dichotomy of her pursuits is clear, McGill possesses a consistent presence and degree of intention that spans her approach to music and wellness.
After dedicating herself to the guitar from the age of 12 in Denver, Colorado, McGill studied music scoring and arrangements in college and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career following her passion. She now directs Beyoncé’s backing band and collaborates with a myriad of other artists. McGill found yoga in 1998 and started to teach eight years later. As her practice deepened, she began producing sacred music in addition to the popular radio hits that helped elevate her career. She also launched her own line of healthy snacks. Across all these pursuits she has one aim: to be a clear channel for spirit and to shift energy where it needs to go without attachment to its outcome.
McGill’s home in Portland, Oregon, is a sanctuary filled with bright colors, embroidered cushions, singing bowls, homemade kimchi, and her namesake Bibi Kale Chips in signature purple packages. While we talk, we sit at her handcrafted old-growth oak tea table and drink rare teas in the Chinese Gongfu tradition. Her Chihuahua Daschund mix, Rock-it!, curls up quietly on a cushion by her side. McGill’s focus is so clear in her preparations that she seems to pour her whole self into our small clay cups. Here, she shares some insights about her ritual practice and her many sources of inspiration.
How would you describe the different elements of your daily practice?
I wake up in the morning, give thanks for waking up, and kiss my dog. I start boiling water in preparation for tea to ease into my day and connect with the plant spirits. After that, I do my 20-minute meditation, from the Kashmir Shaivite Tantric Neelakantha tradition. It’s a practice with an ancient history that expands the vibrational frequency of the heart. I then spend 10 or so minutes in prayer and praise. I give thanks by starting with myself and my needs, then my family, and then I pray for my neighborhood, community, state, country, and every creature that flies in the air, crawls on the earth, or swims in the waters. I give thanks for all the elements, and send my prayers and love out to the stars and the planets and every possible form of life.
From there, it’s time to get into the responsibilities of my day. It’s just not possible to function clearly and from an anchored place without starting my day with this type of ritual. I have a yoga practice at some point, and do my second Neelakantha meditation before my evening meal. Lately, I’ve been ending my day with a more relaxing tea: usually an adaptogen that helps with my hormonal response to stress and leads me to a clear state of mind, like a Savasana. I’ve been doing really well at getting to bed by midnight. That’s my eternal practice.
You talk a lot about the significance of tea in your practice. What about tea is so special?
I love tea. It has brought me so much clarity, so much alignment, so much gratitude, so much connection and appreciation. With the Chinese Gongfu tradition in particular, the tea is a living being that has been cared for. This tradition has been passed down for so many thousands of years—it’s such a pure and powerful vibration that it can give you whatever it is you need. It has taught me to pay attention to so many subtle differences and shifts in energy that can happen throughout my day in my energetic field. I’ve started incorporating what I’ve learned from the Chinese tradition into teas that don’t come from that tradition, like lavender or rose flowers, or rainforest teas like guayusa. This tradition has opened me up to a greater appreciation for teas and plants in general.
When did you realize music was one of your callings?
I was drawn to music at a young age because my older brother and sister played classical piano and retro 70s funk music. I wasn’t thinking about music as a calling, I just wanted to play guitar. I was surprised to learn very quickly that I was good at it. At that point, I loved music so much that it was the only thing I felt I knew how to do. I gave up soccer in high school to focus on guitar. I went to school and got my degree in scoring and arranging and moved to California. It was never my goal to be famous. I just wanted to play music, have people enjoy it, and make enough money to cover my basic needs. Being dedicated to that and having realistic expectations carried me through in a most divinely held way, to where it just took off.
How did you discover devotional music, and what is its relationship to the other music you create?
I had moved to California to pursue music as a career and worked a day job at a record label. After four years, I was fed up and left. With a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do something I’d always dreamed of—take a yoga class. Once you’re introduced to yoga, you’re almost automatically introduced to devotional music, chanting, mantra, and kirtan. Yoga absolutely changed my life, and it incorporated music. I automatically adopted mantra, kirtan, and yoga into my life in 1998.
Prior to moving to LA, I had played music in church. I actually went to a Bible college because I wanted to be a minister of music. In so many different spiritual philosophies or religions, music is a part of praise and giving thanks to the divine. It didn’t matter to me whether it was in a church or a yoga studio. Music and spirituality go hand in hand.
I have a deep love and appreciation for classical Indian music and love to incorporate those elements in my music. My musical flavors draw from world, ethnic, tribal, indigenous, electronic, gospel, and everything in between. “Bhakti,” the Sanskrit term for “devotion,” just means from the heart. So for me, devotional music is my prayer of gratitude, love, glory, praise and honor unto the Most High.
My music is a gift that I’m here to share and use to inspire people, shift their reality in a positive way, and give them some amount of joy. My intention is to be a completely open and clear channel for divine sources to move through me in whatever way is the most beneficial to me and anyone else listening to the music. When I pick up my guitar and go out on stage, I have to get out of the way and let that energy work through me and bounce off the strings of the guitar and my fingers. I’m there to shift reality in whatever way is needed for people who are unhappy or sick. The vibrations of music shift realities.
How did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
I loved the practice so much that I wanted to learn more than I could by going to classes three times a week. I wanted to take a teacher training not to become a teacher, but so I could learn more about yoga’s history and philosophy. I wanted to learn the purest form of yoga and develop my own practice and understanding.
What have been some pivotal moments in your teaching?
I wanted to teach so badly after I did my teacher training, but I was terrified to get up and lead practice. It was such a huge responsibility. I was so blessed —the first two places where I began teaching in 2006 were very established yoga studios in the LA area. Having full classes and experienced students forced me to grow immediately. A pivotal moment came when a man walked into my class with a prosthetic leg, took it off, and put it on the ground. I was like, “What do I do?” You just teach yoga.
You might enter your classroom and have 10 to 17 different people with different needs—I learned to adjust. I’ve had people tell me after class that they had been in a car accident and hadn’t done any physical activity in three years, and that they loved my class. I learned to pay attention to the subtle differences that are always occurring in our energetic field, and to listen and trust my intuition. You can have a little bit of a blueprint or agenda, but not an attachment to any preconceived way you want your class to be. The minute someone comes in who is fidgeting and doing their own thing, you have to adjust in order to give everyone what they need. That involves the same thing I apply in music: get out of the way, let the energy work through you, and pay attention.
How do you incorporate ritual into your life?
Ritual is important to me because it helps me get into a habit of creating healthy habits that support my evolution. Ritual helps to honor and connect me with the ways, practices and traditions of our ancestors. Rituals like ceremony can be beautiful for us humans to see and experience and also increase our faith and belief in reaching the outcome we desire. Ritual helps me to connect emotionally to my dreams, visions, and goals.
If you’re going to make something a ritual, it has to be something you’re really connected with that you value and believe in. Ritual is more for us as humans. When we go and sit at an altar and repeat a mantra 108 times, it’s to help us to believe in that thing. However, long, lavish, drawn-out rituals aren’t always accessible to us. I can go directly to source energy to ask for what I desire and receive exactly what I need. Lighting sage helps us to believe that we’re cleansing our home. But at the end of the day, all I need are my thoughts to say, “I want to cleanse my home of any lower-vibration frequencies that aren’t serving me.” It’s not the sage that does it, it’s the power of my beliefs and thoughts and intentions. The power is in my faith and how I’m directly connected to The Divine. There is nothing that is separate. We Are ONE.
Ritual is also an attitude of maintaining a consistency of mind throughout the entire day. Whether I’m pouring tea, digging in the earth, walking barefoot, hugging a tree, stepping into a river, or in the middle of a crazy airport, I have to bring those elements into the moment, right then and there. Things often come up and remind me to give thanks. Maybe I’m sitting on a plane next to someone who is fidgeting around—I could get frustrated, or give thanks that this person next to me is alive and has a leg that he can shake. By doing rituals every day, there are opportunities to practice or use those tools. In other words, walk your walk. You can practice ritual all day, but if the first thing you want to do is yell at somebody or kick the dog, then what is that ritual for? Nothing.
Without a doubt, nature, animals, and our ancient indigenous ancestors. They didn’t have computers, TVs, devices and cars. All they had was nature: to sit around and watch how the clouds moved, day by day by day by day by day. To study how energy moved through their bodies, day by day by day by day by day. If that’s all I had to do for even one year, I would learn so much. I gained insight into how they lived through my dog—all your pet has to do all day is sit around and watch you. They start to recognize your patterns. When I’m driving in my car, before I even put my foot on my brake, Rock-it! is already bracing himself. It’s incredible how they’re so tuned in to everything we do.
What have been some of the most transformative moments in your life?
I’ve transformed in the past year in such a huge, noticeable way. It could be because I’m getting older and more aware and comfortable with who I am and how I’m showing up in this world. It could be the buildup of all my practices over my life. A lot of it has to do with a recent relational experience that put me in a position where it was either die or get up and never allow myself to be in a situation like that again. I was not going to lay down and die, so I learned never to ignore my intuition again.
When I made a shift and said, “No more am I going to keep falling down because I didn’t listen to my intuition,” boom. Happiness came, trust came, and support came. Everything I want is coming. I’m walking by faith and not by sight, because if I were to look at how things looked, I might crumble. This is something so much bigger than me.
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That transformation elevated me to a place where I’ve never been in my entire life. I’m so crystal-clear and completely trusting of who I am. I love myself more than I ever have in my whole life. There was always this lingering uncertainty or sadness in my life, and that’s not a part of my life at all anymore. That is a huge transformation. I love me, I love my life, and I’m grateful to be here.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It’s a message that has really come from my own higher self: If you create a life that is in alignment with source energy, everything you want and desire will show up. All you need to do is just trust and not follow your own limited understanding. Stay plugged into source! Everything’s going to be all right, it really is—regardless of what you see. I can live on that message for the rest of my life.
Is there a mantra or text that keeps you inspired?
It’s been my mantra for so many years. It’s pretty simple: “I am.” It’s the most present, connected, “I am.” Past, present, future, now.
What are some essential practices you would offer for people who only have a few minutes each day to themselves or don’t have much experience with ritual?
Just take five minutes of quiet time. Go sit somewhere. Sit up nice and tall. Relax, close your eyes, and just breathe. For five minutes. That’s it. Make sure you turn your phone off so you’re not going to be disturbed. That will do wonders for you.
Another practice is just spending five minutes a day outside. Just sitting next to a tree. Walking through a park with your dog or your friend. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city. Just five minutes walking outside and being present with the plants, the trees, the clouds, and listening to the birds. Either one of these practices would be a great place to start; anyone would notice a greater peace and clarity in their life almost immediately.
Is there anything else you’d like want to share?
Anything people are feeling called to do—it’s time to start doing. Stop talking about it. It’s time to act now.