Awakin Calls » Mark Whitwell » Transcript
Mark Whitwell: The Heart of Yoga
Guest: Mark Whitwell
Host: Rahul Brown
Rahul: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is Rahul Brown and I will be your host for our weekly global Awakin call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Every story is the beginning of a conversation whether it's a conversation we are having with ourselves or others. Across time and cultures, these stories have been agents of personal transformation in part because they have the power to change our hearts and our minds. So, the purpose of our weekly Awakin calls is really to share stories from incredible change makers from around the globe. Through our thoughtfully guided conversations with them, our special guest speakers share their personal stories and inspire us through their action, experiences and insights. Our hope is that these conversations will plant seeds for a more compassionate and service oriented society while fostering our own inner transformation. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space. We are so grateful to everyone including our listeners who co-create this space to make these calls possible.
Today we are immensely grateful to have a remarkable guest speaker with us. Mark Whitwell is actually joining us from New Zealand where I believe it's 4AM. His personal journey is not only tremendously inspiring but has had a huge impact on many people around the world. Thank you all again for joining us for today's call. Let's start with just one minute of silence to anchor ourselves.
Thank you and welcome again to our weekly Awakin call today in conversation with Mark Whitwell. So here's how the flow are called going to work in a few minutes, our moderator Fabrizio will engage in a deep dialogue with Mark. At the top of the hour, we're going to switch over into Q and A and circle share where we invite all of your reflections questions. The cue It's currently open so at any point you can actually hit *6 on your phone and be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also mail us at Ask@servicespace.org. This week's theme as I shared earlier is the "heart of yoga." My understanding of the heart of yoga is really the inner core of the understanding that part of it which is beyond the wrappings of culture that touches the unique universal aspect of what the discovery and the practice of yoga is and how it relates to our bodies and our minds. We have a great pleasure of having Fab here with us as well who is no stranger to yoga. Fab is himself a yoga teacher among many other things.
Fab, thank you so much for joining us. I'd love to hear your brief reflections on our theme as well before we launch into a conversation with Mark.
Fabrizio: Well thank you Rahul It's a pleasure to be here.
My relationship with yoga goes back to my first teacher training when actually the book that Mark edited and helped to publish and bring to the world was the main text in our teacher training so I'm very very much looking forward to talking to Mark today. The perception that I think is out there of yoga in general I think is a bit limited. Yoga is a very big practice, one of the oldest spiritual practices in the world; it's got a very rich history that's very open hearted and full hearted. So I look forward to getting into the heart of it with Mark.
Rahul: Wonderful. So why don't we just transition over then to that conversation with Mark since I know there are a lot of folks who have specifically dialed in to hear this discussion.
Would you like to give a brief introduction to Mark, Fab?
Fabrizio: I would! So, Mark Whitwell was born in New Zealand to parents of English descent where he was influenced by the indigenous Maori culture in New Zealand which makes up twenty percent of the population there. He's now a US citizen making his home in Berkeley California where I happen to be right now. He also likes to say he's Fijian as he has a retreat center on the island of Taveuni where he runs his teacher training programs. I think it's safe to say that all of Mark's cultural influences, his connection to India has made the most profound impact on him, the way he had lived his life, and the way he has made his mark in the world (pun intended).
Of all the world's great wisdom traditions, ancient Indian knowledge which today expresses itself in many forms including yoga has the deepest roots. Yoga, as part of the longest continually running Spiritual tradition in the world, risks drying up and becoming irrelevant unless it's nurtured along the way by great spirits and learned scholars who are committed to keeping its wisdom alive and relevant by demonstrating its timeless benefits while continually updating its practices to fit changing cultural contexts.
One of the great scholars of course is Tirumala Krishnamacharya, who was born in Mysore in India in 1888 and lived for just over a century. He was known throughout India as a gifted healer drawing from both Aryuveda and yoga tradition. He's known the world over as the father or the grandfather of modern yoga. The architect of the Vinyasa style of practice; he's credited with reviving hatha yoga practices which had been marginalized at the end of the nineteenth century. He brought the practices out of the cave to the Himalayas and gave them a new life and legitimacy, while passing them on in different forms to his many students, some of whom became even better known than Krishnamacharya himself by taking the teachings around the world - people like Indra Devi, A.G. Mohan, B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya's own son, T.K.V. Desikachar.
They all learn their particular version of yoga from the great master. In 1973, Mark had the great fortune of being invited into the home of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar which began a profound personal learning journey lasting over twenty years, the ripples of which can still be felt by thousands across the globe many of those ripples were created by a book he first suggested to Desikachar and eventually edited and contributed to - this 1995 book entitled, The heart of yoga: developing a personal practice represented the first time the teaching of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar would be presented directly to the Western practitioner rather than through an interpreting teacher.
It's important to the evidence by the fact that it formed the basis of many yoga teacher training programs including my first training many years ago. Since time Mark has taught yoga throughout the U.S., Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand continuing to focus on teaching in a way that allows each individual to find their own yoga appropriate for their own particular physical mental emotional and cultural context. He has published two of his own books, Yoga of Heart: The Healing Power of Intimate Connection and The Promise of Love, Sex and Intimacy as well as audio recordings and even a couple of apps to help people connect to their practice. You can access all these resources and more at his website, www.heartofyoga.org where you can learn about and contribute to heart of yoga's peace project which now seeds yoga teachers and communities in conflict zones worldwide. We have lots to talk about and so it gives me great pleasure to welcome all the way from New Zealand where I understand it's 4 o'clock in the morning, Mark Whitwell. Welcome Mark.
Mark: Wow! There's nothing more to say - that is quite wonderful.
You've given a very tidy summary there.
Fab: OK. Are you a stereotypical Yogi that gets up at four o'clock every day anyways and has three hour practice.
Mark: Absolutely absolutely - the hour of God. The Yogi gets up, does his puja, and meditation, contemplation. Right now. Is what I am doing right now with you.
Fabrizio: Exactly. And not only is it pretty much the middle of the night but it's also the middle of winter there, is that correct?
Mark: Yea, it's not so bad. We just came down from Fiji. I came down from Los Angeles - we did a three week teacher training. Thanks for mentioning Tavenui. We just did a three week teacher training. It was beautiful multicultural country. We had a gathering there which we called Fiji Spirit Gathering that was intended to bring yoga to the Fiji and the indigenous people, as well as the Indian population that was brought into Fiji about five generations ago by the British sugarcane industry. So half the population is actually Indian Hindu which makes Fiji a very interesting place. I just had to have a break and I came down to New Zealand three days ago, so that's not so bad-- not so cold.
Fabrizio: Well great. I remember going to Fiji back way back in 1992 and spending a little bit of that time on an island called Tavewa, which was a very tiny island still running in the traditional method. They had a king and they had a couple of dozen people living there and lived off of what they could catch in the water. I'm curious about this gathering that you had because I've also taught yoga and in Canada, where I'm from, there are two Indigenous communities there. It seems to be quite an overlap between the indigenous population that seems to get yoga at a deep core level. Is that similar to what you found in Fiji as well?
Mark: Yes, and of course, and there is a great need for it because of lifestyle habits that have crept in in more modern times, and the impact of white colonialism, and the complexities and impositions that has caused to the indigenous societies at its roots. You know, this began as a Shamanic activity in early human societies and so that they had natural understanding that the land and the people and the oceans are one. That’s intrinsic to who they are, so they take to yoga quite naturally, actually. And of course, going right to the subject of yoga, it is said it was one of the great six ancient Darshanas of the ancient world and that it was independent of all the other Darshanas and was universal to all language groups, all cultures, and all religious points of view, yet it was used by all cultures, and religious points of view as a practical means to actualize the idealism of the culture.
So that's why I went right through the ancient world. It was something very useful and survived through many, many generations to modern times because it was extremely useful to people, such as indigenous people around the world. And for people with spiritual needs, intentions, and religious language and religious thought structure, yoga was needed as a practical means to actualize their cultural idealism. I don’t know if that makes sense, but this is why yoga is going through the modern world--because it is very helpful to all people, no matter what their cultural point of view is. So in Fiji we are very happy now, we’ve done it for a few years and we've expanded. What has naturally happened is that yoga has gone to the Fijian people and they are now teaching on their own accord. Like they say, the garden is growing in its own way. The ground of yoga is nurtured and it's growing in that culture through good people--sincere people taking it on, and Fijan people. So that’s what I am loving is that it is moving in it’s own time. It is not being pinned on me or my Western students. It’s just going. This is very good to see. We’ve been in Japan for a few years now and it has had a great growth of it’s own independent of me going there on my own to teach.
Fabrizio: Well, that’s the wonderful thing about yoga is that it has a common feed, but the way that it blooms is quite different in each individual and each individual culture. So I thought we would start with how most of your recent work centers around how yoga is intimacy, because yoga really is intimacy. It's a chance to be intimate with ourselves, with our own personal histories and with our own personal conditions at this time and get real about things and go deep. So I'd like to spend a little bit of time here to give people a bit of context for your own story and how that seed got planted in you and how it was blossomed over the years.
So you're obviously from New Zealand, born of English parents and both your parents were educators. Is that correct?.
Mark: Yes, they were school teachers. My father ran a teacher's training college for many years. So I suppose this whole teaching thing is in my blood.
Fabrizio: So back then, and even now today, there's quite a difference between the regimented teaching that many of us experienced versus the kind of teaching that we strive for in yoga.
Mark: Yes, we understand of course in yoga, in the Yoga Sutras, that yoga must be adapted to the situation. So that is the whole emphasis of Krishnamacharya’s teaching is --and thanks for introducing the whole subject so well. So Krishnamacharya is a scholar of the Veda, a great tradition and a yogi. He was emphatic that technically, yoga must be adapted to the needs of each person. His statement is that there is a right yoga for each person, no matter who that person is. He said it is that person's direct intimacy with reality itself, life itself, which is a nurturing force. Life is nurturing. Life is generating. That's what we are and yoga is a connection to that. We embrace that. However, it is not a standardized system. It is not a linear process of trying to get to yoga. Yoga is simply each individual's participation in the given reality of life itself, so the needs of the individual are taken into account and that is the individual's body type, age, health, and, very importantly, the cultural background of each person so that the thought structures by which people live their lives and their societies must be taken into account and yoga is adapted to that to the cultural background of each person. So that is why yoga is not some stylized system, or a one size fits all, that creates this sort of linear ethos in the body and mind to conform to conform to perfect result or conform to some sort of idealism. You're not trying to get anywhere in yoga. You are simply participating in life itself.
Fabrizio: And so as I understand it, your first encounter with yoga came by participating in kind of a normal life in your upbringing in New Zealand. I gather you were on track to become a schoolteacher yourself and actually spent some time being a schoolteacher. I've heard stories of the Beatles kind of waking you up to this other reality in India.
Mark: (laughing)...I so appreciate that you are bringing it all up and getting me to talk about it at 4 AM in the morning.
Fabrizio: (laughing)...you are welcome to say no.
Mark: (laughing)...it's an opportunity for me to talk about yoga and Krishnamacharya and my teachers, of course. What an offer. And yes, you know, growing up in the suburban lifestyle (inaudible), it became clear to me quite early on, a 16-17 year old boy in the suburbs in the high school, that there seemed to be a lack of information, a lack of life choices, and a natural sort of frustration of growing more, needing more inquiry into what's going on, what's this all about.
My parents were very, sort of, upright citizens and educators in the whole sort of idealism, doing well at school, and then going on to university, getting your qualifications, getting ready for the future universities, or future factories and being productive was what it's all about.
I was into University and I feel very fortunate to be growing into early adulthood at that time where there was this extraordinary explosion of Western popular culture and the whole thing of music and everything you know. We must acknowledge the great migration out of Africa to America and the music that it carried, in the blues that it carried, you know, before even recorded music since this is what it's based upon. And then, that coming into white audiences through radio and through Elvis, you know, thank God for Elvis. And then John Lennon, he and Elvis saying, hey that's what I want to do (laughing). And then the rest is history.
Me as a young boy wondering about life and then suddenly the Beatles, and me at the pinnacle of my youthful inquiry, and the Beatles, and the women started screaming in Liverpool and New York to that explosion of consciousness. I have to say though that the intensity of their own personal journey and inquiry, and then going to Rishikesh, going to India and meeting a yogi, Maharishi Yogi, the founder of T.M., studying with him and getting their personal journey (inaudible) with the rest of the world.
And yes, I was a young guy going, wow, that's kind of cool, that's interesting, (inaudible), the cross legged sages and that was information for me that I never got through my schooling system. No one was talking to me about Eastern philosophy or anything like that, and they're still not...(laughing).
Fabrizio: Yeah and unfortunately...meditation seems to be making its way through the school system in some places, some yoga here and there but it definitely could have a little bit more propagation.
Mark: I could say it's in the public domain a little bit...something of a dialogue...people hear about yoga and meditation, etc. Just to reflect on that, my grandfather and father (inaudible)...what did they have to do...my father was through World War II and so forth...and World War I and II were raging in that dreadful dark time in Europe and the rest of the world...and at that same time on the continent of India were people like Ramana Maharishi or Shirdi Sai Baba you know and Neem Karoli Baba, Ananda Mayi Ma, just to name a handful.
In the sublimity of human possibility had in their lives, really, were actually there and human acknowledgment or realization of what is, reality itself, life itself as perfect intrinsic harmony with the universe (laughing)...they were in that natural state, while Europe developed its colonialism and destruction of indigenous societies all around the world and the strife of world wars and that's what we were born into. And John Lennon comes on and says, “Give Peace a Chance,” thank God, and that was then delivered through music and media, global media. And I'm still saying it's the worst of times and the best times that we have now because we're all utterly interconnected and this second brain that we have, this global interconnectedness, I think there is a chance now to communicate more clearly, more robustly, to the whole world. Now apparently like everybody's getting a smartphone, even poor people are going to get smartphones in the next five or ten years.
We can deliver into the world the simple principles of how to be connected, how to be intimate with reality itself, the power of this Cosmos that is arising as each and every person, in perfect harmony with the rest of existence which is what life is doing, with great hope.
Fabrizio: And you experience that, when you your first made your way to India in the early 1970s and you ended up at the ashram of Ramana Maharishi and you described him as the source of life itself, as the power of creation, as a human being, even though he had already died at that point and you felt the great silence at Arunachala. Can describe just the feeling sense that you got once you got to India and you actually started to breathe the air and started to tap into that energy there.
Mark: Yeah...let's have a minute of silence right now.
Fabrizio: That's so beautiful...thank you. You met a friend who was studying with Desikachar and Krishnamurthy, and you ended up actually meeting them alongside some other great spiritual figures of the time, J. Krishnamurti, and Krishnamurti, who for some people who may not know, they're not related but they were friends and they did have a dialogue for much of their lives.
What I find interesting about that is that you were kind of thrown into this mix, in this cauldron if you will of many different influences. From Krishnamacharya, drawing from, he was a very learned scholar in many disciplines of yoga. And also from these other luminaries who were coming at it from more of the mind ground, if you will. Both J. Krishnamurti and U.G. Krishnamurti didn't really subscribe to any particular tradition, but they were mostly concerned with the mind. And so, I'm wondering what it felt like to be in that soup - if you will - and that intersection of these, coming at it from the body if you will, from the Hatha yoga tradition, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and this other side of things. What was it like to be in that atmosphere?
Mark: Lovely. Thanks for bringing all things for our consideration. And just going through the environment of Ramana Maharishi, they say that Ramana was like a white spot on the white page of the great tradition of India. He was the culmination or a tangible realizer of the great tradition of the ancient world in modern times. A very curious thing that it seems like if anyone has fallen into complete, I deem it vocation with the power of the cosmos not the obstructed in the body and mind from the power of creation. That person becomes very useful to others so that all other people can experience/realize their intrinsic identity with the power of creation [laughs] as being at one with the universe as it is. And a curious measure is that when that person dies, that there's a continuity of their personal presence and availability in the places where they lived and in the images of their life. And that was certainly my experience in Tiruvannamalia and this sacred mountain called Arunachala, they call the Mount Kailash, the holy mountains of southern India. And so yeah, til this day, I always like to point out that of course that is the understanding or the experience and the advantage of say, the Christian world is that there is the matter of Christ. There's the personal of appearance of somebody who is not separate from the power of creation. That's a great guru culture that has been useful it seems. We're not talking about religious belief systems or the overlay of social patterning and social impositions and the whole idea religion as a power structure is obviously to be transcended. And one's relationship with one's guru.
So anyway it was my experience there in southern India and I'm very grateful to that visit because you know I was able to meet wonderful man named Douglas Roster, since he was a young boy he was in the Manis ashram, he'd been with with Krishnamurti and he was studying with Krishnamacharya. He was my intro to three hours morphed to Madras and I met my teachers there.
I studied there since 1973 for a long long time and it was a wonderful time and if you mention him in the mix of personalities in that study. You'd be in the presence of J. Krishnamurti and his friend U.G Krishnamurti and they're not related. You know, there was 5 pages of Krishnamurti in the Madras phone book, it's like Smith. They're not related but they were good friends. J. Krishnamurti was selected by Theosophy as their world leader, he was just a young boy on the beach in Madras and he was recognized and schooled and educated in Theosophy. The big story of course is that he grew up in that worldwide community as their leader and then walked out of it, saying no this is nonsense. The great statement from J. Krishnamurti is that truth is a pathless land, there's no path to truth. There's no path required to truth. He feels that truth is an all pervading presence. Here's truth in my hand in life itself. You cannot get to truth. Theres not requirement to get to truth. So that was a great statement from JK, J. Krishnamurti. And he became a close friend of Krishnamacharya because in his elderly life, he became interested in yoga. He had health needs in his elderly life. Some of his senior students particularly Bandeskar, a wonderful Iyengar yoga teacher. She was principally a praying student of J. Krishnamurti. and they'd have these grand meetings in Europe, Switzerland at Saanen.
Every year, J. Krishnamurti. came to a big big tent or all the theosophist who stayed the course. Being interested in what J.K would bring forth, they would all come in. And in that time in his elderly life, he wasn't so well and Bandeskar brought Iyengar yoga in that environment and started teaching yoga classes and J.K. got interested in yoga.
But his health didn't pick up and on one of his visits to Adyar, the home of Theosophy in Madras, he went and saw Krishnamacharya because he was acquainted, more in fact they were friends and he said "Can you help me?" and Krishnamacharya said, "Yes I can help you. I'll have my son teach you." Desikachar started teaching. Because J.K was famous and he was totally struck at Krishnamurti's diligence and very astute. And he became very enthusiastic on the subject and Desikachar said he [J. Krishnamurti] helped me become a good teacher and a good student of my own, student of yoga. Until then Desikachar was a little bit reluctant because he was a brilliant young man. He was an engineer working for a German Yoke, a German engineering company. And he was a little reluctant to leave. Then having gone to the west, to Switzerland, to teach JK there, he suddenly dived in and he realized the importance of what he held. And this to me, Desikachar who just died last year, he was a brilliant person and that he was really the person that brought forth the teachings of Krishnamacharya in a way that the western mind could understand. And Desikachar paid tribute to J. Krishnamurti, he said that Krishnamurti taught him everything about the West. He taught him how to eat with a knife and fork, how to understand the western mind so it was team work of Krishnamurti and Desikachar that brought the clarity. See, Krishnamacharya couldn't, he wasn't a speaker of English and he was quite elderly, he lived totally a Hundred one years old and died in 1989. He was quite an elderly chap who had never left India; Couldn't speak English. A deep scholar of his ancient tradition but without the transmission and translation from Desikachar, he’d be impossible for a Western mind to understand. So it was J.K.and Desikachar who brought the clarity of what Krishnamacharya's understanding of realisation was. And So I was around with all those people and then the great blast of U.G. Krishnamurti was there too.
So U.G. was a very interesting phenomena - that He was a friend of J.K. and and for 17 years he was a student of J.K. and that whole development of J.K. as a teacher - was saying; going around saying that truth is a path ; J.K. was never up there on a chair as the speaker trying to get in the audience to understand what the hell he was talking about and some kind of sublime states of consciousness realisation and it wasn't until like a lot that he didn't discover in Yoga.
And so I'm saying you know it's not good enough to have somebody in this you know the idea that a person on a stage like a special person. To Joe in the audience - the worldwide audience. To now be in the state that he or she is in.
To some - There must be a yoga.(laughs)
The person or comment there must be a practical meaning to each and every question and connection; that is the connection to life itself. To the natural state that the speaker is in. And without a Yoga, then even in that state turns into something that's not yet attained but people are trying to get. JK might be going to Ohio, in California living there for thirty years and he did create a society around him of frustrated seekers trying to be in the state that he was talking about and apparently in. And it was only I'm saying through Yoga that he got to late in its life and he couldn't sort of bring it into into what he was offering us - his people. And I am saying it is a a clear requirement of the sun - Ras tradition of having a Helpful teacher in a state of sublimity and you want to be in that state.
Sure the teacher is helpful but the near the response to the teacher and the response to the teaching and response to the state that you know to be here: is the possibility for yourself but the obstructing patterns in the body and mind is contraction in the body and mind. And there must be this sort of like steady easy Yogic Response to what you feel what has inspired you in the company of a great teacher or a great teaching like that.
And it was so U.G. - He was on the side of the whole thing; where he he was in the paint design and had having been a student and friend of J. Krishnamurti for seventeen years and he was just sitting there and it sudddenly like and it all came to his mind that - I'm in the state I am in the state that he is talking about and so even saying what am I doing here? And this dynamic of trying to get to that state when I'm already in that state you know the natural state of black itself that everybody is actually in, you know.
Sp he walked out of that team. And realized he didn't have to be in that sort of thought structure that dynamic of trying to get somewhere when he was already somewhere.
And really. He reported that this huge explosion of energy of life itself came into him. And he thought from then on that he didn't he didn't have to be in that dynamic any longer of trying to be with a a great teacher trying to get somewhere.
He doesn't have to be in that dynamic any longer--trying to be with a great teacher, trying to be somewhere as if he wasn't somewhere.
Fabrizio: That is the great trap.
Mark: Yeah. The social dynamic of disempowerment is a special teacher. He's in a special place. And you're trying to get to that special place. And the sad thing for humanity is that whole phenomena has been created as a power mechanism, as a social structure of power. It has even created civilization, where the whole model of the perfect person implies that you are not perfect.
The model of the perfect entity that believes itself to be not yet perfect. You know these meat packages trying to get perfect through religion, yoga, meditation, and everything else. We are life itself. What is life? It is a pure intelligence presently arising as the whole body. And the whole body is in intrinsic and perfect harmony with everything existing, with light, with the sun, with air. This whole body is in perfect harmony with air and the green realm, the plant kingdom. The sun and the moon and the stars and mother Earth. It is already established in utter harmony. And that is what the situation is. That is the fact of the situation. You don't have to get to it; you are it. And there is no getting to it.
This great statement from J. Krishnamurti: "Truth is a pathless land." There is no getting to it. You don't have to get to it. You are it. And then yoga arise merely as your perfect participation in this that is given, this that we are. The great thing that Krishnamacharya and J. Krishnamurti and U. G. Krishnamurti left. They clarified yoga for the rest of time, really, for humanity.
Yoga is not the cleaving to some future state. Some work on yourself to get to some future possibility, sort of manipulating your body and your mind for some future result. That is gone now. We are good now. We are good to go. We are life itself. And we have our yogas of direct intimacy with life itself. It has clarified the whole situation.
Spiritual teachers often come in pairs like John the Baptist and Christ, or Ramakrishna or Sarada, Aurobindo and the Mother, and so forth. So J. Krishnamurti and U.G. Krishnamurti, like that. U.G. in particular got really close to Krishnamacharya because he went through his great explosion or whatever happened to him. And Desikachar and he had become close friends because they were both in the Saanen gatherings, J. Krishnamurti yoga. So when this happened to U.G. When he walked out of the tent and realized that he was already in the natural state. That this explosion of light was uncomfortable for him.
He went to Desikachar and said, "Can you help me." And Desikachar said, "There is one person that can help you and it is my father." So U.G. also went to Krishnamacharya and studied yoga with him for the next three and a half years, and they became very close. And much love and respect to each other although they were quite different people from different backgrounds.
This culminated in U.G. clarifying that yoga is not this imposition on the body and mind. He really sort of held Krishnamacharya to the fire of his own teaching, and that is yoga must be adapted perfectly to each individual, that an individual's yoga practice is only participation in life, and not a manipulation of the parmis, not a manipulation of the body -- but a participation of the prana of life. Life has its own intelligence, knows exactly what it's doing. You are each looked after by the intelligence of life.
Fabrizio: I'm struck by the fact that even today, like you say, we're good now and I totally get it -- I understand that the language that you're speaking in it's very much looking at yoga from the tantric perspective versus the classical yoga perspective. And you've mentioned in the past that even Krishnamacharya was toxified by this male Brahman search -- by this kind of idea that some future self is going to be better than the current self and the conditions in the future are going to be better and so on.
Fabrizio: But I wonder how, how to -- this is what I struggle with as a teacher myself -- is, you know, I love your Instagram feed because there are zero pictures of you doing handstands and you know fancy yoga poses. And yet most of the yoga world today is just littered with this kind of idea that, you know, this idealized self includes these...all these gymnastic capabilities and all the rest of it and so, yes, it requires a lot of work to get there and we can talk for hours as to whether or not that's an accurate reflection of yoga in any shape, way shape or form but....what I appreciate about your teachings from what I understand is that they are based in tantra and tantra has a very very different philosophical grounds than classical yoga and so I wonder what your thoughts are in terms of, first of all, how do you incorporate tantra into your teachings, and do you really think that we're good now -- that we we can kind of rely on the progress that we've made so far and move forward from there, or where's the work that still needs to be done in the general population?
Rahul: And Mark, before you answer that question, I just wanted to remind folks on the call that we're close to the top of the hour, so if you do have your own questions for Mark please press star six to get into the queue and we'll just take them after Mark's response on one more question on tantra that Fab just asked. Go ahead Mark.
Mark: Awesome. Thanks Rahul. Yeah, awesome. Yeah, so we're definitely good now [laughing]. Well, you know, the universe is good - humanity might have a problem, but the universe is just fine, you know, The universe is a constant restoring, regenerating system of humanity -- the stories itself but the universe will continue on in great utter perfection and harmony.
So humanity can get aligned now to the power of this universe that brought us forth, and presently sustains us, you know, we can cooperate with that right, so let's get busy in that cooperation with the ecology of this universe, you know let's all survive. This sustainability begins with your own embodiment and your intimacy with reality itself and you can extend that to the whole of humanity and look up to the ecology of mother earth and we might get through this. So yeah we're definitely good now, we're good to go. We have yoga clarified from the great tradition by Krishnamacharya and U.G. Krishnamurti, in particular, as each and every individual's direct intimacy with life itself. So the power of the cosmos is arising as each and every person -- as a pure intelligence and utter beauty. Everything in the natural world is utterly beautiful -- it is THE beauty. Life itself is the beauty, and we are that, we are that -- it's just a fact; you don't have to get to it. We are it. There's no getting to it. The emphasis on getting to it is the problem itself. So you know U.G. would say "stop looking, start living" -- start the connection, the embrace to what is -- and, as I said, the body is in a perfect harmony ... and with the source of it all, what brings it, what sustains it all. And yoga is that participation -- just to be very clear about it, if you're involved in any asana postures, you know, the whole busyness of the American studio yoga, that is tantra -- the asana is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is the mother's milk of tantra. So asana is tantric practice.
What is tantra? Direct intimacy with reality. So -- and this is what we're doing. so if you put in the principles of hatha yoga, of the nondual tantra of direct intimacy with reality itself -- you put these principles into what has been popularized as yoga, so I'm saying the principles of Krishnamacharya that he brought forth from the great tradition -- he didn't make it up, he brought it forth as a scholar -- clarified by UG Krishnamurthi to make sure it was each person's perfect participation -- then you're good.
You're good to go, and as I said, this ha-tha is the perfect union of opposites: Ha-tha, sun and moon, male and female, strength that is receiving, exhale with inhale in your own embodiment. And that's the whole point of asana. You do asana for this participation in the union of strength that is recycled -- that is the inhale and the exhale. So when you make the breath the central principle of the -- the central feature and even purpose -- of the asana, asana is not there for its own sake to look good for your Instagram photo; asana is there to bring that, participate in that merge of exhale with inhale, with strength (which is the exhale) to inhale (the receptivity) -- and that develops, that receptivity (strength that is utterly receptive) is the natural form of life.
That is what life is. It is this yin-yang, strength receiving, male-female perfect collaboration of life, that is the power of this, and the nurturing, regenerating, generating force of this cosmos is the male-female perfect collaboration as equals and opposites, where one positive empowers the other opposite, literally so, you know. And this is hatha yoga, and it's available for everybody, the point being the asana is designed for each person according to their body type, age, and health so that it is actually hatha yoga. And it might look like Mr. Iyengar's postures -- there's nothing wrong with those postures, but it's how it's done.
If you put the principles of Mr. Iyengar's guru, Krishnamacharya, into the principles that he brought forth from the great tradition -- if you put it into all these styles that have been popularized in the West, then it turns it into hatha yoga. It makes it very powerful. It makes it entirely your own yoga, rather than cleaving to a linear, some sort of future result for yourself and some muscular effort - some improvement in the body, in the mind, that you don't yet have.
So I'm trying to say that.... yeah...
Rahul: Mark, on the question of that sort of started this thread around the idea that we're already there, we're already arrived -- you know we have a question from Bruce Cameron who's asking you, "Mark, how do you help us deal with the pain we feel with various political realities -- whether they're in the United States or various parts of the world -- that are disturbing?" What's your response to that idea that we're already there, we've already arrived.
Mark: What a beautiful question. You just do your yoga. No matter what is going on in the restrictive patterns of society -- in its belief systems and so forth, in the present arising of that anachronism of white colonialism trying to like control the universe [laugh] and control each other and the sort of dumb tribalism, you know, all that stuff is..... You know each of us can be completely free. We are already in a natural state, you know, we can enjoy our life as it is no matter what is going on in the limits around us. And I say, you know, each of us can do that -- just participation in life as it is and then that will have its results in the politics over time, in due course. So I think this individualized yoga practice is actually activism -- it's what each of us can do in the midst of this, you know, dread course circumstance we find ourselves in America and everywhere around the world. So I say it's the worst of times, it's the best times to distribute this technology of love, the technology of the embrace of life -- so that's my answer to Bruce: do your yoga. But not just any yoga, your yoga. [Rahul laughing]
Direct intimacy with your life. So in this union of inhale with the exhale... so in the union of opposites, the source of opposites is revealed and this -- this hatha yoga reveals the heart, the .... shakti, the place where the power of life is flowing from....it was the first cell of life that appeared when we appeared to the male/female perfect union, and then there we were as one cell, and that cell is now blooming as the whole body. So we can now, you know, enjoy that. What we are -- this heart, the nurturing flow from the heart in all directions -- as the whole body and the mind arising from that heart, the function of the heart, the function of life. And we can all do that, you know.
And going back to the wonderful reminder and all the other great teachers of our time and ancient time -- it is that spontaneous recognition of any person who's residing in that place of the heart or that natural state of life itself -- you see that in a person, and it's like "whoa!' There it is. I feel that. I feel my own condition. I feel my own reality. It's just that now yoga is what you do in response to that feeling, in response to having been inspired by a great person or a great book or a great mountain or a great river, you know. You feel it, and you go "oh, ok, now what do I do?" And as to Bruce's question, especially in the midst of very extraordinarily disturbed humanity, is "do that," "do that yoga" -- and then get it out there, share it with as many people as possible and get them doing their yoga and use iPhones and Androids; get it out there to all people everywhere and adapt it to the unique needs of every person and have everyone do a practice. That's why we put out those apps, you know.
Rahul: That's wonderful. I just wanted to remind folks again who are all dialed in to press star six if have a question and you can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we do have another question from David Kay, who's asking a question that I think you've touched on a little bit in your conversation with Fab -- he says "much of the yoga world, whether in the East or West, emphasizes yoga as a process to achieve things -- some of these are health, fitness, subtle energies, yogic powers, enlightenment and transcendence. Can you please share what your teachers said about these things? Also, it would be helpful if you can share your views about not using yoga as a way of trying to get somewhere with physical or mental gymnastics but rather as a simple way of experiencing intimacy with what is given." And I think a deeper thread of that question is simply this idea of a pre-state versus a post-state versus the state that we're in right now.
Mark: Yeah, beautiful. Well this David seems to have everything. Really, it's a beautiful inquiry, in the question itself. Beautiful. You do your yoga, and it's designed for you, for your needs, for your body type. You do it principally as connection....I'm always saying what we need is connection, we don't need spirituality, because the entire world of spiritual language is this whole idea of getting somewhere, to some future possibility for yourself, which is the denial of the plain wonder that is already arising as yourself, as life itself. And the perfection of, you know, the skin, or the blood, or the brain, you know, of the ... of the sex, it's already perfected. And yoga is the connection to what is already perfected. It's not an attempt to get to some future perfection.
So stop looking, start loving -- go for that connection and, you know, forget the rest. And if you're doing your participation in the opposites -- strength receiving, inhale-exhale, then sure, there is certainly results -- you do get healthy.
You do feel intimate with others, your sexuality becomes the heart's activity ... you know, becomes real, becomes the collaboration of male-female, whatever, same-sex or opposite-sex intimacy.... it becomes the heart's action. The soul arises, you might even say the so-called enlightenment arises naturally, but it's not something you need to get to -- there's no getting to it. So there are always sort of like secondary results that arise spontaneously. And even meditation....Krishnamacharya described meditation as... you can't meditate -- the will of mind... the mind controlling the mind will never create meditation -- this whole idea of mindfulness was actually creating a dissociation from our lives because, you know, it implies we're witness, and everything that you're witnessing you're separate from, so even that is problematic.
But... so what we need is connection, not mindfulness ... connection to our lives as it is. So, that's my thing, you know -- please everybody learn an actual yoga practice and do an actual yoga that's right for you, and stop, you know, bullying yourself with, you know, these ideas of future possibilities for yourself in spiritual language. Do your yoga and then there arises as the `gifts of a natural result -- all of the powers of life including the ability of meditation, the clarity in the mind, the body, and the intimacy with life, just comes.... So do your yoga, David [laughs].
Rahul: Great, so on that note, we have a question from Pancho as well.
Pancho: Great to hear you, brother Mark and brother Rahul. Great to see you. Just to maybe continue on that flow of where the conversation is going in terms of connection -- just to share briefly that, in the way that I met you was in this framework or this context of disconnection -- in that it seems that yoga has been going more towards on, you know, the so-called people of color in this part of the planet and yet you were able to put together with our sisters Maya and Jana and Amy, I think, for this like Black Yoga Teachers Alliance here in Oakland, and I was really moved by this idea that you say again and again that there is yoga for every person, for every human being, for each body, for each age type that you don't need to do this mental or physical gymnastics, and as we speak you know my heart fills with joy and I feel this connection and also as we speak there's these brothers and sisters that might be coming together here in San Francisco to do this white supremacy -- neo-Nazi, they call it -- rally, just all these labels to describe these connection, right now as we speak there's other people going there and trying to do something different and represent that part of love. So just to poke a bit on this European white colonialism that you so skillfully bring up with so much lightness and so lack of charge, and how it's manifested right now.
And so I have a couple of like little questions here or you know poking your heart that is in the center of everything -- that is the other thing that I love about you, how you bring that breathing in the heart -- like would you share some examples of how you yoga as a peace practice have make a difference in many different parts of the earth, and the other one that has really just arised right now as I was listening to you and David and Rahul is -- what what would be, say, a non violence or what would be a way to disobey with great love, so to speak, for every person -- in the same way that there's a yoga for every person, how can we exercise that muscle of nonviolence or that muscle of disobeying with great love for every person?
Mark: Thanks so much, my brother. And thanks for reminding me of this work that we do that is sponsored by the Earth and Family Foundation. We go out and we teach yoga to black yoga teachers around the world and the Mid-East Peace Project Movement where we give yoga to Islamic groups and Jewish Orthodox people and so forth. Helping everyone understand and tangibly participate in the one humanity and the one reality that every human is in. There is one human family. That is literally and factually true. And you stop worrying about tribal warfare and the rest of it, and protection of our enclosed and isolated group. So that is happening.
I just think that there is a possibility now of getting through our second brain that global interconnectedness that we now have. Push it out there into the hands of every person. Everybody can move and grieve in the way that is right for them and enjoy the intrinsic intimacy with life. And in that intimacy, fear diminishes, anger diminishes, pain diminishes. Sure there is grief for the bullshit circumstances that have been put on humanity, but it is necessary to come to that grief. So that you can then have compassion for yourself and everybody else involved in this unnecessary circumstance that has been imposed on humanity.
And grieve for ourselves and everybody else and come to compassion, come to forgiveness, and live our lives in intimate connection to life itself and all other life arising. And this is a possibility for humanity. We have it in our hands. This is why I'm saying that individualized yoga practice is the first act of activism. And it is the first human right. The first human right is to be intimate with your own life. We must give this now to the people.
Thank you for your part in that. Let's get it out there, robustly. Communicate with all manner and means that we have. On a local level, each yoga teacher everywhere giving it to their local community, and no matter what the background of the person, the race, cultural background, the religious point of view or non-religious point of view which is out there very much. The modern world has been finished with the whole idea of religion. And fair enough. There are good valid reasons, but give everybody yoga. Everybody. Because everybody wants to feel better. And everybody can feel better.
Feel better and feel better--two different sentences. Feel into life, feel into what life is. It is for everybody, all people. Thanks for reminding me of the Oakland event. It was so powerful.
Pancho: Of course, it was so beautiful. Love you, brother. Please share my love with Maya, Amy, and Janna. It was a powerful to see these two black women leading us in all that. So please share my love with them. And love you brother.
Mark: Yeah, thank you so much and keep it out there. Keep teaching and ever-widening circles. You know, that's why we put these apps out. I have an app called "I promise" and another one called "The Yoga Promise." It is intended so that people in Africa and Sudan and the Middle East and Iraq and Iran, Syria, everywhere that is suffering can stand there, move, and breathe in the way that is right for you and feel better. And start to be connected to life.
I don't mean to be glib about the dreadful conditions that have been put upon us, people around the world. I don't mean to be naive about that. It is dreadful. It is a starting point for a moment feeling your intrinsic connection to life itself, no matter how difficult things are. And come to a place of compassion is a possibility now.
Rahul: Thank you, Mark. On that note, Rita Banks from Chicago is asking, "For someone just starting Hatha yoga, not someone who is ready to be trained as a yoga teacher, but who is already deep on the spiritual path via meditation and other means, how would you recommend that one can begin to be trained in this yoga tradition with truly great teachers anywhere in the globe? Which teachers or programs do you recommend? And is it possible to learn from you as a pure beginner to Hatha yoga?"
Mark: Yeah. Beautiful question. Thank you so much from Chicago. And yes, the whole idea that I want to put out there is that there is now access to information without even meeting a teacher. We put a book out called The Promise. It is just a little handbook of the previous books. The Promise: You can have what you really want. And the apps out. "The I Promise" app and "The Yoga Promise" app. I think they go a long way of explaining to individuals everywhere how to start. How to begin an actual Hatha yoga practice. That is now there. And then apart from that these retreats and workshops that we do around the world, of course, everyone is most welcome to come and come to those gatherings of students, the sankar--the group of practitioners. And it is very helpful to be in those groups.
So we do that in Ojai in California at the home of J. Krishnamurti that happens this November coming up. November 5th. Then Esalen I do on a regular basis. November the 11th at Esalen and January 7th at Esalen. And we are doing a big one in Bali of March of next year. So all of these are happening. Most of all, I want people to come to those and don't worry so much about finding your teacher. You become the teacher. Learn these basic principles and then begin to teach. We need our gurus. We need our teachers in Chicago, and all over.
This is what I recommend. Look at the media stuff first and then come on out to some event somewhere. Everybody is welcome. Perfect beginners I have a joke about, my introductory courses are advanced yoga for perfect beginners. Everybody come. There's people who are involved in spiritual practices or the yoga practices as they are being popularized.
Yeah, come. And put these principles of Krishnamacharya into the yoga that you know and love. And for people with meditative practices, great and include a yoga practice as part of your meditation sadhana. So these asanas, pranayama, and meditation as a seamless process. Asana is very helpful to meditation. It make meditation possible. It makes meditation stable. It has great profundity. The asana is very helpful to meditation. Asana is meditation and allows for the more passive aspects of meditation to arise naturally. Thanks for the lovely person in Chicago -- they are most welcome.
Rahul: Wonderful. We got a question from Albert H Rowe, III, and he said, “Thank you : Thank you for this shared space of exploring our stories and the energies of life. The word 'Yoga', as most names of concepts, practices, and belief systems, seems to carry an energy of exclusivity, duality, limitation, and separation. Would you mind speaking to this?
I think you touched on it a little bit right already. This idea that we are already there and the response to how do we deal with things that feel separate and difficult is to do our yoga practice and we will feel better or feel better, so wonder if you can orbit a little bit closer into this paradox of sort of we've already arrived versus getting somewhere to like a better state or a better place or a more integrated place or whole place.
Mark: Yeah, well you know I'm always saying that whatever is arising is truth itself is life itself and even apparent limitation in the body or mind, apparent limited emotions via anger, pain, grief. These apparent limits on us are arising in and as life itself as truth, and nothing is to be denied. Frankly fear and anger is appropriate for this organism needing to survive to look after itself. Fear is a legitimate response in this world today. Fear, you've got to get out of the way look after yourself. Anger is a response that's necessary response to protect oneself sometimes.
It's just that to be stuck in fear and anger as perpetual constant emotions is dangerous. The ideas you go through fear and anger to the pain that is beneath the anger. And pain is Mother Nature's means of healing the system. Pain is the nurturing force of life operating in us that is taking care of us. It means, you know, take your hand out of the fire. Without pain we wouldn't survive. And so pain is the healing and so in yoga we acknowledge all these emotions as being natural and necessary until we come to grief and then we come to compassion and then we come to forgiveness and live our life on the basis of direct intimacy with life. And not to mind any of those that I call the hierarchy of emotions that life uses for its optimization.
So even limits, limit is arising in consciousness. Apparent limit it's all right and go through the stages and use the emotions that life is natural to life, but don't get stuck in any. So predict the next emotion coming along. If there is fear predict anger. If there is anger predict pain. And if there is pain predict grief, go to grief as quickly as you can. Then go to compassion and compassion arises naturally in the grief. Go to compassion and I think we cultivate the ability to go there quickly. You can do it in a couple of seconds, you don’t have to prolong and you don't have to go through years of one emotion necessarily. Just go to grief, go to compassion..
Rahul: Thank you particularly for sharing the connection between grief and compassion. One sort of last question to close of the call of the call, can you share about how we as the broader service based community can support your work?
Mark: Well, we're all doing the best we can with the information that we have at hand and I think those of us who have an interest in yoga, we all know that Krishnamarcharya was the teacher to Mr Iyengar and we understand the story that Mr. Iyengar was just a boy when he lived he left Krishnamarcharya and had to go to Pune. Then you never had any contact and you could say did the best you could.
These principles of Krishnamacharya got left out of the equation as the West popularised yoga and I just seen unpruned the yoga demographic of the principles of Krishnamacharya that he brought forth and be a conduit and let people know. They have the principles of the Tantra that can be put into the yoga that you know and love makes an entire year round, it makes it very efficient, powerful and safe the union of opposites in your system and source of opposites is a below the hot is revealed. The flow of nurturing from hot to all relatedness is revealed and enjoy that ourselves. A good sense of way to support is to enjoy that practice and pass it on to everybody else as quickly as we can. We've got to get the job done.
“Om sahana Bhavathu” - Let's get the job done together. OK I think we're also certain it's happening.
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