March 22, 2011

Mark Whitwell Interviewed by Deborah Bassett

Lifelong teacher, Mark Whitwell, travels the world on a full time basis sharing his passion and knowledge for the ancient wisdom of yoga and is committed to making these ancient principles accessible and approachable for every single individual. According to Mark, “Yoga teaches that we are not separate, cannot be separate from nature, which sustains us in a vast interdependence with everything. This union is our natural state, this union is Yoga. When you experience this connection to the fullness of creation, of nurturing source, you are doing your Yoga. Yoga is your direct participation in nurturing source.”

Mark Whitwell’s lineage of yoga stems from the teachings of Professor T. Krishnamacharya “the teacher of the teachers,” and his son TKV Desikachar, with whom he studied for more than twenty years, primarily in India. He is the editor and contributor to TKV Desikachar’s book, The Heart of Yoga as well as the author of Yoga of Heart and Hridayasutra.  He is also the founder of The Heart of Yoga Association, a non-profit organization launched in 1996 that provides yoga education around the world, particular in conflict areas where these simple healing principles and proven techniques are desperately needed most.

In December 2010, Mark led a seven day Heart of Yoga retreat at Daku Resort on the small island of Savusavu, Fiji.  A group of 18 international students, from novice to teacher, attended the retreat where Mark led the group through daily asana and pranyama practice. The following conversation took place with Mark Whitwell during the transformational week.

DB: The teachings of Intimacy are central to your message but it is such a misconstrued word. Can you please share your viewpoint of Intimacy?

MW: Intimacy is the inherent condition of life as in we are all connected in the absolute condition of reality; no one is or can be separate from life and the mysterious power that is life. However, the social conditioning of the mind has assumed separation, particularly the male/female polarity, which has become dysfunctional due to the doctrinal insistence that one must go beyond desire. This causes sexual denial, life denial, aberration and illness within religious institution and society. Yoga is a return to primal religious practice and the intimacy with source reality and all arising conditions including and especially the male female union, which is the power of reality. Yoga is needed as the practicum for the realization of all religious abstraction that has inspired humanity. To summarize this point, Christ was a yogi because he said “Love thy neighbor as thy self” which is yogic instruction and the Buddha was a yogi in his mind fullness (two words) not the disassociation of the word mindfulness, which creates the separation only of the observer and the observed. Yoga is the utter union or embrace of the object not the mere witness of objects. The paradox of this position is that it is the very means by which we become established in reality itself, the condition of all conditions and we are free of any apparent object that is assumed to have an existence independent of source reality. We embrace everything from our own ground of reality itself.

Mark leads students into Pranayama practice, Daku Resort, Fiji

DB: In teaching yoga to your myriad of students worldwide, what would you say is your intention and inspiration?

MW: Every ONE is utterly at one with the Universe. You are a flower blooming in your own garden. The intention is therefore to give everyone his/her own intimate connection that is inherent to his/her own life.

DB: You have traversed the world spreading yoga and peace.  What are the origins of your philosophy?

MW: My teachers are primarily Professor T Krishnamacharya and his senior students- TKV Desikachar, AG Mohan and Srivatsa Ramaswami. In the popularization of yoga in the west, even though Krishnamacharya is the teacher of the teachers, he has been ignored as the source scholar and the one who brought forth the technology of how yoga is practiced successfully by each individual according to their unique personal attributes. When this is practiced, yoga becomes direct intimacy with the given reality that is nothing but nurturing abundance and healing. There is no linear process in it- it is direct. The other major influence in my life was UG Krishnamurti- a friend of Krishnamacharya. He was a Jivamukti, a Buddha who clarified for me that yoga is participation in Reality and not a search. I’ve also been graced in the lineages of Ramana Maharishi and Robert Adams, Ramakrishna, Sarada Ma, and Vivekananda, Bhagavan Nityananda, Muktananda and Adi Da Samraj. These and others are transmissions of Heart in our time. But Yoga practice adapted to the individual needs is the necessary practicum, the practical response to grace. It has always been so.  It has always been there in the great traditions since ancient times. The appearance of Avataric grace was always in the Vedic context of Yoga correctly given to each individual. It was a culture already given and assumed as the cultural context of the Avatar’s appearance. Yoga is the response to Grace or any inspiration. Otherwise inspiration can make matters worse due to the stark difference between the vision and every day life. There must be the practical means and response. Religious sublimity and abstract text of the world religions arose through yogic realization. However it almost disappeared if it had not been for the life of Krishnamachaya.

DB: Your teachings inspire your students to question their own wisdom, get in touch with their feminine.  What does the feminine mean to you and why?

MW: The feminine is the nurturing source of reality.

DB: How have your teachings evolved over the years?

MW: Growing up in the company of these wonderful people mentioned above who were not business people selling yoga brand merchandising, but sincere individuals enabled me to practice and teach real yoga adapted appropriately to the needs of each person. It has always been there since my early meetings with Krishnamacharya and has perhaps become more potent as the years have gone by.

DB: In addition to your writings and teachings, you have created a Middle East Project.  Can you describe the mission of this project and how you came to be involved with it?

MW: We have a non-profit in the US whose mission is to bring yoga education to the whole world, particularly to troubled regions. We bring people into our teacher training around the world and give them the essential learning that is required to teach. They return to their communities to share these teachings that provides them with livelihood and support of their community and friends amidst dreadful circumstances. Yoga is the means by which religious ideals are realized. My Islamic friends in the Mid East now report in their own community how yoga combined with their five times a day prayer cycle has allowed it to become joyful and deep rather than a mere doctrinal obligation. They say that through Yoga they have discovered the depth and wonder of their faith. This is spreading into the world as a gift from one to another. We are deeply committed to this process. It is the hope for humanity and the realization of one life free from national religious or ethnic identification yet celebrating the difference of all three. This all began in NY where teacher training had gathered Islamic and Jewish students from the Middle East who discovered each other and the common bond in yoga and life that they shared.

Mark engages students at Daku Resort, Fiji

DB: In this day and age, it seems we’re almost always on the go.  Many find it challenging to incorporate a practice into their schedules on a daily basis.  We know you travel extensive distances on a regular basis.  Can you share with us your daily practice given your very busy schedule as an inspiration to our readership who would like to find that balance and practice in their lives?

MW: People simply must make a decision to actually practice. This is what I call The Promise.  It is not obsessive, heroic activity, but an ordinary human pleasure that is as natural as brushing your teeth and taking a shower each day. In yoga there is an interwoven promise between teacher and student. The result of intimacy is promised and the student promises to practice. I simply repeat my teacher’s words who didn’t speak much English, “Do your Yoga.” That means your own yoga, not the patterning that has been merchandised by anyone else. This yoga that we have is empowering and anybody can do it and once a person starts, the empowerment of it makes it easy to continue.

DB: To help with balance in our busy daily lives, is there a personal meditation that you recommend?

MW: The primary spiritual responsibility is an actual asana practice. Buddhism and new age teachings such as TM has popularized meditation as a practice and dissociated it form its yogic context. It must be understood that mediation arises from your asana and pranayama, your intimacy with all ordinary conditions,  as siddhi, or grace. It is a gift that comes as a result of your sadhana, which means that  which CAN be done. In other words, meditation cannot be practiced without it’s yogic base. There is certainly mediation, but it arises naturally and you can not “practice” it- just like you can not put yourself to sleep but sleeps arises when the conditions are right. Trying to meditate creates stress without sadhana.

DB: Our universe is changing rapidly and our existence in this world is evolving, as well.  How do you see your teachings growing and can you project where your teachings might be in the next ten years?

MW: I want everyone in this world to be educated in a simple yoga practice that is right for him or her. So far secular and religious institutions have not seen the vital necessity of yoga for the fulfillment of their education purpose. I would like to see educational institutions of all kinds start an actual yoga education for their people. We are taking steps in this direction.

DB: You are one of the pioneers of Yoga in America.  Can you give advice to new students and teachers starting their practice and careers now?

MW: Please learn the principles of Krishnamacharya, the source teacher of Iyengar, Ashtanga Vinyasa and all their derivatives and put these into the styles and brands that have been merchandized; so that yoga becomes entirely your own- efficient, powerful and safe and begin to practice for yourself daily. There are only three qualifications to teach yoga. 1) You must have a good teacher 2) You must have a personal and consistent practice 3) You must care about others. Your yoga will be direct intimacy with source reality and the extreme intelligence arising as yourself and all of life- as reality itself.

DB: Mutuality in Love, relationships and male /female is a common message of yours. Where does this message have its origins?

MW: It is simply what yoga is- yoga is the union of all opposites by which the power of life manifests and the heart, source reality, is felt. From the heart, the first cell of life, arises all opposites and to there they return. It is as simple as left to right, front to back, above to below, inhale to exhale, strength to receptivity, male to female and within to without, source to seen, spirit to form. It is this easy participation that is yoga and the great concept of yin and yang or Shiva Shakti of the ancients. Practice of participation in any of the opposites, results in being able to feel all opposites in union.  Yoga is the practical enactment of the great mythological magic such as Sita and Ram, Krishna and Radha, the souls relationship with God. The heart reality, source of all, will become apparent, perceived and blooms from the heart like lotus petals spiraling in all directions. If one becomes absorbed in source reality, in no way does this mean the exclusion of any of the opposites or the denial of any experience whatsoever. In fact, the intimacy with all experience is the means by which one becomes aware of the source reality. Therefore experience or natural desire is never denied or exploited in a search and sexual life becomes natural and profound.

DB: What have you learned from your world travels as a teacher over the years? Are we becoming more spiritual collectively?

MW: I have learned that it is the worst of times. As Bob Dylan said, “the dark, modern times.” However, it is the best of times because we now have worldwide distribution and immediate access to the most profound wisdom and practical help that humanity has come up with. That includes Bob. Yoga is for all people and can be available now to all people everywhere. This must be so and the more resourced countries must make sure it it available to everyone. In every country in the world there are eclectic educated international people who understand the necessity for this help. We must find every One.

DB: Does one area of the world hold more influence than others for you?

MW: I am a New Zealander from a western intelligent democracy. Therefore, I love America too and hope for the inherent intelligence of America to come forth still and be in service of everything that I am talking about here. I’ve also seen the depth and intelligence in the vast societies of China and Japan with their rapidly growing interest in yoga and capability in education of their people. Therefore my work has been focused on America, India, China and Japan with the great societies of Europe close at hand; the intelligence and productivity of Germany in particular. These powerful societies of the world will save humanity. China, India and Japan lead the way in yoga education with their ancient roots and the ability to communicate with their people. I also appreciate unspoiled environments on the planet such as Fiji that can serve as models of eco-environments, human community and sustainability.

DB: Thank you for your time and wisdom Mark. I hope that readers will keep an eye out for your latest endeavor, The Promise: Secrets of Intimacy, Love and Sex.

Mark: Thank You Deborah, and please remember to “Do your yoga!”

Mark’s latest effort, entitled The Promise: Secrets of Intimacy, Love and Sex is a small gift book, short and to the point to offer the essential information to a very wide global audience. More information may be found at: www.thepromise.com

For more information on Mark Whitwell, please visit: www.heartofyoga.com and www.thepromise.com. For more information on upcoming retreats at Daku Resort, please visit: www.yogainfiji.com

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