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Mark Whitwell On The Basic Principles Of Yoga
Thank you Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the greatest Yogi of modern time. Born in 1888, lived 101 useful years. A man of our own time. The teacher of the teachers, the hallmark of Krishnamacharya’s work is that there is a right Yoga for every person no matter who the person is. If you can breathe, you can do Yoga. This is the heart of yoga. It is your direct intimacy with life as it actually is, reality as it actually is. Any body can do Yoga according to individual needs, body type, age, health and cultural background in a way that is right for them.
He went to great trouble to photograph and document Yoga in a time when photography was very difficult, working with the secular power of the Maharaj of Mysore to bring attention to Yoga. He wanted to document for all future time the Yoga that he had rescued from obscurity. That had flourished between the 5th and 14th centuries but disappeared into small isolated pockets in Tibet.
By the time Krishnamacharya was born, physical asana practice as whole-body devotional practice was scarce in the Indian traditions. Misogynistic cultures such as those who authored the Hatha Yoga Pradipika took the earlier practices of the Tantric cultures and reauthored them into male renunciant practices (see for example Christopher Tompkins’ research into the HYP as plagiarism of the earlier goddess-based Varahi Tantra). Only now is the research coming through from Tompkins and others to show that of course whole-body practice of intimacy with life is an intrinsic part of Yoga.
Krishnamacharya went to the effort of travelling to Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, the Shiva and Shakti of the Himalayalan world, where he had heard by repute of a guru, Ramamohan Brahmachari. It surprises many people to learn that Krishnamacharya’s guru lived there not alone but with his wife and three children. Such is the influence of the image of the celibate male alone in his cave. The guru’s son would travel down to Simla with Krishnamacharya for several months of each year. Krishnamacharya stayed with his guru for over seven years, after which time he brought his wisdom knowledge down into Mysore and the world for all of us to learn and practice. He could easily have taken up one of many academic positions at esteemed institutions, and instead chose to remain in relative poverty and low status as a yoga acharya.
Here he demonstrates baddha konasana with bandha. The breath creates asana. The breath is the central feature and purpose of asana. Asana is not there for its own sake but is there to serve the breath. The breath with asana also creates bandha, the intelligent cooperation of muscle groups in the polarities of inhalation merging with exhalation, with strength that is utterly receptive, with the female / male collaboration, which merge in and as the heart (hridaya), the source from where the nurturing that is life itself flows.
Therefore bandha is bhakti, devotion to life in every way.
Devotional cultures that attempt to bypass the responsibility of Yoga create seeking & trouble for people. Yoga is the practical means by which ideals of culture are actualized.
Yoga without breath also creates seeking. It is essential that people learn an actual Yoga — the union of body, breath, and mind — and become diligent in sadhana as the central platform of their daily life. Doing a bit of yoga here and there does not give results. So please don’t become fans of Yoga. Become Yoga practitioners, actually, naturally, yet not obsessively. Why not obsessively? Because obsessiveness reveals that there is still a search going on, a belief that without Yoga you are not, with yoga you are something, or on the way to becoming something. This is not the correct view. Practice in the mindset of becoming something is a practice, i.e., an entrenchment, of the belief of lack, of the incorrect and disempowering view of self. Whatever you are, you already are. You are not something in time that comes and goes. The eternal is flowing as you. Your yoga is your participation in this which you already are.
Yoga throws out the restrictive patterns that have been put in us of domination and control, life denial and dissociation. The body-mind has become a vehicle of pain, of repetition, duplication of society’s crippling presumptions. Yoga deals with this. Progressively or suddenly, Yoga puts you in the natural state.
About the author: Mark Whitwell is one of the most celebrated Yoga Teachers of the modern era with a unique ability to make the sublime tradition of Yoga available to people as a normal part of everyday life. He is the author of four books including the beloved Yoga of Heart (2004) and most recently God and Sex: now we get both (2019). Mark Whitwell was also the editor and contributor to his teacher T.K.V. Desikachar’s classic Yoga text, The Heart of Yoga (1994).
Born into a family of teachers, (his mother and father were both schoolteachers, and his grandfather worked in providing education programs in state prisons), Mark Whitwell has dedicated his life to passing on useful teachings from the wisdom tradition of Yoga. Mark’s simple mission is to bring the principles of practice that came through the ‘teacher of the teacher’s’ Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) into the mainstream of public life.
As a teacher, Mark Whitwell is unusual because he refuses to set up hierarchies between himself and his students. Instead, Mark maintains that for any yoga transmission to occur the teacher-student relationship must be ordinary and non-hierarchical—mutual friendship is the model. The heart of Yoga, Mark writes, is the nurturing relationship between two individuals who meet each other as friends.
At workshops and in his writing, Mark Whitwell systematically demolishes the mystique of hierarchy. He is a constant critic of many of the popular brands of yoga that have taken centre stage in the West and the East in which gymnastic and/or spiritual egotists exploit innocent people looking for real relationship and guidance. Mark then commits himself to holding people’s hands as they feel into the inherent power and creativity of their life through the easeful technology of real Yoga.
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