I have never studied with Mark Whitwell, but I would like to because from what I have read about him, for me, he embodies pure yoga.
He teaches from the lineage of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern hatha yoga, and he studied with Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar. He edited Desikachar’s book, The Heart of Yoga. In January, 2008, I will study for the third time at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India. For me, it is the pure heart of yoga.
I spent this past weekend with my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami, who was a student of Krishnamacharya for over 30 years, longer than even Desikachar himself. Ramaswami is not as well known although he has written three excellent books. He is a true yogi and always speaks of Krishnamacharya as his guru. I told Ramaswami that I mentioned him on my website, that he was one of my inspirations and influences. On my website I thank him for showing me what pure yoga is and that he was my inspiration to travel to the heart of yoga. He bowed his head and thanked me. A true yogi has humbleness and gratitude, something we all can try to cultivate.
Ramaswami teaches asana as Krishnamacharya taught. For example, downward facing dog is done with feet together. A student asked him why. Ramaswami said “because that is the way my teacher taught.” “But why,” the student insisted. “I don’t know,” Ramaswami said, “I never questioned my teacher.” But then he went on the explain that if you do jump-throughs, it’s easier to have the feet together to start out with, it’s a natural movement.
I thought it was funny because in India yoga teachers are respected. I am not saying that yoga teachers are not respected here, but in India it is different. There is respect for every type of teacher. Your teacher is your guru. Desikachar told us that Americans are different, we question everything. In India, if he told someone to stand on their head, no one would question it, they would just do it.
On Friday night, Ramaswami’s workshop was on mantra yoga. He is considered a chant master in India and his chanting always makes me cry from joy and bliss. India must have rubbed off on me because I felt a bit uncomfortable seeing how some students were lying down, on their backs, with their feet facing Ramaswami. One woman even started snoring. Lying down in front of your teacher is seen as rude and disrespectful in India. At KYM, the teachers know how westerners are, so no one says anything, but still….
I believe in the middle path. I study with traditionalists in yoga and Buddhism, but I also question the status quo as Buddha taught. For example, I also study with a well-known killer of yoga sacred cows, Paul Grilley. But I would also bow to touch Ramaswami’s feet as one would do in India. It’s a good balance.
Whitwell’s video resonates with me because he talks about the spiritual and physical gymnastics that modern yoga has become. I have heard Paul Grilley speak the same words, so in his own way, he is also a traditionalist. I see so often in classes how students strive and crave to get somewhere when the reality is that we are already here. There is no place to get to. We are Pure Awareness but we do not realize it because we are always running away from something or running to something. Craving and aversion, the only two things that create our suffering, and yet we do not know this in our bones because we think it is always OUT THERE, instead of IN HERE.
The longer I teach and the more I study, the more I realize that it’s not about the party tricks. Holding an arm balance for five minutes will not transform my life. Sitting in stillness for five minutes will. Making the commitment to yourself to do that, will.
During my first time at KYM I realized that this is what yoga is all about. I immersed myself in it, the purity of it. It’s not about someone putting their last name to it and calling it their own, but we’re all about brand names in America, aren’t we?
Yoga with a capital Y. Pure, true, essence.