Mark Whitwell (born in 1949 in New Zealand) is a world-renowned Yoga teacher and the founder of the Heart of Yoga, a non-profit organization giving Yoga education to people all around the world, including assistance in troubled regions (the Middle East Peace Project). Mark is communicating the Yoga teachings of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the teacher of teachers such as K. Pattabhi Jois, B. K. S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, A. G. Mohan, Srivatsa Ramaswami, and his middle son T. K. V. Desikachar. He edited and contributed to Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice (1995) and is the author of five books: Yoga of Heart: The Healing Power of Intimate Connection (the New Zealand edition in 2002 and the American Edition in 2004), Hridayasutra (2003), The Promise of Love, Sex and Intimacy: How a Simple Breathing Practice Will Enrich Your Life Forever (2012), The Promise: You can have what you really want (2015) and God and Sex: now we get both (2019)
Mark is interested in developing an authentic Yoga practice for the individual, based on the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya and his son T. K. V. Desikachar, with whom he enjoyed a relationship for more than twenty years. Mark’s teachings clarify the profound passion and relevance of ancient wisdom to contemporary life.
Mark Whitwell’s teaching is emphasizing the importance of an individual Yoga for everyone. Yoga should be adapted to the individual, not the other way around. Yoga should incorporate the social, cultural and physical background of every person. Or as Mark succinctly put it in his Yoga of Heart:
There is no such thing as bad Yoga, if it’s bad it’s not Yoga.
He is very critical of the so-called Yoga-brands that are arising, claiming that they lack the seven basic principles put forth by Krishnamacharya. It is his main aim to add these principles to the styles of Yoga that have been popularized over the recent years:
1. The breath movement is the body movement, and the body movement is the breath movement, which means the whole body, especially the torso, must be engaged and participate in the process of breathing.
2. The breath initiates and envelops the body movement, which means that both the inhale and exhale are initiated slightly before the movement is started and they are finished slightly after the movement is finished.
3. The inhale is receptivity from above, the exhale is strength from below, which means that we inhale softly into the chest, and exhale strongly from the base of the body.
4. Consistent use of the (hissing, throat) ujjayi breath establishes a central focus for asana practice and prepares for pranayama; it calms the organism and helps the practitioner coordinate the breath with the movement.
5. Asana creates bandha, and bandha serves the breath. Namely, the three most important bandhas (jalandhara, uddiyana and mula bandha) channel life energy into the core of the body, tone the internal organs and make pranayama fully effective.
6. Asana allows for pranayama, and pranayama allows for meditation. This means that mediation naturally arises when the power of breath clears the mind and softens the Heart.
7. Asana, pranayama, meditation and life are one seamless process, and so Yoga is direct participation in the wonder of Life that we utterly are as autonomous living beings in our total interrelatedness with Everything.
According Mark, Yoga is not an attempt to get somewhere. It is participation in the Given reality. In this understanding meditation is not something that can be practiced. The only limbs of the eightfold Yoga path that can be practiced are asana and pranayama. Everything else appears as siddhi (gift) of your sadhana (spiritual practice). By forcefully trying to practice the yamas and niyamas or trying to meditate you inevitably evoke a sense of failure which will only add to your suffering.
The practice of asana is hatha yoga, which is tantra, the non-dual tradition of direct intimacy with reality. One of the translations of Yoga is “union” and hatha yoga is the union of opposites, or “strength receiving”. Ha being the sun, or the male force, and tha being the moon, or the female force. The idea is that by participating in the opposites of life such as left and right, above and below, inhale and exhale, you end the mind’s assumed separation. Yoga emphasizes finding a way back to a natural sexuality as a means of connecting to your Source. With the help of a suitable Yoga practice it is possible to participate in the union of opposites through the breath. By regaining intimacy with one’s own body it is possible to restore intimacy with others around you, especially your partner. With this in mind, Yoga is not a form of enhancing the fitness of the body or mind but a way to relate to one’s own existence.
Besides the decisive influence of T. Krishnamacharya, an important impact on Mark’s understanding and practice of Yoga was exerted by his life-long friendship with U. G. Krishnamurti, the anti-guru of the modern age, or as Krishnamacharya called him: “The greatest living Yogi I have ever met”. Or in Mark’s words (The Promise):
Even as U. G. eschewed the label of omniscient sage or guru, he taught me one to one in the traditional and most practical ways. He got down on the floor and showed me how Yoga is not manipulation of anything. It is pristine participation in the nurturing force of the universe that knows exactly what it is doing in everyOne’s case. It is easy, and everyone can do it.