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Yoga is your direct intimacy with reality, which is nothing other than nurturing, abundance, continuity and healing…

I was almost late on account of the ridiculous parking situation but I made it, and walked as quickly as I could without running, hoping I wasn’t the last one to arrive. A guy was standing in the doorway of what I assumed was the yoga studio, and the very first thing I noticed was how darn tall he was. And let me tell you, it’s not easy to make me to feel short. Then I noticed his long gray hippie hair falling way past his shoulders. But nanoseconds later, I was compelled to pay attention to his eyes, as he gently but persistently sought eye contact with me.

Hi… It’s almost as though he was laughing as he spoke. I was just trying to get through the door, which he was almost entirely standing in front of with his broad, lanky frame.

Oh, hi… I’m generally shy when I first meet people and find I try to shrink in the corner a bit. And I finally realised (or recognised, after all I did make a flier with his photo on it – see above) that this was Mark Whitwell and he wasn’t having any of that!

I managed to drop the eye contact and sidle past him into a sea of yogins in a windowless room. Lots of people. There was Nadine, our first real-life in-person meeting. After a quick hug, she patted a name tag onto my left boob and I turned around to discover the only spot left for my yoga mat was center stage at the front of the room. Not exactly the easiest spot from which to play the wallflower.

This was Mark’s Heart of Yoga two day workshop over the Valentine’s Day weekend in February of this year. And I was about to discover there was no shrinking or hiding here. Quite the opposite in fact (and please excuse this rather tardy review, in which I won’t be able to cover everything we talked about and did in twelve hours, but I’ll do my best).

There is nothing to attain! There is no such thing as enlightenment, only Life in you as you. No need to realize God when God has realized you. It is intimacy you want and it is freely given. It is the search that is the problem. Looking for something presumes its absence. As long as we strive for a higher reality, the looking implies this life is a lower reality…

We started off slowly, with a bit of discussion. Mark asked Nadine to explain to everyone (most of the people in the room were yoga teachers) why she’d made exhaustive efforts to organise the weekend and bring him to Melbourne. This flowed into a discussion with others that had attended teachings with Mark before. It was both incredibly yogic, and yet a little confusing. I’d never been to a yoga workshop that started with a big ol’ chat like this before, and it was way cool.

Eventually we got around to discussing the principals of “strength receiving” (see this post for more info) and we began to move. And breathe. But the Krishnamacharya-style breathing (the lineage Mark is trained in) is quite different to the full yogic breath taught in almost every other school of yoga. It’s a breath (using ujjayi) into the upper chest, and an exhale from the lower abdomen drawing the belly towards the spine. (It’s better to learn this properly from a yoga teacher if possible).

I found Mark’s explanation of ujjayi breathing very helpful. Before that weekend, I always felt as though I strained my throat a bit when I did it. But the way Mark described it (…breathe from your throat, not your nostrils and make the in-breath as audible as the out-breath…) changed that.

As we moved and breathed through an asana practice, Mark asked us to notice how the strength receiving principals were occurring naturally as we moved our bodies.

The body movement IS the breath movement and the breath movement IS the body movement. We need to let the breath initiate and envelop the movement…

…If, on a daily basis, we are intimate with our own body and breath, it allows for spontaneous intimacy with others…

We all know how good it feels when we breathe deeply, right? In fact, just reading the previous sentence is enough to prompt most people to take a couple of hearty deep breaths. Intimacy with our own breath and body allows the heart to open and true intimacy with ourselves, other people and the rest of the world, to arise.

And combining the specific breathing practice with very gentle asana creates a focus on the heart chakra (anahata). It’s impossible to practice yoga like this and not radiate love!

Your whole body is breathing, praying…

Of course, being the teary-chick that I am, after this first session, I found myself silently shedding tears while we were all meant to be meditating – meditation being the natural resting place after asana practice, rather than something to struggle with or any attempt to control the mind.

But they were tears of joy.

Mark strolled around the room chanting in Sanskrit – slokas I knew, but all I could do was smile and cry. Then tap tap — the top of my head and anja chakra were being touched very gently as I continued my maniacal grinning, eyes closed and tears streaming down my face.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d felt quite as happy as I felt right then for a very long time – all from an hour’s asana practice. And it was healing.

Mark called an end to the session and I ran off to the ladies room to continue both laughing and crying in private. 😉

[Read part 2]


P.S. All quotes are from Mark Whitwell – his book and/or his Facebook status updates.