>It was almost nine years ago when I first met Mark Whitwell in a penthouse apartment in the Strange Clown Building on Main and Rose in Venice Beach. He was the darling of some obscure Hollywood heads and the subject of a story for Spa Magazine that I’d been assigned to write.
Laid back and chill as the Cheshire Cat, with a wide grin and his linen shirt buttoned only halfway to bare his beads, his long hair drain back into a long pony tail it was easier to buy him as the next big deal in yoga (which he wasn’t quite yet) than it was to digest him as an actual corporate refugee who ditched his high paying gig in NZ to become the almost, maybe, not yet, next big thing in yoga.
And back then of you wanted to make the main stage in the yoga sphere, LA is where you went to do it. His takeover revolved around exposing truly bullshitty LA yoga teachers and explaining how their Look-At-Me students needed some true direction from… well, from him, of course.
We became fast friends, met for long Venice Beach lunches with pretty ladies who fluttered around to hear him wax on about the power of the feminine and how all human misery was rooted in our inability to accept what is, and how we are all already enlightened.
He was a sweetheart, always hilarious, and a bit spacey, but that almost always comes with big dreams. We talked about writing a book together and had some absurdist Hollywood meetings about a fucking yoga reality TV show (true, embarrassing story).
Eventually, I dropped out of the book project. I didn’t feel up to writing about enlightenment while my life was falling apart. I sold everything and came here for the first time. He published his own book and left LA. His career took off, mine gathered steam.
A lot had changed by the time I saw him today, sitting in the Bale Up space, surrounded by scores of eager students. The one-time star student of Desikachar and Krisnamicharya’s ponytail was longer and whiter, his belly a touch more profound, his spirit buoyant as ever, and his message has remained pure and authentic.
“Inhale exhale, strength receiving it’s not a linear effort toward god. That is the denial of god,” he said. These were words I remembered. “You must teach what you have been given….. The people must be given yoga, whether they are religious or have validly rejected religion and are just drinking now…. It’s not an effort it’s not a struggle. You can do this…. Religion is the language that has created civilization, so we need yoga as the practical means…. Yoga is that which you do once being inspired once having a vision of your possibility. You don’t just go to class twice a week and do somebody else’s yoga. You do your yoga. You must go, and teach the people inhale-exhale, the male receptivity of the feminine. You know what we are talking about. Yoga! And with yoga you will know yourself, you will know life itself, and know the extreme intelligence. You feel things as they are… the natural state. Opening yourself as life itself, already open… Sitting there as it’s sitting here.”
Later he went into his principals, his 5 Easy Pieces. “Body movement is the breath movement. The breath starts and ends the movement. Inhale is above, exhale is strength receiving, the masculine receiving the feminine. Asana creates Banda, exhale goes in and up this is the strength serving the heart, the source reality. Asana allows for pranayama and pranayama allows for meditation.”
The crowd nodded, absorbed it, felt it.
Here was a yoga rockstar if ever there was one. And he even looks like an aging rocker, with beads still dangling from the open collar. He’s still talking about sex a fair bit, he still calls the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, and he remains fluent in the sutras. These things haven’t changed.
“Choose your direction and go into it with continuity, and the mind fluctuations reduce. This is an outcome,” he explained, and it has certainly worked for him.
There was one slight tactical change. Once he advocated a personal practice using his principles of 20-minutes per day. These days, he’s asking students to commit to just seven minutes a day. That’s all. Seven minutes of sadhana, from wake up call to completion, giving you a root down before the world grips you in its brutal arms.
I raised my hand and asked him about it. “Well, first I asked for 20 minutes. Didn’t work. Then I cut it to ten minutes, and a woman at a conference in Sydney said, ten minutes is too much time, so I said what about seven, and she thought about it and said. That’s do-able. So I ask for just seven now.” He said it with a smile and a wink. He is after all a man of the people.
Written by : Adam Skolnick