Saturday, June 29, 2002

viniyoga teacher mark whitwell = all rad tantra feminist anarchist. way cool!

big workshop today left my little head spinning. it wasn't so much an asana workshop as a viniyoga philosophy talk. and he did a lot of chanting: the gayatri; om shanti; and one to laxmi, om shreem hreem kreem laxmi namahah, that also went into kali ma, durga ma, all the cool chicks; and also one to ganesh, while we visualized our sorrows and obstacles leaving us through our feet. . .

but on the asana front, we did do a real sun salutation while actually chanting to surya (om krim krum krahaha krom surya namahah, or something like that -- me no spell sanskrit good. . .). we also did several short vinyasas, like standing on the knees, exhale to child's pose, inhale to low cobra, exhale back to child. and a trikonasana (triangle pose) vinyasa as well.

he truly emphasized ujjayi pranayama. in fact, he said that alignment during asana was of secondary importance; "the body will align itself around the breath." perfectly synchronized movement -- body, breath, and relationship -- was the essence of his message.

mark is tall, lanky guy with a graying braid not too much shorter than mine. in fact, his hair might just equal my length. and he has the most charming new zealand accent, a direct gaze, with an intense but relaxed manner of speaking. when he wanted you to continue something, he'd say "go to" and when he wanted you to stop, he'd say "good enough now."

he sat in front of the fancy gilt three-tier shiva altar on this hot afternoon at brooklyn's yoga people in a pair of faded persimmon drawstring pants, bare-chested but for several large pendants -- what looked like a jade figure on a cord, a shorter necklace with a triangular pendant, and some bead necklaces. he began by discussing the social and political tyranny of attainment yoga -- that is, any teaching that denies the innate perfection that already exists in life as life.

he urged us as students to be skeptical of anyone who told us we needed to do x or y to "improve" or to become more spiritual, to "make progress." he felt that true yoga started to happen only when a student stops "trying to be what they are not" and practices with the breath they have in its fullness. he repeated several times with growing emphasis his trademark sun analogy -- that one's relationship to the sun is obvious, in all its depth. it's not like we have to go "searching" for the sun. it's not that we doubt we depend on the sun to live. it's truly obvious, there in the sky.

and we should realize that our relationship to life is exactly the same in all its dimensions. in fact, he was arguing for the simple obviousness of god.

naturally, as someone who is at ground zero every day, as someone who has been walking by ground zero every day since late october, i had to ask him about this. because looking at ground zero, at the world trade center pit, i just don't feel this obviousness of god. in fact, i feel a great lack of any such thing. he looked at me with clear eyes and replied without hesitation that the events at ground zero were a perfect example of what he was trying to say.

that the mistaken and perverted ideas held by the perpetrators of the attack, the "political" uses of the divine they attempt -- this is the trap of attainment. you the believer are inferior to the adept (the terrorist demogogue) with the greater answers (the propaganda), you must die for our cause to attain perfection (heaven). he argued that this sort of attainment theory -- whether in politics, education, terrorism or yoga class -- was oppressive and made "our beautiful earth a hell."

he discussed the archaic orgins of yoga, and offered a theory of upanishadic society, where a shamanistic view that all people and all things were equally divine prevailed. he urged us as students to return to this attitude, to see the divine continually, equally, and already present in all. to accept ourselves as such, and to reject any teaching or system that denied this fact.

he also discussed the importance of realizing that the "yoga," the union, was already complete in us as we were. he stressed the importance of the ha- and the -tha (the sun and the moon, or the masculine and feminine) as the basis of yoga. he encouraged us in our ujjayi pranayama to experience the true ha-tha in our exhale and inhale. as he sat before us, he took his right hand to his forehead and the left to his navel; to emphasize his point he did an exaggerated ujjayi breath while moving his hands fluidly to meet and pass each other until they reversed. it appears a characteristic gesture, and i think one integral to his teaching.

as is common in many students, most of us in the room tended to shorten the inhale, while easily lengthening the exhale. he diagnosed this as a closure or distance from our divine feminine, an almost unconscious refusal to be receptive, to take in and accept what the divine had to offer. he encouraged us to recognize our masculine and feminine, the union of shiva and shakti.

then he did a short meditation and pranayama with a simple yantra and mudra. that is, he told us to sit comfortably, but with a straight spine and mula bandha, to imagine a simple circle (the yantra) as large as our bodies. its center was placed at the heart. we breathed gently a few times, and then did a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. after that, he urged us to return to visualizing the circle and instructed us to place our one hand with forefinger and thumb touching at our heart (the yantra's center or bindhu) while we held our other hand raised to the center of the room, palm open (the mudra).

he recommended that everyone practice in this way: an equal amount light asana and pranayama; half that amount both of meditation and chant. 20 minutes in the morning and 10 at night was his prescription. whatever "class yoga" you normally do, keep doing for the "sense of community." but the encouraged everyone to develop a personalized core yoga practice of the above structure every day.

3 hours and 45 minutes flew by in an instant. it was certainly overwhelming and as intense as when someone turns on a light suddenly in the middle of the night. that sharp, almost uncomfortable feeling of blind surprise that soon settles down to normal vision. you may or may not agree with mark whitwell's yoga, but it's an experience you should undergo. . .

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