No More Meditating! Mark Whitwell on the Distortion of Modern Meditation

Mark Whitwell
7 min readOct 29, 2020

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Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
God and Sex: Now We Get Both | Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell’s latest book God and Sex: Now We Get Both (2019) can be read as the culmination of his teaching life and is a rich repository of wisdom gained from his personal experience as a Yoga practitioner.

The book makes the case for an embodied spirituality and strongly opposes patriarchal fixations on ascent, celibacy, and renunciation. Mark Whitwell seeks to repair the damage that has been done to human life through the separation of the so-called ‘higher’ goals of spiritual practice and our ‘mundane’ everyday relational lives.

In December last year, I sat down to have a conversation with Mark Whitwell during a three-day heart of yoga workshop in London.

In the following interview, Mark Whitwell explains what real Yoga is; how the, popular brands of meditation and mindfulness have got it wrong; why we can forget about trying to become enlightened; and what it means to live a life of Yogic intimacy.

Julia Efford: For all those people out there who are new to Yoga can you give us a quick definition?

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Mark Whitwell: Yoga is the unitary movement of body, breath, and mind. When we link the breath to the whole body the mind naturally follows the breath.

The mind gets linked to the body. And the body is reality itself — an extreme intelligence and utter beauty that is already intrinsically in harmony with all aspects of the natural world; with air, light, water, the green realm, and all intangible aspects of the cosmos.

Therefore, by linking the mind to the body, the extraordinary intelligence of life goes into the mind and informs the mind.

We get a whole new view of our perceptions and circumstance from the vantage of the intelligence and light of real life.

Julia Efford: What can some expect to gain in their life from a Yoga practice?

Mark Whitwell | Yoga Guru | Heart of Yoga
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Mark Whitwell: We become intimate with ourselves in a very profound way — with our body, breath, our emotions, and our experience.

This intimacy with our own life very naturally extends to those around us, our loved ones, and the people in our community.

I’ve seen it time and time again, people start an actual practice and they find themselves literally more receptive of their partner for instance, as they learn how to receive their own breath each morning. They find themselves to be a perfect system of strength (exhale) that is utterly receptive (inhale). It is so beautiful.

A common misconception of Yoga is that it is to go within, away from the relationship or to transcend the everyday. The opposite is true. Yoga is relationship: body, breath, and relationship, in that order. The flourishing of one’s relational life is the point of Yoga.

Julia Efford: In a lot of Yoga classes I have been to the one thing that is left out is the breath. But in your classes, the breath is the absolute focus. Can you explain more about the role of the breath in Yoga?

Mark Whitwell: There is a secret I learnt from my teacher Desikachar in my first lesson with him which is that the body loves its breath. It is a literal love relationship. The inhale loves the exhale, and vice versa.

This is because the very source of life is felt as the breath. My friend U.G. Krishnamurti would always say,

“Spirit means breath, Sir! Nothing more.”

You can use this kind of language if you want to, but it is a universal experience that is to do with how our body is functioning.

Each cycle of breath unites the strong masculine qualities of the exhalation with the receptive, feminine qualities of the inhalation. The whole body becomes permeated by its essential male and female qualities; the blissful absorption of one to another.

By carefully using the mechanics of the anatomy to move the breath, the whole system is restored to its natural state.

The result is that we feel at peace.

Julia Efford: At a few points during the training you emphatically told people to stop meditating. Can you explain why you feel so strongly about meditation?

Mark Whitwell: Cultures that inspire meditation or contemplative practices create the thought structures and personal identity of an individual who is trying to meditate to become realized or enlightened.

It places people on a linear paradigm of progress or regress towards or away from some made-up ideal of human perfection. Mindfulness and meditation have been sold to us as the means to get there as if we are not already the wonder of life, the power of life, the beauty of life.

And these practices of witness consciousness actually take us away from relationship and intimacy into a bland state of awareness only. Residing as a witness to all arising conditions (mindfulness) implies that you are separate from your conditions.

So I just want to relieve people of that struggle to get enlightened. It’s a complete hoax. And a denial of the perfection that is everybody’s life here on this beautiful planet.

The only samadhi that is valued in Yoga is sahaj samadhi, the natural state, the union that has already happened, and is the continuing, always present reality of all. No one need give you this and no one can take it away from you.

Julia Efford: I’m confused because during our training I definitely felt like I entered into a meditative state at times. Are meditation and Yoga are completely separate practices?

Mark Whitwell: My teachers understood that asana, pranayama, and meditation are a seamless process. Asana allows for pranayama, and pranayama allows for meditation. Meditation (clarity of mind and connection to life) occurs naturally as a result of asana, pranayama, and intimate connection to all ordinary conditions.

What you experienced was real meditation. Which is to self-abide in and as the power of the cosmos that is arising as the whole body in its intrinsic harmony connection with the whole of life, which is unspeakable beauty and pure intelligence. It is to self-abide in relationship to life.

We cannot meditate as a wilful activity of mind without Yoga as its context and cause. What we can do is cultivate fertile ground in which the seeds of meditation will blossom and grow. And that means embracing your life and relationships.

Julia Efford: In a lot of spiritual groups that I have been a part of there is a constant focus on the ego and trying to transcend or overcome it. What are your thoughts on ego and Yoga?

Mark Whitwell: There is no such thing as ego in the Yoga tradition. Ego is not a thing. The closest word for ego in Yoga is asmita which means association.

So you could say that ego is whatever you are associated with. If I am associated with my career, the car I drive, the way I look, you could say that this is ego. But it is not an identity, or a something, it is merely an association.

The ego can also be said to be the mind’s association that you are something less than reality itself, or even the idea that you are something more than reality itself.

In truth, the mind is functioning only as a communication mechanism of the heart, of its source, of life itself.

When you do your yoga, you will feel this power of your own life, and then as time goes by, egoic identification diminishes and it can go away completely.

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If you want to learn the principles of home Yoga practice that Mark Whitwell discusses in this interview you can join the 8-week online immersion by donation at www.heartofyoga.com/online-immersion.

Author Bios

Julia Efford is a Yoga teacher from London, England who trained in a variety of different styles until she discovered Mark Whitwell’s book Yoga of Heart. She teaches small group classes and private sessions and lives with her partner Tom and their daughter Emily.

Mark Whitwell is an internationally renowned Yoga Teacher who has spent the past thirty years traveling the world on a mission to make authentic Yoga available to all people.

He is a student of T.K.V. Desikachar (1938–2016) and was the editor and contributor to Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga (1995) — a book that is revered as “the bible of modern Yoga.”

Mark Whitwell is also the founder of The Heart of Yoga foundation and The Heart of Yoga Peace Project — an initiative that brings the tools of Yoga to people living in conflict zones around the world.

He lives between Fiji and New Zealand.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.