There Are No Straight Lines in Mother Nature | Mark Whitwell

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

There are no straight lines in Mother Nature. It is all curves and spirals, and that includes us! Modern yoga’s demand that the body be molded into a geometrical pattern is only a male imposition on the beauty and harmony of life.

Straight lines are useful enough when applied to the right areas. The construction of bridges, for example, requires straight lines, or the design of I-phones. And this is fine. But once you think you have to impose that on yourself to be an improved person or a spiritually attained person then it is obviously nonsense.

Yet this is what the public is getting when they seek out yoga. The young man who popularized yoga in the west, BKS Iyengar (1918–2014), was fascinated with linear geometry, straight lines, triangles, and aligning people’s bodies to external, mathematical ideals. Asana is now understood to be the attainment of muscular shapes and the tough pursuit of a nebulous state of physical/spiritual perfection.

If you take any cultural ideal as something that have to do on yourself that your body is not inclined to do, then it is problematic. Because you will end up forcing it on yourself by will of mind. This enthusiasm about aligning the body is not preventing injury but causing it. It is the dirty secret of the yoga world that all the teachers hurt themselves in their effort to look good for the photographs.

We are starting now to wind up our interest in these naïve early experiments with yoga in the west.

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Real Yoga for Ordinary People

Authentic Yoga is in no way a struggle, in body or mind, for a future result. Rather, it is each person’s direct embrace of the peace, power, and beauty of their Life, as it actually is and as it already is. Your body is not a declining meat sack that the mind must bully in order to try and get somewhere. What your body is, in Reality, is an extreme intelligence and utter beauty. The native intelligence of life is bright in every cell.

Yoga developed in the ancient world as the practical means by which anybody — no matter what their age, health, body-type, or cultural background was — could engage and enjoy the wonder of their embodied life. Over millennia, our ancestors refined practices that allowed us to enjoy our connection to nurturing source, to feel our natural state of peace and wholeness.

Years ago in India my teacher Desikachar and his father Tirumalai Krishnamacharya showed me the principles of this ancient, Shamanic tradition. What struck me most was the complete emphasis on the breath. Indeed, my teacher’s showed me that the very purpose of asana is for the breath. Simply put, Desikachar stated that “If there is no breath, then it is not Yoga.”

Over the next several weeks, Desikachar removed the struggle from my practice. He encouraged me to have an equal balance between strength and receptivity, effort and comfort. He instructed me in how to practice according to the principles that his father brought forth.

Desikachar taught me five key principles:

1. The breath movement is the body movement.

2. The inhale from above as receptivity, the exhale is from below as strength.

3. The breath envelops the movement. It starts before the movement and ends after the movement.

4. Asana creates bandha and bandha servers the breath

5. Asana prepares for pranayama and pranayama allows for meditation; Meditation comes as a gift (a siddhi) after doing all that can be done: asana and pranayama.

When we move and breath according to these principles then something very wonderful happens. The mind automatically gives up its acculturated function as the self-appointed control centre of the whole body. When we link the body to the breath and let the breath be in the driver’s seat, the mind automatically surrenders into the flow of breath. The mind releases its grip and its attention is drawn down into the whole body, into its source, which is the heart.

As a result, the mind becomes informed by Reality — the peace, power and intelligence of life that is established already as the whole body. It is known in the traditions that the body is in the state of enlightenment, already.

By obeying the breath and making it the very purpose of asana, we are kept safe in every asana that we do. Krishnamacharya would say, “You can cheat the body with will of mind but you cannot cheat the breath. So make the breath the guru to the asana. Obey your guru!” It is the breath that creates bandha — the intelligence cooperation of muscle groups in the polarity of above to below. It is the breath that tells us when to ease up. It is the breath that takes our attention away from the cultural obsession with moulding our lives to external standards of shape and image and draws it into the livingness and alignment that is already present. Over time, we develop trust in our practice, our body, and in life.

Of course, there are little tips to keep in mind. It is good to keep the joints soft all of the time; to have equal weight through both feet during standing asana with the toes active, and the front of the foot taking the body weight not the heel; do not twist the hips; do not use any sort of artificial positioning of the body in order to get into shapes; no adjustments are necessary; no teachers pushing or forcing people into postures; no props; and no use of gravity in backbends.

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

Repairing Modern Yoga

When I spoke this recently at a conference at Kripalu, many women there were visibly relieved. Because their bodies were round. Many had been taken in by the image of Yoga as it is popularized on the covers of Yoga journal. They were struggling away in some linear process of improving their body shape, their alignment, and trying to get their anatomical featuring right. It feeds into an illness called body dysmorphic disorder where so many women hate their bodies.

I have learnt to be diplomatic and respectful because nobody is teaching this stuff with the intention of hurting people. Most yoga teachers out there are sincere people who want to do good for their community, who can see that people are suffering. Everybody is doing their best.

If you are serious about Yoga however, you will be interested in the fact that Mr Iyengar had a guru and that his guru taught things that need to be there. We are not throwing away Iyengar or his book Light on Yoga which is a beautiful document. We are restoring the principles that his guru, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888–1989) devoted his life to communicating to the world so accurately.

When the principles that Krishnamacharya taught are included in all the popular brands and styles of Yoga, then we will all get home.

*Learn a personal home practice of direct intimacy with the given sublimity of your life in the by-donation online immersion into the heart of yoga.

Mark Whitwell

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Mark Whitwell

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.