Practicing & Living Yoga of Heart
by Domagoj Orlic
“There is a right yoga for everybody.”
Even as a 9-year-old boy, when I first heard about yoga and dabbled with it with some of my friends, I felt there was something very powerful about yoga. Later on, as a teenager, when I started experimenting with yoga alone a little by reading books on yoga, I clearly sensed its enormous spiritual potential. And when, as a mature young man, after one severe emotional shock, I finally began practicing yoga seriously, devotedly and regularly under Mark’s guidance, yoga revealed itself to me as the total relationship of love, as a bold living from the Heart and uncompromisingly for the Heart! And then I knew for sure from my own experience and testimony that yoga of heart was the very heart of yoga! Not “yoga of heart” as some special brand of yoga conjured up by then almost anonymous New Zealander who was trying hard to make himself and his “spiritual product” known on the American market of fierce competition during the late 1990s, but Yoga of Heart as authentic yoga that perfectly fits my human constitution, that perfectly suits me as a being with a Heart. And it was then that for the first time I really felt, quite clearly, infinite gratitude to Mark for all that he gave me so completely unselfishly (and infinite gratitude to yoga itself!), I felt that yoga surged through me, I felt that Mark’s shakti stirred inside me and that now I could transmit it to others if they really want to receive it. This immensely deep feeling of gratitude to one concrete man in flesh and blood, and that oceanic feeling of humility in front of the magnificent riddle of Life and Death, is the only real and true Yoga! Practicing Yoga truly means to robustly receive the nurturing force of Mother, so abundantly given to us by Her, it means to make Love to the Whole, to completely revitalize oneself by our Love of the Wholeness of Existence, and feel Her infinite Love for us. It is not about us aspiring to any kind of change, for the mind cannot change itself, it can only fall off of its own accord when it sees that, by its egocentric activity of closing itself into its small world of frantic attempts to secure for itself its petty little pleasures; it actually prevents the penetration of Motherly Love. Then we open up towards the impenetrable mystery of Life and simply exist. All the technical queries and the answers to the question of “How?” are mere paraphernalia in relation to this essential human experience of oneself and one’s relationship with the world. The technical aspects of yoga, or yoga as a set of technical skills applied one way or another, in this tradition known as the viniyoga of yoga, vinyasa yoga, vinyasa krama, or simply as the Krishnamacharya yoga, is oftentimes a necessary element in the transmission of spirit from one person to another. However, what really transmits and awakens this sense of humanity, friendship, love, spirituality and religious devotion is actually this relationship of care and respect arising between two human beings who see themselves and their mutual relationship as the peak of their humanity, the purpose of a good life and the only way of transmitting authentic yoga. From my own experience of just being with Mark and being friends with Mark I realized that the only necessary precondition for it to happen is a bit of openness, sincerity and trust, a bit of human faith in oneself and the goodness of the other human being.
Mark is simply such a good human being whom I trusted enough to entrust him with my own life, and then everything went quite naturally and smoothly. Mark also connected me with some of his other yoga friends, especially with the New Yorkers Carl Horowitz and Jeremiah Brimlow, who are both excellent teachers of yoga in their own right and impeccable friends I can always count on. All of them taught me, by their own example, the three cardinal human virtues vividly depicted already in the Brhadaranyaka-Upanishad: self-control (dama), charity (dana) and compassion (daya), without which, and it is my deepest conviction confirmed so many times in my everyday life, we simply cannot survive as human beings. My friend (and teacher!) Carl once told me that I was supposed to treat myself while practicing yoga in the same way I would like to be treated by my dearest person who loves me – infinitely tenderly, with great care and loving attention. And it dawned to me right away: this was the whole secret of the proper yoga practice and appropriate relationship with another human being!
Of course, daily personal practice is the right basis for everything else. When we do our yoga every day completely effortlessly and joyfully the quality of such yoga spontaneously overflows into other everyday activities, getting enriched with this experience and these insights brought back into the practice the next day. Mark therefore often says: “Do your yoga every day, just as you would brush your teeth or take a shower, and then forget about yoga altogether, for it will do its work for you of itself.” And it is really so. When we do our practicing sequence with complete attention and feeling for what we actually need at that particular moment and what is actually happening inside us during and after the practice, whatever is supposed to happen next in our relational life when we step into a new day will be some good or at least useful experience which will later on prompt us into reflecting about it or even fulfill us personally. Regardless of what might happen to us in our life, we keep on practicing our yoga, being aware that the easiest thing for us to do is finding an excuse for not practicing and that our personal suffering is our greatest motive for practicing. Yogic working (but most definitely not struggling!) on the body, breath, mind and relationships as one seamless process, and that is what yoga really is about, is the direct absorption in the experience of being a living thing in the world of relationships of all kinds. And that is the experience of an intimate relationship with the world, with ourselves while we are mingling with the world and while it is inescapably penetrating us. It is the absolute union of strength and softness, giving and receiving, penetration and receptivity. However, feminine softness is a bit more important than male hardness, so in yoga we put more emphasis on relaxing and receiving, which is the natural context for the development of endurance. This endurable male force can flourish only in the context of the receptive female caring, and that is the greatest “secret” of yoga. Actually, it is so obvious to those who summoned at least a bit of courage and gave up on the unnecessary struggle to overcome female relentlessness, which is how the male usually sees Nature, both the inner one and the outer one, that is his own nature which, paradoxically, is predominantly feminine when he is truly relaxed and receptive. Therefore, the yoga postures are practiced in such a way that we allow the inhale, as a feminine principle, to sink into us effortlessly by relaxing our body completely, and then we initiate the exhale strongly from the base of the body by surrendering completely to the nurturing force of Mother. Then we have the perfect (yogic) attitude towards Life:
sthirasukhamasanam (Yoga-Sutra, 2:46)
This simply means in each and every attitude of ours, be it physical, mental or spiritual, we become capable of feeling, nurturing and expressing the dual quality of strength (sthira) and receptivity (sukha), of hardness and softness, of stability and comfort, of alertness and relaxation. This is the right purpose of practicing asana, or yoga postures. Each and every breath then should be inhaled as if was the very last one, and that is the true pranayama. The audible throat respiration, the so called ujjayi breathing, envelopes each bodily movement while performing the postures, so the principles of the optimal yogic breathing are the following:
1. we inhale into the chest, and exhale from the base of the body
2. the whole body is completely relaxed while inhaling, and then follows a powerful complete exhale from the base of the trunk
3. while inhaling, we receive feminine force, the energy of Mother, which descends along the frontal line of the body from the crown to the toes; while exhaling, we get rid of all the excessive dross matter and give over our masculine power to our environment while the energy of the exhale is ascending along the rear line of the body and out into the world
4. by this merge of opposites, of prana and apana, of Shakti and Shiva, Yoga is being born inside us, that is Ganesha, the son of Shakti and Shiva, who removes all the obstructions to our robust relatedness with Everything
5. while receiving the in-breath into the body, our spine elongates and we grow towards Father Heaven; while expelling the out-breath, the shoulders and the upper body settle down and we get rooted into Mother Earth
6. the inhale (puraka) brings the Deity into us, the hold after inhale (antara-kumbhaka) is maintaining our closeness with the Deity, the exhale (recaka) is our movement towards the Deity, and the hold after exhale (bahya kumbhaka) is our total surrender to the Deity
Meditative awareness then arises quite spontaneously; we get a deeper insight into life and feel the inexhaustible source of our deep human emotivity in our Heart. And from then onwards we can live only from the Heart, knowing that wasting our life pretending as if we had no Heart leads us only to suffering, that is to the feeling of discomfort and constriction around the Heart, which definitely is not our full human potential. To live our life to the full without any fear of our own emotivity by plunging boldly into the total relationship of love with the world means to truly live Yoga. Each one of us can do that, each one of us can summon enough courage to be vulnerable, and the only question is whether we want it or not. If we do want it, we will find a way into it; or more precisely, it will find its way to express itself through each one of us in its unique way. Our only task is not to resist, and that is authentic yoga: to give up all unnecessary turmoil, to open up, to relax and live a religious life of a dignified human being who knows how to recognize and appreciate the real values of life, and has enough creative energy to realize them in her own and other people’s lives. That was the teaching (yoga diksa) of Yoga of Heart transmitted to me by Mark in a caring relationship of friendship, mutuality and communion. For yoga actually begins when we give up every search and then simply enjoy the Life that we are! And then we practice yoga ONLY because we feel good while practicing and after practicing yoga when we embrace the world, and not because we want to achieve something worthwhile, experience something extraordinary or feel bliss! The practice of yoga is then simply our action of responsibility. Mark would say: “Enlightenment doesn’t exist! Forget about that nonsense and simply love Life, for you are the Truth and there is no need whatsoever to search for anything at all.” It helped me understand that we as humans have only three tasks: to survive (with dignity all the hardships of life), to know (ourselves, and so the whole of existence) and love (Life as such, but as it is manifested in us ordinary people, who are not perfect). Or in one immortal, ultimate and liberating sentence uttered by J. Krishnamurti, which I actually quote to point out the transforming power and significance of yoga and to sum up the whole purpose of writing this article in the first place:
“Love is the only true revolution!”
My apprenticeship with Mark Whitwell has been continuously going on for more than ten years now and it comprises many different areas of the traditional yogic repertoire, that is all that has attracted my attention within the yogic lore. He taught me how to correctly perform yoga postures as pranayama in movement, and also taught me stationary pranayama as a spiritual and religious process of extending prana towards Divinity (Ishvarapranidhana). He taught me how to apply correctly the various mudras of hatha yoga, especially the three most important bandhas (mula, uddiyana, and jalandhara bandha) and how to integrate all the technical elements of yoga into a coherent and effective practice, such as drshti, mantra, bhavana, nyasa, puja and almost everything else that can be found in an almost infinite range of yoga techniques which were for some reason interesting to me. Those were mostly some Tantric rituals using the Sri Yantra or Sri Cakra, which is the most potent tool of transformation known in the Sri Vidya shakti sadhana as Sri Cakra puja. Mark also taught me how to chant certain portions of the ancient Vedic texts, some powerful Tantric bija mantras, as well as the whole Yoga Sutra. Since that text is the very heart of yoga, he also initiated me into its secrets, that is into the deeper meaning of it and its practical application, although so far we have managed to go through only the first four sutras of the first chapter and the first sutra of the second chapter. Mark then naturally taught me the fundamentals of yoga therapy (yoga cikitsa), as well as basic principles of successful teaching. This communication and study has been going on in many different ways, but mostly individually face to face or through letters and mails; sometimes via some of our common friends and sometimes in group settings during Mark’s public teaching in various European cities, and it was NEVER the question of how much it costs, in spite of the fact that Mark is a professional yoga teacher who generally charges for his teaching services and earns his living by teaching yoga, traveling constantly from one continent to another. And to cut the long story short, studying with Mark showed me from firsthand experience what traditional yoga instruction is and what enormous skillfulness is necessary for traditional yoga to be applied to the modern man in all its complexity, richness and power. Mark Whitwell really does this skillfully and wholeheartedly, and I am deeply grateful to him for all that he has given me, just as he is grateful to his own teachers. This spirit of communion gets transmitted further on from one generation to the next, and people like Mark and me are doing their best to keep yoga alive as an active force of transformation in the consciousness of those people who feel the need for such a change in themselves and sincerely ask to be instructed in yoga. For, there is a right yoga for everybody, it is possible to find a trustworthy teacher/friend who can teach us the right yoga for us, and we can be yogis, right now and right here, if that is what our Heart is aspiring to.