The Awakened Journey to Meeting Yoga Master Mark Whitwell
And becoming a friend to The Heart of Yoga
It was a whirlwind trek to Ubud, Bali with my family in tow, cheering my mission on to meet Mark Whitwell, a true mirror of the yogic teachings of the T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar lineage, which I am trained in. Not too long ago, Mark appeared in the algorithm of my social media feed and said things I had been longing to hear in a saturated and confused yogic world. He was approachable, engaging, responsive and soon straightened out my yogic path forevermore.
My family, currently living in Singapore is in state of flux these days and making our way to Bali seemed like an elusive dream. But my husband, also by the name of Mark, is an ally in my story who always finds a way to get me to where I need to be. I fall ill from travel tummy and decide meeting Mark Whitwell isn’t meant to be. I send him an email letting him know and he gently responds telling me to show up “…anytime. But only if it’s in your natural flow.” I love unconditional people. How do you turn that down!
It was Thursday, March 30th and my family packs their bags from Sanur to Ubud and helps me reach the yoga retreat center where Mark is teaching. I nervously stumble into to the center where Rosalind Atkinson, Director of The Heart of Yoga, publisher, yoga teacher, activist and academic force – cordially walks me toward Mark, where he is teaching to a room full of about to be graduated yoga teachers. Mark is teaching while students are reclined with eyes closed in savasana. His trance inducing voice is gently guiding them. He greets me with a silent expression of surprise in his eyes and during a pause prostrates himself before me, followed by a warm embrace. An overwhelming demonstration of gratitude and acknowledgment for the journey I had made to meet him. Mark says,
It’s different meeting this way; in the body, isn’t it?” Indeed. I am sensitive toward the needs of others by nature and as such was concerned to pop into the middle of this bonded group’s day. Later Mark tells me all are welcome and that he’s not running a club. I remember once more why I wanted to meet him.
Shortly thereafter begins a blessing by a Balinese priestess and her husband who perform a special ceremony designed to clear our Karma including that of our ancestors and family members. Through a series of movements, breathing, chants and guided mantras I am transported to clear all that I have carried into the presence of this very moment. I suppose, I could have arrived at any time, but this teaching was karmically before me and I vowed to surrender it all right then and there including my traveller’s tummy. We are blessed by the priestess and gifted a small string which we are instructed to add to our wallets, a symbol of abundance. I’m in. Finally, we are blessed once more with holy water poured over our heads and onto the palms of our hands. Flower petals all around us; I am truly in a place of joy. Afterwards I find the courage to ask the priestess for a photo and she takes me into a huge embrace as she imparts a message we all want to hear in our lives. I was truly blessed. My stomach troubles never return.
We break for a late lunch and I spend time getting to know a very special couple who are all at once welcoming, inclusive and downright open to share their life stories. My kind of people. Kurtis Goodwolf is a singer, songwriter and Producer of the Heart of Yoga Podcast. His partner, Brandi Cole is a fierce, multitalented singer, pilates teacher and world traveller. I never take these meetings for granted. They mean something to me. And these two beautiful souls reminded me to keep living a life that is heart centered, bold and passionate. The universe will provide!
I have a quick run-in with Mark and we connect over developments in The Heart of Yoga. He adeptly remembers to help my husband make a professional connection. His memory has impressed me more than once, but the thoughtfulness truly moves me. It’s a brief and genuine encounter. I’m honored to be there.
After lunch we return to the yoga room and Mark kindly introduces me to the group inviting me to say a few words and shamelessly plug my work and website. From here he seamlessly resumes with an invitation to his students to speak and answer three questions. I notice he addresses each of them by name. And then he speaks.
When Mark Whitwell speaks, the seeking for peace, for meaning, for purpose ceases. There’s nothing particularly gentle about his words, in fact they are direct, spear-like lessons of peace and beauty that all at once stop your mind’s chatter because his message does not allow you to escape reality – the moment, this moment, here and now. I liken his heart presence to stepping into a jungle and for first-time hearing nature so clearly, so loudly that you can only be at one. He clearly reminds us that our yoga practice is literally making love to life itself as “unity consciousness”, “participation in reality” and the reminder that love cannot be unloved. With no pretence of a guru but all the presence of a learned life, you feel his veneration for each soul before him. He seems to treat and approach each person with absolute acknowledgment seeing through their shields and into their hearts. Mark also reminds us that our minds have been bound by societal structures that lead us into believing and splitting off from ourselves into the parts of our personalities that keep us from realising our true nature. I don’t really want to be in one club or have one guru, but for now I am exactly where I am supposed to be in the joy of my reality and the presence of my teacher and friend.
The day then surprisingly ends with a 30-minute kids yoga class led by Rosalind. Children are present in the room and her teaching is filled with authentic joy. She attends to the children and her instruction comes straight from her heart. Mark’s laughter can be heard in the background. Rosalind’s quip remarks to the children speaking throughout the lesson have the room chuckling. She immediately transports me to the bliss of my inner child as I become “tall as a house, and small as a mouse.” I might say I’ve never had so much fun in a yoga class before. I can’t wait to learn from her again.
The day has come to an end and Mark kindly invites me to dinner with his class. I’m touched but want to allow these students to have their time with their teacher after two intense weeks of what I am sure was a transformative and enlightening experience. I politely bow out with the hope of meeting Mark and Rosalind in Singapore again soon. I head out for the evening on my own for the first time in many moons and simply sit in the bliss of the moment, neither reflecting nor projecting, simply being in joy, in the moment, in Bali.
I am humbled to become a friend of The Heart of Yoga. Their generosity and instruction relieve the longing and seeking of the human journey with a simple message of yoga that is for every individual, flexible and adaptable, inclusive and loving. These teachings are true yoga, my yoga, the path to uniting to the divinity of the cosmos, love, and making the awakened journey to the master yogini in me.
To learn more about Mark Whitwell and The Heart of Yoga be sure to tune into my podcast, episode 8 – video available on this site, audio available via iTunes and Spotify. You can also find him at www.theheartofyoga.com .
Claudia de Llano is a marriage and family therapist, author, speaker, yoga and meditation guide. She facilitates peoples’ paths toward awakening of inner harmony and conscious being. Through movement, sound and meditation she creates immersive experiences of pause, positive reflection and presence by helping people integrate and expand their emotional, personal and professional lives. Learn about the stages of love we journey through in our lifetime in her debut book, The Seven Destinies of Love.