FL: Hi Mark, it’s great to finally put a face with a name. I understand you’re a Dharma Mittra yoga teacher. Can you tell me a little about how long you’ve been practicing and how you became a teacher?
MK: I’ve been practising eleven years, and in 2006 I became a teacher. After practising for six years I felt the practice had given me so much, it was time to give something back, and I also wanted to deepen my knowledge. I first certified as a Sivananda teacher in India . I went to Uttarkashi for my first 200 hour training, and to Vrindavan for my 500 hour training the following year. I first saw Sri Dharma in London in 2006. I had his book of 608 yoga postures and was fascinated to see him and experience Dharma yoga for myself. That really became the turning point of my practice.
I never intended to become a teacher – I simply wanted to deepen my practice and knowledge. After my first training, I came back to London and started teaching at the Sivananda Centre in London and covering classes in gyms, and I found I was enjoying the experience. So the following year I returned to India and did an advanced training. Nevertheless, I was still fascinated with Dharma Mittra and what was going on in New York. I found that I wasn’t really following my ‘dream’ or what I felt my real path should be, so I signed up for the trainings with Dharma. There were four training weekends over a four-month period. I went back and forth to New York each month, one week in New York, three weeks at home practicing, teaching and reflecting. It was a nice balance in an intensive period. That was 2008. Since then I’ve been teaching only Dharma Yoga.
FL: What were you doing before all that?
MK: Before that I was graphic designer, and I still do it as a side job. I teach ten yoga classes a week and I manage, but there are no luxuries. Teaching more than that cuts into my practice time – if I teach more than two to three classes a day then I feel like I’m giving less.
I teach a master classes every other Sunday and the people that come are so dedicated. It’s a great privilege to be in their company.
FL: Is London ‘home’ to you?
MK: London is where I found my practice. I was born in Liverpool and came to London to go to art school back in the 80s
FL: Do you remember anything about your first yoga class?
MK: My first yoga class I didn’t take very seriously. I went along about thirteen years ago and it didn’t really do it for me. Then a couple of years later I felt a need to reconnect to it. I went to a hatha class in Balham and then Victoria and that’s when I started to practice more regularly. I also practiced Bikram yoga for a couple of years and Ashtanga yoga with Leela Miller and a combination of Sivananda and Tripsichore yoga with Martin McDougall. The classes I went to came down to the teacher. I first tried Bikram in New York, and I was quite was fascinated by the physical and mental challenges it presented, but that’s as far as it went, and for me it was lacking any spiritual intention.
FL: What is your self practice like now?
MK: I practice about 2 hours a day. It’s a time commitment and I’m lucky to have that time, but I make decisions about my life which enable me to keep a practice like this going. The masterclass that I teach every fortnight is basically my daily practice.
FL: Are there any styles or methods of yoga, or studios that you’ve tried that you don’t like?
MK: In all these branded ‘styles’ of yoga, sometimes the intention behind the practice can get lost. There are teachers out there who are creating their own brand of yoga and it becomes a melting pot of different styles they have picked up from different teachers, so for me, it lacks integrity. Some day Dharma Yoga will have a school in London but it won’t be a tightly franchised model. I’m really delighted to be asked to teach at Indaba and there is work to be done in terms of generating awareness for Dharma Yoga. Indaba will be a great platform to do that and help create a bigger Dharma yoga community.
FL: How long do you think someone should practice before teaching?
MK: A good few years. I see it all of the time when people start practising and want to become a teacher. Or they’ve never done Dharma and they want to become a Dharma teacher – you can do the teacher training in ten days, so they view it as a fast track way to certify. This is the wrong approach. Ten days does not make a yoga teacher. The course is intended as an immersion into the lIfe of a yogi, which does give certification only after another 50 hours of spiritual and physical practice, karma yoga and free yoga classes in order to build up experience, and the classes are monitored by a mentor. Teaching yoga is an honour and a priviledge but also a responsibility.
FL: Are you enjoying being a part of the training process?
MK: I’m happy to help in any way that I can, but I can only advise on what knowledge I have. Real knowledge comes from the guru. He’s a very humble man.
FL: Have you suffered from any injuries with yoga, and if so, how do you manage?
MK: When I first went to India I wasn’t used to sitting for hours and hours and hours and I tore my knee. When I finished training with Dharma the second knee was injured, so I had meniscal surgery on both knees and they are great. Right now I have a shoulder injury which can be debilitating. The best way to deal with it is sometimes to not practice asana. You can still do your pranayama and meditate or read the scriptures. I practice for the sake of the students. If I don’t practice and I go and teach I feel like I’m betraying them in some way. A teacher has to be an example. That’s why there is so much practice. To keep giving a little more back. Through constant practice I can understand better and I can teach it better. But as Dharma says, without observing the yamas and nyamas, there is no yoga. Simple.
In the west everyone gets caught up with the asanas. Just 5 minutes of meditation and some pranayama everyday is so important. I sit most days for 20-30 minutes after my asana practice. And then there’s the diet. I’m a vegetarian. Since I’ve been vegetarian I’ve not suffered from cold flu or a sore throat for several years now.
FL: Who are the teachers who have inspired you?
MK: Of course, Sri Dharma Mittra Leela Miller and Martin McDougall. I used to go to Leela’s and Martin’s classes regularly and I’ve been very inspired by them both as teachers.
FL: Tell me about connecting with Sri Dharma.
MK: It was Dharma who switched the light on. I grew up with God in my life and was raised in a religious family, but became became disenchanted in my 20s and lost any belief or interest in God or religion. I would go to yoga classes but there wouldn’t be any mention of God or Brahman or Supreme Consciousness. And then Dharma came along. He talked so openly about God and I felt at home. He transformed the perspective I had on yoga. That was the turning point. I have him to thank for that rebirth of my faith in God – or Supreme Consciousness. There is so much strength in that and I’ve learned to deal with situations in a much healthier way. That’s a very special thing.