Mark Yeo on Finding the Middle Path in Our Yoga Practice 

The blog keeper (left) and Mark Yeo (right) at Namaste Festival 2017

IT’S been a while since the last time I attended Namaste Festival. It was two years ago as last year it wasn’t held. I remember in 2015 I came to the festival as a media volunteer, working as a blogger and then getting an access to a class or two, which was quite good because we did it for pleasure and fun. We love yoga and nothing is hard to do when you do it for passion. At least for me. But the committee unfortunately no longer deemed the existence of media center volunteers necessary and vital to the event so we can’t do anything about it.

This year I made a comeback as a full participant. That didn’t necessarily mean I used up all the class tickets though. I tried to stay sensible by not exhausting myself to death from participating in 6 classes all day long. Besides, this festival is not always about taking more classes and see cool teachers from foreign countries or idol teachers you’ve been longing for since the first second you’re stalking his or her Instagram newsfeed. It’s more about to find a fresh approach to my own yoga practice, to me.

When a friend mentioned the name of Mark Yeo, I subtly felt the attraction. Inexplicable one. Maybe because it isn’t a household name for yogis actively sharing their practice on Instagram. So I got curious as to what kind of style this teacher was about to present us. But I had a feeling that his class was different.

The first time Mark told us to do was lying prostrate on our mat with our knees meeting opposite ankles. Pretty much like double pigeon pose which I’m famiiar with. His words were less demanding. He provided alternatives, rather than instructions. There was no need to try very hard. We just had to do it naturally.

“Relax and breathe comfortably and deeply,” he said as he spread his view around the class. Good Yoga was the title of his class that afternoon.

As he found a participant was spotted struggling to reach the full pose, he told her not to do so. “You’re tense. Your body tells…” Because he argued that tension may be counterproductive. Then I knew his approach is unconventional.

The Middle Path

Mark believes that it’s important to find the middle path in our practice. How to find it? Listen to your breath. An asana which is too easy for you can only make you fall asleep, and your breath too slow and effortless. You’re wasting your time of practice. Yet, too much of effort causes tension, which is not a good idea either. Your breath is short and hard. Plus, you struggle too much to sustain it. That’s not a good yoga. So good asanas are just good, balanced configurations of your body. Conventional ways of stretching our body may only cause discomfort and tightness problems in other parts, he said.

He also demonstrated how we can in fact massage ourselves and release tension with our own body. In this case, no props are required. For instance, when we feel fatigued around forearms, we can massage them with our kneecaps slowly accompanied with slow and deep breathing. This method is quite new to me, which is great because that was what I was here for. To learn new things, rather than draining my energy out with ‘yoga marathon’ throughout the day.

His approach is more effortless. Ease and comfort are the priority in good yoga practice. Meanhwile, certain forms are not central.

Mark has previously learned and practiced Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga but seeing his way of teaching here, he seems to offer a totally different perspective. And this may resemble yin yoga approach to some extent as far as I’m concerned.

His practice focuses on relaxing, stretching, less resisting and less push in every asana we perform in a yoga class.

He can’t emphasize more on the importance of long, nice and even breaths. Because when we focus more on perfecting our asanas, we tend to lose our breaths, forgetting the significance. And the benefits of asanas once we forget our breath is “vastly reduced”, he said.

In this class, Mark helped me with some postures and he pretty much knew at the first sight my abnormally loose joints and long tendons. In a supine pigeon pose, ‎he adjusted my body to reach the deepest stretch my body can reach. (*)

A Hobbyist Yogi's Rants

‎It’s confusing for me to answer questions like:”How long did it take you to master this pose or that pose?” or “Can you now do pose X or pose Y?” or “How’s the progress of your practice? Do you manage to do the advanced options now that you have mastered the basic?” ‎
I came to yoga as a pure hobbyist so the idea that we must master certain poses or techniques in a specified amount of time is way beyond my ken. Why should I approach yoga like a mission to accomplish, enemy to conquer or a problem to tackle? I simply want to enjoy the journey without much burden or expectation. I want to be like the nature, it never hastes yet everything is accomplished. If you aim right, you’ll get there anyhow.

I don’t know about you, but that’s my approach to yoga, which I fully understand will never fit anyone’s needs especially those who plan to go professional (read: to earn a living by doing and teaching yoga).‎

Like Any Other Industries, There's So Much Compassion and Hatred in the Yoga Industry

‎Peaceful looks of yoga students and gurus, calm ambiance of a yoga class, soft tone of a yoga practitioner’s voice may lead you to a misleading conception of yoga industry. Yes, the INDUSTRY, not the teachings, norms and values. I need to specify the context that what I will write is NOT about all people doing yoga. Overgeneralization is something I truly want to avoid here. And it’s definitely NOT something everyone wants to read. It’s gross, dirty, disgusting, revolting, whatever synonymous word you can find in the dictionary.

‎This is actually my main reason why I find it hard to decide to teach as a full-time yoga teacher. A friend of mine also feels the same concern. She knew being a professional in the yoga world would pose her to the huge risk of yoga commercialization. To me, I feel a lot more comfortable to teach yoga without having to make it my primary source of income. I won’t, and I simply can’t. There’s something inside of me rejecting such an inclination. I want to teach because I need to share something useful and inspiring. Getting paid is the next priority.

I believe basically all yoga practitioners ‎are good by nature. That’s my hypothesis and I may get affirmation or negation along my yogic journey. Seeing and getting to know some people ensures me the yoga industry is full of great people, but once in a while I get disappointed to know my assumption was challenged and proven wrong.

Manipulations are no strangers in yoga industry. The positive teachings and lessons of yoga suddenly might fade away or get abandoned by both students and gurus alike. So it makes us question:”Does yoga stop when we step off the mat?” Apparently to some, the answer is “yes, it does.”

It therefore is no surprise to learn the bitter fact that yoga gurus are no saints, demi-gods, prophets or deities to worship. ‎They do bring us from darkness to light but in some exceptional cases, gurus also need our help to get out of their own darkness.

My First Day of Teaching Yoga in Public

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It was quite a surprise, to be blunt. Everything was ill-planned this very morning. I had to teach in a very short notice. I was called on the phone and within 15-20 minutes I simply had to be at the park teaching. Saying no was not an answer apparently. He just called in a rush and hung up the phone, leaving me all alone in complete panic.
“How am I supposed to do now?” I asked myself frantically. Still dumbfounded by the shocking request, I said to myself I might have run away, fled the situation but how about responsibility? Gosh, I was such in awe because under such a circumstance I was still taking that into account.
Another yoga friend was asking on the messenger how long I would arrive there and I felt horrible for coming unfashionably late! This was not what I pictured in my mind about my first class attended by a lot of people (around 10-20 people at a public area). Complete chaos was what I would shortly undergo, I shouted at myself.
And the people were sitting there while I was dashing with my mat on my back. I was trembling to tell you all the truth but there was no time to complain, I knew I could only rely on no one but myself and the Divine.
So with my greatest effort, I tried my best to calm myself first, accompanied with the emerging sense of self confidence. I guessed everyone there read my body languages, that I was not fully prepared for this. I was struggling inside out!
Apart from the panic and fuzzy hatred out of my helplessness, I stealthily gathered my shattered courage because no matter what I had to lead the class waiting for me impatiently. Inhale deeply and focus as I was sitting down on the rolled blue mat one of my teachers gave me. Damn hard but I tried to proceed and survive. I said to them, “Centering. Focus on your inner self…” But that was directed to myself as well. The student inside me was dragging me down with the instruction, but the teacher of me pushed me back to the hard cold truth that morning: “You’re a teacher, the authority here. Stay aware of students and of course yourself. Take that responsibility and suck it up.”
I opened my eyes and here was a flock of people in front of me, staring at me, watching closely what I did. “Forget it and show them what you want to share,” a voice inside me whispered. That’d be easy, I supposed. Just focus on sharing what I have got, period. Who cared if someone sneered at my techniques or asanas or cues or … Whatever. It was a struggle to remain ignorant of these things throughout the practice.
So I started the practice with some gentle stretching here and there. And oh I forgot twisting poses but that was absolutely ok because I just realized now, not before the class. That was not a big deal. No one noticed, or no one dared to question me. Yoga students are mostly too polite to challenge novice teachers. And thank God, I was spared.
But the self critic inside me constantly blurting, “Tsk, you forgot that and this..and these and those.”
And came an Iyengar yoga teacher, catching me off guard. I had literally no idea about his presence, which was good. My single-mindedness (or nervousness) seemed to be working best. A friend who taught yoga several weeks ago here lost his focus while teaching as he knew this Iyengar yoga teacher. He was so scared of being visually observed and thus judged and criticized. You know when it comes to perfection pursuit, Iyengar teachers teach with utmost discipline like that of soldiers. Obviously, ignorance is a total bliss!
Unlike the asanas captured on the majority of photos I always upload on the web, the asanas I chose to perform during the class were considerably easier and way less challenging to even a beginner (so I thought). But as I observed the participants, I discovered one or two with advanced yoga skills. That could be either because they are regular students somewhere else or they’re basically light and found it effortless to stand upside down.
A caucasian lady in her 50s was among the crowd. In an instant, I knew she is an avid yogini. She was quite familiar with the atmosphere of yoga class. She even could smart-guess my gesture without listening to my bilingual instructions. I spoke both English and Indonesian while teaching, in order not to leave her puzzled. She wasn’t but I was! I was puzzled because I failed to arrange the flow of the class in an orderly way. Blame it on the nervousness. I came from sitting poses to standing, squatting, and then standing in balance, and backbending and finally inversion poses. As random as the order might seem, what made more concerned was whether they realized I was struggling to find my class flow. It didn’t take a genius to come to complete realization that I am an amateurish instructor or a poser trying to give one or two bites of instruction, order, explanation, and sometimes, jokes. Jokes that were intended more to make myself comfortable in front of these people, instead of making this class a little bit more lively.
As if the nervousness and lack of preparation and teaching skills were not enough, the battery of the microphone I was using gradually ran out. To say I was frustrated even more was an overstatement. I was too powerless to get furious and furthermore I didn’t know who to reprimand. I let the frustration and anger go. “And maybe this is the right time to conclude the class”, I mumbled. Class is over. Namaste…

Jakarta, July 7, 2013