Half a century ago, a young New Zealander on the path to becoming a regular member of society took a detour to India to the soundtrack of the Beatles. As he writes in his book, The Promise: You can have what you really want, Mark Whitwell went dutifully through school, readying himself to be a productive citizen. “Still, I sensed there had to be something more – something beyond work, duty and citizenship – for our human lives … I saw that it was intimacy that was needed; and I saw that we were deprived of it by the priorities of usual life being dished up by society.”
Then the Sixties hit with a message of hope, carried along by the Beatles who went to India to study with a yogi. By the time he was 20, Mark Whitwell had done the same, finding himself in 1973 in the company of the great yogi T. Krishnamacharya, known as the ‘teacher of teachers’, who taught both B.K.S. Iyengar (Iyengar yoga) and K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga yoga). He also formed a friendship with Krishnamacharya’s son, T.K.V. Desikachar, as well as Indian scholars U.G. Krishnamurti and J. Krishnamurti.
There he found a very different take on the idea of duty – and honed it over more than 20 years of his relationship with these teachers. Along the way, Whitwell authored several books, including The Heart of Yoga with Desikachar, to bring Krishnamacharya’s principles to the West. He is also part of the Heart of Yoga Peace Project, which aims to promote peace by developing yoga communities in conflict zones, teaching aspiring Yoga Teachers the heart of yoga.
Here the internationally-renowned yoga master chats with YOKE editor Cynthia Sciberras about just some of the many aspects of duty – as a yoga practitioner and teacher, as male and female, as Indigenous and white.
Interview by Cynthia Sciberras
Photos by Toby King