Having missed yesterday’s practice due to a set of extenuating circumstances and then being thrown a curveball in monumental form, I found myself ready to physically work some of the stress out of my body. I was eager to get onto the mat, and opted to return to Mark Kan’s class at Indaba Yoga Studio, a place I consider home in more ways than one.
Mark is perhaps the most mature and seasoned teacher of Dharma Mittra yoga in London, a method created by a South American man by birth, Dharma Mittra. Perhaps best known for his book of 608 Yoga Asanas, the Dharma Mittra style is physically challenging to the point of being silly acrobatic.
Since starting the Yoga Challenge, Mark’s class was the first to incorporate chanting and a concrete, well articulated spiritual component. This was done at the beginning of class with a purification mantra and a few minutes of intention setting and wise words: not to let the physical practice overtake the intention and to create each pose as an offering. This is an aspect of the practice that can all too easily forgotten, particularly in an advanced level class with people in some instances trying their luck on the advanced variations without having a steady foundation in some of the more basic postures.
Following the purification mantra and set to the backdrop of Krishna Das, Mark launched into an hour and a half class with little or no warm up, and little or no cool down. The practice is labelled ‘experienced’, and it is intended for people who know what they are doing. Mark does offer plenty of variations, and for those who are sensible and know their bodies, it is possible to have a wonderful experience in class by staying focused on one’s own practice without pushing things to the point of injury. As in any class but perhaps magnified by the intensity of the advanced asanas, for some, a lack of body awareness, or a strong desire to ‘do’ a posture can overtake one’s ability or ripeness to actually be in an asana. On a few occasions I heard crashing-down sounds following by disgruntled remarks. Despite the intensity and seriousness palpable in some of the students, Mark is generous and kind, and his words of encouragement keep things light at heart, provoking laughter and giggles in many, particularly as things got more and more pretzel-like.
The sequencing of postures in a Dharma Mittra class are unique to this style. Rather than having a ‘theme’ for the class (eg. hip openers, backbends, etc), there are backbends, forward bends, hip openers, standing balances, arm balances and inversions peppered throughout the class. If there were a theme, it may be ‘challenging asanas and plenty of them.’
Technically speaking, Mark was excellent at giving detailed instruction about where to put body parts (from tripod headstand: “Keep your right let straight to the ceiling and lower your left leg straight down to the outside of your left hand”). Based on my limited experiences with Dharma Mittra, I would go out on a limb to say that alignment and precision are less highlighted than getting into a version of the posture itself.
As in other Dharma Mittra classes, while being properly challenged to my own appropriate limits, I didn’t leave feeling exhausted, but rather, more energized. In this light, I also didn’t feel I was able to sink into savasana. Perhaps it is my individual wiring, or the upheaval at home, or maybe it has something to do with lack of a cooling down process. Who knows?
In summary, Mark is a great teacher. His classes are challenging, providing seasoned practitioners an opportunity to be challenged by asanas that are not ‘standard’, and his amazing capacity to demonstrate these advanced postures with the modesty and humility of a monk is endearing and inspiring. For more on Mark, read his bio or marvel at the video below.