Flying with Mark Stephens

Would you like to fly? I would! And I do, in a plane usually 🙂

What if you could fly on your own, without the costs, the CO2 emissions and the bad conscience? Well YOGA is the answer (as often the case) 😉

Last weekend I attended a masterclass on “yogic” flying through arm balances. Pretty fun proposition, but not what brought me in the room. The real reason was having Mark Stephens lead this class. Some yogis may recognize this name from the book spines on their shelves, others may have heard of his work if they ever googled “yoga sequencing”. To those who don’t know him, he’s an institution in the modern world of yoga, and a true educator.

Thus, I was quite excited about being able to join one of Mark’s open masterclasses as part of his 4-day workshop series at AIRYOGA. That Saturday I was on the mat at 7:45am – yay!

As most Californians I know, Mark struck me as very friendly and approachable, introducing himself to new faces like mine (and casually ignoring my starstruck composure 🙂 ). He started the class by setting the theme – flying, yay! – and confirming the agenda of working through arm balances, not all at once but scattered throughout the practice. The warm-up was holistic, from challenging breathing sequences to joint and core activation. Mark elaborated a lot on the importance of wrist stability and the anatomy of this complex joint which is essential in many yoga poses and especially demanded in arm balances.

Wrist activation was much more fun than one may expect, as we used some fun metaphors to guide the sometimes simple, sometimes awkward movements. From the “wrist dance” to making linguini or stroking a child’s head, we not only warmed up our joints but also our creativity – by the way, some moves are still waiting to be coined… seemed like our left side of the brain was not awake at that time.

The practice continued with sun salutation remixes, as Mark named the sequences, which brought more heat in the body, as well as a lot of chaturangas… That was to be expected from a self-proclaimed “retired ashtangi” 🙂 As promised at the beginning of the class, we didn’t venture into arm balances immediately, but rather worked our bodies into them, promoting a gradual and sustainable practice. Among the peak poses we worked on were crow pose / bakasana, side crow pose / parsva bakasana, eight-angle pose / astavakrasana, and handstands at the wall.

Mark discussed a lot about gradual setup of each shape and provided pointers on how to make the poses accessible for students of all levels. The cover pic illustrates how a bolster can encourage students to try out a challenging pose without the worry of unwanted facial reconstruction 😀 By the way, I’ll happily steal the idea and the metaphor for my upcoming community class on prop usage.

In my view, the great part about the whole masterclass was the perfect balance between the physical practice, the anatomy behind the poses, and the philosophical backbone of the yoga sutras and vedas. On top of it all, it was super entertaining! Turns out, Mark has a candid sense of humor and can beautifully alternate between more serious reflections e.g. on the ego, and funny analogies e.g. on Patanjali’s guidance on natural levitation in handstand.

Speaking of handstand, our practice at the wall had to be cut short as we were overrunning our 2-hour slot (something I secretly hoped for :)) but Mark found time for fans like me also after the class. As a true groupie, I got myself a memento of this awesome experience – see pic below – and started googling when and where he would be giving workshops next.

Until then, I take away a lot of impulses for my yogic “flying practice”.
Thanks a lot for polishing our wings, Mark!