Interview by Ali Valdez
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of having coffee with Edward Clark, founder of the London-based Tripsichore, at the lovely Crowne Plaza downtown. Don’t let the extra ‘e’ in crown fool you, Edward’s signature Vinyasa technique is of the highest caliber. Residing in London via Calgary, this is as close to English royalty as I will ever come. Mr. Clark is a man known for gravity-numbing arm balances and Vinyasa movements refined and steady, spun like silk. But once you sit down with Edward and see him in full spectrum, you find a yogi accessible and warm, of distinguished intellect, keen wit, and of course those killer arm balances. Here is our conversation about all things ‘yoga-ish’. If you cannot readily discern Edward’s charming wit, I have italicized it for your convenience and reading pleasure. Enjoy!
AV: It’s been six months since you’ve been here, Edward. Welcome back!
AV: What draws you back to Seattle and what we have to offer as a yoga community?
EC: Rain, and lots of it (he throws his signature Ed Clark grin my way).Seattle’s sufficiently insulated from some of the more bizarre, trendier fusion-oriented yogas that have proliferated in other American cities. You’re probably not seeing a lot of yogalomenco, yoga-on-space hoppers, yoga-skipping, and yoga-boxing in Seattle at the moment. There is a sort of proud individualism with people having their own practice and doing their stuff in a singular way. There are nice combinations of seriousness in the practice and attractive humility in how they go about it. Sanctimony doesn’t seem to go with the Seattle ethos and there is an earthiness which makes it a joy to be here, and a lot more fun to teach. The level of experimentation is more profound here without being tainted by too many ‘yoga-ish’ type classes.
AV: You often mention with fondness the type of yoga communities you are working with in Mexico and Malaysia. Please elaborate.
EC: Well, if only Seattle started with an M… take that up with town hall. Not unlike Seattle, in the case of Malaysia, it is insulated from the major current of yoga trends. These are people with excellent physical practices. One generalizes that in Malaysia, and through much of the Far East, matters spiritual are much more taken for granted, so the meditational and spiritual aspects of yoga are more mundane.
Not in a boring way, but of course, yoga is a spiritual practice.
There is nothing novel about the idea of suggesting that in Vinyasa you are, in fact, committing to a meditative way of working. Talk in those kinds of terms in the West, and people think, “I don’t know: can meditation really be done with full movement?”
AV: You don’t have to sell, trivialize or justify the complete yoga experience- it is just assumed in its fullest form. That is its starting point.
EC: Mexico is an attractive combination, in a crudely generalized kind of way, of absurdly passionate dedication to things in one moment, and then a shrugging of the shoulder the next. It is that “I am doing yoga (said with RSC-style vigor), but I am not attached to it.” Passion does not stand in the way of a realistic way of looking at life.
AV: One of the many things I appreciate about you is how you have taken conceptually obscure things and made them fundamental to linking postures both in a yogic but also a biomechanical way to move the body in space. Please share your notions of the Sushumna, Mula and Uddiyana.
EC: Some of the ideas found in ancient texts are utterly bizarre. For example, cosmologies that exceed the time of the universe and the extremity of hyperbole that occurs. Mula, uddiyana and sushumna are all brilliant poetic ways of speaking to energy, but not quantifiable. Yet when pursued have obvious results, ones that seem very material. If you are to activate your spine with Prana, and that means different things to different people, there is an immediate change. Something happens. They stand straighter, become more engaged, more aware. There have been perimeters set around their mental activities on both an imaginative and intellectual level in conceiving what a sushumna might be and what it is like to be filled with Prana. Physically, you can see it. It must be something that the mind has been engaged in as well and the way we work with Prana as in pranayama. It is not a breathing exercise, but breath as a component for directing Prana through the body. Mind, body, and breath are working closer to the totality of the wholeness of being and dedicated to a single thing point, eka grata. One of the major tenets of yoga technique for fifteen hundred years and likely much longer, is this idea of eka grata. How do you get all of your being doing one thing?
AV: You’ve had your own natural evolution through theatre, dance and gleaned creative insights as well as having a stunning yoga practice. When did the confluence become a natural expression of the totality of your being vis-à-vis Tripsichore?
EC: Ten thousand years ago, theatre, yoga and dance probably had a common ancestor.
AV: And you could have been there.
EC: (laughter) I never know. I feel that old today.
The techniques for concentration in dance and theatre are very similar to the yoga techniques; particularly we can sort of put it in the context of Patanjali, and the 6th and 7th limbs of yoga. Dharana and dhyana, for instance, when you are concentrating on one thing, this eka grata, it is initially an infinitely small thing. A yantra is an example. If you were to stare at the little dot in the middle of all those triangles, that would be an act of eka grata. The volume of consciousness is that single dot. Theatre and dance as we know it today relies on the performer filling the space. The actor does not do this by shouting but the clarity by which they conceive of the size of the performance to the back row. If you are thinking about the third row cougher, your concentration slips down to that level. The eka grata is holding the whole theatre space as the single dot. In yogic terms, we move through expansion of consciousness to whatever degree we are capable. Ultimately we are attempting to take in the entirety of infinity, of the Universe. If one were to move beyond the separateness, and into a state of the same as the whole Universe, that would be Samadhi. This would be masterfully summed up ‘so hum’– I Am That.
AV: What is the state of Tripsichore today? How are you using it for new discovery?
EC: The practice has always been about technique. I think it is always fun to play with the technique with new moves, but it is simply just an application of basic technical practice. Per our theory, this is the way pranayama is done and makes for a certain kind of movement. Lately, our experimentation has been about balancing with one arm on somebody else. We are still applying ourselves in the same technical way, but experimenting making structures of other bodies in different ways while staying unique to our look.
AV: When do you know it’s ‘right’? You cannot just tie back to technical logic. Something about it has to feel liberating and beautiful. When do we transcend technique and make magic?
EC: Hmmm… I don’t know. On some level, it’s the freshness of experience that is the important thing. Not when you’re planning to make it beautiful and not when you are thinking about how beautiful you made it. It’s something that’s neither projecting into future nor reflection on what you’ve just done. The ideal state of mind is as close to experiencing as you can get, rather than something analytic or results in categorization. It is the purity of the experience itself. As soon as you have time to reflect on this, then it’s not in the moment.
AV: You don’t teach yoga classes or own a studio. How do teachers take what they are getting from you this weekend and best apply it to their practice and for their students?
Real teachers have a profound self-practice.
It’s taking whatever they get in a weekend and actually going home and working our stuff in their own way, turning it into material that they feel becomes something they know which they then can pass on as a teacher. Experimenting on one’s own until your knowledge is sufficient to take it on. This is an important issue. There is an awful lot of acceptance of dogma. I wonder why people don’t just ask why sometimes. It’s extraordinary what people will have taken from their own teachers, passing it on without thinking about the reason for doing this. The level of experimentation in the self-practice is not as profound as it might be. If I was looking for people to further the Tripsichore practice, it is something that will happen in their own practice.
Tripsichore is a user friendly technique, not a dogma. As such it has great pliancy.
It works well for experience, instead of “do this and you get this result”. The latter is how yoga has been developing of late.
AV: Something I yearn for, lust for, are students’ thirst for critical thinking, not just wanting to be handed something, but stepping out beyond where they started. If Tripsichore is indeed user-friendly, can it also be for the masses? Or is it really just an elitist or intellectually demanding practice?
EC: Yes, it is an elitist practice. But there is no reason why people can’t do it unless it is physical or intellectual laziness. It is about people who want to improve their practice, expand or recognize what their potential could be. If we were looking at the yoga scene where people have done “IT”- Buddhahood – how we are approaching yoga in the West today would be fine. But we are not seeing people achieving the big “IT”. Remarkable things are happening in asana and aesthetic contemplation, but it seems quite obvious the 100% formula for being Buddha is simply not happening. The certain humility for teachers is that we don’t have ‘IT’ ourselves. Whatever we are giving to the next generation are the tools to get a bit closer, if not to be better than ourselves. That’s a hit on the ego to think ‘these guys actually have to be better than their teacher in this lifetime.’
AV: What if this experience in its purity reveals only that– merely experience?
EC: There is a scary possibility that this is all there is. Can you get people contemplating without terror that there might be a death of the soul? If we take the Epicurean point-of-view of take your pleasure now, and if your pleasure is genuinely studying yoga and contemplating mysteries of the universe, to be still and encompass it with one’s entire being, well, that is an amazing thing.
AV: Tell me your predication of yoga in the West twenty years from now.
EC: I speculate it will be for folks like me less of this itinerant kind of yoga, guru for a weekend. I expect people will realize that serious study is what’s needed. Rather than the teachers going around giving their greatest hits, people will come and study intensively with the individual. I think that will be one major difference. The studio situation as it exists now – long may it flourish– will have to address the development of people. How long can you facilitate running a studio based on beginners, when there is deeper development possible? Short-term their only real alternative is a teacher training program, or maybe a holiday retreat week. If you really want to study yoga with a bit more depth, teacher training is all there is. Part of the studio scene will include ongoing development of people. There are high levels of achievement that are possible that need to be facilitated in some way.
AV: Last Question, Edward. One thing I found very valuable was devoting an entire month in London studying with you & Nikki. What has to change in Western culture for more people to do this foundational work?
EC: Western is easier than Eastern. There is more time off. People are more accustomed to holidays. I think that’s the way forward. People need a self-practice. A month seems to be the minimum requirement. It’s great to work with people for seven days, good for even five days, but ultimately, I must say a month at a time. That seems to be a good optimum length for what we are calling here the western way of being. The end is in sight, but in one week, the end is too near. What happens after two weeks? That’s when people begin to get realistic. Three weeks, they are really beginning to make changes happen. Four weeks, consolidation starts to set in.
AV: Thank you Edward for joining us for our Sattva Yoga teacher training and for your time today.
NOTE: Edward Clark along with his assistant, Nikki Durant, annually lead one month Foundations courses in London, England. For this and more interesting insights into the world of yoga, or information about teacher trainings, workshops and retreats, please sign up for our newsletter at sattvayogaonline.com or follow us on Twitter @globalyogini.