Former actor and survival instructor, creative writer and a recovering Type A, Mark Gerow is the founder of Lunarythms Yoga™, a combination of polarity-therapy, Ayurveda, Yin and Hatha Yoga that tailors asanas to complement specific chakras associated with the position of the moon. He likes McDonald’s French Fries, drinks one cup of coffee a day and does not relate to black and white photographs of women in leotards.
When I describe the idea behind Lunarythms, people look at me like I’m a crystal wielding nutcase. But every time I take your class, the pace feels just right. What led you to organize your practice around the lunar cycles?
My background in the metaphysical began with Polarity Therapy training. My partner at the time had grown up with a mother who was into astrology and I would hear them speak to each other through astrology references– usually about a person’s personality or a general analogy about a situation. I began to notice the effects and rituals that go along with the new and full moons (setting intentions, conserving or putting forth energy), and one day it dawned on me that if most everything in this world is changing to include the moon’s cycles and our own human cycles, that our yoga practice could reflect these ever changing tides of life.
“Life is too short for me to worry whether I should or should not eat a piece of meat.”
I picked up a few books and noticed that each sign the moon passes through also brings a quality and sensitivity to specific parts of the body. For instance, if the moon is in the sign of Leo, it is an air sign, which relates to the Heart Chakra and when the moon is moving through Leo there is greater sensitivity in the organ of our heart and our circulatory system. In my classes, I attempt to honor the general energy of the day in order to create a theme that I can loosely hold on to or change when I feel another influence pulling me one way or the other. If we truly listen through stillness and honor what we feel, we will receive exactly what we need.
What sort of obstacles lined your path towards yoga? Did you fall in love with the practice immediately or did it take some time?
I discovered yoga after becoming very emotionally and physically rigid during not only my childhood, but 12 years of military service as a survival instructor in the Air Force. I left the service and basically knew I needed to be creative. I moved to NYC to study acting and all of my teachers were in agreement that I needed to get out of my head, into my body and that yoga or meditation would be the perfect avenue. One of my teachers suggested Richard Hittleman’s Yoga, 28 Day Exercise Plan.
“My body was in pain, and my mind didn’t get what I was suppose to be achieving.”
The 1st day of the 28 day plan had me attempting to practice the seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), as well as cobra pose (bhujangasana) and so on. I was stiff as a board and could barely fold forward, or in any direction for that matter. Plus, this book had black and white pictures of a woman in a dance leotard and it all seemed very alien and unrealistic for me. I dropped the idea for another year or two.
After going through a disastrous breakup with a girlfriend I was walking the streets of NYC like a lost zombie, which led me to a book store where I pulled out a new age book on intentions, meditation and other ideas for aligning one’s life. I knew meditation was next for me, but my first lesson with a Buddhist teacher was another disaster. After 20 minutes of practice I flat out told him my body was in pain, and my mind didn’t get what I was suppose to be achieving let alone how to achieve it specifically. A girlfriend turned me towards the Sivananda Ashram in Manhattan for an Orientation Day which included a free vegetarian meal, yoga postures and meditation training. I signed up, had the most amazing experience of euphoria and truly never stopped from that point on 14 years ago.
Many yoga students spend a lot of time wondering about the secret life of their teachers. Are they saints or sinners? Does being a yogi mean giving up “fun”? Any secret vices you might want to share?
I have always been shy and fairly introverted, yet get me in front of a room of faced down practitioners and I come alive. I have tried to speak my truth in class usually reflecting off of my personal experience and I pose questions that direct a person into their own inner knowledge and truth. I realize it is very easy to be placed on a pedestal, as we’ve witnessed certain Gurus being knocked off them once their human weaknesses and faults show through. Yes, we all have vices…
“You would never go on a nice Sunday drive at 75 mph.”
I love coffee and refuse to let it go but only have one cup a day on average in the morning when I like to practice yoga, meditation or writing. I was raised on Coca-Cola and have a difficult time drinking water. I have always loved McDonald’s French fries and with kids, we sometimes have to sooth our dropping blood sugar on the road by pulling into a fast food establishment. I like to have a drink of sake or other alcohol. I don’t do yoga to become rigid about the pleasures of life or to push everything away that looks awful for us. I want to live my life with its many secrets, pleasures and layers. I do not deny myself pleasure, nor do I want to overdo. Moderation and contentment seem realistic to me, and healthy— otherwise I may become resentful, bitter and begin to point fingers at others when really I need to back off and create balance in my life.
“True knowledge and essence comes from simmering in the poses.”
Happiness and Joy are fluctuating conditions. I find that contentment and moderation are doable and, for our fast-paced espresso lives, a bit more realistic. I have traveled much abroad and have found myself in strangers’ living rooms, asked to share the local food and hospitality, which might include a coffee or alcoholic beverage, a non-vegetarian meal or a late night up reading poetry or dancing. I realize those choices may bring me out of balance, but knowing that I choose them consciously, I can tailor my daily ritual to include practices that draw me back in to balance. A balanced person is someone who notices when they have gone out of balance and has the tools to return to their center. Life is too short for me to worry about whether I should or should not eat a piece of meat. Within reason, I enjoy myself and fully LIVE.
What are some of the most common emotional and physical errors you see made by students on the mat?
Hard to answer, as everyone really comes to yoga from their own path, and time line to liberation or self-discover or re-discovery. Many folks new to yoga are very outwardly focused, looking around at others, at their pedicures, or distracting themselves with water sipping, and so on. People can not slow down nor notice that they are moving way too fast in the poses or in life. I also find that teachers also fall in to the trap of keeping up with the Joneses and with the pace of society by offering very fast classes that are hot and vigorous. Why do we need more of this? After practicing for many years, I find that the true knowledge and essence comes from simmering in the poses, slowing down to savor the flavor and truly pay attention to what’s going on inside.
You would never go on a nice Sunday drive at 75 mph. Life would be just a blur. Slow down and take in life.
Mark welcomes questions and comments through his website, www.lunarhythmsyoga.com
Photo Credit: Property of Mark Gerow.