Interview with Yoga Teacher and Author Bernie Clark
Bernie is a meditation and yoga teacher, creator of the www.YinYoga.com website, and author of several books on yoga from the Western scientific viewpoint and the Eastern traditional viewpoints. His ongoing studies have taken him deeply inside mythology, comparative religions, psychology, physiology and anatomy. These explorations have clarified his understanding of Eastern practices and their value to Westerners.
ON THE PERSONAL SIDE…
What brought you to yoga initially and when did you first fall in love with it?
I took up meditation in my early 20s to help with stress. I had a sales position in a very competitive company, where the turnover in sales staff was 40% per year. I managed to stay with the company for 7 years, but it was a very aggressive, stressful place. One of my managers told me that he dealt with stress through meditation, so I decided to try it as well. I began following the Zen style, but without a direct teacher. In my early 40’s, I decided it was time to join a sangha and the place I went to was both a Zen centre and a yoga studio. The owner, Ifat Erez (also known as shakti mhi), eventually convinced me that yoga would help my meditation practice, and my golf game. So I tried yoga. She was right.
Where do you live and why?
I grew up in Vancouver, Canada and lived here basically all my life. My roots here run deep and I felt no need to go anywhere else. I have 2 children, and now 3 grandchildren who all live in Vancouver, so this is where I want to be and love being. While I have travelled, both in my business life and to seek yoga teaching and wisdom, I feel no need to relocated anywhere.
What does your personal practice look like?
My practice evolves as I evolve (which is a nicer way of saying “as I get older”.) From a physical fitness perspective, there are 3 aspects to my practice: strength, endurance and mobility. The older we get, the more we have to work at staying healthy. When we are young, we take our health for granted. It is easy when we are teenagers to recover from a period of stressful activity, sporting injuries, unskilful living and crazy behaviour, but once we hit our 30s we start to notice that we don’t bounce back quite as quickly. Just wait until your 60s! As we age, or due to injuries or ill-health, we have to become more conscientious about regaining and maintaining our well-being. For strength I do resistance training. Sometimes this is through yoga (handstands, downdogs, planks, pushups, Warriors and Chair poses) and sometime through swinging Kettle Bells. For endurance, this too can be done through yoga (power yoga, Ashtanga, vinyasa flow, etc.) but I also enjoy running sprints a few times a week. For mobility, this is purely yoga—both yang forms of yoga, but specifically Yin Yoga. Throughout my yoga practice, and especially in my Yin Yoga practices, I cultivate mindfulness. This is the meditation aspect of yoga, but I also meditate before bed at night.
Whose teachings have been a major influence for you?
My very first yoga and direct meditation teacher, of course, was a huge influence: Ifat Erez (shakti mhi). In the Ashtanga realm, I learned a lot from David Swenson, Tim Miller and a Vancouver teacher named Fiona Stang. My main vinyasa influence was Shiva Rea, but Erich Schiffmann and Saul David Raye were also very important in my Hatha yoga development. In the realm of Yin Yoga, both Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley are my on-going inspirations. In the world of mediation, Thich Nhat Hanh has been very important to me, and his brand of “Zen-light” meditation or mindfulness is the main practice I do today. These are people I have all met and studied with, but there are many other inspiring teachers whom I have not met, but I have been touched by their books, talks and videos: Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, and Carl Jung to name a few.
What is it about Yin yoga? Why yin and not another style of yoga?
Please don’t think that I only do Yin Yoga, or that anyone should only do Yin Yoga! While Yin Yoga is the other half of the yoga asana practice, it is still only a part of a well-rounded practice. For flexibility and mobility, Yin Yoga is an important practice to regain and maintain range of motion and ease within movement: it is far more effective than more muscular and active practices for building mobility. It is also provides a wonderful chance to go deeper into the meditative and philosophical aspects of the yoga journey. But, as I mentioned earlier, we still need strength and endurance. The yang-forms of yoga can assist with that much better than Yin Yoga.
What has teaching taught you?
One of the best ways to learn something is to try to teach it. Students ask questions, and often I don’t know the answers. That motivates me to find out the answers, to learn more. Plus, my body is uniquely mine, as is my experience of yoga. It is fascinating to learn how other bodies react to the same postures and challenges. We are all unique, and so is our journey through life. Our yoga practice is also unique. I enjoy helping students find their path, their yoga. I love to share what I have found works for me, but I also know that what I have discovered may not work for others. The challenge as a teacher is to help students learn how to discover for themselves and by themselves their own way.