Mark Bonington is the published author of ‘How to Start Teaching Yoga‘, reiki healer, barre teacher trainee, amateur opera singer, writer, social media marketing expert– is there anything he can’t do? But first and foremost he’s a passionate yoga teacher, with a lot to say! He’s also a YogaLondon graduate, so it was lovely to catch up with him.
1. When was the light-bulb moment when you knew you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
When I went along for the month’s intensive course at YogaLondon I didn’t intend to become a full-time yoga teacher – I was thinking it might be a side gig to becoming a copywriter. I did know that I’d had enough of the job I was doing though. On the first day, the course leader Rachel Perry got us in a circle and we all had to say the reason why we were here, and suddenly it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. That was a real lightbulb moment for me.
Another lightbulb moment was when we were first practicing adjusting people in the exam sequence and it dawned on me that it was about them and not me! It sounds obvious, but it was a real epiphany.
My final lightbulb moment was when I did my first cover class at PureGym and I was terrified, but I just did it, and at the end of the class, people came up to me to say I was good at it! That was such a boost and helped me commit to teaching yoga full time.
2. How important do you think social media is for a yoga teacher?
Social Media marketing was actually my area of expertise in my previous job, so the scary side of social media marketing such as the content and paid side of things was something I was already confident with. In fact, it’s what I wanted to get away from!
Like most things, there is a positive and not-so-positive side to social media as a business tool. In terms of a digital imprint and inspiring viewers, it’s pretty essential. But when it comes to comparing yourself to others and the sexualization of yoga, it’s not that great.
There needs to be a balance. Of course, in recent weeks in the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found that social media has been an essential tool and through it, I’ve actually acquired new business. The thing is to make sure that it doesn’t get to the point where social media controls you, but you keep it is a tool that you control.
3. What keeps you motivated as a yoga teacher?
There are three things that keep me motivated and the top one is definitely hearing feedback from my clients – just hearing that I’ve helped them feel a bit better is a massive reminder of why I do this – for that genuine connection with people.
4. You’re a yogi and a writer – do they work well together as a career?
They work really well together. Yoga is about connecting to other people through the body, writing is about connecting to others through the mind. I’m currently writing my second yoga book which will be along the lines of everything I wish I had known before I stepped into a yoga class – watch this space.
5. Does having a performance background help as a yoga teacher?
Definitely! I got into musical theatre at High School, and then at Uni up in Dundee I joined a local opera company – I loved it. It taught me how to project my voice, which when teaching in busy gyms is a real advantage. In the beginning, it also meant I could stand in front of a class of students and perform ‘being a yoga teacher’ – I wasn’t there yet, but my theatrical background gave me the confidence to command the room.
6. You’re studying Reiki, Barre, you’re a runner, a writer – what do all these extra things bring to your yoga teaching?
Barre teacher training has been great as a way of learning a new vocab about the body, as well as deepening my appreciation of the physical capacity of the body. The Reiki training has reinforced my focus on the prompts to focus on your energy and to direct it to where it’s needed. Every new thing I learn brings something else to my yoga teaching and keeps me inspired too.
7. With all your interests, courses and, jobs – what do you do to relax?
I love guided meditations. It’s a big part of what I offer to my own clients, and I love it myself. It’s great to be a student and to have a voice just telling you what to do. Especially in lockdown, I do one in the morning and one after lunch – which occasionally turns into a power nap, but I don’t tell my boyfriend that.
I would recommend The Honest Guys on YouTube– they’re so brilliant at guided visualization meditations.
8. What’s your go-to top yoga book?
I have two that I always use – [he reaches across, they’re literally right there] – they are The Heart of Yoga by T Krishnamacharya’s son, T K V Desikachar. He’s a big proponent of Viniyoga, which is an individual approach to yoga.
My other go-to book is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark. It’s a great mixture of practical advice and spiritual discussion, as well as explaining Yin yoga, which has come more from Chinese Daoism.
9. What are your three TOP TIPs for newly qualified yoga teachers?
One, develop the right attitude – basically just get out there, throw yourself in the deep end, and get teaching!
Two, don’t work for free – people will ask you to, but stand your ground and know your worth.
Three, sign up for every cover group you can find and do them all – you’ll gain confidence quickly, attract potential clients, and rack up experience.
And a bonus top tip is to ask for feedback and reviews at the end of a class from students – it’s the best way to get noticed by employers.
10. How has yoga affected your relationships?
Yoga has deepened my relationships in a wonderful way. Yoga teaches you to become who you truly are, and not who you think you’re supposed to be. When I started my month’s intensive with YogaLondon part of that process was letting go of my old identity of PR Director and to just embrace being me.
And once you can do that it means that you learn to hold closer those that you love, and who bring you light and joy, and on the flip side, it gives you the strength to let go of relationships that aren’t good for you anymore.
11. How do you think the yoga world can attract more LGBTQ people?
The imagery that most people see of the yoga world is thin, cis, white women who can bend into gymnastic shapes, and men see that and think ‘it’s not for me’! But they’d still like to do yoga, so a 1:1 lesson means that they can have a go without feeling uncomfortable – a lot of my private clients are gay men.
There’s nothing wrong with the gymnastic side of things but it misses out on the yoga that’s more about a journey into the Self. And just doing the poses is an external, aesthetic thing that is more based on the ego. But the gay community also has a problem with the way that physical beauty is a massive issue – it’s been an issue for me personally.
Yoga has helped me to see it for what it is, as well as some great inspirations like @diaryofachubbyyogi on Instagram.
12. How has your lockdown been?
We managed to leave London and come up to my parent’s house in Fife, which really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s been a real change. It’s also been a great way for my parents to get to know my boyfriend!
At the beginning, it was a bit bleak as I lost a lot of business and everything started to fold like a house of cards.
But it’s also meant that I’ve moved online, which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I started teaching lessons on Instagram’s IG TV and now I’ve got new clients from all over the world, so I’ll definitely be carrying that on going forwards. However, I will get back to in-person teaching when I can, as that personal connection and sharing of energy are so powerful.
Lockdown also meant I’ve started a newsletter, in which I interview a different yoga teacher each month – so that it’s not all about me!
13. What makes you cry?
These days it seems to be when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I now lead. Nightmares also make me cry – I have a recurring nightmare that I’m not a yoga teacher anymore but have a soulless job in an office cubicle…