My first downward dog arrived, awkwardly and with terrific rigidity, at Pretzel’s Yoga in San Francisco sometime in 1997 – right along with nearly 100% illiteracy concerning yoga’s true lineage and profound spiritual history.
Didn’t matter. My shaken, sweat-drenched body and stunned perspective were both sufficiently convinced, following those initial classes, that they had discovered something wholly extraordinary in yoga’s ability to reshape my physique, my worldview and, eventually, my entire life.
It’s sweetly ridiculous that, within two years, I was teaching. But I had an ardent mentor in the studio’s owner, the late, luminous Bea (AKA Pretzel) France, I was quite passionate, and I already had an affinity for teaching from my years tutoring English while at Berkeley. I learned fast.
Pretzel trained me in intensive weekly bursts. We followed no formal outline, no crude 200-hour accreditation (Yoga Alliance, et al barely existed back then, and wasn’t exactly respected). We improvised. She trusted me. I wasn’t a kid, after all. My writing career was well underway and I’d already traveled, studied, achieved academic success at Berkeley, attempted rock stardom in L.A. – I knew a thing or two of the world.
Or so I thought.
Like my writing career, I came to yoga backwards and sideways, with a mix of confident irreverence and naive arrogance; I plunged in the deep end of teaching almost immediately, without really knowing all the strokes, much less the greater history. Only later did I cobble workshops and immersions, manuals and websites, teachers and mantras into my own fiercely self-made style and ERYT500 accreditation – which is, not ironically, almost exactly how I became a professional writer. I made it all up, on the fly. I earned it the weird way.
It would take another few years or so, spanning numerous teachers, lovers, spiritual thrashings, hallucinogens and humbling encounters for me to even begin to understand metaphysical potential of what I’d undertaken. It took a couple more after that to realize how my deepening yoga practice actually merged perfectly with my writing career. Now? Inseparable. Then? Unthinkable. Little did I know.
I taught at Pretzel’s for about six years, before moving to Mission Yoga’s glorious little Sun Room for a stint, and then, finally, to SF’s beloved Yoga Tree, where I still teach today. Along the way, a luminous circle of teachers and friends, mentors and loves: Bea, Rusty, Janet, Hareesh, Jai Uttal’s Kirtan Camp, India, Mexico, Guatemala, Bali, Burning Man (more than a dozen times now), Shaiva Tantra, Yoga for Writers, Absolution Flow, Yoga Alchemy, Everyday Sorcery, et al and so on.
I’m still bemused by how it all came about. Yoga was “just” my adjunct career, a fitness-oriented hobby that happened to double as a warm-hearted community, one which provided a rich counterbalance to the relentless media pessimism and political sleaze I was immersed in every day while writing for the Chronicle.
Then, an astonishing thing happened. Just as my yoga was deepening and my spiritual life was becoming sort of inexorable, the media world collapsed.
The Internet hit stride. Newspapers melted down. After 10 years on Chronicle staff, I was laid off and immediately re-hired as a freelancer. My column began to shift. I was (and am, obviously) still writing, but the landscape and tonal posture changed and evolved. Spanda. Jai Ganesha. OM namah Shivaya. I mean, seriously.
Meanwhile, I picked up more classes. Co-created immersions, manuals and teacher trainings with my fellow teachers, led retreats and workshops, taught at a burgeoning phenom call the “yoga festival.” My classes expanded. My yoga voice, style, approach leapt forward, inward, allward. Yoga, once a healthy little sideline, had reached full parity with my writing career, and beyond, to encompass, well, everything. BOM Shiva!
My worldview transformed. My consciousness became more fluid, spiral and expansive. Relationships changed, certain kinds of friends fell away and new ones appeared. I felt revitalized in my skin, my home, my sex, my breath. Food tasted different, and so did the sunlight. And Chandra.
My way in the world became less about grip and ire. My physical body was already transformed from the practice, but my emotional, spiritual and energetic bodies were reborn, challenged, tickled, licked, smashed, squeezed and released. The ongoing dance. The eternal OM.
And now? I no longer know if I’m a writer first, or a yoga teacher. Even better: It doesn’t really matter.
Of course, irreverence and insurrection remain. I am no “love & light” yoga mushball. Swirly, soft-focus “bliss bunnies” of the yoga world make me wince. I have never forsaken the visceral delights and manifest pleasures of this life. I like my bourbon and my leather, sex and my vices, high fashion and fine steak, tattoos and technology and illicit substances on the playa, too. They all fold in perfectly, messily, stubbornly.
They also don’t really mean a damn thing. Just energy to play with. Forms. Discernment. Yoga is a path of skillful means, after all. I choose as wisely and carefully as I know how, even though I don’t always know how. I honor and I bow, always with the open-throated understanding that I am blessed and grateful beyond words for what I have, and the life I get to lead.
But wait. Another stunning transformation was yet to come.
Around Valentine’s Day of 2017, my girl Desiree became pregnant. An intense 1o months later, Selah Lin Lake Morford arrived, fiery, beaming and lucid and eager to join The Resistance, on Thanksgiving morning, November 23, 2017. She’s a thorough delight. A beacon. Desiree is in her element like I’ve never seen her. And I’m a father, at 50, for the very first time. Talk about expanded consciousness.
I still try to get up, Selah (and Bodhi the dog) dependent, as close to sunrise as possible, and practice for an hour or two. I go as deep as possible. There is ritual and meditation, offering and humility and love. Shiva in Nataraja form remains my iṣṭa deva. It is not always perfect. It is not always easy. Sometimes it’s well after sunrise. Sometimes it doesn’t happen (after 20 years, that’s OK, too). Desiree sees to it that I get a proper kick-start, if needed. If she puts on the hot pants to practice alongside me, all bets are off.
But it is also not merely an option. It is not even a question. Yoga is no longer a thing I merely do, or teach, or believe in. It’s just the way of my life. It’s the philosophy, the lens, the breath, the modality. It’s not a thought, a plan, an app, or a workout. It’s just the way it is.
It’s all yoga. There is no separation. There is nowhere to get to. There is only consciousness, experiencing itself, over and over again, looking in and looping back upon itself, a sacred kaleidoscope, signifying everything, and also nothing. Simultaneously.
OM hrim namah Shivaya. x108. I mean, obviously.
See you on the mat.
It’s oddly satisfying to write about oneself in the third person. Plus, I’ve used some variation of this bio for my entire writing career. So let’s say it like this:
Mark Morford was raised by nubile, long-eyelashed callipygian wood nymphs and spoon fed dark chocolate, raw pomegranate seeds, Shaiva Tantra mantras and small-batch artisan bourbon until he could fly.
He attended Musicians Institute in L.A. during the ’80s when the denim was tight, the hair was big and Eddie Van Halen was still God. Life later tossed him gently into the halls of U.C. Berkeley, where he learned to relish the intellectual debauchery of the Romantic poets, investigated the pagan influences in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and discovered how Eve taught the serpent to use its tongue.
He graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and caveat emptor, with a degree in English & Literature.
Mark has worked for print magazines. He has worked in book publishing – but they were computer trade books, so that doesn’t really count. His writing has appeared in numerous publications ranging from Mother Jones to The Sun and Yoga Journal, but not Guns & Ammo or Needlepoint World. But only because they haven’t asked yet.
He edited the main pages of SFGate.com, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle, during the site’s (and the Internet’s) infancy, an awesomely strange, teeth-cutting gig that lasted three years before he became a full-time columnist, in early 2000, via a strange cocktail of serendipity, sheer nerve, good timing, oddball mentors and divine cataclysm.
That means Mark’s Notes & Errata column has been running steadily, in one format or another, on SFGate for more than 20 years – a few of them simultaneously in the print Chronicle.
While Mark was almost fired – twice – in the early years of SFGate over the racier stances of his column, he also won First Place in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual contest – also twice – and he’s been nominated four separate times for a GLAAD award for his outspoken support of gay rights over the years. His topics have always varied widely, from sex and deviance to popular culture, spirituality, technology, music and love and drugs, yoga and science and politics, often featuring some of the most direct, passionate anti-conservative language found in any major newspaper site in the country. Then again, often it doesn’t.
His first book, The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a compendium of his finest early columns, along with commentary and assorted hate mail, was published in 2010 by Mark’s own Rapture Machine, Inc., and sold out its initial print run. His Apothecary iOS app, full of columns, advice, recommendations, strange and sundry bits of sacred effluvia, came out in 2012 and didn’t do much business at all, but sure was fun to make.
A few other books about yoga, life, everyday sorcery and the creative writing process itself are in the works, which makes sense, especially given how Mark’s two parallel careers – columnist and yoga teacher – which he once believed had to be kept separate lest they debase or combat each other somehow, have become indivisible. As it should be, really.
Mark believes in divine mystery, deep meditation, good lubricant, Shiva and Shakti, superlative tattoos, designer leather, artisan bourbon and beautifully designed, small German cars. And dogs. And wine. And trees. And above all, his family: his daughter Selah, partner Desiree and handsome, gentle, who’s-a-good-dog, Bodhi.