093. Mark Balfe-Taylor: Yoga, intuition, and discipline

Episode summary

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Mark Balfe-Taylor

Mark Balfe-Taylor prefers to ‘go with the flow’ rather than plan everything out… it just so happens that his ‘flow’ led to a successful career as a yoga teacher and trainer. He shares his thoughts on teaching yoga, and the journey he embarked on to get there. Mark discusses the lessons he learned through traveling, and his adjustment to fatherhood. He unpacks the idea of discipline, how it’s impacted his life, his practice, and his work to develop it.

Mark Balfe-Taylor is a yogi, teacher, and yoga teacher trainer who has been practicing for 15 years. He has experience and training in many different types of yoga, and spent years traveling the world teaching and learning. Mark is the creator of Revitalize, his own hot yoga sequence, and recently founded the Irie Agency, where he is creating yoga podcasts.

Highlight [0:00]

Mark (00:00:04):
But for others, that had lived at 9:00 to 5:00 in a routine, they always get their coffee at the same time, from the same place, they always go to lunch at the same place. They always do their yoga class at the same place, and now it’s not there. There’s a realization that comes from that of, why was I doing the things that I was doing? And did I really commit to the things that I was doing and what’s valuable in my life?

Introduction [0:32]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Mark Balfe-Taylor, yogi, teacher, and yoga-teacher trainer
  • Creator of Irie Agency and the Revitalize yoga sequence
  • More info at: moversmindset.com/93
  • Check out our new episode landing pages, and jump to the correct chapter in the episode’s transcript!

Teaching yoga [2:10]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Social media paints an unrealistic picture of yoga; daily practice, not a photoshoot
  • Humble approach, calming your mind, helping people
  • Teaching yoga vs training teachers; yoga teaching is a melting pot, all types and reasons
  • Two types of teacher trainings: intensive, and weekend
  • Different types of people, different points in their lives, different goals
  • Importance of people’s ‘why’ for teaching yoga; daily grind, authentic place
  • Mark’s early experiences with yoga, journey into yoga through hot yoga
  • Hot yoga extremely difficult for him, but sense of accomplishment; pulled him from toxic place in his life
  • Dramatic changes in himself made him want to share it with others
  • Yoga competition, demonstrations of ideas
“ It was mentally how my approach to my daily life was changing because this was now a fundamental piece of the puzzle. And I wanted to be less hedonistic. I wanted to commit to doing this thing. I wanted to explore getting better at this thing. And there was all these noticeable changes, and I felt good and I felt energized. And I was like, if this can make me feel that way, even though I'm not that gymnasts dancers type that came, that found this easy, I was the guy that couldn't touch my toes.

I was the guy that didn’t feel like I can make and complete the class. And if I was then competently finishing the class and feeling so much better, I was like, I have to share this with other people. ”


Mark Balfe-Taylor

Tattoos [16:05]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Taiwanese, chinese year of the rat
  • Ohm symbol; first tattoo, meant to show his peaceful character

Yoga Journey [17:10]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • ‘Forrest Gump-ed’ his way through yoga career; unexpected journey
  • Used his life savings to pay for his first yoga teacher training in LA
  • Returned to South Korea, speaking english was integral to his yoga career
  • Became a manager because of his understanding of culture rather than yoga skills
  • Moved to Las Vegas, helped his studio branch out from Bikram to more styles of yoga
  • Revitalize meant to provide a different path in teaching hot yoga after Bikram controversy
  • Picked up by TRUFusion, got celebrity endorsements
  • Opportunities through serendipity, taking the leap, following intuition
  • Exploring and traveling, living by intuition, making it work
  • Just saying yes to opportunity, trusting himself, going with the flow

Mark (00:31:09):
When I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I still don’t really, I wanted to go out and explore the world. So at 17, I started backpacking and I started traveling and I got little experiences, and it hindered my education for sure. But it also, I still ended up getting a degree. I’ve got a degree in medicine chemistry, I got there eventually. And I got the travel bug and I would always travel safely. I would save a bunch of money and I’d go and travel and then I’d come back safely. And I lean on my parents to help me.

Mark (00:31:46):
And I would do all of that. And then I got older and I wanted to do that in a different way. And I bought a single ticket. And when the money ran out, I would have to make it work. And I wanted to explore becoming a man in that way. And the reason for me saying this is that I lived that backpacking dream by following my intuition and following my path in what felt right and what my gut was saying and stumbling across the next character that would give me some advice that would then promote me to explore going to a new country or a new place in the city.

Continue reading…

Craig (00:32:25):
Amen.

Mark (00:32:25):
And that was a unique lifestyle compared to many others. And it was very intuition based and it was very, let’s just, this seems to be the right path at this time. And living that way was really fabulous for me, even though it coincided with a slightly hedonistic lifestyle. It was a very pure lifestyle, too. I didn’t have anything of any value outside of a Walkman, but I didn’t care about that, and money. And the next job that got me to the next country, just seem to always fall on my lap at the right time. For example, I ended up in Australia and at the end of my year in Australia doing a variety of different jobs, I was playing it very cool.

Mark (00:33:11):
I don’t know where I’m going to go next. I don’t have savings. I don’t have family that can throw me a bunch of money and help me to get home. I’m not in that situation and I’ve only got a month left on my visa, and I’m not sure of my next path. And there I was sat in a coffee shop and I read in the newspaper, teaching English in Taiwan, Korea or Japan, all you need is a degree. And my ears pricked up and I was like, “Well, I have a degree.” And so, I gave it a ring and I had long hair at the time. I actually had long dreadlocks.

Craig (00:33:43):
Dreadlocks. I heard. Yeah.

Mark (00:33:45):
I was like dreadlocks to my waist. And that’s the kind of character that I was. And I got this job on the phone. And my final question was, “Is appearance going to be a problem?” And they were like, “Well, yeah. In Korea, anything below the shoulder level it’s not going to be great.” So I shaved my hair. And the next day I was in Korea getting a training to become a teacher. I was sent a flight. I was picked up from the airport. I was driven to my apartment. I was given three days of training. And literally a few days later, I was sat in South Korea as an English teacher with a shaved head thinking, “Wow, just last week I was in Australia as a hippie with dreadlocks and never considered teaching English in my life. And here I am.”

Mark (00:34:40):
And because I’d made that step of going with the flow, following my heart, trusting my gut, trusting my intuition. I’d had all the experiences that I had up until the point when I decided to embark on a yoga career. So going with the flow was something I taught myself how to do. And I’m still doing that now post-COVID, for the aftermath of the effects of COVID on our industry.

Learning intuition [35:49]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Backpacking analogy… over-planning your trip
  • Get rid of the guide, lose the safety net
  • Talk to people, explore, experience the place, trust your intuition
  • Forces you to immerse, engage, interact with the people of the country
  • Coming of age, becoming a man
  • material possessions complicated things; managing his things
“ I realized that the scourge of the backpacker was the guide because the safety of the guide made you plan and stopped you from interacting with the locals, trusting your intuition, getting out speaking to people, experiencing what this back's packer life truly was through the safety, the need of the safety net that the book created. So the day that it all changed for me was the day that I decided to fly to Thailand without a lonely planet guide and trust that everybody I met along the way was going to give me suggestion and tips on things to do. And that I was shrewd enough. And I gained experience enough at point to be able to have the firm of traveling in this way. And that's what I was going to do on that trip. And it was just as easy, but what huge different was, I actually had to get out and speak and meet people. And I actually had to interact. ”

Mark Balfe-Taylor

Lessons from fatherhood [40:47]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Not a classic father; slightly alternative approach
  • Surprised at his ability to fall into routines, schools, etc
  • Loved being a stay at home dad, being the father he never had
  • Second child made things harder, respect to all parents

Yoga and discipline [43:31]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Contemporary yoga connotations; ‘yogi lifestyle,’ illusion of perfection
  • Yoga needs balance, functional personal practice
  • Discipline, routine, commitment vs finding ease and relaxing
  • Older yoga styles had more discipline, ‘tough love’
  • Benefits of pushing through, struggle, and keeping that part of yoga

Mark (00:43:54):
Yeah. I feel like talking about the direction of contemporary yoga and the importance of kind of old school discipline, is something that’s important to me that’s been my discovery of, I was very lucky with TruFusion in that once we created our franchise, we then spread and I had to, I was tasked with teaching trainers from different regions, which is hard pool of people to win over. Because if I’m a California and superstar trainer and then suddenly I’ve got this British guy from Las Vegas that doesn’t impress me in the room, telling me about this sequence it’s a tough-

Craig (00:44:37):
Uphill.

Mark (00:44:38):
… or pull of people. But it’s nothing different from my original way that I came in to becoming a manager back in 2006. So it’s unearthed the mentality of contemporary yoga to me. And what I mean by that is, yoga these days is presented in a way that it creates people acting as a yogi. So there’s a yogi way that you should be, you should be a vegan and you should be promoting yourself in certain ways. And you should be in barking on this lifestyle. And it’s not really taking into consideration the balance and the majority of balancing your lifestyle, your habits and your approach to using yoga functionally to make you a better person. It’s got this elaborate, you should be beautiful and you should have a six pack and you should be able to do these things. And you promote people on this perfect lifestyle and that you never lose your temper and you never have F bombs. And it’s very, there’s this illusion that you’re creating of what a yogi is. This kind of more perfect person that’s out there.

Continue reading…

Mark (00:45:53):
And contemporary yoga is driving people towards easing back and listening to your body and not trying too hard. And if there’s a hurting knee is modifying this and modifying that. And it’s sacrificing, the discipline and the routine. And the commitment to your practice that the old school yoga used to have as its fundamental pillar. And in the Bikram Yoga style, it was very much like a biggest loser type of love, that you don’t know how strong you are. You don’t know how toxic you’ve been. You don’t know what you can achieve by committing to this. So part of the militance and the discipline was to unearth your power from within. And I feel like if you’d give people a crutch, they take it. If you tell people that it’s okay and you can ease back today and you give all of these ways to modify everything down, it’s the sacrifice of what can be achieved by going through the motions, getting through the feeling of that you want to vomit. Not realizing that you can come out the other side being a better person, being less toxic, purging your sin, sweating profusely, cleansing your body, that there are all these benefits that can only be achieved when you actually get some tough love.

Mark (00:47:17):
So a lot of the styles that I created were to deal with the mentality of person like myself, that approach to my life is not in the pure perfect way. It’s that I’m a very much more humble, real person that has made a lot of mistakes that is doing my best to try and find a better path. And the discipline for me got me back on track. So with TrueFusion, a lot of our styles that were created, had this fundamental pillar of this discipline. And it was quite different from the direction of a lot of contemporary yoga. It’s not mindless teaching. It’s being mindful to push yourself as much as you can on this particular day, at this particular point. And if you’re working around the industry, you can modify this shape to make sure that you don’t tweak it, but you’re also trying as hard as you can [crosstalk 00:48:12]

Craig (00:48:12):
You’re not backing off.

Mark (00:48:13):
And never letting yourself back off and never giving yourself to crutch. So for me, I really want to emphasize that you don’t get anywhere by taking the easy path. You have to push yourself and go through something. It’s not ignoring.

Discipline and COVID [48:43]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Committing to a membership, getting your money’s worth
  • Covid caused people to take stock, re-evaluate routine and priorities
  • Importance of community and connection
  • Accepting fitness how it was intended, getting the most benefit from it
  • Effects of fear vs recreating routine, staying mindful and grounded
  • Differences of mindset around COVID, mental flexibility, outlook
  • Continuing practice during COVID… Irie Agency, yoga podcasts
  • Looking for different options online, choose and act
  • Now there is time, no more excuses
  • Try something and assess it’s impact on your life

Mark's personal practices [1:02:34]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Commitment to being in nature is huge for Mark, grounding
  • Walking meditation, being present; key for his parenting
  • Moving away from screens
  • Prioritizing nature, especially in our current time

Craig (01:02:34):
I was just thinking, I’m interested in, but I’m not digging for personal info, but what is your morning look like? DO you have things that you go to each morning or tea of choice? And not so much because like I want to pry in your personal life, but because we’ve been talking about ways that people can learn, the word has escaped me, ways that they can learn how to commit and have discipline. Discipline is what I’m looking for. We’ve been talking about ways that people can develop discipline, how they can make choices. And I’m just wondering, what are some things that you kind of consider bedrock maybe in your morning or if you’re an evening guy? That you go to regularly that pay off for you.

Mark (01:03:14):
Committing to being out in touch with nature is a big one for me. Just going on walks, getting out into the forest, with my boys I like to go camping. But in a routine of getting up in the morning, I’m lucky I’ve got a walk beside me that’s around a golf course. So there’s plenty of opportunity with my boys. I’ve been running with my boys. I’ve been going out on a walk there. So just that to get in touch that like cliche feeling of grounding, it just feels better when you get your prescription of nature. And I feel like people are locking themselves in a lot more than normal. They haven’t got the escape from the house in the way that they do normally.

Continue reading…

Mark (01:04:02):
And I feel like I would urge people that, taking the step out to embark on a walk around a park or going on a hike is fundamental at this time. Because for me, taking a walk in nature is very much just like your walking meditation is. Your thoughts tend to settle. You’re just focusing on one step in front of the other and the trees and noticing birds and things of that nature. And truly everybody could commit to that at this time, being able to get out and about whether it be on a bicycle or by walking. And that to me is one of my parenting secrets that has to happen in order to maintain sanity. I’ve always tried to get my boys out and about, and the tendency to be absorbed into a screen has exponentially increased because schooling being [crosstalk 01:05:08].

Craig (01:05:08):
Green time is mandatory now, right?

Mark (01:05:10):
Yeah. We had an option for a hybrid system where they go in for some of the time, I was pushing for that wall. That was a possibility in our state, just from the socializing aspect as a child, they need other kids to play with. They need to be able to feel that. I feel awful for any child that is a single child. That’s stuck at home just with a couple of adults and being thrown in front of a screen to stop the parents from going up the wall a little bit.

Mark (01:05:37):
I’m lucky in the fair sense that I have two, so they can play together a lot more. So I can get them off screens a little bit, but it would be outside of being able to do a little bit of a practice of fitness or yoga at home and doing something along the meditation lines would be just prioritizing and making it not even an option to be able to get out and about. Nature would be fundamental to any tip that I have for anyone at this point.

Craig (01:06:07):
I would agree. I’m trying to get outside every day. But I live in an open neighborhood as well, so it’s super easy for me. But even if you’re in New York City, which is pretty much a hotspot and there’s a lot going on and you live on the 13th floor, you still gotta find ways to get outside. Humans were not made to be in boxes so, cool.

Human connection [1:06:29]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Yoga teacher training during covid highlighting human interaction
  • Bonding and connection, finding it despite pandemic

Starting places for Yoga [1:08:28]

3 words [1:12:37]

Craig (01:12:38): All right, Mark. I’ll just say, and of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Mark (01:12:44): Humble, because I think there’s a lot of type A people out there that try to not listen to their body and push, and try to do things that they’re just not ready for. So I learned quite early on that humble approach to practice is key. You are at where you’re at and I’m listening to your body, ties in with that contemporary, ooh, don’t try too hard because it hurts this, it hurts that. But having a mindset of I’ll do everything I can to my limit, is the humble way to approach it. It doesn’t matter what bendy yoga person is doing it. There’s always a way to modify. There’s always a way that you can attain a shape and not to concern yourself with where it goes. But to have an idea of where a shape goes is a really nice way to approach a practice.

Mark (01:13:43): So humble, discipline. You can’t get that unless you approach things in that you are willing to push yourself to do things that are hard and it’s not not listening to your body. Whenever you have a sharp pain, you should back away from a sharp pain because it’s always going to be detrimental, but when it’s an ache and it’s uncomfortable, it’s part of what yoga is going to do in order to open up your body. So having the discipline to be able to go through that is a necessary facet for your practice. And then commitment, committing to doing it. You don’t get anywhere unless you’re going to actually fully give it your attention. And so, if you’re going to embark on this, you can’t just expect to do it once a week and have the benefits that other people get from doing this thing called yoga. You gotta be able to be able to commit to doing it a little bit more.

Mark (01:14:46): I’ll give you a quick example of that. When I was in Korea, I wanted to dabble with their martial arts. And I said, you know, “I can go a couple of times a week.” And they were absolutely dumbfounded and shocked that like I would even consider taking on their martial art and only consider doing it two times a week. It was like the grossest insult to these Korean showing me their hate on gumbo. And it was like, we do it every day and sometimes twice a day. And how could you even think that you could learn it by doing it a couple of times a week? And yoga is quite similar. It’s not that you have to become, give yourself a two-hour practice to do this, our strongest style, every morning six days a week. And then take one day off. It’s not necessarily wrapped in that package, but you have to be able to do it consistently in order to be able to gain any benefit from doing it. And that goes for the meditation, too. So commitment, discipline and being humble I would say my three words.

Craig (01:15:48): Terrific Mark. It was a distinct pleasure to get a chance to talk to you. Like I said before, thanks for getting up a little bit early and good luck in all of your future endeavors. Thanks.

Mark (01:15:57): Thank you.

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Contact and further info

You can learn more about the Irie Agency on their facebook page. Follow Mark’s instagram (@yogimarkbt) to keep up with his own practice. Mark’s wife (@roxy_tornado) is also a part of the Irie Agency. Mark is affiliated with several studios, including [TruFusion], 103Yoga, and VegasHot. He is also a USA representative of the Yoga Olympics.