Mark Freeth

The Freestyle Yoga Project

“I’ve been into physical discipline for 45 years. I’m 59 now and I started with Kung Fu when I was 14 in the 70s – Bruce Lee was my idol and I wanted to be just like him. I ended up doing Kung Fu for 15 years and I actually became quite proficient – that led into Greco Roman wrestling, which I did in competition as well as fencing. I really enjoyed all of those things – I enjoyed the one to one disciplines rather than group sports.

I did those for many years, butI was just getting a little tired of the stuff that I already knew, so started to look for something else, I didn’t know what it would be, but I wanted it to be non-competitive and I wanted to just do it on my own, but I had no idea how that would work.

I happened to stumble across a demonstration of yoga, at a mind, body, spirit show in 1995. All I saw on the programme was a demonstration of ‘ashtanga vinyasa yoga’ by the late Derek Ireland. I had no idea what ‘ashtanga vinyasa’ meant, I just saw the word ‘yoga’ and watched the half hour demo by this very charismatic guy. His physique was really cut, and he was wearing an electric blue unitard! it looked like a combination of gymnastics, martial arts and ‘something else’. Whatever it was, I wanted to do it!
So, I had a chat with the guy afterwards and he told me that it was Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I asked where he taught it – it was in London and I was in Warwickshire. The very next weekend, I was in my car driving down to London to do the class and I continued to do that on a weekly basis to be taught by him, and his then partner, Rhada. That set me up, I was completely sold. I continued to study Ashtanga vinyasa for five years and the teachers that I was studying under – which was now in Warwickshire – were encouraging me to teach because I knew the system really well. I hadn’t even considered that before, so I assisted those guys on a couple of occasions and it all went very well.
I’d come from the music industry, since I was a kid from the age of 16. I had been in punk rock bands, and then behind the scenes, so I was a big fat show off and I knew how to walk into a room and hold an audience. That helped me to not be put off by a number of people in front of me. So I ended up teaching full time – I gave up my job in the music industry in 2000 – just ditched it as I was sick of it. I loved the music – still do – I was just sick of the business. That was when I was 40 and I was a little worried about a career change at 40, but nevertheless I went for it, and it worked! I haven’t looked back.
I’ve been teaching full time now for 20 years, but the landscape has changed. There are many different types of yoga, and as I got further and further down the line with this particular system, I started to analyse it and pick it apart, I realised it wasn’t as carefully put together as I thought it was – it ended up looking like it was haphazardly put together. I wondered why, and thought, okay, if I was designing this system, I would put that position there, that sequence here. But who was I to question this? in private, I started playing around with the system and even though I was teaching it as it was, I was privately thinking that it made more sense my way, but again, who was I to change it?
Around this time, I was going to America for various reasons, especially New York City, and I ended up going to a yoga studio called the Kula Yoga Project in Manhattan, and it blew my mind. There were obviously people who came from the same tradition that I had, but they had also started playing around with it. I didn’t need permission from anybody to tinker with a system, but it was nice to see somebody else thinking along the same lines. I then knew that I had to start teaching the same way that I was practicing.
So, I came home and started feeding all this new material into my classes, and I kind of knew what would happen – I would lose a bunch of students, but I did attract a whole new set of people who wanted to play and who wanted to experiment. So, that carried on, and then I noticed I was going so far away from that system that I had to find a new identity for it – a new name. The Freestyle Yoga Project is what I came up with in 2008. I carefully chose the word ‘freestyle’ because I wanted to be at liberty to take bits and pieces from other systems, and when I started to look at my old kung fu and wrestling days, I decided to take some elements from that and put it into this project. I wanted to be able to do this forever, I don’t ever want it to come to an end and not be able to tinker with it some more. So, I’ve left it open ended – thus the word ‘project’. In the old version of the FYP logo, the bottom rocker said ‘dynamic vinyasa yoga’ – the new version of that logo, since about 6 years ago, is ‘dynamic yoga and movement’, because it took another evolutionary turn about seven years ago, when I opened this studio, coincidentally. It was when I studied with a guy called Ido Portal, one of the most inspiring athletes I’ve ever come across, he was like a superhero! He could do everything, a perfect physical specimen. He could climb a rock face better than trained rock climbers, he could do Brazilian jujitsu better than trained BJJ experts. He wanted to transfer his skills from discipline to discipline, without necessarily becoming an expert in any particular one – so he was a ‘generalist’ rather than a ‘specialist’. I did a weekend workshop with him and it just completely blew everything out of the water, what I thought I knew, about physical disciplines. I then thought, okay, I’m more or less done with trad static yoga positions, I want to move, I absolutely want to move. This is what took me away from focusing on ‘flexibility’ – yoga places so much emphasis on flexibility at the expense of strength and agility – mobility is a better word. We can only stretch muscles so far, they won’t keep stretching. Even if you’re a contortionist, you still can’t keep stretching muscle indefinitely. Unless we ‘mobilise’ our joints and that’s every joint in the body, we’re going to seize up, and in later life we won’t be able to move those joints freely.
So, I focused on being very mobile, very strong, very agile – a lot of bodyweight conditioning, rolling around on the floor, standing on my hands and jumping around like Spider-Man! I just thought, okay, as I’m getting older, I need to start adapting my training to the way my body is evolving.
It won’t be long before I’m 60, yet I’ve never felt stronger, more mobile or more agile – it’s worked for me, so I want to pass it on to my students. I’ve got people who hire the space out, and they run their traditional yoga classes or their meditation or ballet classes and that’s great as I’ve got to have the studio sweating. But with the classes that I teach, they need to satisfy me, as well as satisfy my students. And you know what, if the only money that comes in is enough to pay the rent, then I’m happy, because I love doing this.”

Big thanks to Tina Francis Photography.

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About the business

Energetic. Thrilling. Funky. A 21st century approach to dynamic yoga & movement. FYP believe you should move in many different ways – ALL the time. The emphasis here is on movement to achieve optimum mobility, agility, strength, coordination. We like to move outside ‘The Box’ Our take on yoga is probably unlike anything you’ve come across before. An all-round form of physical exercise. The diverse ways we move and groove means you’ll challenge yourself in different ways – every single time you come. Be it a mellow flow, familiar yoga positions, through locomotion work, to using sticks, handstands, hanging from bars, jumping, crawling & rolling! We’re going to ask you to try things you’ve never considered before. We want you to step up to the edge, challenge yourself, move out of your comfort zone. Your 1st class is free. You’ve got nothing to lose & everything to gain. We look forward to working with you!

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