This is an interview with Mark Stefanowski, who completed his yoga teacher training and started teaching at a Harley Davidson repair shop in Longmont, Colo. in January 2012. A self-described "Harley Riding, Hell Raiser, Hard Working Midwesterner," Mark and Justin Kaliszewski co-founded Outlaw Yoga to share yoga with people who may not be willing or able to seek out a "traditional" yoga studio. Mark and Justin's goal in this life: "to bring yoga to the people -- all people -- young and old, short and tall, skinny and fat, veggie-loving vegans and carnivorous couch potatoes, hardcore bikers and hard charging cyclists, gals and dudes, fighters and lovers, soldiers and tree huggers! Everyone!" God bless them!
Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?
My original motivation just came from the happy faces and positive feedback I received from my "non-traditional" students. Those same kind words and joy continue to push me forward no matter where and to whom I'm teaching. It's interesting that the motivation has not changed; it's just grown bigger and stronger. Every time I'm given an opportunity to share the gift of yoga, I see what it does, and in seeing the power, I'm pushed to keep going and going.
What did you know about the population you are working with, before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population and how, if any, have those assumptions changed?
It's funny... I was among the groups that I'm now targeting in my teaching. I was that guy who thought yoga was some kind of "hippy-dippy" bullshit... that it was for bendy, thin, vegan women who wanted to chant and "Om" all day long. I'm so grateful I found out that was wrong. As soon as I began the practice, I was hit by the power that lies in it. Yoga has an ability to change your entire life if you just open up to it. Talk about a change! Then my mission became to share what I learned with people who had no idea what yoga can do. I'm fortunate to have found this, and I feel blessed to be able to share the practice.
What are two distinct ways that your teaching style differs from the way you might teach in a studio, and what are the reasons for these differences?
Honestly, I teach the same way, no matter where that is. And I'm lucky that the studio where I teach, Core Power Yoga, embraces me for being me. I get to teach the same way whether I'm in a traditional studio, a Harley Davidson shop, a local brewery, or a park. I just bring it, have fun, breathe, and move.
What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?
The greatest challenge for my teaching is accepting myself for who I really am. I have always struggled with my self-image. Teaching forces me to put myself out there in a big way. Exposing myself to my students forces me to look at who I am and what I'm thinking.
I come from a blue-collar Midwestern background, and that has really shown me the benefits of hard work. That is the first tool that helps me to get through my challenges. I put in the work to prepare fully for all the classes that I teach. I solicit feedback from people that I trust to be 100 percent honest, I then listen completely, and apply that feedback when I go back to work. The other tool that I must consistently apply is the ability to just surrender. I have to remember that if I do the work, prepare, put my best out there in a way that I'm proud of, the outcome will take care of itself. Only by surrendering to the fact that I cannot control anything will I continue to grow and be able to serve.
What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach in the population that you work with?
Be real. Be you. Have a healthy fear and respect of what you are doing and who you are teaching. Only by being who you really are will you be able to connect with your students.
What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?
As teachers, we need to give it away! I hope that all teacher training programs, studio owners, and yoga professionals will include service in their core business model. At Outlaw YogaTM, we started right off the bat with a service component, which is to donate a percentage of revenues to the Give Back Yoga Foundation. We are a startup, it is a small amount but it is there as a seva commitment at the beginning. By having that in our foundation it will always be part of how business is conducted. It will not have to be "stuck in" later on down the road because it is the "right thing to do." It is absolutely the right thing to do at the start. I hope that not just people in yoga do this, but that everyone finds a way to give.
How has this work changed your definition of service? Your definition of yoga? Your practice?
I've spent so much time in sales in corporate America in my life. That world was about "what have you done for me lately," "do more," and the "push harder, give me even more." Outlaw YogaTM has shown me that service is a block in the foundation. Without it being there, you will be off-balance or lack stability. Just like yoga asana builds off a strong foundation, organizations need to as well. This work has really shown me that service is a "must have," the only way to move forward.
Outlaw YogaTM has allowed me to be more comfortable in myself. It has allowed me to accept that where I am is where I'm supposed to be. As my partner in Outlaw Yoga TM Justin has said, "I can't stick my foot behind my head, but I know how to get my head out of my ass." Coming to a place of that kind of comfort, you just can't go wrong.
What other organizations do you admire?
I have great admiration for the work Suzanne Manafort and Dan Libby have done with the Mindful Yoga Therapy protocol for veterans, and James Fox's work through the Prison Yoga Project. My admiration for what they do and how they serve is so great that, for every item of Outlaw YogaTM gear we sell on our website www.OutlawYoga.com, we make a donation to support their efforts. We make a donation after any and all events that we conduct at Outlaw YogaTM. Like I've said before, service is foundational.
Editor: Alice Trembour
OUTLAW Initiation - The OUTLAW Yoga Level One Teacher Training begins August 24th 2013 at Kindness Yoga - Hilltop in Denver Colorado. In this program you will grow your personal practice and connection to contemporary power yoga through exploration of the Five Foundations of OUTLAW Yoga. This is the first step towards certification as a 200 hour OUTLAW Yoga instructor. For more information or to register, visit http://bit.ly/15zkWPP
To purchase your own OUTLAW Yoga gear visit www.OutlawYoga.com.
Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!