Even though I had never met Martin Hunke, my instinct told me he was the one carrying the motorcycle helmet into Grace Cathedral Park that afternoon. “Riding a motorcycle was my first experience with meditation,” he would later tell me. “I really enjoy riding, but I’m not concerned with or commenting on the coolness of it – I’m just doing it.” As a devoted yoga teacher for many years and founder of Inner Heat Yoga in Berkeley, Martin has become a well-known face among the Bay Area yogic scene.
Born in Germany, Martin Hunke came to the States to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. Having suffered from scoliosis for years, Martin tried yoga to get some relief. He took Iyengar classes with Dean Lerner and was hungry to learn more. Dean suggested he go to India to study with Mr. Iyengar himself.
“I wrote him a letter; it is so funny in retrospect,” laughed Martin. “He sweetly wrote back, with a hand-written letter, in about two weeks. He must have written it right away. He said ‘I’m very happy to hear of your enthusiasm, but I don’t teach beginners.’ Mr. Iyengar suggested I take a teacher training course and then come to study with him in India.”
On the way to Australia, Martin Hunke stopped over in San Francisco to take a two-year teacher training course. “I just wanted to have more knowledge to fix my scoliosis. I had no intention of teaching. Frankly, I found teaching to be the most boring job.” To his surprise, he found you are forced to teach in the teacher training program, which helped him overcome his shyness in front of crowds.
He quickly learned that he enjoyed helping people, and being alone all day didn’t interest him…so much for the computer science career. So, Martin took the plunge and opened his Inner Heat Yoga studio in Berkeley. “When I thought about what kind of studio I would like if I were still a student, it became clear that I didn’t want the things that were typically offered. Drop-in classes left me feeling as if I wasn’t going anywhere [with my practice].”
Meeting his current teacher, Australia’s Zhander Remete, in 1995 lead Martin Hunke to shift his yogic interest from Iyengar and Ashtanga to Shadow Yoga. “I started as a very controlling, type-A personality in yoga. Zhander influenced me so strongly that I stopped fishing for more advanced poses. Instead, he would advise me to go back to the basics and truly master those.” Coming from an academic background, this makes a lot of sense. “People would do well to focus more on how they feel, not how they look, in a pose. Advancing in yoga is not about doing more difficult poses; it is about continually increasing one’s awareness.”
“Some people just want to turn off their minds,” Martin Hunke continues. “They don’t want to hear a teacher talk too much and they don’t want to think during practice. I really expect my students to bring themselves in and really try.” While Inner Heat does offer daily drop-in classes for Iyengar and Ashtanga, the studio is known for its immersion programs. You can participate in the immersion program with as little as a four-week commitment once per week. For those who are ready to take their regular practice seriously, no matter what your fitness level or yoga experience, this is a perfect opportunity to connect with a studio and teacher that are ready to follow you for the long haul.
Just how is Martin Hunke’s scoliosis doing these days? “When you apply for a Green Card, they do an upper body x-ray to check for tuberculosis, etc. I asked if I could see the x-ray because I had scoliosis and I wanted to see how the yoga was helping. When the doctor came back, he told me there was no x-ray with scoliosis. He showed me the one with my name on it and the spine was straight. The curvature had dramatically changed.”
He says the most effective poses in healing his scoliosis have been asymmetrical ones, which allow you to focus on each side independently, no matter which one is seemingly out-of-balance. “I think one of the biggest obstacles is that the average student today is not given a map of where a yoga practice is supposed to lead to,” says Martin. “You need a teacher, one who is willing to look beyond the social conformity of a student/teacher relationship; one who is willing to go to the core, to find out what your problems are. I’m not interested in giving people a specific sequence, but rather in showing them their habits, how they show up on the yoga mat. That is what this studio is about – creating a place for someone who wants to change. I want to give them a bit of my energy to push them.”
Martin Hunke currently teaches in Tucson, Arizona.
Innerheatyoga.com – Victoria Everman is an active member of the yoga and creative communities in San Francisco, working as a writer, model, environmentalist.