As a Yoga teacher I get asked all the time  for advice upon certain aspects of the Ashtanga Yoga method -how to do a headstand or how to improve a backbend for example . So as a practice resource for all students I have created the Back Yard Yoga videos - a series of two minute how to videos including advice on technique and ways to improve your Ashtanga Yoga form. The first in the 5 part 'Back Yard Yoga' series (so called as we filmed the videos in my back yard!)  is Zen & the Art of the Ashtanga Yoga Jump Back. Hope you enjoy it - happy jumping back.        
So after my last blog ‘The Supreme Ashtanga Yoga’ my wife asked me the question, ‘So why do you practice Ashtanga ?’ Her emphasis was on the ‘why’ and to be honest she knows 100 % why I do Yoga. But her point I guess was that I often write about how amazing Ashtanga Yoga is and how I always bang on about its many physical and mental attributes but I’ve never really gone into too much detail about exactly why I practice. Yes I’ve mentioned I’ve struggled in the past with anxiety and stuff which led me to the mat but I’ve never been so open about what those anxieties were exactly. So here goes. In my late teens I used to do this very strange thing of starring at myself in a mirror- for long period of times. Now yes you might think that the words teenager, mirror and long periods of time is not strange at all but perfectly normal. Except I wasn’t checking my hair out or how many spots I had or even pretending to be Johnny Marr. I was ‘freaking’ myself out – literally going ‘through the looking glass’ and finding myself in the most strangest of head spaces where I no longer felt normal or real or even like a human being- just for kicks (man!) These sensations only lasted momentarily but long enough to scare the shit out of myself, and the only way to get back to ‘normal’ again I had to go and play the guitar or watch TV – I had to distract myself out of the weirdness. I never talked to anyone about why I did this or what exactly was going on when I did do it. I used to refer to it as my mirror feelings. Fast forward a couple of years to my early twenties – I was living the night-life in Glasgow (that’s a whole other story that you don’t need to know about) I would be out every weekend living it up (I’m not going to go into too much detail about living it up , if you’re unsure what I’m talking about here google house music culture early nineties ) On the back of one particular heavy night I can only describe what happened to me as a minor panic attack. Now the minor panic attack whilst being extremely unpleasant at the time, turned out to be a walk in the park as to what was to follow. Over the following weeks I started to feel more and more strange, weird – detached from everyone including myself. Yes it was the exact same symptoms as the mirror feelings, but this time it wasn’t going away and the weirdness got worse, and worse and well before long I was in a state of complete and utter terror. Now unless you’ve ever had a panic attack or similar or perhaps a bad trip (man) then you probably have no idea what I’m talking about or can get a sense of this state of mind. This went on and on and on for weeks then months until I ended up having to move back to Manchester. I saw more psychiatrists and psychologists than you can shake a stick at – I was prescribed like a million different types of medication that did NOTHING! I even spent 3 days in the psychiatric department at Stepping Hill Hospital – no kidding – the doctors were at a loss what to do with me so they admitted me for ‘observation’. The only good thing that came out of this ‘observation’ was that I observed that I wasn’t as nuts as some people! Oh and one other thing I finally had a name for the condition I had.. it was called ‘depersonalisation’ (DP). No-one in the medical profession really knew exactly what depersonalisation was. There wasn’t any particular reason to why one person gets it and one doesn’t. A troubled childhood probably contributed to why I got it – and ‘dabbling’ with recreational illegal medicines (ok drugs!) didn’t help either. Depersonalisation Google will tell you is ‘a state in which one's thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself, or in which one loses all sense of identity’. But to be honest, that doesn’t do it justice. It is pure and simple ‘hell on earth’ I kid you not – ask any of my family or close friends. The philosopher Sartre wrote a book about it – aptly called The Filth , Hollywood made a film about it , Numb* starring Matthew Perry. If you’ve got half an hour to spare read this for the low down. So thus began a pretty awful part of my life battling with my mind. Apart from traditional western medicine I tried pretty much most eastern ones too. Acupuncture, homeopathy even drinking rain water that had been taking from Stone Circles – I kid you not. If someone had said to me ‘Hey Matt, stick these hot pins in your eyes it will help you’ I would have not even questioned it I’d be writing this blog with an eye patch. I got to the age of 30 with no clear signs of progress with either therapy or treatment when a friend suggested I try Yoga. This is absolutely true – I had no idea what Yoga was, but given that I was up for trying anything, Yoga was to be my next hopeful attempt at achieving some kind of sanity. My first class with my very first Ashtanga teacher Mike Nevitt nearly broke me – I have no idea what made me go back to be honest. Well apart from that I noticed a very small change of perspective. I think initially it was the pure physicality of the practice that helped. Depersonalisation is neither depression nor anxiety, but the utter terror it created made it a bit of both. You feel completely unreal which was very anxiety inducing which made it worse and in turn created more anxiety – a vicious circle. I remember talking to one rather patronising doctor who was asking me if I was a little depressed to which I replied ‘The only reason I’m depressed Doctor is because I’m feeling fxxking unreal’ ( Apologies for expletive but I wanted to make the quote exact). The physical nature of Ashtanga would literally wear me out, so that the anxiety had nothing to feed on. Over the next few months I started to practice Ashtanga Yoga more and more, and no it wasn’t all of a sudden life was peachy again, it was more like the feelings were slightly less intense. I remember after 6 months a friend of the family asked me what type of yoga I was doing – I literally had no idea that there were more than one type of yoga. This person had to describe a few different yoga disciplines before they started talking about this form of yoga which require a lot of jumping about – ‘That’s it’, I can remember saying ‘The jumpy one’. Within 12 months of starting Yoga I had my bags packed and was off to Mysore to study with Guruji and the rest they say is history. I wouldn’t say that Ashtanga Yoga was this miracle cure but it wasn’t far off. I still get bouts of the DP now and again but I’m ok with it – I do my practice and it helps to keep the wolf from the door. So I know I bang on a lot about Ashtanga Yoga being Supreme but there you go I think I’ve got very good reason to. That’s why I practice Ashtanga. * The director of this film Harris Goldberg also had chronic Depersonalisation and wanted to draw public attention to this little known disorder he was suffering from. In a very ironic quirk of fate the marketing ads for the film got changed from Matthew Perry (the main character in the film) having depersonalisation to him being chronically depressed as Joe Public could understand what depression was but not depersonalisation.  
So the more spiritually minded folk will of spotted that I’ve taken a small liberty of rebranding the famous Zen quote (Before enlightenment chop wood carry water , after enlightenment chop wood carry water) for the Yoga posse out there. But it’s the same thing, or maybe it isn’t. As Van Morrison sung ‘Enlightenment, don’t know what it is’ Neither do I Van my friend and neither do I know what Samadhi is either – and judging by the amount of folk I’ve met along the well-trodden dusty Avenue of Ashtanga Yoga neither does anybody else. So what is Samadhi? What is Enlightenment – do they exist – are they like a magical place or a magical state of mind. My Zen teacher Brad Warner who has had such an experience insists Enlightenment is for ‘sissies’. I don’t want to get too bogged down into the definition and etymologies of either Samadhi or Enlightenment I’m not clever enough for a start. But sticking to Ashtanga Yoga for now ( as I know slightly more about Yoga than I do Zen – and when I say know I mean you could write all of this knowledge on a postage stamp – and still have room left for the shopping list) I stumbled into this practice by default rather than design and was swept along with the promise of the illusive 8th limb. Guruji would make the statement that we would have to create strong bodies before we could consider our minds and therefore we are to practice the 3rd limb of  Ashtanga Yoga . And then some. So I’ve practiced and practiced and practiced some more, I have good days and bad with practice just like I have good days and bad days with life. When I do practice I feel better so I’m more inclined to get on my mat rather than make excuses not to. I don’t even think about the 8 limbs anymore – nor do I even think about where the practice came from. And without wanting to offend anyone – the physical practice does not come from Patanjali’ s Yoga Sutras - how do I know? I did the math… Any to be brutally honest I think if you’re still clinging to the belief that the practice is 5,000 years old you’re missing the point – we should take a leaf out of the Buddha’s book when someone asked him ‘Is there a God or is there not a God’. Buddha’s reply was to remain silent. The silence was a demonstration of the ridiculousness of the question. There’s a great quote from Matthew Sweeney who said the only reason that people get their knickers in a twist about The Yoga Sutras is because it has the word ‘Yoga’ in it (ok he probably didn’t say knickers in a twist but you get my drift). Have a think about that quote for a moment – go with this thought … imagine if they had been called ‘the deep absorptions of Patanjali’ would we (we as in yoga students) have ever read the bloody thing? Me thinks not. And please please any Yoga scholars / practitioners out there thinking about a new angle on a Sutra commentary do some asana instead. Do something that you can actually experience rather than writing about something you can only intellectually understand. Put it this way , would you trust a book  about the qualities of sugar written by someone who has NEVER tasted sugar? But if you like it read it ,chant it – go for it! I don’t have time for it personally, I think people are trying to put square pegs in round holes. In the words (or lyrics should I say) of Stephen Patrick Morrisey from the hit single Panic with his beat combo The Smiths...
'It says nothing to me about my life'
What does resonate with me is when I see quotes like this one.. zen quotes Yes I know this can be construed as another ‘pithy’ Zen statement but when I read it my brain re-interprets this for my yoga asana sensibility as another way of saying when you’ve done Surya Namaskar do it again. The Samadhi is in the doing not in the achieving. Let us not get carried away by thoughts of Samadhi or indeed being enlightened - and certainly let us not get carried away by our physical prowess or gymnastic ability. Here's yet another (pithy) Zen quote from the late great Alan Watts..
Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while peeling potatoes. Zen is just peeling potatoes.
I think we could rephrase that beauty to , maybe to something like this
Ashtanga Yoga is not in the pontification of the Yoga Sutras or even in the boring laborious debate about how old the practice is. Ashtanga Yoga is Ekam inhale Dve exhale etc
Perhaps we can also take a leaf out the book of Dogen the 12th century Japanese Zen Monk. Dogen basically said taking the posture of Zazen was enlightenment itself i.e. the practice of zazen  and the experience of enlightenment were one. And so maybe to take (asana) practice is Samadhi. I read somewhere that one Zen teacher on entering a Zendo (a place where people practice Zazen meditation) full of his students remarked ‘what a silly thing to do’ and then proceeded to join them. And I must say this thought (what a silly thing to do) crosses my mind a few dozen times during practice – usually in postures like Garbha Pindasana or Tittibhasana B when I’m looking up my own backside, I mean WTF …. But I do it and I do it again. So keep climbing the mountain and keep digging for that bone Yoga warriors.. Samadhi is for sissies . Ps and if you want a FREE cheat sheet click here.  
I was somewhat filled with trepidation waiting at Manchester Piccadilly rail station with a bunch of flowers in hand awaiting the arrival of Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. The trip to Manchester was the culmination of a transatlantic teaching tour for the couple. Kino was back in Manchester for the 3rd time accompanied by Tim who was yet to sample the delights of our fabulous city. The two of them together drew a crowd of students to max out the capacity of the weekend workshop. 200 participants were to be perfectly slotted into the Hindu Temple in Whalley Range, making a massive space intimate and cosy. How does one greet a duo of international yoga demigods with a combined Instagram following of close to 900 thousand souls? Kino broke the ice by sending a text as the train was drawing in, to let me know that they were arriving with “a ton of luggage (smiley face emoji with blushing cheeks). Well she didn’t disappoint. The London train disgorged its late night commuters and as the throng thinned out, there at the far end of the platform was the endearing sight of the diminutive Kino completely dwarfed by the lofty Tim pushing a trolley piled to the rafters with luggage. Kino herself had two further suitcases a shoulder bag and two yoga mats slung over her shoulder. Once they had trundled to the end of the platform towards me, Kino gave a smile and confessed that she was glad we were not walking to their accommodation. The next ice breaking challenge was to fit tall Tim, all the suitcases and Kino in my small car. One of Tim’s Nordic superpowers is spatial awareness and car boot packing. This is a skill taught him by his father. Apparently you are not a real man unless you can perfectly fit an unfeasible amount of luggage into the trunk of a hatchback. I left Tim to the packing and wheeled the luggage trolley back to the station concourse then returned to my car to find visible only Kino’s ponytail and the flowers she was clutching, as she was buried in my back seat under a pile of bulging luggage. Now where do Ashtanga Yoga royalty stay when visiting Manchester? You may imagine they took a Penthouse suite at the Lowry hotel. But no, a humble AirBnB suited them just fine. They seemed to relish being in a city centre apartment and took time to wander round our civic spaces, particularly enjoying the Central Library. No doubt much has been speculated and lots has been written about Kino’s diet. I hope she doesn’t mind me spilling the beans, but since I did a small grocery shop for her and Tim, I have some inside information on this matter. During the Question and Answer session of the workshop, Kino was asked about her favourite foods. Well I can endorse her answer. She lives for fruit of all kinds in all forms: fresh, dried and juiced fruits seem to be the mainstay of her diet. Right now a mono-diet of figs would have suited her down to the ground, but sadly figs are not in season in Manchester right now. Tim, being originally from Denmark would have his basic human rights contravened if her were not allowed to eat cheese. So they have softened their vegan aspirations in the interests of marital harmony. Re-hydration comes in the form of coconut water. This was very important for Kino who can get through litres each day. She has preferred brands of coconut water so a crack team of Yoga-Manchester yoga teachers scoured the supermarkets of our fair city to source this for her, but to no avail. Even Unicorn, Manchester’s cooperative health food grocery failed us. Well Kino took the news well. She and Tim treated themselves to Starbucks takeout for lunch as compensation. So Rock ‘n’ Roll. You’d think that after years of teaching that Kino would have forgotten what it is to be nervous. I’m sure this is true to some extent but who wouldn’t have a slight frisson of adrenaline just before kicking off an event with 200 yogis hanging on your every word? In the car on the way to the first session I could detect that the usual equanimity of Kino was ever so slightly out of kilter. In fact she had forgotten something in the apartment, needed to go back and get it and then was anxious that we were going to be late. Goddamit she is human after all! However once she got going, her cheeky and slightly theatrical delivery held the attention of the crowd. A recurring theme of the sessions was the role of the pelvis and engaging of the Bandhas. Kino relished talking through the anatomy and created some mental imagery which I am sure had everyone blushing. But we had our eyes closed so who would know? Over the weekend I think Tim and Kino said “anus” about a thousand times. The concept of the rogue anus was new to me. One brave yogi ventured to ask what she should do with her tongue during asana practice. She felt she had a rogue tongue, so Tim set her straight advising her that it should rest gently on the upper palate with the tip positioned behind the teeth. With a sparkle in her eyes Kino chimed in that it was very important not to get one’s rogue tongue and rogue anus mixed up. To wind up the whole event Tim and Kino cooked up a scheme to give away their personal yoga mats that they had used on tour. They played Bingo, calling numbers from the list of people signed up to the workshops. Sadly numbers one, 200 and 108 had already left the Temple by the time the Bingo got going, so lost out on their opportunity to win the yoga mats. If you are reading this and are wondering if that was you, well you must be gutted and I bet you’ll never leave a Kino and Tim workshop early again! Once two winners were identified, a fight nearly broke out over which mat was the sweatiest. When asked why they where giving the mats away. Kino gave a warm smile and confessed that they were flying back to Miami the next day so by reducing their luggage the recipients of the sweaty mats were doing them a favour. So we bid Kino and Tim bon voyage and hope to see them back soon again in Manchester to share their wit and wisdom with us.      

1. Do you teach Bikram Yoga?

So to some Ashtangis, Bikram Yoga is the devil’s work plain and simple and to them to even call it yoga would be tantamount to actually being the devil ! Some more relaxed Ashtanga Yoga folk might raise an eyebrow if faced with the above question and offer the questioner a polite rebuttal of ‘absolutely not’.  

2. Who is this Pattabhi Jois bloke?

I must admit I think I asked this question once to one of my first teachers and I got the Ashtanga equivalent of a ‘clip round the earhole’ and told to go home and study more. Guruji Pattabhi Jois ( RIP) was a mountain of a man and a teacher and even though I’m a karma sceptic I must have done some pretty good stuff in previous lifetimes to be amongst those Ashtangis lucky enough to have been taught personally by him in Mysore, South India. Guruji’s teacher Krishnamacharya is usually cited as the founder of Ashtanga Yoga but we* must also say a little prayer to Pattabhi Jois and be thankful he dedicated the rest of his life to the practice and teaching of the Ashtanga method. * This ‘we’ includes any yoga student doing any variety of vinyasa practice in the world today. Most if not all vinyasa type classes are derivatives of Ashtanga Yoga.

3. What is Mysore?

No this isn’t a play on words for ‘Am I sore’ as in ‘I did Ashtanga Yoga yesterday and gee am I sore today ‘.Mysore , South India is the mecca of Ashtanga Yoga – the source where it all began. The source being a tiny little room big enough for 8 students only ( but usually 10 students including yours truly would be shoe horned in at a time). Today the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute has a new home that can accommodate around 60 students in one sitting.   Thinking of going to Mysore? Read this first.

4. So it’s basically just gymnastics

I usually answer this question/ accusation with one of my teenage son’s favourite text acronyms ‘whatevs’! Yes it’s a little aerobic , yes it’s a little bit gymnastic and yes perhaps some of it was imported from different physical disciplines from other countries. And. So. What. The only worthwhile question here is does it work ? And if it does who cares about the origins of where it came from or how old it is supposed to be – the proof of the pudding is in the eating not in the second guess intellectualisation of proof of authenticity (try saying that with a fruit pastille in your mouth).  

5. The Yoga Korunta is nonsense

  So as legend has it, Ashtanga Yoga comes from an ancient text called Yoga Korunta that is supposedly over 5,000 years old. The text was discovered in a library in Calcutta by Krishnamacharya who decoded it and passed the teachings onto Pattabhi Jois. This ancient manuscript written on palm leaves was unfortunately eaten by ants and no longer exists, leaving some to actually doubt that it even ever existed in the first place and in that Krishnamacharya made the Korunta story up. My two penneth worth on this is the following.. 1- Never let truth get in the way of a bloody good story. 2- What ever happened to the ants that ate the Korunta ( see below) ANTS CARTOON 1
I am going to find it hard to limit my thinking to only 5 reasons for why you should go to a yoga class today. The more yoga I do, the more benefits I recognise. But for the sake of simplicity and for those new to the idea of yoga I’ll stick to some headlines. Hopefully if you are curious, these ideas may get you on a mat to experience the benefits for yourself. If you have an established but lapsed practice, may be this will encourage you to get back in the groove. One of the main reasons for being a doctor surely is to help people feel better. To feel better physically, emotionally, psychologically, in whatever dimension you care to evaluate. No matter what the condition, problem, illness or lifestyle we are considering here, if you can make someone feel better, that has to be a result right? So I want to shout if from the rooftops. Get to a yoga class today! And here’s why:  
  1. It just makes you feel good
Who doesn’t feel better after a yoga class? … … … … Deafening silence. After one only class, there is pretty much a cast iron guarantee that you will feel great when the session is over. Getting to class on time may be tough. You are pushed for time, shoulders and back are tight after being hunched over a desk all day. Worries about the day gone and tomorrow’s challenges are buffeting your bruised mind. Get through class and without knowing how, all these problems are dissipated. Limbs glow comfortably from the physical work and your mind sits on a cushion of calm deep steady breath. Quite rightly you can feel smug about what you have achieved. Yoga just makes you feel good.  
  1. Anyone can do yoga.
No matter your age, size, fitness level, mobility or ability; there is a Yoga Manchester class for you. You monitor your own progress at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if the person in front can get their leg behind their head. I certainly can’t. There is no goal other than your personal journey of wellbeing.  
  1. Yoga is exercise and so much more
We all know exercise is good for us right. We all know we should be doing a little more than we manage every week. Well if you can commit to more than the one class that made you feel good, then you can build on the benefits of yoga. The exercise element itself has research behind it demonstrating it to be one of the most effective ways to treat low back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. It will also help reduce weight, and to decrease your risk for heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and more. Guys, I can also tell you with confidence it reduces the incidence of erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer. That’s just the beginning of the list. For the more psychologically minded, yoga is a powerful tool to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression.  
  1. There are no excuses
Other than a mat, and arguably you don’t even need one of them, very little equipment is needed. You can do yoga Martini style: “any time, any place, anywhere” (apologies to those not old enough to remember that reference). If you need some structure and motivation to get you to class then make some friends with fellow yogis. We are a welcoming crowd. The social aspect is a really important element to keep you on track.  
  1. The physical practice is a gateway to so much more.
If you get into the rhythm of working your body through the sequence of postures, changes start to happen. Self-awareness comes to the body and the breath. This may open your thinking to a more mindful perspective. Yoga can be a 100 year practice: its influence and impact grows with you. It may become a lifelong companion to help with whatever challenges cross our paths. So Yoga is an all-rounder, no-brainer amazing activity to boost your wellbeing. If you were to design a new treatment for any medical condition, physical or psychological, yoga ticks so many of the boxes. It brings exercise together with a mindful and social approach that is accessible to all. What’s not to like? Get on a mat and give it a go today.   Matt Joslin
I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.

Where's your head at ?

‘Samastitihiii’ Guruji would bellow from the depths of his soul at the start of class, this mountainous sound reverberating around the shala in Mysore and into our hearts and minds. Just remembering being witness to this instruction from the Ashtanga Yoga Guru makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. For me Guruji’s whole personality & teachings are embodied in this simple Sanskrit phrase. The word samastitihi just means same or equal (sama) standing (stitihi) but it goes much deeper than standing up straight on your mat. I can remember going to my first couple of yoga classes and the teacher regularly castigating me for not having my feet perfectly (big toes and heels touching) together. At the time I thought he was just being a little bit anal retentive and boy oh boy I so wanted to tell him to take the bug out of his ass and leave me alone. But thankfully I never did and it was only when I started teaching yoga myself did I truly understand exactly what he meant. These days when I’m teaching I can be far, far more tetchy than my first teacher ever was with me when I see regular offenders with their feet apart. (So beware if you ever come to my class – I’ll be on your feet.) When teaching a ‘led’ class the samastitihi instruction is used plenty of times, it’s usually the first thing an Ashtanga teacher would announce –even before the opening chant. And as mentioned above the meaning goes way deeper than the physical. Once the body is in samastitihi we can then move into the realms of the mind by allowing both the inhale and exhale to express the instruction. The resonance of the inhale becoming equal to the exhale, even permitting for the pauses at the ends of the breath to do the same. When a student first comes into the class room their minds can be jumping around buzzing with thoughts about what they’ve been up to that day or what to have for dinner after class and if there’s nothing in place to for them to help drop these ‘fluctuations of the mind’ their practice becomes unfocussed from the word go. Once the body and breath are equal, all is good we are ready for practice. At the end of each sun salutation and also at the finish of each standing posture the student returns to samastitihi, making sure each time that the feet are together and the breath is equal. Sometimes in class I like to make a comparison between the cosmic mudra (the positioning of the hands) in zazen (the Zen form of meditation) and samastitihi. When sitting zazen the student places the left hand in the right hand and allows for the tips of the thumbs to touch to make an oval shape – see photo. cosmic mudra zazen zen ashtanga yoga If the thumbs ever become separate from each other it’s a good indication that the mind has drifted off into dreamland territory. Similarly if a student ever steps back to samastitihi with their feet apart to me it’s a sign that their focus has drifted off somewhere else. I remember reading about a Zen monk asking his teacher what the essence of the (zazen) practice was. ‘Attention’ came the terse reply from the teacher. Again the student asks the same question expecting perhaps a slightly more informed answer, this time the teacher ferociously repeats the same word three times ‘ATTENTION ATTENTION ATTENTION’! I.M.H.O. (yep I’m down with the social media acronyms kids) samastitihi is the yoga version of attention. The whole practice can be contained within its simplicity: the asanas are the physical expression, the breath the mind counterpart. Samastitihi is attention to a steady body, a steady breath, a steady gaze. Once we get these 3 working in union with each other we can hope for a steadier mind. A steady mind means an open mind and if you want me to get really cosmic (man) , the mind and body are mirrors for each other , so an open mind is an open heart.   Read Matt's other Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4  
Well international yoga day showed that yoga can get plenty of butts on mats. The pictures of the crowd tens of thousand strong on Rajpath in New Dehli packed a punch. I think we may still have an image problem here in the West though. Ask Joe Public and I suspect candles and incense will be evoked with the impression that breaking a sweat is unheard of. Think again! What is great about yoga is that it is all-inclusive. Any one can do it at any age with any ability. Different styles suit different people so the more styles out there the better, in my opinion. Here is a style that will blow your mind. Black Yoga & Metal Yoga Bones are new movements from across the Pond. Imagine Vinyasa flow meets heavy metal. Why should your yoga practice soundtrack be restricted to OMs, waves and wind chimes? Clearly it shouldn’t. If tracks like Blood Swamp, Chanting the Low Shadow and Pale on Pale move you to salute the moon then bring it on sister. Class might start with freestyle vocalisations to release anger and inner darkness. Maybe replace your opening chant with a howl to Satan. The aim is for the practice to be grounding, uplifting of spirit and raising a sweat as Hellfire makes your muscles burn. Counter intuitively for me as a non metal-head, research from the University of Queensland showed listening to extreme music can regulate sadness and enhance positive emotions. Someone had a lot of fun doing that study. This effect coupled with a yoga practice sounds like a winning combination. This may not resonate with everyone but surely that’s the point. Some of us may feel alienated by Yoga’s real or perceived image. Step outside the confines of how you think a class ought to be presented then you may open it up to a whole new mind set and welcome new people to this amazing practice. Matt Joslin
I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.
 
June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly after Indian Prime Minister, addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year.  What’s App Doc ponders the potential impact of this intervention.  Casually surfing through calendars of national events reveals a perplexing mix of days to be celebrated. For instance Diabetes week and National Picnic Week take place in the run up to our inaugural International Yoga Day on the summer Solstice, which is shared with Fathers’ Day. Following this we have Wrong Trousers Day. So much to enthuse about here but I will try not to lose focus. What interests me is that India is embracing yoga again in a way that celebrates and promotes it in a social and holistic manner. "Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being", says Narendra Modi when addressing the UN.  Shripad Yesso Naik has become India's first minister for yoga, with plans to reclaim the practice as "India's gift to the West". Indian officials plan to reintroduce yoga into all facets of civic life, including more than 600,000 schools, thousands of hospitals and police training centres. This demonstrates that yoga is so much more than just a physical practice and has potential to improve well-being at a societal and population level as well as for individuals. Sometimes the old solutions are the best and most elegant. Our current technological revolution purports to enhance our lives in so many ways, but let’s look a little more closely at that assumption. Tablet computers, smart phones, internet TVs and now watches facilitate instant gratification. We can shop, chat, watch movies and work on the hoof twenty four hours a day. Agreed this is convenient, but does it make us happier and healthier? In my professional experience this is not the case; many people come through my consulting room struggling with the demands of modern living. They experience stress, anxiety, insomnia and physical ill health as a result of technological advances rather than these advances offering solutions. The ancient practice of Yoga is arguably a perfect counter balance to the intensity and pace of the silicon age. It encourages us to slow down, be mindful and seek grounding and balance. The goals are the journey itself and will be achieved over a lifetime of practice rather than at the click of a mouse. I am no Luddite. I embrace smartphones, Apps and internet shopping. But Yoga helps me find a balance so that I am not overwhelmed by the pressure to move to 24 hour access to everything. I value the rhythm of the days, weeks, months and years. Yoga is my companion through these cycles. So I for one will celebrate International Yoga day. For time management purposes I will have a healthy picnic on hand and dedicate my sun salutations to all yoga dads. I may need to borrow Matt Ryan’s fabulous trousers to cover all bases.   Matt Joslin
I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.
     

Class : Withington every Thursday 7.30pm- 9pm

Teacher : Paul Jones

 

The Class

I’ve been a Yoga Manchester student for 12 months yet Paul’s Thursday class in Withington was new territory for me. It’s held weekly at the Methodist Church on Wilmslow Road, this could not be in a more prevalent location yet I still drove past it three times as I waited for my Sat Nav to catch up, geography isn’t my strong suit! There is a car park for the church just down the road on Edgerton Crescent. As I did absolutely no research before arriving I was unaware of this and parked across the street. I guess I make these errors so you don’t have too! The Methodist Church is like no other I’ve practiced in, it’s really modern, and as you walk in you’re faced with office doors and notice boards in place of pews and alters. The entrance is actually an extension onto the original church so the pews and alters do still exist, phew! The room for the yoga class is upstairs and it is so beautiful! I was the first to arrive so got to see the space in all its glory. Two huge windows either side of the room allow the rare Manchester sunlight to beam through. If it wasn’t for the original stained glass windows and 4ft cross this room could easily be mistaken for the latest trendy yoga studio. Paul lit incense and played calming music as I got myself ready for practice before the others arrived.

The Teacher

Paul said the class wouldn’t get too busy so I rolled out my mat at the front, another first for me as I generally practice at the back of a class (force of habit) and waited for the other students to arrive. Now I’m not sure if this was a one off or whether Paul’s and my ‘not very busy’ differ greatly, but a continuous stream of people began to flow through the door. I moved my mat three times so others could practice comfortably. This class is definitely popular with the locals, however that doesn’t mean lack of teacher attention; Paul easily makes his way around the room; adjusting people, asking if they’re okay, pushing those who want to go deeper and helping those that want a rest.

The Ambience

The array of yoga students differed greatly; from older women in jazzy yoga leggings to sporty university students in grey joggers and football shirts. I noticed a few level two class students as well, so although Paul’s class is level one that’s not to say the diehard Ashtangi’s will be left twiddling their thumbs! Far from it! It’s a relaxed environment and it’s clear everyone has the same aim: to unwind, stretch, breathe, relax and learn something new.

The Challenge

It’s a full Primary series class with traditional terminology used to call the postures (Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, anyone?) Do not let this put you off if you’re new to Ashtanga, Paul gives full demonstrations at the front of class.  As we moved our way through the sequence the heat began to rise and the sweat began to drip. This is a real workout but Paul continues to remind us to focus on our breath. He didn’t count the asanas (generally held for 5 breaths), which was new for me. Everyone’s five breath count is different and I find when I’m practicing alone my five breaths are someone else’s three. In Mysore classes you’re left to count your own breath so Paul’s class really helped me to understand how I should be breathing in my personal practice. In this class you can push yourself as far as your body and mind want to go. One of the hardest things to learn (at least for me and my big ego) when starting your yoga journey, is to hold back in postures. You see the flexible folk around you contorting themselves into pretzel like positions and you want to do that too. It’s better to listen to your body and feel good than copy someone else and feel pain. You will get there eventually, and you’ll have learnt patience in the process. Win/win! This is the perfect class if you’re looking for a new challenge; you’ll learn the asanas of the Ashtanga Primary Series and you’ll gain great foundations to develop your own practice in your own time. Just enjoy the journey!   Review by Sarah Later I was 19 years old when I took my very first yoga class - not only because I wanted to be uber fit and bendy but because I was anxious and stressed about everything I could find to be anxious and stressed about. For a little over a year now I’ve been a student of Matt’s and each day I grow a little more obsessed with this practice. So, I obviously jumped at the chance to practice with every Yoga Manchester teacher and then write about my experiences with each. I hope one of these reviews ignites enough curiosity in you to try a class; maybe you’ll fall in love too.