Recently a few people have mentioned how they don’t feel inspired by the name of Power Yoga for a class. Wonder what they would say if I told them that the founder of the original style of Power Yoga, Beryl [back] Bender Birch, set up the Hard and Soft Institute from which she now teaches. Are people surprised the original term and style was headed by a woman? Also isn’t it brilliant to learn her truly sensational name?
Power Yoga has evolved from its 1970s roots and even beyond Ashtanga, the system it was originally based on. Beryl’s second offering was Beyond Power Yoga giving people an insight into the more subtle elements of yoga practices and philosophy. And these Power Yoga Manchester classes are based on an evolved version of the pure Ashtanga sequence to make it more accessible to those wishing to try yoga but live a modern lifestyle of lots of sitting while at work or traveling.
Perhaps the idea of it conjures up a room full of competitive athletic types and weightlifters but that couldn’t be further from the reality. The intention of the use of the word power in this case, is intended as the individual’s power to change. Yes it involves a bit of core but anyone can do it, and the boon is that you can choose your own level to work to. One of the greatest benefits of a practice is being able to modify, and knowing how best to modify after chalking up a bit of experience. There are machines which cost ten of thousands that offer resistance training which measure isokinetic movements and provide the relevant pressure depending on what point of a stretch you’re at. You see, your muscles aren’t the same strength at every length, it varies. Knowing how to do this (and it’s extremely simple) is the most all round effective way to condition muscles, and it doesn’t take raising your heart rate (though you may still get a bit sweaty). Well, that’s a pretty powerful thing.
But what is it about the term power that makes people so uneasy about yoga? Or doesn’t it? Do you like Power Yoga? Have you ever tried? Would you? And if so, why (or why not)?
Has the term become synonymous with abuses of power, corruption or does it imply a battle of some description? Have we forgotten about powerful art, powerful moments like individuals who exercise their power without a crossed word to effect positive change? Let’s not forget the energetic element of electrical power, or the gravity and magnetism that compose our body energy to keep us alive. The classical term for this is prana, which we cultivate and direct through movement of the blood and muscles and feedback of the nervous system. The intelligent practice of Yoga has a very powerful effect on our energy levels depending on what we do with it during practice. We can be super tired or hugely energised when we’ve exercised our own power to make it what it is.
So what is it that makes power such a hot button? Would love to hear your powerful thoughts on it.

Hi my name is Matt Ryan and I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga all over the world now for the past 22 years.  As a beginner once myself I know how hard it can be not only trying to find the right class but being able to stick at it to turn that first class into a regular yoga practice.Yoga is a life long programme and we will get most benefit from it if we are able to do a little as often as we can. I have created the Couch to Yogi programme to not only start you on your own yoga journey but to help give you the support and encouragement you will need to transform your mind and body through a regular yoga practice into a better you. I have taught this programme to everyone from movie stars to my very own mum – with amazing results it’s a tried and tested formula that I’m sure you’re going to love – and it’s completely FREE. To access this course please click here.

So I have been teaching for 6 months now (and practising for nearly 10 years).  I am a beginner in the world of teaching. But I have been thinking about how much I enjoy teaching yoga beginners and why. I thought I would try and throw a short blog together to explain why it is awesome.

Don’t get me wrong. It is fun to teach avid yogis. It’s a different experience though. A different vibe (cosmic, man). It’s sort of like going to a gig of your favourite band and everyone else is on-board. They all love the band too and you are all having a good time. Its great to be with your peers and experience the yoga and all be into it. I don’t talk about energy that much, especially with beginners, but it is there and it can be ace.

For beginners it is more like getting someone into a band you like for the first time. Like you are that annoying person that loves that album, and says “OMG you have to hear it, it will change your life”. The other person is like “yeah whatever”. But they come back to you and they are like dude that album is sick, Rush are the greatest! (I have stopped short of playing Rush records in my classes so far, but watch this space for Prog-rock Yoga). Its such a great feeling to introduce someone to something cool.

You know, for all the talk of acceptance, energy and togetherness in yoga, the community has its share of cliques and elitism. Some of the culture is pretty annoying to be honest. With all the inspirational memes. The opaque waffling about the supernatural and parroting of esoteric philosophy. The marketing, aspirational designer yoga pants, and perfectly curated lives on social media (goats and beer??!). Not to mention tribalism between different schools of yoga. It gets a bit tiresome. You have to roll your eyes sometimes. This is coming from someone who is into yoga and has been doing it for years. Even I get put off by it. I remember Matt Ryan once telling me about his experiences in Mysore India and how dull it is to sit around listening to people talk about their practice and their Chakras, and how he would rather be out playing cricket in the street with the kids. I get that. You need a bit of a break or risk your head disappearing up your asana.

I’m not your typical yoga teacher though. I am not that bendy. I am tall and kind of heavy. You aren’t going to see me on instagram in a bikini with washboard abs (nobody wants to see that). More likely to find me watching horror films and playing boardgames… I’m a nerd basically. I remember my first yoga class and being scared. Thinking it would be stupid. Thinking I would look stupid. Thinking that I won’t be bendy enough (are we ever bendy enough? How bendy do you need to be?). I still remember being that guy, you know. In a lot of ways I still am and feel like a bit of an outsider. I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel that way. Or rather, I would want people to feel ok about it! If that makes sense. Thankfully I had an awesome teacher back in the day that blew my mind and made me feel welcome. Just a regular dude who does yoga. I love trying to pass that feeling on. Teaching the yoga as it was taught to me. In a down to earth, humorous way. Free of the crap and elitism that might put regular people off of coming to a class.

It is really refreshing to be in an environment that is back to basics, with beginners that have no idea and just want to do a bit of a yoga. It’s nice to get out of the yoga bubble and feel what it is really about. I think it makes you a better teacher. Keeps you grounded in reality, “keeping it real” as Matt would say. It encourages you to make the teachings relatable and accessible to normal people in their every day lives. There is a big difference between what you learn on teacher training and what you do in practice (much like anything I suppose). Especially if you did a teacher training on a fancy retreat in Thailand, and come back to teach on the damp streets of Manchester. For one, beginners make you more aware of the language you are using and have you rely less on cues like “between two panes of glass”. I think sometimes yoga is a bit of an impenetrable wall of clichés and abstract phrases. There are so many yoga cues and slogans that just sound ridiculous when you say them to a room of people who have never done yoga before. You get some pretty confused looks. Teaching beginners makes you try harder to make more relatable cues and show people how it is applicable to them and examples of how it will make them feel better.

When you try to creep in some of the more subtle philosophy and mediation elements it is important to keep it real and not get too abstract, I think. It has to make sense to people’s daily life and be approachable. I am inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhist Brad Warner and his brand of grass roots DIY Punk Rock Zen. At the end of the day Zen is a very egalitarian practice of ‘just sitting’. A reformation of Buddhism and stripping back of the rituals, but is no less meaningful. It can be a challenge to get people to just sit and breathe. It is difficult to just sit without a goal or instructions (hey, its a challenge for me as well. Kind of the point I guess). But I love it because of how accessible and real it is. Without its reliance on music and mantras or what you believe in. It’s all about getting back to basics with people. It helps me personally see and feel the effects in myself. A practical way-out of the often esoteric and abstract world of the avid yogi.

You get into the swing of things when you have a group of regulars each week. You have fun and feel that vibe when you are on the same page. But when someone new walks in you have to shift into a different gear and make sure what you are saying and doing makes sense again. It helps you build those student teacher relationships. It ends up teaching you to tailor the yoga to the audience and really shows how it isn’t one size fits all. It is so inspirational to have people coming back the next week and surprise you and themselves. I want to break their preconceptions like they were broken for me. It is totally the best thing about doing it. It is awesome to see people getting into it and feeling accepted and like they can be themselves. You didn’t put someone off for life. Someone thought you knew what you were talking about and enjoyed what you were on about. Week on week they start to have a bit of a laugh. They are less anxious and awkward and trying new things and walk out feeling better than they did when they came in. Even if it is just a little bit better. It feels great to pass that on to other people.

So if you are a beginner who has never been to a class before! Come along. I know I am not the only one that loves blowing minds and having my mind blown. It will most definitely help bring us as teachers back down to earth and try that bit harder. But it is the most rewarding thing about teaching.

Barry Norton is teaching Yoga for Runners (Wednesdays in Didsbury) & Yoga for Cyclists (Mondays in Chorlton).

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.




The beginner/advanced conundrum

I’ve spoken about this subject quite a lot recently, after my last piece one student mentioned that it was hard to untangle the idea that somehow being more flexible i.e. the ability to get your leg behind your neck etc equals being more advanced in a physical yoga asana practice. I must admit this is made all the more difficult when the sequences in the Ashtanga System are referred to numerically e.g. first series, second series, third series etc – sometimes the 3rd,4th , 5th and 6th series get categorised as the ‘advanced sequences’. I guess one way of looking at it is this: are you practicing yoga to look good or feel good? You can see the obvious pitfalls of practicing yoga to look good as then practice becomes ALL about whether you can get your legs behind your head where as if you’re practicing to feel good you instinctively know it makes NO DIFFERENCE WHATS SO EVER if you can get your legs behind your head* or not.

Looking at the history of Ashtanga Yoga and the genius of its creator Krishnamacharya one could see that this problem of wanting to look good could have started way back in the early 1900’s.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (TK) was a yoga pioneer a man with a phenomenal wealth of knowledge about the various practices of yoga – a majority of modern day yoga practices can be traced back to either his creation or his influence.

In and around the 1920’s in the city of Mysore, South India the practice known today as Ashtanga Yoga was created by Krishnamacharya. There are schools of thought that believe this practice that TK ‘evolved’ and passed onto his student and another incredible yogi Sri K Pattabhi Jois ‘Guruji’ is over 5,000 years old, but for me the authenticity of a yoga practice (Ashtanga or otherwise) should not come from how old you think it is but if it actually works. If the answer to the latter is a resounding YES then the question of how old the practice is, is irrelevant.

To spread the good word of his teachings around the country, TK would take groups of his students to small towns and villages and then lead them through a demonstration of yoga postures in front of the locals  and hey presto the aesthetical wow factor of advanced yoga postures was born. Now I’m pretty sure TK used these demonstrations to get the attention of people to turn them onto the possibilities of a physical yoga practice and not to start a trend in people wanting to compete with each other like Yoga B-Boys (or Girls!)  Indeed this last point was emphasised by Guruji some years later when he made the statement..

“Primary series is very important, second series of somewhat importance third series for demonstration only”

It would be fascinating to chart the rise of Ashtanga Yoga and it’s off shoots (vinyasa style yoga etc) in the west to see if there was a specific tipping point, a sudden mass turning of light bulbs above heads moment as our ‘must win’ western DNA registered a potential achievement based yoga system. Blinded by the aforementioned titles of the sequences yoga students being sucked into a vortex of postural mistaken identity, ‘if I can manage leg behind head that equals being advanced’ rhetoric. I wonder if Ashtanga would be as popular if the sequences had a re brand, so instead of the ‘advanced series’ we would be presented with ‘for those with loads of time on their hands sequence’ or perhaps ‘the really really really flexible series’?

This is not a broadside at Ashtanga Yoga – far from it – I’ve been practicing this form now for over 15 years and the impact it has had on my life –physically and more importantly mentally is unbelievable. In one sense the question of how to untangle being advanced from being more flexible is the paradox of Ashtanga Yoga that perhaps can only be concluded not through intellectual understanding but by getting on the mat and working it out for yourself. There are teachers like Australian Matthew Sweeney who have a lot to say on this subject. Matthew elucidates about the Ashtanga practice in a very coherent and logical way, his recent blog on the evolution of Ashtanga Yoga for me is essential reading for any yoga student.

There is another potential ‘spanner in the works’ with the many meanings attached to the word Yoga. The original meaning of Yoga was one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu Philosophy – nothing to do with physical stretching or breathing, but a system to achieve Samadhi (to become one with the divine or spiritual enlightenment). Fast forward 2,000 years or so the meaning of the word Yoga has become very different. Most people in the west would now associate the word yoga with a physical discipline of stretching and breathing exercises. The reasons for this change in meanings is too convoluted to explain here  but if you are interested in  why this happened pick up a copy of Mark Singleton’s excellent ‘Yoga Body’ book . So present day the spiritual aspect of Yoga has now been ‘grafted’ onto the physical practice and there’s this idea in some circles that the more you can stretch the body equals the more spiritual you are- which to anyone with at least half a brain cell is just plain daft. Yes the physical practice of yoga does make you feel good so in turn you are more likely to buy the big issue or agree with your partner about the colour of the paint in the kitchen, but this sense of wellbeing has nothing to do with how flexible you are – none. And nor does the ability to do advanced series elevate you to a higher plain or somehow give you the meaning to life or the key to all things esoteric – you are rewarded with a more strong flexible body – and that’s it- which begs the further question just how flexible does one person need to be anyway?

It can be so easy to get caught up in ‘it’s all about me’ – my yoga practice, my leg behind my head on my yoga mat …this me ness (just missing an ‘a’ perhaps) was highlighted beautifully by George Harrison in his song ‘I Me Mine’ (apparently the song was about the egos in the Beatles which ultimately split the group up). But life as we know it my good people is a team game, and we all know the cliché about there not being an ‘I’ in team. Let’s look at our yoga practice not in what it can do for us, but what can it do for us to help others. Can we use this sense of wellbeing our yoga practice creates to forget about me for a moment and to help us think about the rest of the stuff that goes on outside of our 6 foot by 2 foot purple / blue / green / shocking pink yoga mat…

Ashtanga Yoga teacher David Swenson likens practices like yoga pranayama meditation etc to a farmer tilling the soil on his land, so whatever goes into the soil (or the yoga practice etc ) will be cultivated. So if your practice becomes ‘all about me’ then that is what will be cultivated but just more of it. If you are able to move away from ‘me’ and have a sense of helping everyone else then that too will be cultivated, so it becomes self-fulfilling. New York Ashtangi Eddie Stern says ‘Yoga helps you to be a better you’.

David Swenson has a wonderful true story about how he left home to search the world for the most spiritual people and practices , and after some time he realised that the most spiritual people he knew were actually his own parents , neither of whom had done a day’s yoga practice in their life. Yoga can help shape and change your life for the better, but more importantly it can help you have a positive impact on those people around you family and friends. And through the ripples of the universe these positive powerful seeds of our actions will spread to everyone everywhere.

*  I’ve mentioned a few times about leg behind head in the above as if this posture was the ‘crowning glory’ of a physical yoga practice. It’s not, it’s just another yoga posture.