Yoga Manchester Weird Weekend - Part 1 - An evening with a Zen Master

Manchester’s chief yogi Matt Ryan sends me a text at 8am on a Thursday morning asking if Brad Warner can stay at my house for a couple of hours that evening. ”Erm, what? Ok… ”. It was hard to believe and a bit of a surreal experience. For those who don’t know Brad Warner is a Zen Priest and all round cool guy. Punk Rock Bass player, Monster movie fanatic and author of Hardcore Zen. He was on the last leg of his European tour hosting Zen retreats and meditation workshops while promoting his latest book, Don't Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan's Greatest Zen Master. I have been a fan of Brad Warner for several years, read all of his books and have mad respect for the guy. The person Brad was staying with is out and Matt is busy teaching, and Brad can’t be wandering the streets of Chorlton on his own now can he? Suddenly this world famous Zen priest is coming to my house for tea. Tonight! Matt asked me to write a blog about it. But fair warning, I am no Louis Theroux, unfortunately. It sounded like the set up to a sit-com. Like an episode of Father Ted (second best priest). Bishop Brennan was coming round and I have to hide all the rabbits. Thankfully I didn’t have to kick Brad up the arse for a bet. Though it was probably more like that episode of I'm Alan Partridge, where Alan ends up captive in the home of a deranged superfan! I felt an enormous responsibility. I am the most socially awkward person there is. Basically I am anxious enough around people I know, let alone famous strangers I admire. It had been a bit of a crap week as well, you know. Just a bit miserable. I’m currently working at the Yoga Manchester 200 hour teacher training and had been feeling a bit stressed. A chance to meet a personal hero and have tea with a Zen master sounded like just what the doctor ordered. Matt dropped Brad off and waved goodbye. Brad said "See you next fall!". As I am sure scenes from Stephen King’s Misery flashed through his head and his ankles started to hurt, I said "I promise not to kidnap you". Then I put the kettle on. Potential Kidnapper I may or may not be, but a monster I am not. He noticed my Rush t-shirt and my girlfriend’s Rush tattoos and we started talking about our favourite Rush albums. Traditionally, punk rocker and prog rockers are two different beasts. It was a test and he passed! After scanning my bookshelf and checking out the old sci-fi novels (ignoring the collection of his own books that were definitely not put there to impress him), THE Brad Warner was sat on my couch drinking peppermint tea. He was tired and confessed to falling asleep during an afternoon trip to the cinema. Brad Warner does not recommend Blade Runner 2049, I bring that to you as a world exclusive. We got talking about Blade Runner, the book and the original film. While Brad scanned my living room and my film collection, we got talking about my Doctor Who action figures and more old sci-fi/horror films. We discussed the ace special effects in old films like Star Wars, The Blob, and John Carpenter's The Thing. We sat complaining about how CGI looks rubbish and old practical effects are the best. Like a pair of hipsters.  Not surprising considering Brad used to work in Japan making old Power Rangers-style TV shows and Godzilla-esque monster movies. Special effects are like his specialist subject, next to Buddhism obviously. It was cool to find common ground and just talk rubbish about nerdy stuff. He recounted a story of how he saw the original Star Wars as a kid at a test screening while it was completely unknown, months before it came out. He was saying how he was blown away by it and raving about it at school to one of his friends. This guy was not interested because Brad is into all 'weird' stuff. Later when Star Wars was released this guy was all over it like everyone else. "What a phony! I lost respect for that guy", Brad said. "We are still friends on Facebook though. He was an asshole". I laughed at the idea of this Zen priest who is still Facebook friends with someone from highschool, but remembers that disagreement they had about Star Wars 40 years ago. Maybe not the most Zen thing ever but funny all the same. Brad became excited when he saw the cat's food bowl in the kitchen. Like, really excited! Brad Warner is a cat person. Another world exclusive. My girlfriend summoned the cat from outside. Little Loki, all black, queen of the castle came strolling in to see who was trespassing in her living room. She took a shine to Brad as he engaged her in combat. Loki loves a bit of a wrestle and relished the appearance of a new challenger, settling in for strokes and fusses afterwards. It was cute because Loki is a beast and is wary of strangers. Is the power to commune with animals a Buddhist thing? I dunno. Maybe just with cats. Cats are pretty Zen about things aren't they. Maybe cats are like Klingons and respect a true warrior. Brad had the Loki seal of approval. I could tell Brad had been eyeing up my bass guitar since he came in and asked if he could have a go on it. He had been on tour for weeks doing meditation workshops and silent retreats and he really missed playing. I gave him my guitar and we talked about bass. He noodled around on it trying to remember basslines from his band Zero Defex. Slapping out some funky licks and even chugging out the riff to Working Man by Rush. He really seemed to chill out a bit more with a guitar in his hands. Brad was telling me about another punk rock Buddhist author (I forget his name, probably for the best as not to call them out). Brad said that one time his own book Hardcore Zen was printed with a picture of this other guy in it. Pretty awkward... “He is more punk looking than me, with the skinhead and everything”, said Brad. Apparently this chap was a hardcore biker and drug addict, who found Buddhism and turned his life around. Which is the typical narrative of the self-help guru that seems kind of cynical these days. Brad was saying that his publisher tried to get him to spin his story in a similar way, to spice it up with tales of addiction and redemption. "But that isn’t my story" said Brad. His is a kind of everyday Buddhism that anyone can relate to, and his whole thing is that he's a relatable guy. Brad laughed telling me how he was doing a talk/retreat type event and the promoters had done a poster showing Brad on stage bringing the noise with Zero Defex in one picture, and another picture of Brad in robes, saying something like "He went from Punk rocker to Zen priest". Brad told them "It's not really like that. I am still in the band. There was no transformation or turning my life around. I do both of those things". I thought that summed up Brad pretty well. We chatted some more about music, bands and cats. Brad eventually getting his phone out to show us some of the celebrity animals he likes on instagram. Him and my girlfriend trading recommendations on who to follow for the best animal pictures. On reflection we didn’t talk about Zen at all really. It was all just normal stuff. Nerdy sci-fi and horror. Cool bands. Quoting episodes of Seinfeld at each other. It was kind of demystifying the Zen Master, I guess. The man, the myth and the legend. Getting past that title of 'priest', that Brad frequently tends to renounce. He ignored my obvious fanboy awkwardness and adoration and just shrugged it off. I expect he is used to it with his students and meeting fans. Really he is just a normal guy. For all his insight, wisdom and knowledge, he is a regular dude and a nerd. You could almost say that he is just a nerd about Buddhism as well.  

Weird Weekend - Part 2 - The workshop.

Saturday rolled around for the weekend workshop with Brad Warner at One Yoga in sunny Chorlton (I jest, obviously it was raining…). It was a pretty good turn out. There were about 20 people, and Brad joked that he is never sure if even one person will come and thanked everyone for being there. We were all gathered round and Brad sat at the front of the room on his little cushion. He was surrounded by books and had a digital recorder by his side. The leader, teacher and scholar. The Zen Master. Except he wasn’t in robes. He was wearing jeans and a Godzilla T-shirt. Yup. Still the same Brad I met on Thursday. Brad asked everyone around the room what they knew about Zen and why they were here. Everyone had a different story. Some knew about Zen. Some had read other authors, from other disciplines and had come for a different perspective. Others were complete newbies and were dipping their toe in. It was a nice mix of people from different backgrounds. Intellectuals, spiritual types, and just curious dudes off the street. All had come to hear Brad talk about Zen. It is awesome to listen to Brad speak. Once he gets going he is so enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable. Giving a brief history of Buddhism and Zen mixed with some of his life story. He is a fantastic storyteller and has a way of explaining things in a fun manner. He frequently references pop-culture, like The Simpson's and Seinfeld. Explaining Buddhist koans with reference to the dimension jumping adventures of Rick and Morty. Relating Buddhist philosophy of ethics and concepts of the self, to a dilemma of Captain Kirk in an episode of Star Trek The Original series. Even comparing himself to Pee Wee Herman; He’s a loner, Dottie. A Rebel. It makes things fun and entertaining. All the while he exhibits a detailed knowledge of ancient history in India, Japan and China. Quoting texts in Sanskrit, Japanese and English, he explains translations in historical context with his own commentary, which I think really helps make these things applicable to the modern world. Knowing what the words meant in their time and how they apply today. His method of teaching is seamless. It is hard to see where nerdy sci-fi Brad ends and where wise scholarly Zen Master Brad begins. They are one in the same. Brad is a nerd about everything he likes and he really likes Zen Buddhism.   We were instructed in how to sit Zazen and had a couple of practice sessions. The first was for 30 minutes and another 20 minute session at the end. I think one of the things that attracts me to Zen and zazen is it’s accessibility. It requires very little ritual and few props. It is open to anyone. As Brad says “it doesn’t care what you believe”. It is the practice of Just sitting. I think that Brad represents this egalitarian nature of the practice. He opens up the practice, the ideas and philosophy to everyone and presents it in a way that doesn’t scare people off. He is a very wise dude. Down to earth and approachable, but with an amazing knowledge and insight that he can convey in a common sense way and make relevant to modern life. During the short break Brad came up to me and asked “Is it everything you hoped for?”. I was like “Yeah man, its great”. Was Brad asking for my approval? He was like “I never really know how people will take it”. I said “It is just fun to listen to you geek out about this stuff. It is really interesting!”. He confesses that he doesn’t really plan things too much. But I think it works. I can’t speak for others obviously, but for me it is fun to listen to him ramble and he has a natural way of stringing subjects together. Brad stuck around for a bit after the event to take photos with people and sign their books. I remembered that I didn’t get him to sign any of my books when he was round my house! D’oh. Oh well. I got to hang out with the guy which was an honour. It didn’t end there though. Matt invited me and my girlfriend out to dinner with Brad and a few friends afterwards. I awkwardly accepted. It was a cool end to the week and in a way completed the Brad Warner ‘Weird Weekend’ experience. I got to see him alone in my house like a hostage. I got to see him doing his wise Zen Master thing on the zufu preaching to his pupils. Now I got to break bread with him in a more socialable group setting. It was a fun evening, talking rubbish, joking around, putting the world to rights with good company and eating a tonne of food. I think we were all way more relaxed by this point and I had a ruddy bloody good end to the week. Brad was heading back to LA the next day but he seemed to have enjoyed his tour and his visit to Manchester. We loved having you Brad. Be seeing you.  
My Zen teacher Brad Warner (whose brilliant book Sit Down and Shut Up inspired the title of this blog) said once that he’s noticed that when he gives a talk about Zen loads of people show up , yet when he’s leading a ‘zazen’ meditation he’s main companions are tumble weeds. It feels a little like it’s going the same way with Yoga. Every day I’m reading yet another story on Facebook ( not that I go on Facebook) ( Ok well maybe I do but not that much) (aarrgh ok I go on it every day ok !! ) about how this teacher said this and another teacher said that – contradictions and cyber back biting aplenty. Every Woman ,Man and dog have an opinion on what Yoga is or supposed to be and if you don’t fall in with their opinion then you’re either wrong or stupid or both! It feels like there could be a 21st Century re-writing of Patanjali’s second sutra ‘Yoga is the cessation of actually doing yoga and just talking about it on Facebook instead’! What I’m loving at the moment though is this current trend of some teachers talking about how yoga is so , so much more than postures and there’s a real spiritual profundity about it that is being missed by students. Oh and the photo of the article? Why of course it’s of the said teacher in some fancy smancy toe up asana – a lovely contradiction eh. It’s funny how most of the teachers who can rock all the advanced postures bang on about how it’s not all about doing the advanced postures and yet at any photo opportunity they get they will rock an advanced posture. Then the flip side to that particular coin is the less physically able yoga folk will then get on their high-horse about how outraged they are that Yoga is being turned into a circus art. It’s pretty funny to watch from the side lines as an innocent bystander. I spent what seemed like 3 days reading one particular article recently, I don’t think I even finished it as it became a little like pulling teeth and also life’s too short and of course I had to go and do my practice. In the article one teacher was calling out another teacher for basically doing something they didn’t agree with – well rather not doing something which the writer thought that they should be doing. I was like eh ? Really? This is something that annoys me a lot, I guess we all do it to some extent (myself included). We make judgements on other people and their actions, and usually that judgement is based on the fact that we wouldn’t act like that so the person must be wrong. Which is just plain daft. Then there’s the cyber jousting he said / she said , my teacher says it’s this , well my teachers says that. It can be a real minefield for new yoga students trying to understand what they should be doing what they shouldn’t. I think it’s good to listen to opinions, points of views, and even contradictions too. But the trick is to not get too caught up in them. I’ve learnt over time that just getting on my mat answers any questions that I might have.   I came across this quote the other day
The first time I played a bass, I was successful. Success is not a goal. Success is in the doing. Always.
- Ian MacKaye owner of Dischord Records, Which I thought was absolutely brilliant – the same philosophy could and should be applied to a yoga practice. In fact I’ll go as far to say that this should be lesson #1 for ALL yoga students getting on the mat for the first time. A very similar message can be found in this cartoon… digging for the bone is the reward   Which I also love – I found this on yes you guessed it Facebook a few months back and I’ve used the message in class plenty of times – it’s another beauty for anyone who practices yoga. But I must admit as much as it’s about ‘the doing’ it’s only human nature to get a sense of accomplishment when we’ve finished our practice , or perhaps the first time you touch your toes or bind the hands in Marichyasana A. That very same part of our DNA that says ‘YES’ when that happens is also the very same thing that actually gets us to class in the first place , without it we’d be staying at home eating chips , looking at Facebook.   Save
Ok I’ll ‘fess up here. I’ve written about this subject before many times, but it’s a theme that crops up again and again in both my yoga & meditation practices. My crazy Zen teacher Brad Warner wrote about it very eloquently in a recent blog post which made me want to reiterate the point–more for myself than anyone else. I guess the ‘theme’ can be boiled down to one word.. ..Expectations. What is the criteria that fulfils our expectations from practice? Be it to become strong fit and flexible from yoga asana or perhaps we use meditation to become more mindful, chilled out or even to achieve enlightenment whatever the hell that is, we all start or continue with these disciplines for a reason. My own reasons for starting yoga (and meditation) were all mind based but I did have expectations that these practices were going to ‘fix’ my mind. And just for the record here I continue to have expectations as much as the next person. But as I mentioned in a previous blog what the hell happens when your practices aint ticking your expectation boxes?  Where do you go from there? Do you pack it in? Do you keep going until your donkey & carrot expectations are fulfilled in a never ending chasing your tail ‘kinda way? I guess for myself I only truly understood about expectations when I started to do this Zazen thang (Zazen is the ‘Zen’ Buddhist form of meditation). There are actually a few different methods of ‘Zazen’, and the one I practice is called shikantaza (pronounced she-can-tar-za) which literally means ‘just sitting’. In shikantaza all we are doing is just sitting up straight on a ‘zafu’ (meditation cushion) in full lotus, half-lotus or with cross legs with eyes open looking at a wall (I’ll elaborate the wall thing in another blog) . So there’s no counting breaths or reciting mantras or any other similar methods that one would do in other meditation practices. When one does shikantaza you’re not trying to get anywhere or achieve anything which is probably the complete antithesis of everything you’ve been taught and begs the question ‘why on earth would you want to sit and stare at a wall for 40 minutes a day if it’s not actually doing anything’? And believe you me that particular question does crop up a bazillion times when I’m sitting. When I ask Brad how to deal with this endless questioning by my mind his answer is always the same. ‘Just sit Matt’ he says. ‘Ah ok, thanks’ I would reply. End of lesson. Just sit! Now in Yoga asana there are obvious tangible benefits when you start practicing. After a while maybe you can touch your toes (or even see your toes), your shoulders and hips feel looser and usually there is a general feeling of well-being after your yoga practice. But in my own experience these benefits start to become less obvious after a while, I mean I’m fairly flexible now and there’s a chunk of yoga postures in the Ashtanga practice that I can’t do and probably never will be able to , and sometimes my mind is as messy as it was before I had practiced that day. So rather than beat myself up about it I heed Brad’s words about sitting and apply it to yoga – I just practice. There’s something very powerful in the ability to do something ‘just for the sake of doing it’, to achieve nothing in particular, without any grand mental or physical expectations. Nothing (or the northern colloquialism ‘Nowt’) is where it’s at, man! There is a fly in this expectation less ointment though. How can you stop the mind expecting? And here’s the secret answer that I am giving you for FREE that other Yoga/Meditation snake charmers might charge you the earth for. You can’t. Really it’s that simple. As I mentioned before your mind literally has a mind of its own. Its job is to think. What it thinks you have absolutely no control over what’s so ever and therein lies the problem, we think we can control the mind but the reality is we can’t – so why bother trying! What we can do is not react to our endless cycle of mundane incessant questions the mind conjures up. My body is still stiff and I’ve been practicing yoga for 5 and a half weeks now  , I can’t get my leg(s) behind my head , my practice doesn’t feel as good as it did last week and on and on it goes. So rather than have answers for these questions or even trying to fulfill the expectations you just carry on doing your practice and accept that it’s just the mind carrying on with itself. As Brad says ‘A big part of doing shikantaza practice is learning how to be OK with your thoughts being completely out of control’. And it’s the same with Yoga asana too. Both these practices for me are the same thing – as Yoga teacher David Williams says ‘Yoga & Meditation are synonyms’. So next time you come to one of my classes and you ask me why you can’t get your leg behind your head or why you can’t touch your toes I’ll most likely tell you to not worry too much and ‘just practice’.      
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.  
My Zen teacher Brad Warner (whose brilliant book Sit Down and Shut Up inspired the title of this blog) said once that he’s noticed when he gives a talk about Zen loads of people show up , yet when he’s leading a ‘zazen’ meditation his main companions are tumble weeds. It feels a little like it’s going the same way with Yoga. Every day I’m reading yet another story on Facebook ( not that I go on Facebook) ( Ok well maybe I do but not that much) (aarrgh ok I go on it every day ok !! ) about how this teacher said this and another teacher said that – contradictions and cyber back biting aplenty. Every Woman ,Man and dog have an opinion on what Yoga is or supposed to be and if you don’t fall in with their opinion then you’re either wrong or stupid or both! It feels like there could be a 21st Century re-writing of Patanjali’s second sutra ‘Yoga is the cessation of actually doing yoga and just talking about it on Facebook instead’! What I’m loving at the moment though is this current trend of some teachers talking about how yoga is so , so much more than postures and there’s a real spiritual profundity about it that is being missed by students. Oh and the photo of the article? Why of course it’s of the said teacher in some fancy smancy toe up asana – a lovely contradiction eh. It’s funny how most of the teachers who can rock all the advanced postures bang on about how it’s not all about doing the advanced postures and yet at any photo opportunity they get they will rock an advanced posture. Then the flip side to that particular coin is the less physically able yoga folk will then get on their high-horse about how outraged they are that Yoga is being turned into a circus art. It’s pretty funny to watch from the side lines as an innocent bystander. I spent what seemed like 3 days reading one particular article recently, I don’t think I even finished it as it became a little like pulling teeth and also life’s too short and of course I had to go and do my practice. In the article one teacher was calling out another teacher for basically doing something they didn’t agree with – well rather not doing something which the writer thought that they should be doing. I was like eh ? Really? This is something that annoys me a lot, I guess we all do it to some extent (myself included). We make judgements on other people and their actions, and usually that judgement is based on the fact that we wouldn’t act like that so the person must be wrong. Which is just plain daft. Then there’s the cyber jousting he said / she said , my teacher says it’s this , well my teacher says it's that. It can be a real minefield for new yoga students trying to understand what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t. I think it’s good to listen to opinions, points of views, and even contradictions too. But the trick is to not get too caught up in them. I’ve learnt over time that just getting on my mat answers any questions that I might have.   I came across this quote the other day
The first time I played a bass, I was successful. Success is not a goal. Success is in the doing. Always.
- Ian MacKaye owner of Dischord Records, Which I thought was absolutely brilliant – the same philosophy could and should be applied to a yoga practice. In fact I’ll go as far to say that this should be lesson #1 for ALL yoga students getting on the mat for the first time. A very similar message can be found in this cartoon… digging for the bone is the reward   Which I also love – I found this on yes you guessed it Facebook a few months back and I’ve used the message in class plenty of times – it’s another beauty for anyone who practices yoga. But I must admit as much as it’s about ‘the doing’ it’s only human nature to get a sense of accomplishment when we’ve finished our practice , or perhaps the first time you touch your toes or bind the hands in Marichyasana A. That very same part of our DNA that says ‘YES’ when that happens is also the very same thing that actually gets us to class in the first place , without it we’d be staying at home eating chips , looking at Facebook.  

Addendum ....

  yoga quiters   Baby, life’s (and Yoga is) what YOU make it… So carrying on from the above about this new Facebook phenomenon of venting one’s Yoga spleen on Social Media I seem to be reading a sudden increase in yet another new angle on FB… the yoga quitters .. Usually the piece is titled something like this ‘Why I quit yoga’ or ‘Yoga is no good’ etc. with the writer blaming the practice for burning them out or one particular post claimed that other students were not being spiritual enough . I’ve seen ‘burn out’ happen quite a lot over the few years I’ve been teaching. A new student comes to class falls in love with the practice and then for the next few weeks / months they go hell for leather into it without being able to moderate themselves, and after a while I never see them again. It happens , no biggie – people are people we are all different and usually folk will gravitate quite naturally towards a yoga practice that fits with their personality ( a friend of mine used to joke that Ashtanga Yoga was a practice for obsessive westerners – cheers for that Dan !!) N.B. Yoga will not burn you out , YOU will burn yourself out. And for the folk who quit yoga because other students don't live up to your spiritual expectations I'll leave you with yet another quote ..

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.

Robert M.Pirsig. We can quite easily re-calibrate the quote to the following..
The only Shanti you can find in a Yoga Shala , is the Shanti that you take in with you.
Matt Ryan : )  
I started meditating a little bit before I started practicing yoga over 15 years ago although my first couple of attempts didn’t go according to plan. I remember after I’d finished one session I went into the kitchen and lifted the lid up of the bin thinking it was the toilet – I did realise my schoolboy error before ‘anything’ happened but it freaked me out a little so I gave meditation a really wide berth until about 5 years ago. ( I think it hindsight this potential toilet disaster had more to do with my state of mind at the time rather than anything else!) Anyway I got back on the cushion around 5 years ago after reading this book called Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. I had bought something on Amazon and I got caught up (like everyone does) in the ‘if you liked that book you might like this one’ section and Brad’s book was shouting at me ‘buy me buy me buy me’ So I bought it and I’m glad I did. Like Yoga , Meditation comes in various guises and it just so happened that this practice was the ‘Zen Buddhist’ method and it promised absolutely nothing which I thought intriguing to say the least. Most if not all meditation & yoga practices are promising something, be it a healthy body or a quiet mind but zazen ( zazen is the zen practice of meditation) promised ‘nowt! Yikes – so I jumped in. So fast forward 5 years , no in fact let’s just fast forward 3 years to 2013. By this time I’d gotten in touch with Brad via email and 83 emails later I finally persuaded him to come over to Manchester to teach a couple of workshops (this year will be his 5th visit to our beloved rainy city). In 2014 I really went the whole hog and took the ‘precepts’ with Brad to become a fully paid up member of the Zen Buddhist society. Brad is a complete dude. No joke. He’s not your average Zen Master , he also happens to play bass with US hardcore punk band zero defx – he’s also written 5 books on zen and a couple of novels too – this guy is no slouch. He’s also got his own documentary – which features yours truly. Last April I took myself all the way over to Mount Baldy Zen Center on the outskirts of L.A. for a 3 day Sesshin with Brad. A Sesshin is an extended meditation that includes sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting, oryoki (a formal, meditative way of eating), Dharma talks by the sesshin leader and a meditative work period. Mount Baldy is absolutely stunning it’s full of rocks and trees and I love love love rocks and trees – the views aint too shabby either. It’s interesting for me to see how this zazen practice that promises nothing is slowly moving ahead of my yoga asana practice which gives me an all singing all dancing flexible body. I guess the yoga laid the foundation for the zazen - they work with and for each other. These days with little Agnes Boo my 20 month old daughter keeping me busy sometimes I don't have time to fit both zazen & yoga into my schedule of Peppa Pig, going to the park and preventing Boo from writing on the walls of her bedroom , so I'll skip the asana and just do the zazen. In the words of Kodo Sawaki (Brad’s teacher’s teacher) ‘Because zazen takes you out of the world of loss and gain, it should be practiced'. And so I do it.