This month’s Yoga Manchester People blog features Kieron James. Kieron has been a Yoga Manchester regular for over 10 years, he has just set up Wonderful.org– for more info see below .. Q1. Tell us a bit about yourself (tell us some things about where you’re from, where you live, hobbies, family and pets, what you do for a living)
I'm Kieron. I grew up in Glossop, travelled a bit, married a Spaniard, travelled a bit more, had three children (whilst travelling) and for the last dozen or so years, we've made our home in South Manchester. Though I guess many would make the same claim, I'm the luckiest husband and father alive. I'm indebted to Elisa, my wife, for putting up with me for almost thirty years and immensely proud of our three grown up children, Carmen, Gabi and Dan. We also have a thirteen year old bearded collie who has the energy and vitality of a pup (I'm not bitter at all).
  Q2. What are you currently listening to? Tell us about it (What’s in your CD player, on Spotify or who’s your favourite musician/band, perhaps your current, favourite radio station or the sound coming from someone’s phone on the back of the 86 bus?)
Deep house. That may be a massive yawn for some people, but as a hobbyist producer with a handful of signed releases and as a bedroom DJ, deep house music is what I really enjoy creating and mixing. This means I find myself listening to a lot of deep stuff for inspiration, because I love the talent of the genre's producers. That said, I do try to make sure that firing up iTunes, SoundCloud or Mixcloud doesn't always feel like a busman's holiday, so I'll often mix things up with some 80s classics - invariably electronic though.
  Q3. What brought you to yoga and how long have you been practising? (Tell us about your first class, or what brought you to it, or how your practice has changed)
A conversation across a checkout conveyor belt. Really. A guy I'd got chatting with when picking up my lunch from the supermarket suggested going to his yoga class when I mentioned I was running at the weekend. He thought it'd be good for tight hamstrings. I thought it'd be a breeze. Guess who was right. Completely beaten up after 45 minutes, I was sold. After a few weeks, I attended my first workshop (with equal naivety and enthusiasm) - a weekend with Danny Paradise hosted by Yoga Manchester. Whilst the whole thing was pretty ludicrous for someone with my (in)ability, I was astonished at how welcoming and patient everybody was - both with my silly questions and unyielding joints. Undeterred, I've continued ever since and practice five times a week (mostly) and find that yoga offers a lovely contrast and complement to running and gym.
  Q4. What is your yoga super power? (Tell us about a posture or feature of your yoga practice that you’re really good at, or that you enjoy the most)
I love headstands to the point of boring people to death with highly predictable Instagram posts accompanied by asinine comments like "sirsasana on the beach," or "upside down you turn me." Well, it's more fun than packing a teddy to snap in exotic locations - at least for me. The irony of reading all that stuff about the calming benefits of inversions when I was spending so much time crashing to the floor is not lost on me. I also love utpluthih - as long as I've been using the nee-jis Matt supplied beforehand.
  Q5. If you could be a character in a well-known film, who would you be and why? (You might need to give a brief explanation of what the film is about, if it’s an obscure one)
I'd love to be Top Cat, but the truth is, I'm much more Benny the Ball (or even Officer Dibble). Undoubtedly my favourite cartoon series, I will hold a very deep grudge against the building society which has hijacked my childhood [I'm rolling out my mat and taking 10 deep breaths after acknowledging this].
Q6. Where in Manchester (or where in the world) is heaven? (This might be a museum or park you like to visit, a restaurant you frequent, an area of the city that has fond memories or Leo’s Fish Bar at 2am on a Saturday morning)
Verona. We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary there and have been back every year since. We even stay in the same hotel room. We do love to travel further afield, but this holiday is a constant we're unlikely to give up. There's something immediately comforting about arriving at the same place, visiting the same restaurant, being welcomed by the same people. The old part of the city is beautiful and though we tramp a few familiar streets year in, year out, we simply love it.
Q7. If you could go back in time to see something or change something, what would it be?
"Despacito" - There you go, by the time I'd typed the last syllable, it's rattling around in my head with a promise not to leave until the day's out. And now it's in yours too. (You're welcome.) I've absolutely nothing against the 5 billion streams, or Luis Fonsa, but I dearly wish I could unhear that song.
 
Wonderful.org
When I hit the wonderful 50, I thought it was about time I did something useful. With access to some amazing people and IT infrastructure, we set about building an online fundraising platform which would operate as a non-profit and cover all the charges associated with raising cash for charities. Having taken part in a few running events over the years, I was frustrated (read 'fuming') to learn that JustGiving had deducted 5% to cover its own costs (read 'generate enough revenue and profit to attract a £95m acquisition') from family, friends and colleagues who had supported those fundraising runs. Their generosity was, of course, intended for the charities I was running for, rather than a profit-making intermediary. So we created Wonderful.org. All fees associated with raising money for worthy causes are covered by our Corporate Sponsors so that charities receive every penny from donations, including Gift Aid. Nobody at Wonderful gets paid and we're very proud to be announcing our inaugural Wonderful Week (wonderfulweek.org) with the support of footballing legend, Phil Neville, his Duracell-powered wife (she won't mind me saying that), Julie and amazing children, Harvey and Isabella, who are running, cycling and swimming 100 miles to support their chosen charity, The Good Life Orphanage. The Wonderful Week takes place from 2nd-10th September and the James family is also taking part (of course!) in support of The Christie.
Yoga Manchester are very excited to announce details of an annual sponsor a child link with the amazing Operation Shanti charity in Mysore, South India. As many of you know Yoga Manchester's chief Yogi Matt Ryan has worked with Operation Shanti over the past 10 years or so - raising money via charity events and also helping out at the charity's H.Q. Karunya Mane Orphanage when he makes his annual pilgrimages to Mysore to study at the KPJAYI. In 2014 Matt received ambassador status at the charity - he called this honour  'the single most important achievement I've ever made in my life ' .   prajwal operation shanti charity So for the next 12 months Yoga Manchester will be sponsoring 12 year old break-dancing genius Prajwal. The money  will help to pay for the his educational needs, basic daily living, and medical expenses. Read Prajwal's letter to Matt below. For more information on Operation Shanti please click here to go to their website.   prajwal operation shanti charityprajwal operation shanti charity prajwal operation shanti charity
“Any plans for the Bank Holiday?”
Phil's question was innocuous enough; friendly chit chat as he helped pack my groceries.
“Not much. I’ll be lacing up the trainers again, I guess. You climbing on Sunday?”
“Yes, we’re off to the Peak District. By the way, you should come to my Yoga class next Tuesday. Might help with the flexibility. I’ve got a couple of runners who seem to benefit,” he suggested as he swiped my loyalty card.
“Yoga? Hmm. Maybe.” My reply must have sounded sceptical and images of purple rinses and pink leotards were doing little to help. But feeling the tightness in my calves as I reached to put the grocery bags in the boot of my car, got me thinking. I might just give it a go.
By 8.45pm on Tuesday evening, I was destroyed. After Phil’s diplomatic but nonetheless embarrassing suggestion that I remove my trainers, I settled in to what I thought would be a breeze. After all, I was training for an ultra-marathon at the time. OK, I was a yoga virgin, but really, how demanding could this be? Very, as it turns out. Though this was a “gentle” class, my hamstrings were screaming after years of pounding pavements. On Wednesday (and for much of Thursday) I paid dearly.
But the following week I was back for more and after six weeks - stupidly - I’d booked myself on to a Yoga Manchester Weekend Workshop with Ashtanga teacher to the stars, Danny Paradise.
Though it was a baptism of fire, I loved that weekend. It was the second of my yoga epiphanies. I asked ridiculous questions, could manage only the vaguest approximations of the asanas but everybody was wonderful; welcoming, supportive, encouraging. And I’ve never looked back - well, at least not with a stiff neck.
Since Phil’s suggestion at the supermarket checkout six years ago, my practice has been pretty consistent. Sometimes five times a week. Not always. But I love the discipline. The seeming opposites of pure focus and escape bring me back to the mat regularly. Primary Series really is a moving meditation.
Late last year, inspired by Matt Ryan, my teacher at Yoga Manchester for several years; and also Phil, who introduced the world’s most reluctant yogi to his mat, I decided it was time to share a little of this practice with others. I’ll be starting my teacher training in a few weeks. I’ve reached a time in my life where I’m very keen to give something back, so my plan - once qualified - is to teach yoga exclusively for the Wonderful Organisation - www.wonderful.org - a non-profit we launch today (which also happens to be my 50th birthday). Though I hope to pass on a little of what I have picked up along the way, the most important lesson yoga has taught me is that you never stop learning.
If you have a moment,please take a look at the Wonderful website. If you can, share your skills. Maybe you’re a yoga teacher too. Maybe you teach piano, walk dogs, work in a health spa, or garden. Perhaps you’re a bookkeeper or work in PR. It doesn't matter. Get involved. The Wonderful Organisation is up and running. But it’s a new site so it’s over to you to fill its database with wonderful services - all supporting the tremendous work of our charities!
In the words of Walt Disney,
“You can design, create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
When I got the email from Operation Shanti letting me know I was being put forward as an Ambassador for them I was completely bowled over. I’ve not achieved too much in my crazy life but this went straight to the top of the list. I’d met Tracy, the lady responsible for setting up OpSha, in Mysore around 2003. I’d bumped into her a couple of times at Swami Jamanagiri’s Shiva Cave Temple on Chamundi Hill. We’d sit silently and watch Swamiji do his daily puja routine, then after all three of us would have chai and chat. Tracy likes to keep out of the limelight but she is an incredible person – to of set up Operation Shanti pretty much single-handed in a male dominated country like India is nothing short of a miracle. She is now Godmother to my daughter Agnes Boo. So fast forward a couple of years to 2006, I was helping OpSha out on a regular basis. I guess my main job was playing with the children, which being a big kid myself was as you could imagine simply brilliant. I’d show them a bit of Yoga then they would ‘wupp my ass’ at cricket – before I would run rings round them with my silky footballing skills (I like all males my age still think I could play professionally). A few years later the ‘big move’ happened which involved the kids being taken off the street and into the Karunya Mane home on the other side of the city. Not only did the kids get a new home they also got to go to school for the first time in their lives. Being able to witness this incredible transformation of the children was awe inspiring. There was a little down side to the move for me: my mates were at school and I only got to see them on Sundays – I was billy no mates during the week! In 2011, the OpSha kids were ‘guests of honour’ at my ‘Hindu Style’ wedding at the Shiva Cave Temple. What an amazing day to have all my best mates attend my wedding – the video is priceless. Each time I go back to Karunya Mane,  I see their faces light up when I walk through the door and this is worth going to Mysore for. To be able to watch them grow up over the years has been both an honour and a privilege. For more information on Operation Shanti, its  history , mission and how to donate please go to the website www.operation-shanti.org      

In the beginning....

As students of yoga, we easily associate Mysore, India with Ashtanga Yoga and studying the practice. This is a powerful journey and one that our own Matt Ryan has experienced many times, but there is another side to this city. Take a walk down the busy city streets of Mysore and, chances are, a soiled, bare-footed child will approach you with hands outstretched, begging. Her real age is eleven but she looks more like a seven-year-old from years of malnutrition and living on the streets. Her mother has also spent years on the street, likely abandoned by her husband. Together, they survive day by day, begging for meals and sleeping on the sidewalk. The government often comes to throw away their belongings that they store on the street. While visiting Swamiji, or the Cave Swami, as the yoga students fondly refer to him, Matt was fortunate enough to meet those involved with a very important charity, Operation Shanti. Formally established in 2005, Operation Shanti is a non-profit organization whose mission is to directly improve the lives of exploited, at-risk, destitute children and their families, enabling them to break the cycle of poverty. Operation Shanti's first efforts began in India eight years ago in 2005 and were focused on basic needs – providing daily meals and medical assistance to those living on the street. This became Project Street. During his many visits to India, Matt often spent time with Project Street, teaching the children yoga (see photo above of Matt teaching the kids Marichyasana A), handing out food, and taking them to the doctor.

Karunya Mane Shelter

In 2008, Operation Shanti opened the Karunya Mane shelter (which means "House of Compassion for the Poor" in the local language) on the outskirts of Mysore to provide the street children with a permanent home. Currently, 45 children live at Karunya Mane full-time and receive a good education, medical care, and nutritious food. This is Project Home. In September 2009, Operation Shanti expanded its efforts once more and began distributing care packages to destitute families affected by medical hardship. This is Project Food & More. Matt and Yoga Manchester have continued to support Operation Shanti through various fundraisers over the years and being hands-on when in Mysore. The organization is very close to Yoga Manchester's heart and we encourage you to get involved.

How you can help...

To learn more about Operation Shanti, please visit the website, the Operation Shanti Blog, or follow the kids on Facebook.

Important Info

For Yoga Manchester students wanting to donate from the UK click here