To some people the idea of a whole weekend of Yoga with a super star Yogi like David Swenson can be quite daunting! Would a class Friday night, three times on Saturday and three times Sunday be too much? The answer to this is it wasn’t enough! It was a perfect balance of Yoga Asana with pearls of wisdom you only have after 50 years of Yoga. David wasn’t what I was expecting, I have David’s practice manual and in his book he looks so serious. Wow I was wrong. He was hilarious. I was laughing so much, proper belly laughing. He has so many anecdotes. Some relate to things we have all thought whilst practising but we don't want to say out loud. One of my favourites was when he explained how when you step on the mat you know how the practice is going to go from the first lift of your arms. Some days it’s gonna be a breeze, others it feels like your arms are lead weights! And I’ve had plenty of those! He said how Pattabhi Jois (the creator of Ashtanga Yoga) would say that you only have to do 3 x Surya namaskar A (sun salutation A) and 3 Surya namaskar B (sun salutation B) and the final 3 postures if you were having a busy or tired day. He tied this in with the first session on the Friday evening which was about how to have a manageable practice for the lives many of us lead rushing from A to B. Perfect for Friday night as most people had finished work and driven to Manchester. His individual sessions were exactly what they say on the tin. We had one class that was the entire Primary series. As a yoga teacher I liked to watch him adjust people in the class. He was open to questions and always gave great explanations along with more stories. He passed on his experience practising with Pattabhi Jois, it was a relief to hear as both a practitioner and teacher that Pattabhi Jois would not be so critical of exactly where every limb would go, allowing me to go with the flow a little more and just breathe. Another one of my favourite stories was where prasarita padatonasana D and E went. He said Pattabhi Jois said they were not removed but students forgetting!... maybe i'll just forget Navasana … just joking, I love boat pose ;) . My favourite tip of the weekend: in uttita hasta padangustasana (you stand on one leg and straighten your other leg out in front of you holding your toe) actively curly your toe around your fingers OMG!!!!!! I can stand straighter and my toe doesn’t fall out of my sweaty grip. The weekend was absolutely magic and I will be going to the next weekend he does with Yoga Manchester … and the full week he teaches afterwards. Between each class he also hung about for everyone to talk to him, ask questions, get a book signed and even have a selfies with him. I tried to play it cool but as soon as the selfie trend started I totally got in there! I have to say David has made me fall in love with Ashtanga again, as a Vinyasa flow teacher, my self practice is Vinyasa flow. However, Ashtanga will definitely be sneaking into my self practice. Sneaky little Ashtanga!
Sometimes things just come together. They click into place, everyone is on message and the team pulls together. Well my worlds of health care and yoga just clicked into place pulled together. The result was an Outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission when they inspected our GP surgery at the Docs in Central Manchester. The inspection looks at quality indicators such as are we safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led?  It also considers different patient groups and how we care for them. Well despite the challenges facing the NHS we have put the work in and we continue to do our best for the folk of Manchester city centre. You can read the report here Obviously this inspection was more about health care than yoga but nevertheless, my personal practice of yoga and sharing it with my patients drew the interest of the CQC inspectors. Yoga was one of the examples that they found demonstrated, that as a practice, we are able to tailor the services that we offer to the needs of our patient population. Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I cheekily wrote all over a GP’s prescription to encourage people to make yoga part of their life in 2016. This image linked to an open letter to the NHS about the benefits of yoga for psychological and physical wellbeing was shared widely over social media and even got the attention of local and national press. This snowballed yet further and to celebrate International Yoga day I was invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament for an All Party Parliamentary Group to support an Early Days Motion, “… yoga to be included as part of mindfulness and well-being initiatives for NHS staff and for yoga to be integrated within treatment for patients; and urges the Department for Education to introduce yoga in the school physical education curriculum.” Whilst waiting for National Bodies to mull over the potential of yoga as a health care intervention, Yoga Manchester and the Docs put their heads together to reinforce this message locally. So now patients often leave my consulting room without a prescription for antidepressants, rather they have had a more wide-ranging discussion about what lifestyle interventions could help them get through difficult times. If they are up for it they may take up the challenge of trying yoga for the first time and skip away with a first class free voucher. Now the gods roll their dice and the date of a Care Quality Commission inspection is beyond my control. It turns out that they chose to come during the week that I was undergoing David Swenson’s week long teacher training intensive workshop. My work colleagues were a bit put out that I had dodged the bullet of the inspection, so in the spirit of team work I legged it over from the Northern Quarter back to the surgery in the lunch time break of the workshop.  The Inspectors were a bit nonplussed when I burst into their meeting wearing sweaty yoga kit. “Right, I can give you 60 minutes then I need to leg it back to class.” I said in my most Zen like fashion, as you do when the most important inspection of your professional career is underway. Well what can I say? They like what they heard and the result is an outstanding result for the Docs So my yoga sustains me and gets me through difficult times. Now I am on a journey to share that with others. I have convinced the team at the Docs that this approach has merit for our patients. Now the CQC endorses this view by awarding our practice an Outstanding rating. Happy days!!

the docs surgery

   
Dear Santa,
I have over 200 books on my Amazon wishlist and 99% of them are yoga related.  Any of them will do, I like a surprise! I'll send you the link via Whatsapp.  There's an offer on at the moment - if you buy three items before next Friday you get 20% off a 12 month subscription to Samadhi and a pair of sparkly toe-socks (hint hint!)
Also if the elves have any spare time I'd like some new shelves. One of them should be exactly 122.4cm high so that I can get my foot on it to practice Utthita hasta padangusthasana without falling on my arse, it needs to be adjustable so I can go 10cm higher each Christmas - then hopefully by 2018 the only split in my house won't be the dodgy split pea roast that the in-laws keep bringing over.
I've been a good girl this year, I've worked hard on my asana, my pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and getting my yamas and niyamas as in order. I know that you're busy so I thought you might like some advice on what to get the other well behaved kids if they ask for a yoga book...
1. For the Ashtanga beginner....
Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual 
This is an incredibly user friendly guide to the Primary and Intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga.  The practice guides are clear with plenty of pictures and easy to understand instructions which cover the foundations (e.g. Breath, bandha, drishti), the  asana (postures) and the vinyasa (movements between postures). If readers aren't ready to turn themselves into a preztel David gives a selection of more accessible alternatives.  The book includes a section with sequences for shorter practice times from 15min, 30min, 45min. Plus it's spiral bound so there's no need to faff with weighting the pages down as your going to the next asana.  David Swenson is a great teacher and communicator, in fact Santa I think you guys would get along.
2. For the fiction loving philosopher...
How Yoga Works 
by Geshe Michael Roach
Get to know the yoga sutras and curl up for story-time by the fire. How Yoga Works tells the  heartwarming tale of a Tibetan girl that is held captive in an Indian police station.  While there she begins to teach yoga.  The story follows the challenging relationship she has with her first student (who is also the Captain of the station) and how, through yoga, she gradually ignites positive changes in the people around her.  Roach weaves in sections from Patanjali's yoga sutras and the context of the narrative makes these philosophical concepts quite digestible even if it is close bed time.
3. For the academic & the history buffs...
Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice
by Mark Singleton
Mark Singleton explores the roots of yoga and questions whether the origins of the posture based practices are as ancient as is so commonly believed.  He discusses the impact of modern influences on yoga such as Indian Nationalism and physical culture in Europe and America.  In his conclusion he critiques the idea that ''fitness' is somehow opposed to the 'spiritual'' and posits the notion of physical training as a spiritual practice.  Singleton's book has been a little controversial in some yoga groups, perhaps upsetting some ancient (and of course 'authentic') apple carts.
Santa you've been travelling the world for years, I'm sure you've witnessed the complex intermingling of cultures and practices (spiritual and not) as they wax, wane, clash and intertwine - what do you think?
4. For the biography lovers looking for a bit of Mysore Magic...
Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students
by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern
Well Santa this is one of my favourites.  Alongside a portrait of Guruji this book presents a portrait of the power of the Ashtanga system and the passion of the individuals who practice it.  The book is a collection of interviews held with a selection of Pattabhi Jois' students - starting with those that were in the shala in the 70's e.g. David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff, his grandson Sharath and other dedicated students of his, including Dena Kingsberg, John Scott and Rolf Naujokat.  They openly document their nerves, difficulties, opinions, dedication and gratitude for the practice.  Santa if you ever lose your yoga mojo to the January blues dip into this and it'll get you right back on your mat!
5. For those that prefer pictures...
Photographs by Graeme Montgomery
This is a collection of beautifully taken portraits of Pattabhi Jois, his students and Mysore.  There are atmospheric black and white portraits and images of people practicing in the shala (when the rugs still had a fair bit of colour!). It's an aesthetically amusing mix of serious drishti's and smiling faces.  I believe it's also out of print, so a rare find if you get a copy.
6. For the anatomy geeks...
Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers
David Keil
Santa, if you're wondering whether you should squeeze your gluteus maximus while backbending down a chimney give this one a read.  When David's book was about to be released the yoga community was very excited (and rightly so), so if it's on someone's list I'd probably get it, we don't want any tears.
David presents anatomy in an easy to understand way so you don't have to be a medical professional to understand it.  It includes introductory information on the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems before going into further detail on the structure and function of key areas of the body such as the knee and hip.  David delves into anatomical patterns in yoga postures such as twists and backbends and discusses the impact of anatomical variation.  He address some common yogi problems, like sit bone pain and gets a thumbs up from me for acknowledging debates over technique - there is no one size fits all!
7. For the sporty kids...
Yoga for Runners and Yoga for Cyclists
by Lexie Williamson
These are two very well presented, books.  They cover the demands of running and cycling on different areas of the body such as the glutes, IT band, hamstrings, neck and back.  Both books include sections on the respiratory system and appropriate breathing techniques for each sport.  They also cover training the mind - so for any kids looking to improve their PB, reduce their intake of mince pies and stay injury free, these are much more than a stocking filler.   Lexie gives clear posture guides with variations to suit the individual.  There's also a series of mini-sequences for warm-up, recovery and strength building.
8. For the naughty kids...
These kids don't need books, they need to practice! Pick them up in your sleigh and get Dasher to drop them on a yoga mat pronto!
Safe travels Santa!
Marie X
P.S. I've left some organic locally grown carrots out for Rudolf and a raw, vegan, gluten free, low Gi agave mince pie for yourself - they're next to a glass of kombucha, which is 47% so go steady, ok it's not kombucha its gin, but you know it's Christmas!
I’m not a big fan of cliches and spiritual cliches are less welcome then a cup of cold sick in my house. But the one about a thirsty person digging a metaphorical shallow hole looking for water and never digging deep enough to find it ,analogous to a spiritual seeker trying all kinds of practices and never sticking to one (and thus never getting any benefit from any of them) is one of the better ones so I’m going to use it. So you get my drift and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Variety might be the spice of life but once you start mixing and matching your yoga practices I think you’ll struggle to quench your thirst (break out the sick bags!). I believe somewhere in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a classical text describing Hatha Yoga) it says that after 12 years of continued practice , one can consider oneself a ‘beginner’ (obvs not in that plummy English tone of voice) The Ashtanga teacher David Williams reinvented that phrase for a modern audience to
“Just try it out for ten years and see if you like it. If you haven't decided, try another ten more.”
Just a quick google search will lead you to all kinds of blogs, stories, and Facebook entries about how their authors have had enough of Ashtanga and gone off in search of something else usually a less intensive practice, and usually entitled ‘Dear Ashtanga’. Let’s get this straight, and I’ve said similar things before Ashtanga Yoga is not too intense or too hard, those are self-created impositions i.e. you’ve made it too intense yourself , buddy! I totally agree that there are Ashtanga teachers who teach the practice likes it’s a military style workout and bark the out the postures like a sergeant major. If this is happening to you don’t be disheartened, don’t give up and certainly don’t be tempted to go over to the dark side of hot yoga. Just find another teacher and begin again. One of the many great things about Ashtanga Yoga is that it’s a sequence you can learn, so eventually you can do it at home on your Jack Jones. You start off at a beginner’s class then after a while you feel confident enough for the intermediate sessions and eventually you are ready for the rocket fuel of Ashtanga Yoga – the Mysore Practice. The Mysore self-practice method will transform your mind and body BUT ONLY IF YOU STICK AT IT. Yes it’s hard work getting up in the morning but get a load of this .. im not telling you ashtanga yoga And then some. I’d also like to let you into a secret … when you practice on your own you can miss out a jump back* or two. Don’t believe everything you hear about how Ashtanga Yoga is a dogmatic practice and you have to religiously follow all its codes and practices. These so called codes and practices are not static – they are quite fluid and change from teacher to teacher. One of the first western students in Mysore Nancy Gilgoff has said that Guruji had her doing the jump backs every three or four postures. In fact you will find that lots of the ‘old-school’ Ashtangis like Richard Freeman, David Williams and David Swenson will all have a story about how they’ve been taught the same Ashtanga practice by Guruji differently. As Guruji famously once said
"There are many variations of Trikonasana."
There is only one Ashtanga Yoga, but this will take on many forms depending on the student. Stay with it. * A jump back is sometimes referred to as a ‘vinyasa’ and is the sequence of up dog down dog postures that link the seated postures of Ashtanga Yoga.  
David Swenson - the 'Godfather' of modern day Ashtanga Yoga returns to Manchester in July 2018 to lead his famous week long Yoga Teacher Training / Yoga Immersion programme. Full details of the training can be found here. Please see below for student testimonials from David's previous courses in Manchester.    
David's approach to teacher training is much like his personality: fun, compassionate, and above all, approachable. Set in a context of four decades of teaching, David has a magic about him that is infectious, and provides a much needed light-heartedness to Ashtanga yet there is an undeniable richness in his teaching and guidance. With adjustments and variations provided for all the postures of the Primary Series, David encourages an intuitive rather than overly technical approach to teaching Ashtanga, and after the 40 hours I left feeling more empowered and inspired.
Charlene McAuley
I attended David's course to inform my own practice, I wasn't even thinking about getting into teaching. This didn't last long though, I was buzzing at the end of each day - David's enthusiasm for Ashtanga yoga is infectious!
He really is an inspirational teacher with a great sense of humour. David presents the postures, anatomy, philosophy, history, culture and personal anecdotes in an accessible way often wrapped up in a compelling and memorable story. He encourages students to think about what the postures are doing and how to break them down in order to make variations suitable for different bodies. We were provided with the tools to help us decide when to adjust a student and how to adjust safely and effectively. The course was a great investment for both my practice and teaching career. Several years on there are many things I learned that week that I still apply today.
Marie Harris
   
To experience a whole week with David Swenson, the living legend of Ashtanga, is one joy, but to add a packed week of communal yoga and a complete journey through the Primary Series, learning his personalised and practical adjustments takes the senses to a whole new level. David takes us step by step through the postures, interweaving his nicknames for the recommended adjustments ( "..Drive By, anyone,...?!),adding anecdotes and sharing memories of his Beloved Guruji, shining his open, inspirational heart on a practice he loves and respects passionately. He encourages us to teach the series in 90 minutes, so this is relevant not only for teachers but those who want to absorb the Grandmaster's innate warmth, wisdom and practical, no nonsense outlook to a lifetime of yoga.
Teresa Dennison    
David is a wonderful man who approaches his teacher training in the same way he approaches his Ashtanga yoga life as a whole. Seriously committed, but full of fun. He told us a yogi is someone who leaves a place a little better than when he arrived. And so David did. He built our confidence from day one to deliver teaching of the primary series safely, and precisely as he had learned. His teaching was richly enhanced by tales from Mysore and a sense of humour I will never forget. Yet he was as humble as could be.  I believe also that we all made a really good friend that week.
Barbara Hastings-Asatourian    
We attended the David Swenson 40 hour Teacher Training immersion course in Manchester in May 2014. David Swenson presented the yoga in a fun accessible way and we loved it.David Swenson is a brilliant yoga genius who kept things flowing and really interesting. It has helped with our approach to yoga teaching and inspires us still.
Claire & Dave Hatchell      
Welcome to the second installment of Yoga Manchester’s Yoga Helpline  feature. Every month, we’ll be providing useful tips and advice on subjects relating to your yoga and meditation practice. Please send in any questions you may have and we’ll do our best to shed some light on your query!

Q: I can’t be bothered to practise, what should I do?

A: Oh, we know that conundrum very well. From having to be physically shoved out of the front door to exclaiming the various reasons why we could not possibly go – we’ve all met the forceful resistance to practise! Even when a practice develops and becomes more regular, there are still days and weeks we can’t be bothered to get out of bed and stand on the mat, however, the disingenuous excuses no longer hold as much sway; increasingly, the wants of the vocal ego are recognised for what they are: momentary and pleasure-seeking. For the most time, just allowing these thoughts to run their course while practising regardless tends to do the trick. That said, the body can sometimes feel too tired for an energetic asana practice such as Ashtanga, which is where complementary, alternative sequences such as Matthew Sweeney’s Chandra Krama are really beneficial. The ‘bare minimum’ (five Sun Salutation A, three Sun Salutation B, and the three finishing postures) of the Ashtanga series is a great way to appease the mind with only a 10 minute practice as opposed to pushing yourself to do 90 minutes; often the energy and will power required to step on the mat is much greater than the asana practice itself. With that in mind, roll out your mat and see how it goes. Remember, if you really don’t want to practice, you don’t have to. Here’s some wise words from the King of Ashtanga, David Swenson: