As soon as I was able to walk I was kicking a football around the house driving my mother mad and making my father proud - especially at the age of 3 when I opted for a City kit for my birthday when my grandmother offered me the option of either a spaceman outfit or the football kit. The dream of becoming a footballer stopped when I discovered music around the age of 13. During the footballing years I'd managed to captain both the mighty Junior Blues and Manchester Boys - no mean feat considering I was about a foot smaller than everyone else, but I heard David Bowie's Hunky Dory and that was it, the football dream was over.  I hung up the boots and strapped on the guitar - rock stardom was my next dream. After a modicum of success playing in and around Manchester in local bands in the mid-eighties suddenly the house music scene was sweeping the nation and it swept me along too - exchanging the guitar for technics decks to become Matt Ryan DJ . Although I can add DJ at the Hacienda to my life's CV , the djing career was short lived and I've written about the inner chaos that followed here. But as the saying goes that every cloud has a silver lining my particular silver lining was in the discovery of yoga, and the beginning of a life long journey that has got me where I am today - healthy and happy. When I started teaching yoga my life suddenly started to make sense, and as it has turned out became the most important day of my life - footballer, rockstar,  DJ were all red herrings! Along the way I've set up Yoga Manchester - which has established itself as one of the leading Yoga centres in the North-West - it's sister studio Yoga Express and also the unique yoga prop 'The Nee-ji - the knee guru' -  the safe knee support for Yoga and Meditation. I've been busy! Throughout my Yoga teaching career I've always been asked about teacher training and would I consider setting something up - in the past 5 years or so this request for teacher training came more frequently so I decided to do something about it. Yoga Manchester Teacher Training (YMTT) has been 5 years or so in the making - not because I've been lazy more so as it's taken me this long to get all the pieces of the jigsaw in place. And also more importantly I didn't want to knock out some sub-standard training programme - it seems there's already plenty of these around. I truly believe the YMTT to be one of the best teacher training programmes in the UK today - I wouldn't have set it up if I didn't feel that way. The YMTT will feature some of Europe's leading yoga practitioners and academics - including yours truly and Yoga Manchester's Marie Harris & Charlene McAuley. I've even secured the skills of  the brilliant Yoga Academic Matthew Remski who will be teaching the philosophy module. The course involves in depth study of yoga asana, pranayama, meditation, yoga philosophy, yoga anatomy and also the skills needed to launch a career as a yoga teacher. It's pretty full on - we've thought of everything. There's also the added bonus of trainees passing the course to come and teach classes for Yoga Manchester. And I know not everyone wants to become a yoga teacher and this is the beauty of our course as it allows students to deepen into their own practice and understanding of yoga, providing you with all the necessary tools to become an ever-evolving student too. Click here for more info on YMTT.   * Note to the wife. Obviously the most important day of my life was when I met you my dear, but I'm referencing my working life here not my personal one - hashtag smiley face.
In the past week, I’ve taught GPs, business owners, parents, Premier League footballers, teenagers, and many others with a thousand and one demands. Most come onto the mat with the stresses of the day heavy in the hearts and meandering around their minds, with it taking sheer willpower to put aside their to-do list and sit down. Attending to the breath at the beginning, the telltale signs of excitation are clear (scratching the head, tapping the fingers, wiggling the toes) as are the signs of tiredness (slumped spine, falling head), but now is the chance to tap into the body and ask “How am I feeling?” The feedback loop between feelings and breath is so wonderfully intricate and reciprocally sensitive. Many times at the beginning of class I’ll see students’ chests expanding on the inhale with little/no movement of the abdomen, with this usually an indicator of overt or covert anxiety and the shallow breathing feeding tension. By never taking a full inhale, a full exhale remains elusive and the nervous system is in a state of fight or flight, simply clouding mind and the capacity to think clearly. And I speak from experience. Working in political consultancy in my early twenties, I was working long hours under a lot of pressure, but thought I was coping. For a few weeks, I had a growing lump in my throat that would come and go, until one day in the office before lunchtime, I could barely breathe. I was allowed to go to the nearby walk-in centre and see a doctor. “So, how are you Charlene?” asked the doctor. I burst into tears as I told her the lump was getting bigger. “Your stressed” was her diagnosis. Relieved to know what was the cause of the lump but perplexed as to how I’d allowed myself to get so overwhelmed, I walked back to the office and tuned into my breathing. I was taking short inhales followed by holding my breath, before a short exhale. Thereafter, every time I remembered to check-in to my breathing, I observed I was always holding my breath and could only detect movement in my chest. My breathing was responding to my unease, my unease responding to my breath. Thankfully, the regulation of the breath is remarkably easy to do, it’s the willpower to stick with it that’s the sticking point. The mind tries to play games, puts up a fight to keep the mental verbiage continuing at a pace that would put Usain Bolt to shame, but the quiet voice that says “You know you’ll feel better” guides us to a quiet place to sit and breathe. For me, it was going to the toilet that nobody used, closing the cubicle and sitting on the lid for three minutes that asked for so little of my time, but provided a pause where I could feel me, and the more often I took a three minute break, the less the mind put up a fight. Shining a light on the body, mind, emotions, and spirit, Yoga as a tool is one of the most effective ways to address to imbalances and seek to restore these. I often ask students to imagine a baby breathing before mimicking the puffing of the abdominal wall on the inhale followed by the falling away on the exhale, over and over until the natural movement of the breath is restored and the breath simply comes and goes. Although a secluded place can help to quieten the senses, you can observe, direct, observe your breath anywhere. Simply ask “How am I feeling?” and without trying to answer this, watch how the breath responds. When you’re ready, draw the breath through the nose to the abdomen, before allowing it to leave through the nostrils, noticing the puffing and releasing of the belly. Do this for however long you need to before once again observing your breath. Whilst worries probably won’t evaporate on the exhale, by simply focusing on the breath you’re tuning into now, crafting space, and sending the message to yourself that you matter. Other resources: http://cdn.franticworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Three-Minute-Breathing-Space-meditation-from-book-Mindfulness-Finding-Peace-in-a-Frantic-World-128k.mp3
I’ve been in the muscle/bone (Musculoskeletal) world of physiotherapy for approaching 20 years. I’ve come across many situations where increased length in and around the body’s soft connective tissue (ligaments, muscle, tendons, fascia and nerves) has been required. As a result I have suggested to many patients that they maintain the gains made in their physiotherapy course by dovetailing the home stretches we have practiced with either class based or 1:1 Yoga practice. Having suggested patients should try this eastern, almost mystical seeming discipline, I finally had to sample it for myself and practice what I (p)reach. Life can often feel like you’re spinning lots of different sized plates on sticks all at once – family life, work, sport/leisure being the brighter coloured plates in my world. You could argue that as well as these interchangeable bright plates, are smaller ones representing the physical, physiological and mental systems that are influenced by their counterparts. If you focus on one plate for too long and neglect the others, the scene can look a little wobbly and precarious! The physical and mental efforts required to keep all of these plates spinning in harmony requires a fair bit of attention. This is why Yoga is a nice fit for me. Yoga helps combat the physical tensions that my life can produce. It helps maintain and improve the areas of the body that get through a large workload and thus shorten/tighten or develop tension. Repeated working and sporting postures create these tensions in me. I stand and lean over folk for much of my working day. It obviously benefits the patient, but you have to watch your own body position too. I cycle to work daily, I run and am still restoring full function following an Achilles tendon rupture/surgery earlier in the year. Yoga helps to iron out these areas of tension and restore that balance when one of those plates gets a bit wobbly. It also helps the strength and fitness required to successfully navigate life. My muscle length and strength are improving as you would hope/expect. My physical and sport/leisure plates are thus spinning ok. The discipline I hadn’t bargained for or really considered that strongly (if honest) was the psychological impact that yoga can have. I’m well used to the endorphin release and the physiological benefits that exercise brings, and I’m pleased to find these are present in yoga practice too (small plate spinning-check). But I hadn’t factored in the quiet, mental time and space that Yoga practice brings. In a hectic world we don’t take enough time out to practice “nothingness” where all “noisy” external influences melt into the background for a while at least. A gradual mindful shift is taking place. It may be a slow moving stone on a shallow gradient, but the benefits of where this mindfulness could lead me is all too apparent. So that’s another plate spinning well, but one that requires focus to keep it moving. Nearly 2 years in and my roughly twice weekly taster sessions are paying dividends. At the time of writing I’m only able to attend x2 45 minute Yoga Express sessions per week. These convenient sessions consist of a quick paced, condensed Ashtanga sequence. 2 short sessions are OK, and it is better than no practice at all. It still feels a little like I’m peering through the crack of a door into an appealing and intriguing world that knows no bounds. This is both daunting and exciting and will keep me hooked for a good while longer. My next step on this voyage of discovery will be the longer 90 minute sessions. In the meantime, I hope that Yoga continues to provide the lubricant that helps all of those different plates spin nicely. For now, things are spinning well, but lose too much focus and things may resemble a Greek restaurant!