To watch the video tutorial please click on the play button (in the middle of the screen) on the box immediately above. I have no idea why but when I first started to practice the handstand, I never used to have any fear of falling over as I always confident I could twist around and land on my feet –maybe I was a cat in a previous life : ) When I first started Yoga I remember going to a class and watching in awe as my teacher placed his on the floor and floated up into a handstand from a standing position with straight legs. It was pretty darn cool and I always thought I’d like to be able to do that. And remember folks these were the days before online you tube tutorials – it was all trial and error – mainly error on my part and lots of laughing at how useless I was. I’m not sure when the penny dropped but eventually it did – and maybe it was my Dad (RIP) who mentioned the main drawbacks of the kicking up one leg at a time method I was using to try and master the handstand. This was having to find the balance point twice (one for each leg!) so I sussed out that if I could find a way of jumping up both legs at the same time I might have cracked the handstand code. And like all buildings needing a solid foundation, the handstand was no different and also working on the premise that if I was able to do a full handstand surely I need to be able to do the half handstand ie have the legs bent rather than straight. And slowly – very slowly things started to happen. I kicked up both legs bent hold for a breath then come down , 1 breath turned to 2 then to 5 and so until I got to half a minute balancing on my hands with knees bent. A solid foundation was created so that I could slowly start to straighten the leg and remain steady and secure without falling over. It was very simple but very effective – no nonsense. I have watched online tutorials on handstand but found them to be too long winded, to over descriptive. I find this method  to be much more straight to the point – hope you enjoy it – have fun and remember Guruji’s famous  words ‘Yoga is 99% practice 1% theory’ (and I like to think this handstand method most definitely fits into that category).
Following my 'how to jump back' video a few weeks back , I now teach you how to jump-though with straight legs in my latest 'Back Yard Yoga' videos series. These short 2 minute videos will feature tips and advice on technique and also how to improve your Ashtanga Yoga form. The straight leg jump through from downward dog to Dandasana in Ashtanga Yoga is an eloquent movement and can take some time to perfect.It will take a combination of a good forward bend which is important for keeping the legs straight when you are able to jump through.Strong legs to give you the power to lift the hips high enough to keep the legs straight And strong flexible shoulders which will provide the pivot for the body to move from the back of the mat to the front. Enjoy your practice ! Save
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.  
I received an email a few months back from an old student of mine who had moved away from Manchester and although this student doesn’t get to class anymore we still keep in touch about various aspects of their practice. The email went something like this ..
Hi Matt – I saw a short demo by Sharath Jois online recently and I just wondered if you knew anything about the way he places his feet in upward dog. Is this a new method or just something specific to Sharath
  So I tracked down the video in question and checked out just what Sharath was doing with his feet in upward dog. See screen shot below. Sharath Jois upward dog Now I must say it was a bit of a quandary for me as I guess I wasn’t sure why Sharath was using this rather particular method of lifting onto his toes. It certainly wasn’t the way I was taught – which is to come onto the top of the foot – see photo of Guruji in upward dog below. I did actually try doing the posture Sharath’s way but it did feel pretty odd and uncomfortable. Sri K Pattbhi Jois upward dog I emailed back to my student and said to leave it with me and I’ll ask a few people to see if anyone had any further information. I then set about sending emails out to various Ashtanga friends and acquaintances around the globe to see if anyone could help me out. Within a few weeks I got back some rather intriguing verdicts and opinions which make for interesting reading. I have chosen not to disclose the identity of the people who gave me the information below, this was my own decision and not theirs. Verdict 1 The person (who gave me this info) has got this from their teacher who spoke to Sharath directly about the foot thing. Here’s the conversation which (allegedly) took place between this person’s teacher and Sharath.. Teacher: Sharath why is it you lift onto your toes in upward dog and not the top of the feet – is this a new method? Sharath: No this is not a new method. I do this because I suffered from polio as a child which resulted in me being unable to flex my ankles properly, so I’m unable to roll over the toes onto the top of the feet. Teacher: Oh I didn’t know that. Are you aware that there are some students who are copying your method? What should I say to them? Sharath: They are stupid.   Verdict 2 This opinion came from a student who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the body. This person told me that they did know about the foot thing and had discussed it with other yoga students. Their verdict was this. Some years ago Sharath damaged his lower back on a car journey from Mysore to Bangalore. Anyone who has ever taken this journey before the new road was laid will know the old road was full of pot holes and a potential disaster area for cars and passengers. Sharath had been in a car that had hit a pot hole which resulted in a rather nasty lower back injury. So the reason for the upward dog feet thing was to help with the rehabilitation of the back injury as lifting just onto the toes was a less intensive (on the lower back) variation than lifting onto the top of the feet.   So there you go two rather contrasting verdicts and whilst both of them seem quite plausible I have no idea if either of them are correct. When I next go to Mysore I’ll ask Sharath about this and then I’ll know 100 % which verdict (if any) is correct. I’ll keep you posted. One thing that this does flag up is that this gives any students who are using this method because they have seen Sharath doing it (without qualifying if it’s actually the right method for them or not) some food for thought.      

Where's your head at ?

‘Samastitihiii’ Guruji would bellow from the depths of his soul at the start of class, this mountainous sound reverberating around the shala in Mysore and into our hearts and minds. Just remembering being witness to this instruction from the Ashtanga Yoga Guru makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. For me Guruji’s whole personality & teachings are embodied in this simple Sanskrit phrase. The word samastitihi just means same or equal (sama) standing (stitihi) but it goes much deeper than standing up straight on your mat. I can remember going to my first couple of yoga classes and the teacher regularly castigating me for not having my feet perfectly (big toes and heels touching) together. At the time I thought he was just being a little bit anal retentive and boy oh boy I so wanted to tell him to take the bug out of his ass and leave me alone. But thankfully I never did and it was only when I started teaching yoga myself did I truly understand exactly what he meant. These days when I’m teaching I can be far, far more tetchy than my first teacher ever was with me when I see regular offenders with their feet apart. (So beware if you ever come to my class – I’ll be on your feet.) When teaching a ‘led’ class the samastitihi instruction is used plenty of times, it’s usually the first thing an Ashtanga teacher would announce –even before the opening chant. And as mentioned above the meaning goes way deeper than the physical. Once the body is in samastitihi we can then move into the realms of the mind by allowing both the inhale and exhale to express the instruction. The resonance of the inhale becoming equal to the exhale, even permitting for the pauses at the ends of the breath to do the same. When a student first comes into the class room their minds can be jumping around buzzing with thoughts about what they’ve been up to that day or what to have for dinner after class and if there’s nothing in place to for them to help drop these ‘fluctuations of the mind’ their practice becomes unfocussed from the word go. Once the body and breath are equal, all is good we are ready for practice. At the end of each sun salutation and also at the finish of each standing posture the student returns to samastitihi, making sure each time that the feet are together and the breath is equal. Sometimes in class I like to make a comparison between the cosmic mudra (the positioning of the hands) in zazen (the Zen form of meditation) and samastitihi. When sitting zazen the student places the left hand in the right hand and allows for the tips of the thumbs to touch to make an oval shape – see photo. cosmic mudra zazen zen ashtanga yoga If the thumbs ever become separate from each other it’s a good indication that the mind has drifted off into dreamland territory. Similarly if a student ever steps back to samastitihi with their feet apart to me it’s a sign that their focus has drifted off somewhere else. I remember reading about a Zen monk asking his teacher what the essence of the (zazen) practice was. ‘Attention’ came the terse reply from the teacher. Again the student asks the same question expecting perhaps a slightly more informed answer, this time the teacher ferociously repeats the same word three times ‘ATTENTION ATTENTION ATTENTION’! I.M.H.O. (yep I’m down with the social media acronyms kids) samastitihi is the yoga version of attention. The whole practice can be contained within its simplicity: the asanas are the physical expression, the breath the mind counterpart. Samastitihi is attention to a steady body, a steady breath, a steady gaze. Once we get these 3 working in union with each other we can hope for a steadier mind. A steady mind means an open mind and if you want me to get really cosmic (man) , the mind and body are mirrors for each other , so an open mind is an open heart.   Read Matt's other Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4  
1. Does God exist? 2. Is there life after death? 3. Should Ashtanga Yoga students go to Mysore (to study at the KPJAYI) Did you spot the ‘red herrings’ in the above questions? Was is that obvious? I like Buddha’s answer to the first two questions, he said something along the lines of “don’t twist your melon trying to prove or disprove the existence of God and life after death – it’ll probably send you doolally.” So I’ll heed his advice and try to make sense of question three only as God knows (or maybe doesn't) I've been asked that particular question a million times. I’m just back from my 8th visit to the KPJAYI (the Shala) and I now feel pretty comfortable with giving some kind of answer to question three. The place has changed over the years; physically changing in 2002 when it moved lock stock and barrel from the tiny 12 students at a time ‘Old Shala’ in Lakshmipuram to the much larger 50 students plus toilet space ‘New Shala’ in Gokulam. That was when the first murmurs of discontent started to rumble, the ‘Old Shala’ versus the ‘New Shala’ debate. I guess it was bound to happen as people always like to have a moan about something, myself included. And having studied at both shalas, my biggest moan about the old place was the two-hour daily wait to get on the mat. Still it taught me patience. Even Spiritual Awakening is subject to the laws of supply and demand, and for me my friend, I welcomed with open arms (and only a 20-30 minute wait to practice) the move to Gokulam. When Guruji, the heartbeat of Ashtanga Yoga died in 2009, the flame was passed to his grandson Sharath. Guruji had been pretty poorly for a few years and had actually retired from teaching in 2007, but he lived upstairs at the Shala and his presence could be felt on the Shala floor even when he stopped teaching. In some ways the passing of Guruji marked a new era in Ashtanga Yoga as quite a few of the older students stopped making the annual pilgrimage to the Shala, and a ‘new generation’ of Ashtanga Yoga student was born. Like Guruji passing the Ashtanga flame onto Sharath, the student flame was passed from teachers like Richard Freeman, Tim Miller and Dena Kingsberg to the new kids on the block: Kino MacGregor, Luke Jordan and Mark Robberds. Despite the presence of some truly awe inspiring people in the Shala, people still wanted to moan; whether it was about monthly fees going up or the alleged ‘aggressive’ energy in the shala, there was always a ‘shala drama’ going down. Having been there a few times, I have never felt this supposed aggression in students – what was that quote from Homer Simpson ‘Offence is only taken, but never given’. I guess people get too caught up in other’s people’s journeys rather than focusing on their own. Yes there is a definite energy in the room, but for me this energy is the power of the Ashtanga fire burning up egos and attitudes and transforming hearts and minds. My latest trip to Mysore in March 2014 marked a personal ‘awakening’ in my internal and external Ashtanga journey. As mentioned above I like a good moan as much as the next person (I think it’s the human condition, to be human is to moan, I moan therefore I am,  maybe that’s what the Buddha meant in the first ‘noble truth’ not life is suffering but life is moaning). This trip, despite the heat and the Shala being busy, saw a ‘dropping off’ of the moaning, no shit. I got up I went to the Shala, I waited, I practised,  I went home – hallelujah, I finally ‘got it’.  Maybe some people ‘get it’ quicker than others. I’m pretty slow witted and it always seems to take longer for the proverbial penny to drop. Ashtanga Yoga is a process a physical and mental journey, “a 100 year programme” as one teacher likes to call it. The problem people make when they go to the Shala is their expectation. They want it to be a certain way and then when it’s not like what they envisaged or hoped for then it’s a ‘waste of money’ or ‘I’ll never go back there’ moan. What made complete sense to me this time (I told you I was a slow learner) was it’s like the old spiritual cliche of digging a hole looking for water: you gotta dig deep baby to get there. Too many people give up after one shovel full of earth, which when you actually think about it is just plain bloody stupid. If you’re after adjustment after adjustment then go to Freddie’s Fab Adjustment Clinic , Beach Side Hotsville. If you can be honest with yourself and want some personal transformation (this can be physical, mental and spiritual) then you got to start digging and keep digging and then dig some more until you find what you’re looking for.  I wouldn't say that I've finally hit gold (am I carrying on too long with the digging analogy here?) but one thing’s for certain: I’m definitely onto something when I’m at the Shala, and that door’s open for you too as long as you can leave your bullshit at the Shala door. Yes it’s a bit of a hassle getting there – even the booking process is a little convoluted these days, but see these kind of things not as obstacles but as part of the whole Shala process. So in answer to the above question three YES, YES and thrice YES. In the words of Jimmy James & The Vagabonds ‘Now is the time’ – don’t delay get on t’internet and email the Shala today. Fancy dipping your toe in the Mysore 'Self-Practice' method water? Check out Matt's monthly Mysore intensive in Chorlton.

    ashtanga yoga mysore journey

       
Matt performing back garden 8 Eka Pada Sirsasana. This sequence of postures are taken from the Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate Sequence and Advanced A+B Sequences, eight in total to represent the '8 Limbs' of Ashtanga Yoga. Guruji (Pattabhis Jois) would say that in order to practice the other 'limbs' of the Ashtanga discipline  it is important for students to undertake the practice of the  third  limb 'Asana' .  Asana will make the body and mind strong in preparation for study and practice of the other limbs. This video is for demonstration only .