As a Yoga teacher I get asked all the time  for advice upon certain aspects of the Ashtanga Yoga method -how to do a headstand or how to improve a backbend for example . So as a practice resource for all students I have created the Back Yard Yoga videos - a series of two minute how to videos including advice on technique and ways to improve your Ashtanga Yoga form. The first in the 5 part 'Back Yard Yoga' series (so called as we filmed the videos in my back yard!)  is Zen & the Art of the Ashtanga Yoga Jump Back. Hope you enjoy it - happy jumping back.        

A mind & body practice

I read a blog last year by some Ashtanga dude who was admitting that he was getting too old to practice the advanced series postures. At the time I kind of laughed to myself thinking I’ve got plenty left in the tank to keep busting through the postures of 3rd and 4th series. Literally a year later and after a 2 month cold ( I kid you not) at the start of this year that was bordering on a serious bout of man flu which meant my practice consisted of blowing my nose and a very heavy dose of lying down, I was ready to throw in the advanced posture towel too. I’m 46 now and over the last sixteen or so years of practicing Ashtanga Yoga I’ve had my fair share of physical & mental ups and downs. A tweaked hamstring here and a sore shoulder there – my injury roll call is quite an impressive list. Added to the physical aspect of practice I also still suffer daily with a complaining/mithering mind – usually when I’m watching football or driving. I always joked that if any of my students saw me at a football match they would never come to one of my classes again. (So I stopped going to matches just in case!) One thought that continually bugs me is ‘why is my mind so crazy when I do all this yoga & meditation’. I’d like to highlight the plight of the mind and body journey with two (real) stories – both featuring the wit and wisdom of the East.
 ‘As long as you have a body Matthew…’ Dr.Su
A few years back a friend recommended I go see a Chinese acupuncturist called Dr.Su after I was complaining about a tight hamstring. My friend had told me that the footballer Ryan Giggs had credited Dr.Su with sorting out his own hamstring problem that had plagued him for most of his career. So I booked an appointment and off I went to Dr.Su’s tiny office / treatment room in Nothenden in South Manchester. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. After a couple of visits the hamstring problem had cleared up and he was now treating me for my sore wrist. Each time I went I was always complaining about one physical problem or another and Dr.Su would smile at me and offer the most simple but powerful advice on the body that I’ve ever had… ’As long as you have a body Matthew, you will always have problems’ There endeth the lesson. So get this boyfriend /girlfriend if you’ve got a body then something will go wrong at some point. The main problem is that we set up in our minds about the level of practice we need to maintain to make the whole thing worthwhile and if we get an injury of some sort which means we can’t stick to the same level of practice then that somehow invalidates what we do. Which if you sit down and think about it, is just (mind) bullshit. However we practice whether it’s all singing all dancing 10th series or maybe it’s just one measly 1 sun salutation (because your body is knackered) it’s all good, it’s all valid, it’s all practice.  
‘I see , I see , I see’ Dalai Lama  
This is my favourite ever true Dalai Lama story, and maybe I’m a little biased because it happened to a mate of mine. Once upon a time in the seventies Albert (name changed to protect identity) was enjoying the good life a little too much. Both legal and illegal substances were being taken on a daily basis which resulted in the good life turning into well, not so good. Determined to sort himself out, Albert ( a practicing Buddhist) decided he would make a pilgrimage to Dharamsala in Northern India where the 14th Dalai Lama was living. Now in the 70’s Mr.D.L. was not as famous as he is now and a personal appointment with him was not outside the realms of possibility. So our friend Albert rocked up at Mr D’s gaff and asked if he could organise a private audience with the top man. After a 3 day wait he got his chance and was ushered into Mr. D’s front room. For the next hour or so Albert went into explicit detail about how messed up he was and how his life was a complete mess. Each time he finished a sentence the Dalai Lama would comment ‘I see , I see , I see’ . Finally after a couple of hours young Albert finished his tales of woe and sat back slumped in his chair, the Dalai Lama looked straight at him and said ‘ You know , my mind is crazy too’. KER BOOM – how’s about that for a curve ball of an answer. In that moment Albert realised that he was not alone in feeling crazy , granted the illegal stuff hadn’t helped but the fact that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama also had a ‘crazy mind’ made him feel ok. I love this story, I tell it a lot in class. We think sometimes our mind is out of control and maybe sometimes it is but the mind certainly has a mind of its own – there’s no on or off switch. Put it this way the heart beats, the lungs breathe and the mind ‘thinks’. We would think that the Dalai Lama would have a mind that was completely peaceful and serene but this isn’t the case – his mind is crazy too. And so is mine and so is yours. But I find that when I do my Ashtanga practice my mind feels a little less crazy so I practice most days so I can enjoy being a little less bananas - it’s a no brainer. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so one day I decided I would do my practice first and then watch football after to see what happened – a little experiment on myself. And do you know what, I managed to get through the whole game without annoying anyone least myself. Read the other parts of Matt Ryan's Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga .. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
Nothing has pressed my buttons more than a Mysore-style practice and revealed so starkly my healthy, pesky and sometimes detrimental tendencies. In March 2012 I took the leap from led classes and a romantic home practice (I.e. fancy postures I felt good doing and danced my way through) and stepped into a Mysore-style class at the much-loved Palatine Road venue with its single-glazed windows and rickety floors. As Matt and the rest of the students began to sing the opening chant, I stood on my mat feeling like I'd accidentally walked into a cult gathering with its special language and esoteric ways. Then I began the first salute and instantly felt exposed: where was the guidance, the instruction, the teacher? Oh mummy, I was in this on my own, but not like at home where there's no one to spot my mistakes; here, the teacher may see or hear me miss a posture or breath. And he did. As I was in my full stride, I vinyasa'd confidently from Purvottanasana to Janu Sirsasana A only to hear, "Where's the other two?" I hadn't a scooby doo what Matt was talking about, I'd never done those postures in the correct order before. And this is where the beauty of Mysore-style teaching comes in. I was shown Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Tiryangmukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana and how to practise these according to my ability while the girl opposite me sat with leg behind head, and the chap behind stuck with standing sequence. Still, I couldn't help but compare myself to those graciously folding forward while I struggled not to topple over in Tiryangmukha. "I'm so embarrassed, I feel like an eejit, I bet Matt's wondering why I bothered" came the mental rhetoric which was thankfully buffered by the stronger concentration applied to finding steadiness in crazy postures such as Marichiasana D and Bujapidasana. Yoga comparisons It wasn't until shoulderstand I had a lucid moment of seeing my thoughts and reminding myself these were just a reflection of deep-rooted thought patterns (I learnt soon after these are called samskaras). Fast forward two years, a fair few Mysore-style Intensives, and a now unromaticised home practice, the mind space Mysore-style helps to gauge is becoming wider with each practice. The group energy helps to feed me when I really want to stop, and my self-criticism and comparisons are instantly exposed before they take root. And so a new, healthy pattern, samskara, is being forged: awareness of the self-judgement and the ability to form non-attachment, vairagya, to the oh-so addictive negative thoughts. "It's like being transported into a parallel universe", a friend recently said, and while I get the sentiment, it would be more accurate to say "it's being in the actual moment", one that's more or less free from the projected mind stuff so long as the awareness remains and the asanas don't become another tool to beat oneself with. And sometimes I experience this too, but through the continuity of practice, I'm becoming ever clearer on all the internal crap that was rumbling on inside of me. So without it being too much about navel gazing, which can be the other side of the ego coin, I do my closest approximation of the postures, observe what arises, and simply move to the next without needing to find why such a thought or feeling is there. Yoga can be a transformational practice: physically toning the body, but more importantly, steadying the mind so we feel 'whole' - Mysore-style is an acute way of accelerating this process. With its emphasis on the individual and your classmates, I suppose it could be likened to group therapy, however, the words are replaced with our expression of the asanas. Yes, the intensity of Mysore-style can be daunting, but isn't all change? And that's what Mysore-style represents: the opportunity to open Pandora's box in a safe and supportive environment, so we can take what we've experienced on the mat to get rid of the stuff that no longer serves us, and reconnect with that which makes life simpler, more honest, and above all, happier. Step out you're comfort zone. It won't be easy but it will be worth it. Visit here for details of the next Mysore-style Intensive Mysore Manchester                       Charlene teaches regular classes with Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express. Visit her teacher profile for more information. Charlene McAuley
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 December's Yoga Manchester People feature, Marta Buszko recalls her most memorable yoga moment which so happens to be Christmas-themed! Enjoy the read and feel all festive inside.

Unexpected festive treat

When Matt asked me to write something for Manchester yogis about my yoga experience in Poland (where I come from) and how it compares to yoga in England, I thought it would be difficult as these two experiences don’t differ too much. With this in mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you my most memorable yoga experience which so happened to be in Poland. For many years I used to practise yoga in a lovely studio in Warsaw. I especially enjoyed going to the early morning Saturday classes to give my weekend a really good start. One of the teachers who led the Saturday class was a charming lady; beside being a yoga teacher she was also a musician. One morning after the whole group lay down in Savasana she announced she would sing. Instead of letting us lie down in silence or giving us some tips about breath and posture, as she usually did, she sang for us. It was a beautiful crisp December morning, through the windows I could see branches of the trees covered with the frost and the sun rays shining through making the trees look as if they were sprinkled with diamonds. And the calming voice of the teacher singing some old Christmas carols. How amazing was that! For me it is the most treasured memory from all my yoga experiences. Even when I did my first hand stand or lotus I wasn't more pleased. It was the most memorable moment not only because it was so picturesque but also because it made me realize why I enjoy yoga so much. I love going to yoga classes because this 90 minutes I spend on my yoga matt is like a gift given to myself. It's valuable time when I can truly be with myself, focus on my needs and just be honest with myself. It would be interesting to hear about your favourite moments in yoga. I looking forward to reading your comments.
Yoga Manchester's Matt Ryan  showing the alternative exit from the Supta Konasana posture from the Primary series sequence. Supta Konasana means ‘sleeping angle posture’ , and to enter into it the student would lie down and bring the legs over the head and down towards the floor  then take hold of both big toes with legs wide , paying particular attention not to create tension in the neck. The posture is held for 5 deep breaths before exiting by gently rolling up the spine with legs straight , pausing , engaging the quads so when the legs are lowered to the floor the calf muscles are the first point of contact with the floor and not the heels of the feet. After touching the chin to the floor , the vinyasa is then to lift the head cross the legs and jump back as normal, when one builds strength and balance the exit can be performed by placing the hands onto the floor and lifting up the hips and legs into the handstand posture before dropping into chaturanga dandasana as in the video. The muscles of the shoulders and legs are stretched along with the muscles and ligaments of the neck . This video is for demonstration only