This month's 'Your teacher answers back' features the wonderful Liam Browne - Liam has just released his autobiography 'From Dealer to Healer'. Click here to grab yourself a free copy! Liam has also recorded a podcast with Yoga Manchester's Matt Ryan - click here to have a listen.

What are you listening to at the moment?

My Spotify weekly is usually pretty banging. Trevor Hall is always on and a guy i love called Sir Was! His abum blew me away. Also small talk-fout tet remix. And a tune called Alfa by Mop Mop, I love a hang drum! At the moment tho mainly my own voice as I'm editing my audio book. This is a dry experience but it should sound great when it's done.
 

Where would you be teleported to?

Probably to a different dimension so I could chill with crazy aliens see how more advanced species live and how there societies work. On earth Om Beach near Gokarna in India. Its paradise. I want to spend more time there.
 

Where do you buy your clothes from?

Mainly charity shops I also like a couple of Oz brands called Afends and Ghanda. My favourite piece of clothing is a typical Munich Ladies Walking jacket. It has a scene embroidered on the side of a man outside his cabin chopping wood. The roof of the house is made with red velvet and people love to stroke it when I'm out and about.
 

What does a regular practice look like for you?

Wake up shake and warm my body then either the Sivananda sequence, the 5 Tibetian Rites or the Jiva Magic 10. I let my body tell me what it wants. Then meditate and a shower where the last 2 minutes are cold to wake me up and make me alert for the day.
 

Any advice to a yoga beginner?

Dont be a fanny keep coming back, seek out teacher who resonate with you and poke at the uncomfortable parts of you. Dont go to teacher who make you feel good but ones that make you want to be better!!!!
 
Yoga Manchester's  Stefan Podolczuk discusses the connection between the art of yoga, music and mindful living. Stef opens up to tell us how he evolved and shares The Sound of Yoga’s 3 Secrets to Pure Bliss.

Sound and the Bliss of Being Present

In a number of ancient cultural traditions it's said that the first thing in existence was sound and that all known things came from it. Yes, this sounds a bit flowery and to some just plain weird, but why has this idea been so captivating to the billions that have followed such beliefs in search of wellbeing? Could it be that there’s some mysterious yet attainable life hack to contentment halfway between our experience of everyday sounds and the other many forces that drive us about our lives? Eastern philosophies tell us bliss is here in the present moment, when we are in that ‘flow state’ or ‘in the zone’ as we may relate to it. What can everyday sounds teach us and support in guiding towards feeling more often this sense of bliss, moving beyond just the intellectual understanding of it, and getting into that flow state at will?

The Link between Yoga, Sound and Music

As a yoga instructor and music graduate, it's natural for me to see a strong link between music and sound. Everyone feels the importance of the soundtrack whether or not we noticed it. Usually we will because it was sticking out like a sore thumb, but on the other hand it may have helped you to find that perfect place for whatever activity it is the music accompanies. And you'll know how powerfully a yoga session can move you (if you'll pardon the pun) and how music can have a similar evocative effect. Yoga translates into the connecting principles of the universe in which we exist. What entrances me so much about it as a practice, lifestyle and philosophy is that like a soundtrack, it can bind so many moments, places and experiences into this immediate sense of familiarity. It has connected my love of music to a career in which at first seemed to have no parallel other than being instinctively drawn to both activities. The day I signed up for college, my parents sent me off with reasonable academic grades to go register for math, science and English a-levels. By the end of the day I’d left the building as a member of the popular music course after having walked straight past the academia sign ups to register last minute as a music student. Mum and Dad had learnt to be miraculously forgiving and supportive of my sporadic tendencies by this point and bless them, my bold move eventually won them over and encouraged them to fund and transport me to extracurricular guitar lessons in addition, thanks again! Before the point of getting a great guitar mentor, I was just roughly playing by ear to my favourite teenage guitar tunes, I seemed to have a natural ability to pick up a tune, which kept me captivated and it was enough to inspire others to enjoy. I quite liked that it both sounded pleasant to my ear and delighted others too. I really enjoyed the practice, moving through the challenges for little rewards moment by moment.

Sound of Yoga’s 1st Secret to Pure Bliss

The first secret captivates a performer and the observer, and in the process of being captivated, we can learn to present and content, to go with the flow. With this new life path of music being officially undertaken and having it (despite with initial reluctance) encouraged by my parents, I had plenty to be grateful for. Yet, as many teenagers undoubtedly feel troubled, so was I. Struggling with hormones all over the place and still trying to work out where I fit in when I felt so often out of place. I can see now looking back, music was actually a form of therapy with this ability to quiet the noise of the troubled thoughts and instead let my attention rest on way more harmonious themes than over-thinking. Even if some of the music I played was pretty angst filled, it was normalising and venting that curious indecipherable backwash of emotions underneath the teenage skin I was in. Two years later it was time to look at university with good grades and feeling a real draw towards composing music. I’d somehow wangled my way onto a bachelor course for contemporary music composition and technology in a somewhat prestigious conservatoire, the Royal Welsh college of music (& drama) in Cardiff. All that after having basically bluffed my way through a bunch of music sight reading and being enthusiastic without trying to hide it. Does that sound as familiar to you about someone becoming obsessed with yoga practice? Moral of the story I was content to follow the musical rabbit down it’s hole and again, if there’s something we’re undeniably drawn to which pleases others too, it makes sense to give this thing plenty of our attention. See the 1st secret. So what's going on within to bring about this sometimes-euphoric state when we experience great music or great moments in a yoga practice? When we practice the physical poses, we're in this process of connecting the body in new unexpected, challenging and often delightful ways. Connecting just the breath and movement can lead to these otherworldly experiences for some individuals. Though for some, it simply gets them out of their head for some precious time. Perhaps like others, you've felt indescribable moments in yoga, like an experience of something that seems so immediate, infinite or real; like you just came home to your body or felt you’d noticed something completely fresh and new about it. As any self-respecting yoga teacher can attest, these moments are unique one offs for each individual and I personally would call them moments of bliss. In practicing a musical instrument or yoga, we may try to conjure something like this sense over and over again from a specified and echoed set of posture routines, but like everything else we come across in life, these techniques are really symbols and sign posts, and the finding of that sense of something so real we can't explain, is not quite so easily catchable. I feel it is found in being very present in that perfect finite moment, experiencing our pure unadulterated self. An irony being, if we chase them, they seem even more unattainable. Yeah, I know, that might sound totally airy fairy, but all these years studying physics through yoga, sound and music got me into some clear feeling which I’ll share with you about what this present moment is like through dedicated practice. So the poses help bring that connective sense for the most part, they certainly did for me. More advanced practice doesn’t mean doing a handstand or making your body resemble a pretzel, more aiding in removing the gross outer boundaries and layers that prevent us truly connecting to the feelings of our own physical body, the breath, one’s self, friends, family and others. When the practice becomes more refined we understand that that which connects us internally reflects externally, as a yoga practice requires clear inward communication, so society benefits from conscious and conscientious speech. Importance is affected not always on what we say but how we say it. This kind of external talk reflects inwardly and the more harmonious we can be within ourselves in a yoga practice, the easier it is to express that outwardly. Weaving poses and tunes together binds evolving experiences along one-time frame into one entity. Entering, exiting and experiencing yoga sequences link our physical awareness from one minute to the next. At times you can feel like no time has passed, time flies when you’re having fun as they say. That’s another of the big boons of both music and yoga as tools of contentment. The fact they take us out of our ordinary timeline where we have responsibility, inevitability, unfortunate imaginative thoughts which go off in all directions.

Sound of Yoga’s 2nd Secret to Pure Bliss

When we are absorbed in the process, we drop our own sense of time, our concerns and discover entrances to a moment of flow state. Which brings us to the effect of music binding our experience from one moment to the next. Taking it back to that basic level of noticing inappropriate music in a yoga class, you can tell when it's not "resonating". Filmmakers use this technique a lot, making the music become something of a feature through it's clash or harmony with the action on screen. It cuts you out of the flow before you even know it. I notice it a lot in classes. People move slower when there's droning ambient music playing out of the speakers similarly high energy gym classes pump up their favourite drum and bass rhythms to juice up the high-octane exercises and lift the energy. With the understanding sound is physically a wave, moving air pressure from one place to another, actually a shift of physical energy, things start to connect in a big way. Sound touches us, in a real sense. Maybe this is why such 'musical’ terms are favourable among your more expressive and unashamedly ‘new age’ friends, the language of musical terms, echo, resonate, harmony. Music is a language which every person understands but not everyone speaks. However you don’t need to know what language a wolf speaks when it growls, you just know what it means. In advanced yoga practice, we breathe in a more lyrical and musical way, developing that sense of just being aware of the vibrations physically moving through the body. The repetition of traditions like yoga or even the shift of cultures from era to era behaves like one big wave, echoing through the ages. And when we consciously enter into it like practising moving the body in these ways that have been practiced by people through many different cultures since humans became bipeds, it's like we're joining the chorus of the ancients, and singing along with them. We step outside of our language limitations too and vibrate ourselves in a way which goes way beyond the individual's ‘stuff’. We get a taste of that experience beyond the limits of the flesh, we lose all our worries and concerns for a moment which can seem like an eternity, whether we know it or not at the time, and if we’ve been consciously practicing music and yoga link 1 & 2, these moments will start to become the norm. What struck me when I began researching my dissertation topic (use of music and sound to create emotional response in motion pictures), was how much understanding the scientific community lacks when it comes to the arousal of emotions. Struggling to find anything scientific about the link, I recall looking for some numbers and I found an interesting study which compared the senses to computational power. Rather than put a time on how the nervous system and brain “compute” or “cognise” senses, this study showed how much problem-solving power the brain did to recognise the difference between the five basic senses. These numbers stayed roughly in my memory even if the location of the experiment didn’t (if you are desperately interested to know, get in touch and I can dig that old paper out of the University libraries and check the source material in the index). Anyway, to my recollection and subsequent repetition, the ratio went like this: Sight: 1,000,000,000 Hearing: 10,000,000 Smell: 10,000,000 Taste: 100,000 Touch: 1,000 What struck me about these numbers at first was, sound and smell! Pretty similar. I immediately recalled how nostalgia can be so quickly summoned by these two senses, a fragrance or song do tend to have this remarkable power over the other senses to ‘transport’ us to a sometimes long forgotten experience, if not simply a distant memory. I noted also how the simpler senses of taste and touch seem to agree with these findings, we react to these even quicker than we can imagine, it’s like they’re so ingrained they’re almost a psychic power compared to our intellectual process. For instance, you don’t have your hand on a hot plate and think about how hot it is before moving away do you? These senses are living a different life to us, at the stern of the ship steering us away from icebergs while we enjoy the banquet down in the galley. The next point I took away was, wow, how much energy we use on deciphering the visual world around us! This brought together how subject to reinterpretation the visual sense is, how difficult it is for us to localise ourselves to the environment with this sense. It seems with simpler senses of touch and taste we literally get a real feel of the deeper layers of being, the more immediate senses bring us closer to experience this illusive ‘moment’ which they promise contains pure bliss. So recall, this is how much processing power the brain uses to start to understand our sources of stimulation. There’s many ways to interpret this complex and considered scientific academic endeavour of an experiment. However, we are not all academics, and just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so is knowledge in the belief of the inspired. Stick with it because this might seem daunting, but it’s actually what led me to one of the most inspiring realisations of my life. It mentioned in the study how due to the work these senses are doing alone in EVERY moment, what is it like when they’re combined!? It leads to an absolute delay of our total experience of around half a second on average. That means that everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch has already gone into the past. Spoiler alert, WE WILL NEVER be in the ‘moment’ (not in a human body anyway). On top of these basic senses are all the other human senses that get so little attention, awareness of space, position, temperature, etc. They all act in a chaotic combination as the guards to the entrance of bliss in the seemingly unreachable ‘moment’. When you look at a wave it is constantly moving up down with intensity, but as this is its character, it always the same the constant of change. When we vibrate our bodies with choosing to listen and sing along with music we love or lifting and lowering the arms in a sun salutation or tapping feet and clapping hands to a catchy piece of music, we’re connecting so many layers of ourselves to that connected rhythm of life. What’s more, we are practicing being in this huge backwash of mental effort that comes with simply existing as a human being, with those smells, sounds and all to be dealing with. This is before we have even begun to consider how much work it takes for us to package this down into how we’ve felt about and responded or ignored similar stimulation throughout our lives. It’s no wonder that when we get into a peaceful ambient space with the subtle fragrances we either instantly feel a sense of calm, or conversely, unease at the fact we’re in the unusual position of not having the full on sensory attack of experiences that is day to day life.

Sound of Yoga’s 3rd Secret to Pure Bliss

In practice, we quieten a noisy fluctuating awareness of the senses. Looking at these pure bliss secrets, and the similarities amongst music and yoga, it’s no wonder variations of both have been practised alongside community bonding in numerous societies throughout the ages. It seems to be our natural go to that we go out and socialise, dance and that these movements and appreciations of sound and space go hand in hand. Because as we established in this brief article, our awareness of sound, makes up a large portion of localising ourselves in our own and shared space. Entering into trance by chanting or heading down to your local dance hall or gig venue are traditions old as humans have walked the earth. These non-dogmatic practices from many traditions have many benefits for the sense of well-being by highlighting and allowing a way to remove the layers of thought which unconsciously disturb that sense of stillness and peace with the 3 aforementioned bliss secrets. Most of these unconscious thoughts and sensory reactions are necessary for survival and have been alongside our evolution but we find ourselves in a world of saturation where it's a blessing to find these moments of peace. Just to speak briefly on I was reading from @simonsynergy on Instagram the other day about how all the humming actually shows many electro-chemical benefits in the body such as increasing circulation and immune function, and how it can even improve neurological function. So why not stick on your favourite album, hum and or sing along maybe even giving your funky thing a little groovy, “trancy” flow along to it right now, let’s test the theory. Photo by Camilla Mendes

Yoga Manchester Weird Weekend - Part 1 - An evening with a Zen Master

Manchester’s chief yogi Matt Ryan sends me a text at 8am on a Thursday morning asking if Brad Warner can stay at my house for a couple of hours that evening. ”Erm, what? Ok… ”. It was hard to believe and a bit of a surreal experience. For those who don’t know Brad Warner is a Zen Priest and all round cool guy. Punk Rock Bass player, Monster movie fanatic and author of Hardcore Zen. He was on the last leg of his European tour hosting Zen retreats and meditation workshops while promoting his latest book, Don't Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan's Greatest Zen Master. I have been a fan of Brad Warner for several years, read all of his books and have mad respect for the guy. The person Brad was staying with is out and Matt is busy teaching, and Brad can’t be wandering the streets of Chorlton on his own now can he? Suddenly this world famous Zen priest is coming to my house for tea. Tonight! Matt asked me to write a blog about it. But fair warning, I am no Louis Theroux, unfortunately. It sounded like the set up to a sit-com. Like an episode of Father Ted (second best priest). Bishop Brennan was coming round and I have to hide all the rabbits. Thankfully I didn’t have to kick Brad up the arse for a bet. Though it was probably more like that episode of I'm Alan Partridge, where Alan ends up captive in the home of a deranged superfan! I felt an enormous responsibility. I am the most socially awkward person there is. Basically I am anxious enough around people I know, let alone famous strangers I admire. It had been a bit of a crap week as well, you know. Just a bit miserable. I’m currently working at the Yoga Manchester 200 hour teacher training and had been feeling a bit stressed. A chance to meet a personal hero and have tea with a Zen master sounded like just what the doctor ordered. Matt dropped Brad off and waved goodbye. Brad said "See you next fall!". As I am sure scenes from Stephen King’s Misery flashed through his head and his ankles started to hurt, I said "I promise not to kidnap you". Then I put the kettle on. Potential Kidnapper I may or may not be, but a monster I am not. He noticed my Rush t-shirt and my girlfriend’s Rush tattoos and we started talking about our favourite Rush albums. Traditionally, punk rocker and prog rockers are two different beasts. It was a test and he passed! After scanning my bookshelf and checking out the old sci-fi novels (ignoring the collection of his own books that were definitely not put there to impress him), THE Brad Warner was sat on my couch drinking peppermint tea. He was tired and confessed to falling asleep during an afternoon trip to the cinema. Brad Warner does not recommend Blade Runner 2049, I bring that to you as a world exclusive. We got talking about Blade Runner, the book and the original film. While Brad scanned my living room and my film collection, we got talking about my Doctor Who action figures and more old sci-fi/horror films. We discussed the ace special effects in old films like Star Wars, The Blob, and John Carpenter's The Thing. We sat complaining about how CGI looks rubbish and old practical effects are the best. Like a pair of hipsters.  Not surprising considering Brad used to work in Japan making old Power Rangers-style TV shows and Godzilla-esque monster movies. Special effects are like his specialist subject, next to Buddhism obviously. It was cool to find common ground and just talk rubbish about nerdy stuff. He recounted a story of how he saw the original Star Wars as a kid at a test screening while it was completely unknown, months before it came out. He was saying how he was blown away by it and raving about it at school to one of his friends. This guy was not interested because Brad is into all 'weird' stuff. Later when Star Wars was released this guy was all over it like everyone else. "What a phony! I lost respect for that guy", Brad said. "We are still friends on Facebook though. He was an asshole". I laughed at the idea of this Zen priest who is still Facebook friends with someone from highschool, but remembers that disagreement they had about Star Wars 40 years ago. Maybe not the most Zen thing ever but funny all the same. Brad became excited when he saw the cat's food bowl in the kitchen. Like, really excited! Brad Warner is a cat person. Another world exclusive. My girlfriend summoned the cat from outside. Little Loki, all black, queen of the castle came strolling in to see who was trespassing in her living room. She took a shine to Brad as he engaged her in combat. Loki loves a bit of a wrestle and relished the appearance of a new challenger, settling in for strokes and fusses afterwards. It was cute because Loki is a beast and is wary of strangers. Is the power to commune with animals a Buddhist thing? I dunno. Maybe just with cats. Cats are pretty Zen about things aren't they. Maybe cats are like Klingons and respect a true warrior. Brad had the Loki seal of approval. I could tell Brad had been eyeing up my bass guitar since he came in and asked if he could have a go on it. He had been on tour for weeks doing meditation workshops and silent retreats and he really missed playing. I gave him my guitar and we talked about bass. He noodled around on it trying to remember basslines from his band Zero Defex. Slapping out some funky licks and even chugging out the riff to Working Man by Rush. He really seemed to chill out a bit more with a guitar in his hands. Brad was telling me about another punk rock Buddhist author (I forget his name, probably for the best as not to call them out). Brad said that one time his own book Hardcore Zen was printed with a picture of this other guy in it. Pretty awkward... “He is more punk looking than me, with the skinhead and everything”, said Brad. Apparently this chap was a hardcore biker and drug addict, who found Buddhism and turned his life around. Which is the typical narrative of the self-help guru that seems kind of cynical these days. Brad was saying that his publisher tried to get him to spin his story in a similar way, to spice it up with tales of addiction and redemption. "But that isn’t my story" said Brad. His is a kind of everyday Buddhism that anyone can relate to, and his whole thing is that he's a relatable guy. Brad laughed telling me how he was doing a talk/retreat type event and the promoters had done a poster showing Brad on stage bringing the noise with Zero Defex in one picture, and another picture of Brad in robes, saying something like "He went from Punk rocker to Zen priest". Brad told them "It's not really like that. I am still in the band. There was no transformation or turning my life around. I do both of those things". I thought that summed up Brad pretty well. We chatted some more about music, bands and cats. Brad eventually getting his phone out to show us some of the celebrity animals he likes on instagram. Him and my girlfriend trading recommendations on who to follow for the best animal pictures. On reflection we didn’t talk about Zen at all really. It was all just normal stuff. Nerdy sci-fi and horror. Cool bands. Quoting episodes of Seinfeld at each other. It was kind of demystifying the Zen Master, I guess. The man, the myth and the legend. Getting past that title of 'priest', that Brad frequently tends to renounce. He ignored my obvious fanboy awkwardness and adoration and just shrugged it off. I expect he is used to it with his students and meeting fans. Really he is just a normal guy. For all his insight, wisdom and knowledge, he is a regular dude and a nerd. You could almost say that he is just a nerd about Buddhism as well.  

Weird Weekend - Part 2 - The workshop.

Saturday rolled around for the weekend workshop with Brad Warner at One Yoga in sunny Chorlton (I jest, obviously it was raining…). It was a pretty good turn out. There were about 20 people, and Brad joked that he is never sure if even one person will come and thanked everyone for being there. We were all gathered round and Brad sat at the front of the room on his little cushion. He was surrounded by books and had a digital recorder by his side. The leader, teacher and scholar. The Zen Master. Except he wasn’t in robes. He was wearing jeans and a Godzilla T-shirt. Yup. Still the same Brad I met on Thursday. Brad asked everyone around the room what they knew about Zen and why they were here. Everyone had a different story. Some knew about Zen. Some had read other authors, from other disciplines and had come for a different perspective. Others were complete newbies and were dipping their toe in. It was a nice mix of people from different backgrounds. Intellectuals, spiritual types, and just curious dudes off the street. All had come to hear Brad talk about Zen. It is awesome to listen to Brad speak. Once he gets going he is so enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable. Giving a brief history of Buddhism and Zen mixed with some of his life story. He is a fantastic storyteller and has a way of explaining things in a fun manner. He frequently references pop-culture, like The Simpson's and Seinfeld. Explaining Buddhist koans with reference to the dimension jumping adventures of Rick and Morty. Relating Buddhist philosophy of ethics and concepts of the self, to a dilemma of Captain Kirk in an episode of Star Trek The Original series. Even comparing himself to Pee Wee Herman; He’s a loner, Dottie. A Rebel. It makes things fun and entertaining. All the while he exhibits a detailed knowledge of ancient history in India, Japan and China. Quoting texts in Sanskrit, Japanese and English, he explains translations in historical context with his own commentary, which I think really helps make these things applicable to the modern world. Knowing what the words meant in their time and how they apply today. His method of teaching is seamless. It is hard to see where nerdy sci-fi Brad ends and where wise scholarly Zen Master Brad begins. They are one in the same. Brad is a nerd about everything he likes and he really likes Zen Buddhism.   We were instructed in how to sit Zazen and had a couple of practice sessions. The first was for 30 minutes and another 20 minute session at the end. I think one of the things that attracts me to Zen and zazen is it’s accessibility. It requires very little ritual and few props. It is open to anyone. As Brad says “it doesn’t care what you believe”. It is the practice of Just sitting. I think that Brad represents this egalitarian nature of the practice. He opens up the practice, the ideas and philosophy to everyone and presents it in a way that doesn’t scare people off. He is a very wise dude. Down to earth and approachable, but with an amazing knowledge and insight that he can convey in a common sense way and make relevant to modern life. During the short break Brad came up to me and asked “Is it everything you hoped for?”. I was like “Yeah man, its great”. Was Brad asking for my approval? He was like “I never really know how people will take it”. I said “It is just fun to listen to you geek out about this stuff. It is really interesting!”. He confesses that he doesn’t really plan things too much. But I think it works. I can’t speak for others obviously, but for me it is fun to listen to him ramble and he has a natural way of stringing subjects together. Brad stuck around for a bit after the event to take photos with people and sign their books. I remembered that I didn’t get him to sign any of my books when he was round my house! D’oh. Oh well. I got to hang out with the guy which was an honour. It didn’t end there though. Matt invited me and my girlfriend out to dinner with Brad and a few friends afterwards. I awkwardly accepted. It was a cool end to the week and in a way completed the Brad Warner ‘Weird Weekend’ experience. I got to see him alone in my house like a hostage. I got to see him doing his wise Zen Master thing on the zufu preaching to his pupils. Now I got to break bread with him in a more socialable group setting. It was a fun evening, talking rubbish, joking around, putting the world to rights with good company and eating a tonne of food. I think we were all way more relaxed by this point and I had a ruddy bloody good end to the week. Brad was heading back to LA the next day but he seemed to have enjoyed his tour and his visit to Manchester. We loved having you Brad. Be seeing you.  
Did you see what I did there with the title of the blog ? No ? Didn't get it ? Ok I'm making a statement that the item in the photo is the best yoga mat in the world , except it ain't no yoga mat - you dig? It is in fact a zafu more commonly known as a meditation cushion. And not a rectangular shaped piece of fabric that one would use to bust out some yoga postures on. So what gives I hear you say - what on earth am I on about ... Well I guess I'm having a little fun mainly at the expense of the interpretation of a famous yoga scripture 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali'. The Yoga Sutras is the bible for Ashtanga Yoga students like myself - I've read it a bunch of times , never quite grasped it but persevered with it - mainly due to the fact that when I stated practicing Ashtanga all my peers would wax lyrical endlessly about it. Anyway I don't want to open the can of worms debate about The Sutras having naff all to do with physical yoga postures -and is actually an esoteric instruction manual for meditation allegedly written by some bloke called Patanjali in the second century  - I'll leave that to the yoga academics and their pals. What actually interests me a lot more these days is why there aren't more people practicing meditation. It kind of dawned on me that folk are either lazy or impatient or perhaps a little of both - I know I'm both. The late great Ashtanga Yoga Guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois would say that all types of people could practice Yoga - fat, thin, tall, small, old, young even poorly people ! The only folk who couldn't practice Yoga he would say are 'lazy people'. But what about meditation - coz basically all one has to do is 'sit down and shut up' ( as my Zen teacher Brad Warner would say) that might be a bit of a struggle if you're a chatterbox or you've got a boil on your backside but other than that it's a sinch ! So why can't people do it ? It can change your life for the better - it changed my life immeasurably. I think the problem lies in my above statement about people being impatient. When you start practicing yoga the benefits are so much more tangible - you might not even be able to see your toes when you start. But after a few short weeks of practicing the postures you are able to start touching your knees, then shins then 'hallelujah' toe touching happens ! With meditation you can be practicing for like ages and it feels like absolutely nothing is happening , impatience sets in and the next thing you are putting the following advert on eBay...
For Sale 1 Zafu like new - might be broken as my life didn't get better after a ten minute meditation session.
But the thing is , things are happening - but very subtly. It's hard to see it at first it's a bit like one of those puzzles where you have a picture hidden in lots of dots and you have to adjust your eyesight to see the picture- well same same ( but different !). Meditation is a practice that has to be done every day - like brushing your teeth. So don't delay sit down and shut up and meditate today !   If you're interested in starting meditation Yoga Manchester is now hosting '1 day introduction to meditation' workshops - the next one is on Saturday 18th March - click this link for more information.   Matt Ryan teaches Yoga and Meditation at Yoga London Club.      
The nee-ji which was created by Yoga Manchester’s Matt Ryan , can be used to help combat certain aspects of knee pain. It can help people with pain associated with Osteoarthritis, patello-femoral pain (problems associated with the knee cap), calf tension, Achilles tendonosis, “stiff knee”, post knee surgery and restricted range of motion. Its applications are varied depending on the original problem and diagnosis. Please consult your physician or physiotherapist if you have any doubt or concern before using the nee-ji. Use of the nee-ji is at the user’s own risk. nee-ji.com accepts no liability for any misuse or damage sustained during its use. The nee-ji sits behind the knee joint in the fold (popliteal crease) of the knee. The knee is then flexed gently to achieve certain yoga poses. The poses are then held in a static posture allowing a continuous pressure behind the knee. The nee-ji is made out of low-density flexible foam which provides maximum support and comfort for the user.   For more details of the nee-ji click here
My Zen teacher Brad Warner (whose brilliant book Sit Down and Shut Up inspired the title of this blog) said once that he’s noticed that when he gives a talk about Zen loads of people show up , yet when he’s leading a ‘zazen’ meditation he’s main companions are tumble weeds. It feels a little like it’s going the same way with Yoga. Every day I’m reading yet another story on Facebook ( not that I go on Facebook) ( Ok well maybe I do but not that much) (aarrgh ok I go on it every day ok !! ) about how this teacher said this and another teacher said that – contradictions and cyber back biting aplenty. Every Woman ,Man and dog have an opinion on what Yoga is or supposed to be and if you don’t fall in with their opinion then you’re either wrong or stupid or both! It feels like there could be a 21st Century re-writing of Patanjali’s second sutra ‘Yoga is the cessation of actually doing yoga and just talking about it on Facebook instead’! What I’m loving at the moment though is this current trend of some teachers talking about how yoga is so , so much more than postures and there’s a real spiritual profundity about it that is being missed by students. Oh and the photo of the article? Why of course it’s of the said teacher in some fancy smancy toe up asana – a lovely contradiction eh. It’s funny how most of the teachers who can rock all the advanced postures bang on about how it’s not all about doing the advanced postures and yet at any photo opportunity they get they will rock an advanced posture. Then the flip side to that particular coin is the less physically able yoga folk will then get on their high-horse about how outraged they are that Yoga is being turned into a circus art. It’s pretty funny to watch from the side lines as an innocent bystander. I spent what seemed like 3 days reading one particular article recently, I don’t think I even finished it as it became a little like pulling teeth and also life’s too short and of course I had to go and do my practice. In the article one teacher was calling out another teacher for basically doing something they didn’t agree with – well rather not doing something which the writer thought that they should be doing. I was like eh ? Really? This is something that annoys me a lot, I guess we all do it to some extent (myself included). We make judgements on other people and their actions, and usually that judgement is based on the fact that we wouldn’t act like that so the person must be wrong. Which is just plain daft. Then there’s the cyber jousting he said / she said , my teacher says it’s this , well my teachers says that. It can be a real minefield for new yoga students trying to understand what they should be doing what they shouldn’t. I think it’s good to listen to opinions, points of views, and even contradictions too. But the trick is to not get too caught up in them. I’ve learnt over time that just getting on my mat answers any questions that I might have.   I came across this quote the other day
The first time I played a bass, I was successful. Success is not a goal. Success is in the doing. Always.
- Ian MacKaye owner of Dischord Records, Which I thought was absolutely brilliant – the same philosophy could and should be applied to a yoga practice. In fact I’ll go as far to say that this should be lesson #1 for ALL yoga students getting on the mat for the first time. A very similar message can be found in this cartoon… digging for the bone is the reward   Which I also love – I found this on yes you guessed it Facebook a few months back and I’ve used the message in class plenty of times – it’s another beauty for anyone who practices yoga. But I must admit as much as it’s about ‘the doing’ it’s only human nature to get a sense of accomplishment when we’ve finished our practice , or perhaps the first time you touch your toes or bind the hands in Marichyasana A. That very same part of our DNA that says ‘YES’ when that happens is also the very same thing that actually gets us to class in the first place , without it we’d be staying at home eating chips , looking at Facebook.   Save

Yoga Manchester’s Teacher Training Programme

A comprehensive 200 hour teacher-training course with an internationally acclaimed faculty fully accredited with The Independent Yoga Network. The course will start with an eight day intensive and continue with six weekend sessions over a total period of seven months. Increase your knowledge of yoga with some of Europe's leading yoga practitioners and academics. The course involves in depth study of yoga asana , pranayama, meditation , yoga philosophy, yoga anatomy and also the skills needed to launch your career as a yoga teacher. The Yoga Manchester Teacher Training programme has been developed whether you want to become a yoga teacher or not. It will allow you to deepen into your own practice and understanding of yoga, providing you with all the necessary tools to become an ever-evolving student and teacher.

Course Overview

Asana : The YMTT will be based on two separate and complementary, approaches to delivering asana.  These are Yoga Motion, an interdisciplinary vinyasa style and Yoga for Sports. Yoga Philosophy : Bringing together the ancient knowledge of East with the developments of the West Anatomy : Understanding Anatomy & Physiology – including bio-mechanics of movement & exercise science. Pranayama : The science and mechanics of yogic breathing. Meditation : Developing a personal practice. Business & Marketing skills :   Including how to set up a yoga class in your local area, creating a website and how to use Social Media. For more info bookings please click here
Ok I’ll ‘fess up here. I’ve written about this subject before many times, but it’s a theme that crops up again and again in both my yoga & meditation practices. My crazy Zen teacher Brad Warner wrote about it very eloquently in a recent blog post which made me want to reiterate the point–more for myself than anyone else. I guess the ‘theme’ can be boiled down to one word.. ..Expectations. What is the criteria that fulfils our expectations from practice? Be it to become strong fit and flexible from yoga asana or perhaps we use meditation to become more mindful, chilled out or even to achieve enlightenment whatever the hell that is, we all start or continue with these disciplines for a reason. My own reasons for starting yoga (and meditation) were all mind based but I did have expectations that these practices were going to ‘fix’ my mind. And just for the record here I continue to have expectations as much as the next person. But as I mentioned in a previous blog what the hell happens when your practices aint ticking your expectation boxes?  Where do you go from there? Do you pack it in? Do you keep going until your donkey & carrot expectations are fulfilled in a never ending chasing your tail ‘kinda way? I guess for myself I only truly understood about expectations when I started to do this Zazen thang (Zazen is the ‘Zen’ Buddhist form of meditation). There are actually a few different methods of ‘Zazen’, and the one I practice is called shikantaza (pronounced she-can-tar-za) which literally means ‘just sitting’. In shikantaza all we are doing is just sitting up straight on a ‘zafu’ (meditation cushion) in full lotus, half-lotus or with cross legs with eyes open looking at a wall (I’ll elaborate the wall thing in another blog) . So there’s no counting breaths or reciting mantras or any other similar methods that one would do in other meditation practices. When one does shikantaza you’re not trying to get anywhere or achieve anything which is probably the complete antithesis of everything you’ve been taught and begs the question ‘why on earth would you want to sit and stare at a wall for 40 minutes a day if it’s not actually doing anything’? And believe you me that particular question does crop up a bazillion times when I’m sitting. When I ask Brad how to deal with this endless questioning by my mind his answer is always the same. ‘Just sit Matt’ he says. ‘Ah ok, thanks’ I would reply. End of lesson. Just sit! Now in Yoga asana there are obvious tangible benefits when you start practicing. After a while maybe you can touch your toes (or even see your toes), your shoulders and hips feel looser and usually there is a general feeling of well-being after your yoga practice. But in my own experience these benefits start to become less obvious after a while, I mean I’m fairly flexible now and there’s a chunk of yoga postures in the Ashtanga practice that I can’t do and probably never will be able to , and sometimes my mind is as messy as it was before I had practiced that day. So rather than beat myself up about it I heed Brad’s words about sitting and apply it to yoga – I just practice. There’s something very powerful in the ability to do something ‘just for the sake of doing it’, to achieve nothing in particular, without any grand mental or physical expectations. Nothing (or the northern colloquialism ‘Nowt’) is where it’s at, man! There is a fly in this expectation less ointment though. How can you stop the mind expecting? And here’s the secret answer that I am giving you for FREE that other Yoga/Meditation snake charmers might charge you the earth for. You can’t. Really it’s that simple. As I mentioned before your mind literally has a mind of its own. Its job is to think. What it thinks you have absolutely no control over what’s so ever and therein lies the problem, we think we can control the mind but the reality is we can’t – so why bother trying! What we can do is not react to our endless cycle of mundane incessant questions the mind conjures up. My body is still stiff and I’ve been practicing yoga for 5 and a half weeks now  , I can’t get my leg(s) behind my head , my practice doesn’t feel as good as it did last week and on and on it goes. So rather than have answers for these questions or even trying to fulfill the expectations you just carry on doing your practice and accept that it’s just the mind carrying on with itself. As Brad says ‘A big part of doing shikantaza practice is learning how to be OK with your thoughts being completely out of control’. And it’s the same with Yoga asana too. Both these practices for me are the same thing – as Yoga teacher David Williams says ‘Yoga & Meditation are synonyms’. So next time you come to one of my classes and you ask me why you can’t get your leg behind your head or why you can’t touch your toes I’ll most likely tell you to not worry too much and ‘just practice’.      
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
If you ever strike it lucky and manage to get yourself booked into the shala in Mysore, South India - which to be honest is becoming harder and harder these days it's a real lottery if you get accepted or not ( in fact it's probably easier to win the bloody lottery) you will have to adhere to the Shala’s codes of practice. Which if you don't know go something like this .. Everyone and I mean everyone (including yoga celebs like Kino MacGregor and Eddie Stern) has to practice primary series on their first week (minimum booking 1 month, maximum 3 months) regardless of what series they are on - first week primary only it’s the law no discussions nuff said. After that first week you are then allowed to practice whatever series you were doing last time you were at the shala and if you've never been before you stay in primary series until Sharath deems your practice good enough to move you into intermediate series. So when I say good enough what I actually mean is that you have a good understanding both physically and mentally of all the postures in the sequence. If you're relatively new to Ashtanga the rule (in the shala )is until you are able to 'bind' ( ie clasp the hands behind your back) in Marichyasana D then you do the next posture which is navasana then move straight into the closing sequence of postures without even attempting the post navasana postures - see here to familiarise yourself with sequence. Some people are ok with this some people get a little hot under the collar about it. Especially as the  (very good) argument for folk getting antsy about that rule, is that there are postures beyond navasana in the sequence that are very good for beginners (baddha konasana upavistha konasana etc) and when I say good I mean good as in appropriate or suitable. Speaking to all the old school Ashtanga Yoga students like David Swenson, they say that Guruji Pattabhi Jois would never really stop a student from practicing the whole sequence – only in certain circumstances. I guess the main reason for allowing students to continue to practice the whole series was down to the fact there wasn’t that many students attending the Shala in the old days so Guruji would be able to keep his eye on everyone to make sure they weren’t doing anything untoward and injuring themselves. But over the years the Shala got double double busy and in 2002 a brand new shiny Shala was opened that could accommodate up 80 students at a time – the old Shala was only big enough for 12 people.  So now it was much harder for both Guruji and Sharath to be able to keep their eyes on 80 students and the above rule of being able to bind in Marichyasana D was enforced. I guess mainly to stop the newer or less experienced students from throwing themselves around the mat and hurting themselves. Makes sense to me. Also another very good reason for this rule (which also applies once you start doing other sequences eg if you can’t get your leg behind your head in eka pada sirsana in the intermediate series that’s where you would be stopped until you are able to do this posture safely and comfortably) is that it helps to keep the ‘check my practice out’ ego maniacs in check – which I’ve witnessed plenty of times in Mysore. Unfortunately this bind rule has been applied I think too literally in the past for the wrong circumstances and wrong reasons and I for one have been very guilty of that. I remember a few years back it was just after I got my fabulous Level 2 authorisation from the Shala and I was teaching a Mysore class in Manchester. One of my regulars who used to come to every class I taught was moving her way slowly and steadily through the practice – now this lady wasn’t able to bind in Marichyasana D but usually as there were only around 10 or so folk at class I was able to help her and others navigate through the more difficult postures beyond navasana. But now I had the authorisation so I must apply the Shala rules – I explained to the student just why I wasn’t allowing her to continue beyond navasana and asked her to start the finishing sequence which she did albeit with tears in her eyes – she thought she had done something wrong. She hadn’t, but I had – big time. That was the first and last occasion that I ever stopped someone in inappropriate circumstances. (I later apologised to the student so all good!) A few years after the above incident I was teaching someone privately at my house in Manchester. The student was going to a different Ashtanga teacher in a different area – and despite this student practicing for nearly 2 years they were being asked to stop at navasana by their other teacher. This person was able to bind in Marichyasana D (albeit on one side only) but as they started to go through their practice with me I could tell that the student had a good understanding of the practice, their body and their body’s limitations. It was a one to one situation and I felt quite comfortable taking them through the whole sequence – especially as the baddha konasana posture was going to be very good for their stiff hips.   I was able to break down section by section the 3 more difficult postures post navasana in a way that they now had a good understanding of these postures and how to do them on their own in a safe way – after all let us not kid ourselves it’s not rocket science here is it. The student loved the class so much so they booked me again the next day. A few days later after the student had gone back ‘darn sarf’ (or was it up north , I can’t quite remember) I got a text message from him saying that his other teacher wasn’t very happy about me taking him through the whole practice. I had explained during the class why  I thought it was appropriate to take him through the whole thing and also the reasons why his other teacher might be stopping him (busy Shala perhaps) , and also as it’s a one to one it’s a safe environment -so all good in my eyes. He also mentioned that the teacher had suggested that he (should) change certain aspects about the way he was living his life which kinda took me by surprise. I told my young Padawan ( well by text , longest text message I ever sent - it was bloody War & Peace on a mobile phone) that in my opinion the only legitimate person who should be telling someone how to live their life was themselves – and that they shouldn’t in no uncertain circumstances be handing that particular authority to anyone else. He should accept and take responsibility for his own life. Yes it’s good to take advice from yoga teachers but when they are telling you need to change certain aspects of your life that you enjoy (and not in any way detrimental to your health) then you have to just let go of that advice. And ultimately give it up for what? Just so he can bind on both sides in marichyasana D .. go figure. Buddhist teacher and academic Stephen Batchelor explains that the practice of meditation is not an end in itself but a practice so one can live a more fulfilling life – whether it’s enjoying a piece of art , a walk in the park or maybe the opera ,whatever. For me Yoga serves exactly the same purpose, yes there are physical benefits of a stronger more flexible body etc but my yoga practice allows me to enjoy more the time I spend with my family or even a fine green tea. And anyone with a modicum of intelligence will tell you that the ability to bind in marichyasana D has no bearing WHATSOEVER on how a yoga practice can impact positively on your life. In the words of David Swenson..
‘Don’t let yoga ruin your life’
Ie don’t get too caught up in what postures you can and can’t do – and certainly don’t stop enjoying life in its entirety. Allowing your life to be about one thing only can be very destabilising emotionally, physically even spirituality (if you’re that way inclined).