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.      
Just last week I hooked up with an old mate from my nightclubbing days – he too is now living in London and like me has been through his fair share of ‘dark nights of the soul’ Anyways we decided we would meet up to ‘do lunch’ which is what forty year blokes do these days and we met up in some hip veggie restaurant in Covent Garden (darling!) It was one of those food gaffs that make you pay by the weight of your food and because it’s London it seems the scales default setting is £expensive – I never knew lettuce leaves weighed so much. So as we were sitting down to talk about the good/bad old days a lady friend of my pal called us over to say hello. We were all introduced, my mate took it upon himself to introduce me as Yoga Matt – like I’ve not heard that one a bazillion times, but he thought it was hilarious. The lady friend was also a Yoga teacher and asked me what type of Yoga was it I taught. Now anyone who teaches Yoga knows this kinda question ‘What type of Yoga do you teach’ is always going to be a loaded one – usually because the enquirer won’t be teaching the same style as you and of course they always have an opinion about your particular brand of Yoga. And my friend’s lady friend didn’t disappoint. ‘I’m an Ashtanga teacher’ I said with a big smile on my face. After all I owe Ashtanga a huge debt for putting some light into my own dark nights of the soul, so teaching it gives me nothing but joy. ‘Ah Ashtanga – the injury Yoga’ came the reply, which was met by own stunned silence. I actually thought she may have been pulling my leg and she was some kind of comic whose genius lies in the ability to pause for a few awkward moments before they utter the punch line. But there was no punch line forth coming and the stunned silence turned into an awkward one , so I hit her with the social cliché  that one utters in these uncomfortable moments  ‘well it was lovely to meet you’ and went and sat down to eat my expensive lettuce leaves before I lost my appetite. My mate and I laughed about the irony that we were ‘doing lunch’ rather than ‘doing’ more nefarious substances like we had done in our sordid pasts. I tried to let the Ashtanga Injury Yoga comment go , but I couldn’t. I really wanted to finish up my lunch and nip back over to my fellow Yogi’s table and explain that Ashtanga Yoga doesn’t injure anybody , but in fact it’s the practitioner’s ego that’s the main problem. The ego that says ‘yes I can get into that posture’ or ‘no I don’t need to modify this one’ – you get my point no ? People do not like to admit this to themselves and don’t want to take responsibility for their actions – so if an injury occurs whilst practicing Ashtanga (or any other form of Yoga )  the fault is of course nothing to do with the practitioner and everything to do with the Yoga practice – which is of course absolutely ridiculous. I mean I know Ashtanga Yoga has been (wrongly) tagged as ‘the strong yoga’ sometimes I get comments from students like ‘isn’t that the fast one that Madonna does, I don’t fancy that it looks too hard’. I actually blame whoever came up with the term ‘Power Yoga’, which Ashtanga Yoga got rebranded with in the eighties. Let me just say this Ashtanga will not give you an injury if you practice it correctly – only you or perhaps only your ego will make that injury happen. Ashtanga isn’t power yoga – if you want to practice the sequence ‘powerfully’ without paying attention to appropriate variations for your own body shape then you must take responsibility for whatever happens. I think the root of the problem lies in the macrocosm of what most of us (me included) do in our lives, where we don’t engage directly with the world but engage only with our thoughts about the world. And similarly in the microcosm of a Yoga practice we are not engaging with practice but our thoughts (ego) about the practice. The thoughts that say ‘of course I can get my leg behind my head….SNAP!’ My Zen teacher Brad Warner says that a good Zen teacher will not accept any student trying to give them their responsibility – or be responsible for the student’s actions. If the Zen teacher is worth their salt they will throw that responsibility back at the student (in a ‘Zen’ kind of way of course). In some ways I like to think I adapt a similar attitude when I’m teaching. When a student comes into my class we both enter into a relationship based on an open ongoing dialogue – I am responsible for ensuring the student ‘taking practice’ in the appropriate manner, advising, adjusting when and where appropriate making sure the student’s ego never pushes into injury. I am responsible for Ashtanga, the student is responsible for themselves. PS Apologies for the rather crap 'photo-shopped' graphic image -  I don't actually have Photo Shop so I use this online software package that is free so it's always going to look a bit bogus - but I thought it looked that bad it was actually funny :)   Matt Ryan teaches at his studio Yoga London Club in North London.
Yoga London Club Yoga London Club website Well after the best part of 20 years I've finally managed to open my own Yoga Studio that's dedicated to the practice and principles of Ashtanga Yoga and boy oh boy am I a very happy bunny! Yoga London Club will be compact and bijou , and is situated in the heart of North London in West Hamstead and will be fully functional on Monday 27th February - so please shout it from the rooftops and go tell all your friends family and colleagues who live darn sarf to come and look me up. I started to practice Ashtanga Yoga  many moons ago - is it almost 20 years ? Yikes ! To be honest I had no idea what 'brand of yoga 'I was practicing  until after about 6 months  when someone told me it was called Ashtanga. I was completely oblivious to the fact there were different types of yoga or what yoga actually was. I think at the time my only (mis)understanding of yoga was that it was some weird cult like exercise for old ladies in lycra practiced behind closed (Church Hall) doors. And then of course all that changed  over the following few months when this incredible transformative mind/body holistic system pulled me out of the very big hole I was stuck in. After 6 months of practice I said goodbye to nightclubs and excess as I flew to Mysore South India to study with the late great Guru of Ashtanga Yoga Guruji Sri K Pattabhi Jois  and immersed myself completely in all things Ashtanga. The rest as they say is history. So here we are nearly 20 years on from then. I've set up Yoga Manchester and Yoga Express with it has to be said some big big help from a few amazing people I've had the very good fortune to get to know over the years. I even created my very own unique yoga prop - Nee-ji - the safe knee support for yoga & meditation. In April this year the inaugural Yoga Manchester Teacher Training Programme will be launched which I'm also reet proud of. And now the icing on the cake for me personally is my very own Ashtanga Yoga studio in the form of Yoga London Club (YLC). YLC will have both Mysore Style Self-Practice sessions and counted vinyasa led classes , I've even thrown in a couple of Ashtanga short form Yoga Express classes for good measure - I like to accommodate. The very lovely Paul Jones who has been teaching the weekly Thursday class in Withington for the last 10 years is going to be joining me at YLC - he just couldn't bear to be without me - well that's a large fib to be honest , he's moving to London for work but I'm extremely please he is and he has agreed to teach some classes at the new studio.   Save Save Save Save Save Save
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
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).  
What are you listening to at the moment? Type O Negative (I know, sounds very yogic!) with classics like Everything Dies, Creepy Green Light and My Girlfriend's Girlfriend why not!  I like earthy, doom sounds with plenty of gain...  also there's a tongue in cheek theatrical side to the band that's really fun - they are not as dark as they appear (more of a creepy green). They've done a great cover of 'Angry Inch' from the musical 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' which is based on a fictional (and fabulous!) glam rock band. Where would you teleport to? Well, as seen as you've got me onto music... my 'little' bro (the guy with makeup on in the pic) and I were brought up on rock/metal so it's quite close to our hearts. I'd love to see bands like Faith No More, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Kyuss and Metallica around the mid-late 80s/early 90s.  So I'd teleport to the USA and go on a gig tour, be a fly on the wall during jam sessions and definitely see Cliff Burton (Metallica) play a base solo. While I'm in that era I could travel to Mysore and and practice with Pattabhi Jois, experience the magic of the old shala and hopefully repair the whiplash sustained from all of that head-banging. Where do you buy your yoga clothes? I'm easily pleased, as long as it's black. So TK Maxx tends to be an easy win.  I don't want to be distracted by clothing while I'm practicing and teaching, so I look for simple clothes with no dangly bits that could get caught on a student/components could dig in during dhanurasana. If possible I get stuff that's made with natural fibres and I'll wear it and repair it until it dies - then it becomes a cleaning rag for the bikes. What does a regular practice look like for you? Ideally it's six days a week and I always start with some pranayama.  My practice is sometimes the Ashtanga Primary series, sometimes Intermediate series, sometimes a mix of both.  I don't always have two hours to practice so if I'm short of time it can be anything from 10/15mins. If I'm ill I tend to roll about on the floor, do some modified sun salutations, stick my legs up the wall and feel sorry for myself. I'll always do something. A few times a week I supplement my Ashtanga practice with a short 15-20min session that's got more of a structural/functional focus.  I'd call this 'research' more than my practice - it could be research for my own biomechanics in relation yoga/cycling or research for a class or student. Any advice to a yoga beginner? Keep going, it's worth it.
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.      
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 when he gives a talk about Zen loads of people show up , yet when he’s leading a ‘zazen’ meditation his 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 teacher says it's that. It can be a real minefield for new yoga students trying to understand what they should be doing and 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.  

Addendum ....

  yoga quiters   Baby, life’s (and Yoga is) what YOU make it… So carrying on from the above about this new Facebook phenomenon of venting one’s Yoga spleen on Social Media I seem to be reading a sudden increase in yet another new angle on FB… the yoga quitters .. Usually the piece is titled something like this ‘Why I quit yoga’ or ‘Yoga is no good’ etc. with the writer blaming the practice for burning them out or one particular post claimed that other students were not being spiritual enough . I’ve seen ‘burn out’ happen quite a lot over the few years I’ve been teaching. A new student comes to class falls in love with the practice and then for the next few weeks / months they go hell for leather into it without being able to moderate themselves, and after a while I never see them again. It happens , no biggie – people are people we are all different and usually folk will gravitate quite naturally towards a yoga practice that fits with their personality ( a friend of mine used to joke that Ashtanga Yoga was a practice for obsessive westerners – cheers for that Dan !!) N.B. Yoga will not burn you out , YOU will burn yourself out. And for the folk who quit yoga because other students don't live up to your spiritual expectations I'll leave you with yet another quote ..

The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.

Robert M.Pirsig. We can quite easily re-calibrate the quote to the following..
The only Shanti you can find in a Yoga Shala , is the Shanti that you take in with you.
Matt Ryan : )  

 1. You’ve got a lovely backbend.

Guruji Pattabhis Jois would comment that students needed a strong body before they could consider making their mind strong to help them practice the other limbs of Ashtanga Yoga , and his quote of ‘Do your practice and all is coming’ became a personal mantra for the Ashtanga Yoga community worldwide . And as humans with a fundamental need to be loved us Ashtangis are not averse to a bit of ego stroking when we bust out a few bad ass asanas in front of class. There’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears gone into that bit of showboating..  

2. I’ve started reading the sutras.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are widely believed to be the Ashtanga Yoga bible (even Guruji would call his Ashtanga Yoga ‘Patanjali Yoga’) so when a student rocks up to class with a sutra commentary clearly on display for all to see in their yoga mat bag expect a tear or two of joy from the teacher. But do be aware, make sure you’ve got a spare couple of hours if you ever ask your teacher to elaborate on a particular sutra. We do love the sound of our pontificating voices : )  

3. Can we do the chant today?

As much as Ashtangis like to show their prowess in asana we love just as much to lead our classes through a rousing chorus of ‘Vande Gurunam’. Usually the chant is a call and response affair with the ‘teach’ up front busting through each line in a pitch perfect (they think) stylee with a real mixed bag of styles & keys coming back at them from the class. Put it this way when Guruji said ‘Do your practice and all is coming’ he meant you must practice your scales too.

4. I’m thinking about making the jump from the led classes into the Mysore self-practice sessions.

Ahhh this one is sweet music to our ears. The true method of Ashtanga Yoga is in the ‘Mysore Style’ self-practice as first taught by Guruji and now by his grandson Sharath Jois in Mysore,South India. Students always feel a little daunted at first when they leave the comfort zone of their led class for the great unknown of self-practice, and when ‘personal space’ is invaded in an up close n personal adjustment from the teacher the student might feel they’ve made a wrong move. Slowly slowly the practice reveals it’s essence over time and students can stop hiding their cheat sheet under their mat and throw it in the bin.  

5. I’ve quit my Bikram yoga practice.

No elaboration necessary ; )   Wondering what the 5 things to NEVER say to an Ashtanga Yoga teacher are ? Find out here.