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.      
Popularised by Winston Churchill, the Black Dog metaphor for depression is a powerful image for this most disabling of mental health conditions. With spring nearly sprung, the sun is coming out and there is lightness of step again after the long grey of the Manchester winter. So let’s lengthen the leash a little on the Black Dog of depression and run him around the metaphorical park through the metaphorical daffodils. This blog has been harder to write than my previous one on anxiety. Anxiety is full of energy, albeit misplaced energy with an inappropriate direction. There is a certain dynamism to anxiety, which when redirected can turn around quite quickly. Depression is more like an oil tanker (I know I am mixing my metaphors but indulge me…). It is much slower to react and to readjust. Sitting heavy and low in the water the captain knows to change direction; the steering wheel is on full lock but it is aeons later that the most imperceptible shifts start to happen. So how to make those changes when feeling overwhelmed, sapped of energy and crushed by the weight of depression? Well as a GP I have discussions about depression all the time, perhaps even on a daily basis. People use a variety of strategies to cope. Increasingly they choose to get on their yoga mats. One of my patients suffering with depression, let’s call him Winston, has given the gift of sharing his experiences and talks about how yoga has helped him. Winston’s Black Dog is a heavy, shaggy, energy-sapping mutt. He never noticed him creeping into the room but once the Dog is there he resides resolutely on the mat immovable and stubborn. He is brooding, resentful and passive. His negativity wafts around and is tangible not just to Winston but also to all those around him. So without going into all the gruesome details, Winston has had his fair share of the usual interventions for depression. Medication, talking therapies, self-help materials, boundary setting and hiding under the duvet for weeks on end… They all have their place and sometimes a combination thereof was required. But for Winston, getting on his yoga mat has become his therapeutic intervention of choice. When depression bites the world closes in. He couldn’t imagine coping with all the responsibilities of daily life. But after trial and error with a variety of depression busting methods, he came to understand that what works for him, is to get himself onto a yoga mat. Even the simplest of tasks in this mind state can be daunting. The thought of doing a full session of practice seemed overwhelming. So Winston didn’t approach it with such goals in mind. He just used the yoga as a framework to stand, to breathe then to move through one posture at a time. Soon he’s linking postures together and things start to flow. He gets just as far as he gets, with no self-recriminations.  But as time goes by his motivation to do a deeper practice starts to grow and the sessions get longer. While he is on the mat moving and breathing, his Black Dog depression is temporarily banished. So Winston explains “I feel good when actually doing my yoga practice, but initially my mood slides away and it feels like I am back to square one by the next morning”. But experience tells him that he is not back to square one. As he does his practice day by day, his dark mood lifts little by little, confidence grows and the changes move off the yoga mat into his day to day. For Winston, the act of bashing out a few sun salutations gets him on his way. The discipline of yoga pays dividends over time.  It is by no means a quick fix. Just like the slow-to-turn oil tanker, the practice of yoga can steer you back to a healthy balanced mind and perspective. It might take weeks or months but trust that it always will. The Black Dog can be turned into a down-dog and maybe even an up-dog.      
1 - I was so worried about waking up early and getting up at 5am that I didn’t sleep at all the night before. I kept tossing and turning and checking the time to make sure I didn’t over sleep. By the time the damn clock actually went off, I was exhausted and in a deep comatose state. The alarm didn’t even register on my consciousness. 2- Even after a coffee, nauli and good 10 minutes doing Pashasana practice on the throne I just couldn't get my digestive system going. No pooping, no bandha , no practice. 3 - I put all my things out for Mysore the night before (so I could have an extra five minutes snoozing). It was all ready to go: yoga kit, change of clothes, towels, hair gel , keys, breakfast snack, coconut water etc etc. Well, during the night the cat must have found the interesting pile of goodies. He wreaked havoc and spread all my stuff around the apartment. It took me 2 hours to find my car keys which were eventually located behind the cat litter tray. 4 - I heard that the shala in Mysore used to be closed on a Saturday because that's the day that Pattabhi Jois and his wife would go shopping. Well I know it's Tuesday but I need to go to the Trafford Centre later and I don't want to mess with tradition. 5 - In my dreamlike state at stupid o’clock this morning I switched on the kettle which was empty. It boiled dry causing it to explode, setting off the fire alarm and fusing the whole house. I am still waiting for the electrician to arrive. 6 - I have a terrible cold. It is not the feeling unwell that’s the problem. I always try and do a little gentle practice (honest) when I am under the weather. Rather I was worried about doing pranayama whilst having such a snotty nose. I tried to do some alternate nostril breathing and I nearly suffocated myself. 7 - My new tattoo is a bit weepy and sticking to my vest top. It’s really sore reaching up to do sun salutations. I asked my tattoo artist and they advised me not to come. 8 - During the last session I sweated so much that my mat got really slippery. I accidentally dropped into Hanumanasana much further than I intended. My groins haven’t recovered yet. 9 - I need to work on my hip flexibility, open my upper back and build up a relationship with my psoas. So I decided to warm up with a few exercises I found on YouTube before coming to practice. I started at 5am with a few inspirational demos from Kino to get me in the mood, then I came across 'Pets interrupting yoga' (hilarious!) and before I knew it I was watching a cat dressed as Princess Jasmine riding a Roomba disguised as a flying carpet and then it was time to go to work. I just don't think I have time for Mysore. 10 - Last time I forgot to bring work clothes to change in to after Mysore. Immediately afterwards I had a very important meeting and presentation to give that I could not miss under any circumstances. Much to my embarrassment I had no choice but to attend in funky yoga attire. I am now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 11 - Saturn is moving into my moon sign (I can tell because the M56 was in gridlock again and my pitta imbalance created tension in my upper trapezius). I thought it would be too dangerous to come to yoga so I went to CrossFit instead. 12 - I’ve made it to Mysore three days in a row and now all my yoga kit is sweaty and smelly. I have been so tired that I haven’t had a chance to wash it. 13 - I ate a cheese burger yesterday and now my Yamas are all in a twist. 14 - I did my first drop back yesterday and I think I've awakened the Kundalini so I don't need to come to yoga anymore. 15 - My body feels much stiffer when I practise in the morning, in comparison to the flexibility I have later in the day. I was worried that if I did intense practice too early I would overstretch and injure myself. 16 -  Yesterday in the Mysore room I saw a woman doubled over and waddling down the mat as she looked at her lady bits. It was so bizarre, I asked the teacher what she was doing and they said Titty-assana These people are taking the piss, I'm not going anymore. 17 -  My chitta vritti's were all over the place yesterday. I need to go on a retreat, somewhere warm where I can get more flexible and drink fair-trade coconuts. Then I'll be ready to come back to practice. 18 - I’m practising jump backs and jump throughs right now. Mysore made me so tired that I can’t lift up any more, so I thought I’d have a day off to recuperate. 19 -  I'm trying to balance my gunas. I just couldn't bind in Mari D yesterday and I've been able to do it for three weeks solid. What's wrong with me? I felt so rajas. When my alarm went off this morning I felt that it was best to meditate upon my current tamasic state. I think that if I balance my energies in this way I'll be feeling more sattvic by the end of Friday. 20 - Sorry teach my heart was feeling rajastic but the nerve fibres in my buttocks were in a perpetual state of tamas. My Physio did say my gluteus medius muscles were under-active. I've been on a Sanskrit course and it looks like I’ve got a severe case of Tamassic buttocks ( which loosely translates as " I can't get my arse out of bed" )   Thanks to Matt Joslin and Marie Harris.      
I am going to find it hard to limit my thinking to only 5 reasons for why you should go to a yoga class today. The more yoga I do, the more benefits I recognise. But for the sake of simplicity and for those new to the idea of yoga I’ll stick to some headlines. Hopefully if you are curious, these ideas may get you on a mat to experience the benefits for yourself. If you have an established but lapsed practice, may be this will encourage you to get back in the groove. One of the main reasons for being a doctor surely is to help people feel better. To feel better physically, emotionally, psychologically, in whatever dimension you care to evaluate. No matter what the condition, problem, illness or lifestyle we are considering here, if you can make someone feel better, that has to be a result right? So I want to shout if from the rooftops. Get to a yoga class today! And here’s why:  
  1. It just makes you feel good
Who doesn’t feel better after a yoga class? … … … … Deafening silence. After one only class, there is pretty much a cast iron guarantee that you will feel great when the session is over. Getting to class on time may be tough. You are pushed for time, shoulders and back are tight after being hunched over a desk all day. Worries about the day gone and tomorrow’s challenges are buffeting your bruised mind. Get through class and without knowing how, all these problems are dissipated. Limbs glow comfortably from the physical work and your mind sits on a cushion of calm deep steady breath. Quite rightly you can feel smug about what you have achieved. Yoga just makes you feel good.  
  1. Anyone can do yoga.
No matter your age, size, fitness level, mobility or ability; there is a Yoga Manchester class for you. You monitor your own progress at your own pace. It doesn’t matter if the person in front can get their leg behind their head. I certainly can’t. There is no goal other than your personal journey of wellbeing.  
  1. Yoga is exercise and so much more
We all know exercise is good for us right. We all know we should be doing a little more than we manage every week. Well if you can commit to more than the one class that made you feel good, then you can build on the benefits of yoga. The exercise element itself has research behind it demonstrating it to be one of the most effective ways to treat low back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. It will also help reduce weight, and to decrease your risk for heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and more. Guys, I can also tell you with confidence it reduces the incidence of erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer. That’s just the beginning of the list. For the more psychologically minded, yoga is a powerful tool to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression.  
  1. There are no excuses
Other than a mat, and arguably you don’t even need one of them, very little equipment is needed. You can do yoga Martini style: “any time, any place, anywhere” (apologies to those not old enough to remember that reference). If you need some structure and motivation to get you to class then make some friends with fellow yogis. We are a welcoming crowd. The social aspect is a really important element to keep you on track.  
  1. The physical practice is a gateway to so much more.
If you get into the rhythm of working your body through the sequence of postures, changes start to happen. Self-awareness comes to the body and the breath. This may open your thinking to a more mindful perspective. Yoga can be a 100 year practice: its influence and impact grows with you. It may become a lifelong companion to help with whatever challenges cross our paths. So Yoga is an all-rounder, no-brainer amazing activity to boost your wellbeing. If you were to design a new treatment for any medical condition, physical or psychological, yoga ticks so many of the boxes. It brings exercise together with a mindful and social approach that is accessible to all. What’s not to like? Get on a mat and give it a go today.   Matt Joslin
I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.