Hi my name is Matt Ryan and I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga all over the world now for the past 22 years.  As a beginner once myself I know how hard it can be not only trying to find the right class but being able to stick at it to turn that first class into a regular yoga practice.Yoga is a life long programme and we will get most benefit from it if we are able to do a little as often as we can. I have created the Couch to Yogi programme to not only start you on your own yoga journey but to help give you the support and encouragement you will need to transform your mind and body through a regular yoga practice into a better you. I have taught this programme to everyone from movie stars to my very own mum – with amazing results it’s a tried and tested formula that I’m sure you’re going to love – and it’s completely FREE. To access this course please click here.

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

My first taste of yoga was at the very first Yoga Express in Manchester, with our very own Matt.  I started practising very occasionally after that and once the addiction took hold (!), have been practicing regularly for about four years.

A few months into my practice, Matt said to me after one class that it was important to recognise your body’s limitations.  This comment threw me a bit if I’m honest, as I took it to mean that he was saying to me, that I will never get very far with this and I should just accept that.  It was a little disheartening.  I mentioned this to another yoga instructor a few months later and their response was that yoga should also be about challenging yourself and trying to push your own boundaries.  However, in the past couple of months, I think I have finally realised what Matt actually meant.

I call myself a bit of a yoga groupie – I’ll practice yoga anywhere, with anyone (!!!) just for the experience and to get my yoga fix!  I’ve tried loads of different classes with different instructors, all over the place and usually come away with something new.  I have been to classes where most of the other participants were miles better than I am and have come away a little disheartened and feeling inadequate.  I try to tell myself that yoga isn’t a competition and that I shouldn’t compare myself – but then I am only human.

I used to get that yoga buzz when I felt that I had made a few millimeters of progress or that I had managed to hold a posture for a bit longer or a bit deeper than before; but at the same time, I would beat myself up because I wasn’t in progressing as quickly as I wanted to, or I wasn’t able to manage postures that other people did.

I turned 53 a few weeks ago and I am now picking up some of those aches and pains that are (apparently) to be expected at my age!  I am very thankful however, that I am not on any medication and consider myself pretty active.  I’ve had some issues, something known as yoga-bum (!?) which meant that for a while, my practice was a bit restricted – but with a bit of physio and exercises at home, I was able to overcome this!  Yaaay!

I’ve also had a troublesome left knee for a few years now but I have been managing it with strengthening exercises and of course yoga.  It meant that I could never get my left foot high enough for the standing half-lotus but my right foot was starting to get there.  Also, I could just about manage to get my right foot under the ‘vegetables’ in Ardha Badha Padma Paschimottasana and was also getting to the point that I could almost do the roll-over and jump back in the vinyasas.  However, in recent months, my right knee has begun to trouble me and now it is more restricted than my left.  It means that I cannot crouch down completely and even find child’s pose quite painful.  Rolling over my knees and jumping back with my legs crossed is now pretty much impossible.  It might improve with time but it might not.

For a while, I found this pretty heart-breaking but persevered in the hope that it might get better, even though these postures caused me actual pain.  I don’t consider myself very flexible as it is and I just feel that this has set me further back and limited me even more!

When I mentioned this to Marie a couple of months ago, she told me just to modify my practice to suit what I can do.  But I must confess that for a while, I did find myself thinking ‘what is the point, I am never going to get anywhere with this and might as well give up’.

However, I have rediscovered my yoga-mojo following a holiday and have realised that persisting with moves that cause me pain is stupid and just emphasises what I can’t do.  I have since given up trying to do the roll-overs and jump backs and instead swivel myself around (breakdancing stylee!) so that I can get back into chaturanga without any pain and not too gracelessly!  It also means that I end up doing lots of Janu Sirsasana A’s rather than the B’s and C’s!

The big revelation has been that by physically avoiding postures that cause pain or restriction, has meant that my practice has become something positive again both physically and mentally.  By acknowledging that I cannot do certain things and may never be able to do them, has actually lead to a feeling of liberation.  Since I have picked up my practice again (although I never completely stopped!) I am finding it so much more rewarding.  Maybe after all, this is what yoga is about and what Matt meant all that time ago!

To some people the idea of a whole weekend of Yoga with a super star Yogi like David Swenson can be quite daunting! Would a class Friday night, three times on Saturday and three times Sunday be too much? The answer to this is it wasn’t enough! It was a perfect balance of Yoga Asana with pearls of wisdom you only have after 50 years of Yoga.

David wasn’t what I was expecting, I have David’s practice manual and in his book he looks so serious. Wow I was wrong. He was hilarious. I was laughing so much, proper belly laughing. He has so many anecdotes. Some relate to things we have all thought whilst practising but we don’t want to say out loud.

One of my favourites was when he explained how when you step on the mat you know how the practice is going to go from the first lift of your arms. Some days it’s gonna be a breeze, others it feels like your arms are lead weights! And I’ve had plenty of those! He said how Pattabhi Jois (the creator of Ashtanga Yoga) would say that you only have to do 3 x Surya namaskar A (sun salutation A) and 3 Surya namaskar B (sun salutation B) and the final 3 postures if you were having a busy or tired day. He tied this in with the first session on the Friday evening which was about how to have a manageable practice for the lives many of us lead rushing from A to B. Perfect for Friday night as most people had finished work and driven to Manchester.

His individual sessions were exactly what they say on the tin. We had one class that was the entire Primary series. As a yoga teacher I liked to watch him adjust people in the class. He was open to questions and always gave great explanations along with more stories. He passed on his experience practising with Pattabhi Jois, it was a relief to hear as both a practitioner and teacher that Pattabhi Jois would not be so critical of exactly where every limb would go, allowing me to go with the flow a little more and just breathe.

Another one of my favourite stories was where prasarita padatonasana D and E went. He said Pattabhi Jois said they were not removed but students forgetting!… maybe i’ll just forget Navasana … just joking, I love boat pose 😉 . My favourite tip of the weekend: in uttita hasta padangustasana (you stand on one leg and straighten your other leg out in front of you holding your toe) actively curly your toe around your fingers OMG!!!!!! I can stand straighter and my toe doesn’t fall out of my sweaty grip.

The weekend was absolutely magic and I will be going to the next weekend he does with Yoga Manchester … and the full week he teaches afterwards. Between each class he also hung about for everyone to talk to him, ask questions, get a book signed and even have a selfies with him. I tried to play it cool but as soon as the selfie trend started I totally got in there!

I have to say David has made me fall in love with Ashtanga again, as a Vinyasa flow teacher, my self practice is Vinyasa flow. However, Ashtanga will definitely be sneaking into my self practice. Sneaky little Ashtanga!

So I have been teaching for 6 months now (and practising for nearly 10 years).  I am a beginner in the world of teaching. But I have been thinking about how much I enjoy teaching yoga beginners and why. I thought I would try and throw a short blog together to explain why it is awesome.

Don’t get me wrong. It is fun to teach avid yogis. It’s a different experience though. A different vibe (cosmic, man). It’s sort of like going to a gig of your favourite band and everyone else is on-board. They all love the band too and you are all having a good time. Its great to be with your peers and experience the yoga and all be into it. I don’t talk about energy that much, especially with beginners, but it is there and it can be ace.

For beginners it is more like getting someone into a band you like for the first time. Like you are that annoying person that loves that album, and says “OMG you have to hear it, it will change your life”. The other person is like “yeah whatever”. But they come back to you and they are like dude that album is sick, Rush are the greatest! (I have stopped short of playing Rush records in my classes so far, but watch this space for Prog-rock Yoga). Its such a great feeling to introduce someone to something cool.

You know, for all the talk of acceptance, energy and togetherness in yoga, the community has its share of cliques and elitism. Some of the culture is pretty annoying to be honest. With all the inspirational memes. The opaque waffling about the supernatural and parroting of esoteric philosophy. The marketing, aspirational designer yoga pants, and perfectly curated lives on social media (goats and beer??!). Not to mention tribalism between different schools of yoga. It gets a bit tiresome. You have to roll your eyes sometimes. This is coming from someone who is into yoga and has been doing it for years. Even I get put off by it. I remember Matt Ryan once telling me about his experiences in Mysore India and how dull it is to sit around listening to people talk about their practice and their Chakras, and how he would rather be out playing cricket in the street with the kids. I get that. You need a bit of a break or risk your head disappearing up your asana.

I’m not your typical yoga teacher though. I am not that bendy. I am tall and kind of heavy. You aren’t going to see me on instagram in a bikini with washboard abs (nobody wants to see that). More likely to find me watching horror films and playing boardgames… I’m a nerd basically. I remember my first yoga class and being scared. Thinking it would be stupid. Thinking I would look stupid. Thinking that I won’t be bendy enough (are we ever bendy enough? How bendy do you need to be?). I still remember being that guy, you know. In a lot of ways I still am and feel like a bit of an outsider. I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel that way. Or rather, I would want people to feel ok about it! If that makes sense. Thankfully I had an awesome teacher back in the day that blew my mind and made me feel welcome. Just a regular dude who does yoga. I love trying to pass that feeling on. Teaching the yoga as it was taught to me. In a down to earth, humorous way. Free of the crap and elitism that might put regular people off of coming to a class.

It is really refreshing to be in an environment that is back to basics, with beginners that have no idea and just want to do a bit of a yoga. It’s nice to get out of the yoga bubble and feel what it is really about. I think it makes you a better teacher. Keeps you grounded in reality, “keeping it real” as Matt would say. It encourages you to make the teachings relatable and accessible to normal people in their every day lives. There is a big difference between what you learn on teacher training and what you do in practice (much like anything I suppose). Especially if you did a teacher training on a fancy retreat in Thailand, and come back to teach on the damp streets of Manchester. For one, beginners make you more aware of the language you are using and have you rely less on cues like “between two panes of glass”. I think sometimes yoga is a bit of an impenetrable wall of clichés and abstract phrases. There are so many yoga cues and slogans that just sound ridiculous when you say them to a room of people who have never done yoga before. You get some pretty confused looks. Teaching beginners makes you try harder to make more relatable cues and show people how it is applicable to them and examples of how it will make them feel better.

When you try to creep in some of the more subtle philosophy and mediation elements it is important to keep it real and not get too abstract, I think. It has to make sense to people’s daily life and be approachable. I am inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhist Brad Warner and his brand of grass roots DIY Punk Rock Zen. At the end of the day Zen is a very egalitarian practice of ‘just sitting’. A reformation of Buddhism and stripping back of the rituals, but is no less meaningful. It can be a challenge to get people to just sit and breathe. It is difficult to just sit without a goal or instructions (hey, its a challenge for me as well. Kind of the point I guess). But I love it because of how accessible and real it is. Without its reliance on music and mantras or what you believe in. It’s all about getting back to basics with people. It helps me personally see and feel the effects in myself. A practical way-out of the often esoteric and abstract world of the avid yogi.

You get into the swing of things when you have a group of regulars each week. You have fun and feel that vibe when you are on the same page. But when someone new walks in you have to shift into a different gear and make sure what you are saying and doing makes sense again. It helps you build those student teacher relationships. It ends up teaching you to tailor the yoga to the audience and really shows how it isn’t one size fits all. It is so inspirational to have people coming back the next week and surprise you and themselves. I want to break their preconceptions like they were broken for me. It is totally the best thing about doing it. It is awesome to see people getting into it and feeling accepted and like they can be themselves. You didn’t put someone off for life. Someone thought you knew what you were talking about and enjoyed what you were on about. Week on week they start to have a bit of a laugh. They are less anxious and awkward and trying new things and walk out feeling better than they did when they came in. Even if it is just a little bit better. It feels great to pass that on to other people.

So if you are a beginner who has never been to a class before! Come along. I know I am not the only one that loves blowing minds and having my mind blown. It will most definitely help bring us as teachers back down to earth and try that bit harder. But it is the most rewarding thing about teaching.

Barry Norton is teaching Yoga for Runners (Wednesdays in Didsbury) & Yoga for Cyclists (Mondays in Chorlton).

Would 10,000 hours be enough to call yourself a yogi?

Matt Ryan asked me to write a blog about the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be effective and efficient at something to an expert level (* for note from editor see below). He said ,  is 10,000 hours enough to be considered an expert in yoga? For a bit of background the idea was popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote a book called Outliers. In which he suggests that natural ability and innate talent aren’t required in order to become proficient at something. He comes up with the magic number of 10,000 hours (on average) of practice. Citing examples like David Beckham, staying after normal team training and racking up hours of free kicks on his own. Or the Beatles playing all night shows and touring relentlessly before they even released their first single to become the phenomenon that they were. While Bill Gates grew up as a computer nerd to become a tech industry magnate. The theory has a ring of truth. It’s an old idea after all, “Practice makes perfect”. Anyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it and put the time in. Could I actually become good at writing blogs if I spent 10,000 hours on it? A theory I wouldn’t want to test. I wasn’t really sure I had any answers. It’s a philosophical question in itself, whether or not talent exists and if hard work and practice are all you need to strive for. But is it even possible to be good at yoga? Do you need any talent to do it? Should you be striving to be good at yoga in the first place or is it something different? The more I thought about it, the more I realised I had an opinion on it. Hopefully this blog makes you think or is at least a teeny weeny bit entertaining.

For reference 10,000 hours is 416.66 consecutive days. Since we need to sleep and eat (I’m easily an expert at those), we can break things down a bit and get a better perspective. I have been doing yoga for about 9 years. At an average of 1 hour of physical practice per day. Which is conservative, some days I do more than that. With breaks during times of illness or injury it gets complicated. I teach yoga as well so the practice that I am doing varies. But for the sake of argument lets say I did do 1 hour every day for 9 years. That is only 3285 hours. Pitiful! Way off the 10,000 hour magic number. I also don’t consider myself to be naturally good at it… being a tall, heavy, hairy bloke. But how important is it to put a figure on it? Do these rules apply?

What does it mean to be proficient at yoga or to be a yoga expert anyway? It depends on your goals. Everyone gets into yoga for different reasons. Some people get into it to chill out a bit or manage anxiety and depression. Others for a workout. Others to relieve some kind of chronic pain or manage an injury. People’s goals can change day-to-day or in the moment. It’s a difficult thing to quantify and doesn’t necessarily require 10,000 hours to have worth and be effective. Yoga is a deep term with different meanings. It has changed and evolved over thousands of years but some elements have remained the same. Broadly speaking it is a practice that promotes living well in one way or another. However in ancient times of the Vedas (ancient Hindu scriptures where the term Yoga comes from) it was a way of shaking up the status quo and renouncing societal norms, in an attempt to live a simple life in nature being one with the universe. This was often practised less on a yoga mat, and rather by living naked in the wilderness smoking lots of groovy drugs. Can you even be an expert at that? I don’t think you can make a sport out of who can be the highest, least clothed bum around (or is that pro wrestling?). Yoga and what it means to people is a lot more complex than just getting into a difficult posture and taking a picture for instagram. It is a bit of a cynical way of thinking about it, but you are more likely to be judged on your number of instagram followers these days, rather than the number of hours you have practised, how much it is helping you cope with life, or indeed the quantity of drugs you have smoked while nude.

As for the physical practice and people’s fitness goals, these are pretty subjective. The ideal yogi in the media is the perfect body beautiful. We romanticize postures like handstand, splits, and leg behind head. You often get people put off doing yoga, saying “I am not bendy enough”. As a teacher you know that is nonsense. But we are sold this ideal and told that we can achieve anything if we try hard enough. Through the commercialization of yoga we are told that we are incomplete and made to feel insecure by images of physically fit people in crazy difficult poses and sold the idea that anyone can achieve this. Like we will be better people if you buy the same yoga pants, sign up to the class, get the DVD. In reality we are all products of our genetic heritage and have different biomechanics due to body types, bone structure and injury history. Some people will never be able to get their leg behind their head or into the splits. But that is ok. Should you even be aiming for that as a goal worth spending 10,000 hours on? How open do your hips need to be? Being able to get your leg behind your head is not necessarily a sign that someone is a yoga expert. Some people can get into those postures with very little effort. How important a talent is that? In a sense Gladwell’s theory applies to yoga. In that, talent is not necessary and putting the time in is all you need to reap the benefits. It is quite egalitarian. Yoga isn’t a sport or a competition though at the end of the day and isn’t about striving for peak physical performance. Goals in yoga are quite personal and relative to the individual. When you think about it, ability, talent and proficiency are also subjective. As phenomenal as The Beatles were I wouldn’t say that they were the most technically proficient band in the world. The Sex Pistols changed music and could hardly play their instruments at all. Being good at yoga is not so easy to quantify as the simple acquisition of legendary postures like they are Pokemon. Getting into a posture, a tricky bind or a handstand doesn’t change your life. Once it happens you realise there is no reward. Just more postures to ‘get’. No medals are given out or secrets of the universe are revealed to you. You aren’t instantly a better person. Matt once said to me “You can’t beat the practice, Bazza. The practice always wins”. It really stuck with me and taught me a lesson about chasing simple physical goals. Some lessons I learned the hard way through injury, which teaches you about non-attachment. It is very humbling to start from square-one and makes you see the practice in a different way. You realize you are barking up the wrong tree a little bit. You can’t win at yoga. Its not the point.

It gets trickier when you think of yoga as a form of meditation. Traditionally the physical practice was seen as a gateway to the more spiritual and meditative methods, with early yoga scriptures having surprisingly few postures in them. The real juice was the meditation. In that case isn’t yoga a goalless practice? You might have the goal of a clear mind/happy life/enlightenment experience, but there is no guarantee those will happen. You shouldn’t be focused on those as you are missing the point a little. It’s all about the present moment and dealing with the here and now. It sounds kind of zen and maybe a bit nihilistic to say “there is nothing to achieve”, “there is no spoon”, “you are the yoga” etc. But it’s just an example of how linear progression doesn’t strictly apply. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t have goals. It is human nature to an extent. It’s just to highlight that chasing goals is sometimes missing the point in a practice that it about non-attachment. It is hard to quantify the benefits and put a figure on that experience in terms of total hours and spirit points gained. You could see it as 10 minutes now, is better than 10,000 hours in the future.

It gets into hippy dippy territory when you start thinking about a person as already complete and Yoga as a state that is innate to all of us, revealed through the practice of breathing, moving and simply being. Or in the case of meditation, just sitting and staring at a wall. It is hard to quantify how good someone is at simply being themselves. Or admiring their epic technique for intense wall staring. If yoga is about living well, compassionately and ethically, how do you measure that philosophy? In yoga you follow certain principles as a guide to living well, that are more just jumping around on a mat. For example Satya means honesty in thoughts and actions. Ahimsa means respect for living things and non-violence. They sound like religious tenets (and are kind of obvious when you think about them). Being a yogi can mean dedicating your life to being honest and kind and doing no harm to others. Generally this translates to being more compassionate or “don’t be a jerk”. Does this stretch into being a vegetarian/vegan and doing no harm to any living being? Are you still an expert yogi if you eat meat? Now there is a thorny question. It reminds me of those Awakened AF parody videos you see online. I think they have a point sometimes. You can put 10,000 hours into doing yoga, call yourself an expert and still be a bit of a jerk. A jerk with their leg behind their head is still a jerk. As evidenced by various ‘Yoga Master’  sexual abuse scandals that rear their head from time to time. You can get that ‘cult of personality’ and corruption going on when you start handing out titles. Yoga doesn’t make you immune. When I think about it I am reminded of Buddhist Priest Brad Warner, and how he tends to shy away from the title ‘Zen Master’. He doesn’t put much stock in receiving Dharma Transmission as there are a lot of jerks out there calling themselves Masters, misusing their insight, claiming to be experts and selling the ‘secret sauce’ to a happy life. I think there is some of that in the more commercialized aspects of the yoga community too. You wonder how ethical that is. A yoga expert is difficult to define. Do you need 10,000 hours of compassionate living? Would an expert yogi even consider themselves one?

There is debate in the yoga community about how many hours are enough to become a teacher. Some people are against certification and regulation. Others feel that if the community doesn’t regulate itself then the government will step in and there needs to be some kind of standard. 200 hours is considered the minimum amount to be called a qualified yoga teacher. Others think 200 hours is a stepping stone and 500 hours is the real target. There are courses that cram the 200 hours into a fortnight in Spain. Others spend a year or two doing the same 200 hour qualification with practical and coursework assignments. You fill in an application for such a course and state that you have been practising yoga for several years beforehand as a foundation, but people can lie about it. As we have explored in this article it can be hard to pin down exactly what constitutes time practising yoga. It can be an hour a day on the mat or it can be a thing you live 24/7. Furthermore teaching is an entirely different kettle of fish. As with anything, you can have all the ability and knowledge in the world but breaking that experience down and being able to pass it on to others in a meaningful way is a different skill and might be a 10,000 hour experience in itself.

Critics of the Glandwell’s theory suggest that it only really applies to learning something with fixed rules, like chess or playing an instrument. If the rules are less stable then the theory goes out of the window. As this article has explored there are a lot of facets and subtle nuances to yoga and the definitions of ‘practice’ therein. Do you need to have 10,000 hours in all disciplines of yoga? Are the different methods comparable? What about time being a yogi “off the mat”, living compassionately and ethically? Do you need to meditate for 10,000 hours as well? Or is it all linked? More questions than answers there but stuff to think about.

In conclusion, after that vague ramble. It is hard to quantify what a yoga expert is. I don’t think that 10,000 hours is enough, it certainly doesn’t stop there. You are always learning. You are always changing. The goalposts are moving all the time. Pattabhi Jois is famously quoted as saying “practice and all is coming”. It isn’t really specified what that “all” is. It might have been there all along for you to find. You might find it and lose it from time to time. It is a Life long practice, a continuous journey, without any goals. Other yoga clichés to throw out there are “we are all beginners”, “we are all students”, and I still find those soothing. There is so much to learn and yoga is so deep that it might be impossible to ‘get it’ even in one lifetime, let alone in a mere 10,000 hours. But that is not to say that it is pointless. The very opposite. It is tremendously worthwhile and there is so much to get out of it from the first hour of your first class, to 10,000 hours and beyond.

* Note from Editor
Baz when I asked you to write a blog about the 10,000 hour theory I didn’t mean for you to write 10,000 words on the subject ! It’s gonna take people 10,000 hours to read the bloody thing !( Just kiddin Baz , you know I love you mate , the blog’s ace ).

So I recently completed the Yoga Manchester 200 hour teacher training program and taught my first class for Yoga Manchester. I was pretty chuffed about it and Yogi in Chief Matt Ryan asked me to write another blog about my experiences as a student, a feel good story of coming full circle. I wasn’t quite sure what to say. It could be a book at the end of the day. So I will try not to bore you to tears with my life story but try to summarize my Yoga Manchester journey, in the hope it might inspire some other people, either to come to a class or maybe consider becoming a teacher. Anyway, where to begin…

I guess I can start at my first ever yoga class. Yoga for sports at Cavendish Primary School with Matt Ryan, way back when, around 2009. A work mate was a runner and convinced me to come along. I was suffering from knee pain from running and a physiotherapist had also suggested I try some yoga. Being a 6ft tall hairy dude who couldn’t touch his toes, yoga sounded like a kind of scary prospect.

The class really wasn’t what I expected. No music. No incense. No whale sounds. Just a little school cafeteria that smelled faintly of school dinners. The class was mostly men and I remember a picture of Ryan Giggs on the flyer. I think yoga was and still is perceived as quite a girly thing to do, for bendy women on beaches and so on. But at the time Ryan Giggs and Andy Murray were popularizing it with blokes and sporty types. It was really cool to come to such an accessible class that showed how anyone can do it. Even stiff beardy blokes like me.

I especially enjoyed Matt’s down to earth, no nonsense approach and great sense of humour. He is a proper manc, a normal guy, but had a wisdom about him too. He was very approachable. Even back then he was someone I respected and looked up to. Looking back on it he is still a role model and inspiration for my current path in life. I have a lot to thank him for (so cheers, Matt. Having me write these awkward blogs for you, we are square now yeah?).

I used the yoga for sports to supplement my other training for a while. I was into running , weight-lifting and swimming. I found that the Yoga for Sports sequence was really helpful for rehabilitating injuries and building strength and flexibility. As well as a whole body awareness. It was also really fun and deceptively challenging.

After a couple of months Matt came to me after class with a bit of paper and said “next step, Bazza!”. It was a flier for an Ashtanga yoga full vinyasa primary series led class that Sunday. People who practice Ashtanga are probably smiling to themselves at the idea of a relative newbie wandering into a full vinyasa class. I had no idea what I was in for. But I was enjoying the yoga and keen to explore it more. The venue was a place called Didsbury Village Hall. It doesn’t exist anymore but it was basically a converted extension behind a house on Palatine Road. It was all wooden inside with big windows, mirrors and a Buddha statue. It definitely looked more legit than the school cafeteria I was used to. The class itself was insane! I remember having to sit loads of it out. Mostly watching and muddling along. I was out of my depth. I was in awe of all the people, men and women, hopping and jumping. Flowing and breathing. Sweat dripping from everyone and the sun beating down through the windows. It was like poetry in motion and there was just something magical about it. It also looked really cool! I had to know more about this mystical Ashtanga. It was very impressive and I wanted to get good and learn the whole thing. I was bitten by the yoga bug that day. Well and truly. I had realised that I only had my toe in the water until then. I had been in the deep-end that day and I liked it.

I started going to Matt’s early morning Mysore style classes. This involved one week every month I would get up at 5am and go to St Clement’s Church in Chorlton, to muddle my way through my Ashtanga Practice (wearily) with others. The idea is that everyone progresses at their own pace and learns the postures one at a time. Everyone does their practice and Matt walks around giving adjustments and teaching new postures. It was very intense sometimes but a really nice environment. Kind of like a weird cult (in a good way). It is like a mixture between a yoga class and a workshop. With freedom to explore and practice on your own but with the benefit of more one-to-one attention from the teacher than you would get in a regular class. It was fun times and a great way to develop a self practice, allowing you to learn the sequence and do yoga at home.

At first I was drawn by the physicality of the practice as an exercise, and method of recovering from injury. Eventually it became something more than just a way to get fit and look cool doing it (or a bizarre reason to get up at 5am with other weirdos). I started to appreciate the psychological and philosophical aspects of yoga, and the difference they make to managing anxiety and depression. Yoga totally changed my life and is still changing it. It might not even be an exaggeration to say it saved my life. While it can’t promise a perfect life and clear mind free of troubles, it certainly makes a difference to my mental health. Even if some days it is only a little difference. It is better than nothing. Better than I would have been with my anxieties and previous tendency for self destruction. Yoga subtly permeates your being. It changes the way you react to things on and off the mat. The way you think and the way you interact with people. It isn’t all magic and mysticism. In many ways it is very mundane, connecting to the breath and the movement and a simpler way of being. A state that is innate to you. But even these little changes and the mundane bits can still be a revelation and highly applicable to your day-to-day life. The changes for me where a domino effect. I quit drinking, became vegan and got interested in Zen Buddhism. I even met author and Buddhist priest Brad Warner through Matt and Yoga Manchester. Going to interesting talks and meditation workshops has really helped me a whole bunch.

After practice for several years I wanted to pass these benefits on. I thought it had been such a great help that I wanted to help others. I had toyed with the idea of doing teacher training for a while and for various reasons didn’t follow it through. Whether it was due to work commitments, lack of money, the courses falling through, or other excuses. However, eventually the stars aligned and I completed the David Swenson Ashtanga Teacher Training 2016 and got my first taste for teaching. It was a 40 hour course and an intense immersion into teaching. I met some lovely people on that course (waves to those concerned). David is a legend and an international yoga celebrity. A really wonderful guy to learn from. He is also really relatable, funny and wise, and a real down-to-earth dude (there is a pattern forming here). If you get a chance to practice with David I highly recommend it.

After a brief stint of teaching Ashtanga I wanted to learn more and become a better teacher. So I was thrilled to learn Matt was starting a 200 hour teacher training program with full certification. It was a scary and exciting prospect to clear out my bank account and commit to such a massive course. But onwards and upwards, “first day of the rest of your life”, Matt assured me.

A couple of weeks before the course was due to start my mum died suddenly. Which was awful. The course started with a week-long intensive program the day after my mum’s funeral. My head was in pieces. I am not sure how I kept it together, in many ways I didn’t. But it was such a lovely space to be in and to work all that stuff out. In a weird way there was no better place to be. I can’t even imagine what would have happened or how I would have been if I didn’t have the practice and the space. I was in a lovely studio, with supportive people and amazing teachers. Getting to practice yoga everyday, while learning and studying did take my mind off everything else. Looking back on that first week I thank everyone there so much for putting up with me and just being there, even if they didn’t know what was going on at the time. It felt like finding a missing piece of the jigsaw, that was there all along. It was really helpful to expand my yoga practice into disciplines outside of Ashtanga and it really opened my mind to new ways of moving.

As for coming full circle. I was asked by Yoga Manchester’s Josh Wright to cover one of his Yoga for Cyclists classes at the last minute. I nervously accepted. The class was in a massive school sports hall. There ended up being 22 people there. My usual classes were 6 – 10 people in a cosy little studio. So it was a bit of a trial by fire. Every time another person walked through the door my heart beat faster. We ran out of mats and people started to improvise with the crash-mats in the gym. Sharing them like they were about to do some kind of yoga Judo. Highly unorthodox but I thought it went pretty well.  I found myself channelling my inner Matt Ryan and remembering my first ever yoga class back in the day. Visualizing that school cafeteria (I could almost smell the school dinners). I hope that I was as down to earth as Matt was back then and that I made the class as accessible and fun as I had found them. It was a tremendous honour to stand there front and centre and deliver the class I started in. I hope I did Marie and Matt proud, you know.

Writing this and thinking back to where I began, the person I was and who I am now, it is all intertwined with Yoga and people I met along the way. The Yoga Manchester family and community looked after me all these years, here and there, in one way or another and kept me on a relatively even keel. I have met awesome people, famous teachers and celebrities and made friends for life. Coming full circle from scruffy bearded manc in a yoga class, to scruffy bearded manc teaching a yoga class. A riveting rags to riches tail of love, loss and redemption, I am sure. It is hard to think of it turning out any other way. So here’s to many more years of Yoga in Manchester and welcoming more people to the family. It is a total honour to be a part of it. There really is a class out there for everyone and amazing, experienced and compassionate teachers. Yoga Manchester’s motto is “Yoga for everyone” and it is true. So beginner or advanced, get yourself out there and get on a mat. Whether that is in a sports hall, gym, church or studio. We all start somewhere and there is sure to be a class, workshop, talk or course for you.

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.

 

Josh Wright has been teaching for Yoga Manchester for a couple of weeks now – he’s a top rock climber as well as an amazing yoga teacher.

 

What are you listening to at the moment?

My brother bought me an Audible subscription for my birthday so I’ve started listening to the classic Ulysses, it’s the only way I’ll ever get to the end of that colossus. Music-wise, the last two albums I listened to were Quarters by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard (Australian psych-rock band) and Meditation by Naseer Shamma (Iraqi Oud virtuoso).

Where would you be teleported to?

To the top of Monte Fitz Roy in Patagonia to bask in the true beauty of the world we live in. Actually, to the bottom of it, then I could climb to the top and do the aforementioned. 

Where do you buy your clothes from?

My normal clothes are second hand or hand-me-downs from friends/family. I usually buy my climbing stuff from either Arc’Teryx or Prana, they make really good stuff and care about their relationship with the world. The only yoga clothes I have are two pairs of shorts from BAM, bamboo fabric and really long lasting.

What does a regular practice look like for you?

That depends on where I wake up, most mornings involve nondescript rolling around to loosen up followed by some pranayama and/or meditation. When I can find a space to practice, I’ll practice either Ashtanga (primary, intermediate and a little third series) or Vinyasa Krama depending on my energy, what my body is asking for and what else is going on during the day. Discipline is important, but not to the extent that it clouds what your body really needs.

Any advice to a yoga beginner?

Everybody passes wind at some point, don’t worry.

New Yoga Manchester teacher on the block Stefan Podolczuk gives us the low down on his musical tastes, his fashion tips and a little advice for new teachers.

 

What are you listening to at the moment?

I’ll listen to something based on enhancing a mood I already feel, recently Earth, wind and fire or other funk to fly around on a bike. A bit of deep house, trance or the ambient Indian style yoga playlists on occasion of wanting to space out fully. There’s a guy called Craig Pruess who wrote some beautiful stuff, or Jon Hopkins immunity asleep version is great for relaxation post classes when I teach at the gym.

 

Where would you be teleported to?

On the back of a surfboard on the front of a big empty wave in Hawaii, Indonesia or Australia.

 

Where do you buy your clothes from?

Oxfam. Or gifted. Got a few clothes from brothers and friends. They mean more and I don’t like the idea of cheap manufactured clothes or waste.

 

What does a regular practice look like for you?

Daily pranayama meditation and asana. Usually 3 hours worth. I sleep 5/6 hours to fit it in, correct asana practice lets you run on this throughout the day without fatigue. It’s usually Ashtanga Primary but occasionally mix it up with a bit of Jivamukti, Hot yoga or Yin usually on a moon day.

One or two days of the month I’ll take a lie in.

 

Any advice to a yoga beginner?

Be patient. It’s not about “doing the poses”. It’s about always finding a new place to develop breath and bodily awareness.  If you think you’ve finished a pose and looking for new ones to satisfy… you don’t get it.Tight bodies are the best playground.If you are naturally flexible you will be really challenged because it’s tougher for you to keep the energy in the pose and build strength, especially if you are hyper-extensive.If your teacher doesn’t offer cues that help you find some new way of feeling the pose, find a better teacher.Main advice, keep practising!