So I’m hanging with my homeboy JayTrav shooting the breeze (excuse me whilst I slip effortlessly into my new home town’s vernacular) and he’s new to Los Angeles too. He has just moved from Atlanta on the East Coast of the U.S. to live with his honey – who is a colleague of my wife. He threw into our conversation that a friend had advised him that in order to succeed in LaLa land he must ‘exaggerate his skills / abilities / qualities / C.V. by 30 % ‘.That made me laugh out loud. So basically in order for me to get along here I’m gonna have to BS people (by 30%) . Ok, Houston we have a problem! As many of you know I’m a born and bred Mancunian, and one of the things we ( us Mancunians) don’t do is BS people – can’t stand it when other people try it on me either , I can smell it at a 100 yards. If any of you read my last blog about the reasons exactly why I do Ashtanga , you’ll know I have suffered with this crazy bat shit anxiety disorder called depersonalisation and without going into too much detail (read the blog if you want the too much detail) it makes you feel as mad as a box of frogs- no joke. To BS someone is to be dishonest in my book – to say something that basically isn’t true or real – my problem with the DP stuff was all about not feeling real. So not only am I unable to BS people as a matter of principle ( and of course being a Mancunian) I can’t do it as my default setting now is a need for the real & the honest – the BS’ing is neither. Looks like ‘am a gonna need a plan B to get jiggy wit it in Los Angeles. For similar reasons I became a Zen Buddhist a good few years back. Ashtanga Yoga in its entirety as an eight limbed practice can be construed as a scientific endeavour rather than a spiritual one , but it will always be inextricably linked to Hinduism and it’s many forms. Now if you’ve ever dipped your toe into the Hindu religion then you’ll know it has various denominations each with an interwoven diversity of beliefs and practices. And there’s a million and one fantastical stories about the million and one different Gods and deities. After a while of just practicing Asana (physical yoga postures) the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga I came to realise – as some people do , that the physical practice alone is not fulfilling enough – I needed something more than throwing myself around a rectangular shaped sticky blue mat. I needed something beyond the physical, I felt in my bones the need for the spiritual too. So I immersed myself in the Hindu and Yogic texts – you name it , I’ve read it – I probably didn’t understand it , but I’ve read it. And to be honest it just didn’t do it for me – it felt too ‘out there’ ie nothing tangible for me to hang my ‘need to be real raincoat’ on. I mean I loved all the stories like the one about Lord Shiva cutting his son’s head off and replacing it with an elephant’s head and hey presto Ganesha was born but that’s all they meant to me – just stories. And these stories were not real – I needed real. I’ve had enough of unreality in my life and I didn’t need any more. I also love to chant – I can chant OM with the best of them and even though I’m enjoying it I’m not exactly channeling the spirits of the Ganges! It was around this time that I chanced upon a book called Hardcore Zen by author and Zen teacher called Brad Warner. I’d bought a book on Amazon and Hardcore Zen was in that section ‘if you bought that book then you might like this one’. I liked the front cover and the title of the book so I bought it. It changed my life – no shit. It gave me the spiritual practice I’d been looking for and then some. And the best thing about the Zen Buddhist path was it was all about the real – the here and now – no bizarre beheading stories and nothing that I had to suspend all my ideas about reality in. The Zen path is all about the practice of Zazen – the seated meditation practice – which consists mainly of sitting in lotus position an hour a day eyes open staring at a wall – sounds like a right barrel of laughs doesn’t it? Well I can tell you nothing can be more real than a wall and the experience of watching the fluctuations of the mind – or the witnessing of the zillions of insane things that the mind can conjure up without any encouragement. Slowly learning through it’s practice to creatively respond to oneself and the world as opposed to habitually reacting to it. So when someone tells me I’ve got to exaggerate by 30% I can laugh rather than telling them to sling their hook. So I now feel I have some REAL balance to my internal (Zazen meditation) and external (Ashtanga Yoga) worlds. I am definitely not enlightened, I am flexible though (but I can’t do Tuesdays).    
Ok so a few blogs back I’ve written a piece called The Supreme Ashtanga Yoga , now I’m hitting you with Ashtanga is nothing special , so I guess you are a little like W.T.F.? As most folks know I’ve been ‘complementing’ my Ashtanga Yoga practice for a good few years now with this Zen thing which basically entails looking at a wall for an hour or so a day, almost the complete opposite of jumping around on a rectangle shaped piece of fabric getting hot n sweaty. But the more I do of both the more they morph into the same practice. The quotes from all the Zen masters about Zazen (the Zen form of meditation) that I read could also apply to the Ashtanga practice I do. This is my latest favourite Zen bombshell…
"No matter how many years you sit doing zazen, you will never become anything special." — Kodo Sawaki
Kodo Sawaki was my Zen teacher Brad Warner’s teacher’s teacher. He pulled no punches and told it how it was. Imagine rocking up to an Ashtanga class and the teaching saying something similar..
‘Hello there I just wanted to let you know that no matter how many years you practice Ashtanga Yoga , you will never become anything special –that’ll be £7.50* please’
Would you ever go back? But what exactly does Kodo mean when he says YOU will never become anything special? And should we believe him? I explained in my last blog exactly why I got into yoga in the first place and it was a case of needs must rather than any urge to become anything special. I guess we all like to think of ourselves as being special in some way and perhaps being told that you are not special is a bit like an elbow in the solar plexus - ooouff. I could get a little cosmic here and turn the whole thing on it's head by saying actually you are special, special in that you are completely unique -like everyone in the world is unique. My interpretation of what Kodo is saying is that the practice – be it yoga or be it Zazen is not something to turn you into anyone special or important. You can try and make this happen – but you won’t succeed. If your practice becomes all about trying to ‘find something’ – ‘seeking mind’ as Kodo would call it , you will create an in-balance ( which is gonna be extra tricky when you’re doing the standing leg lifts boom boom!). If you start a practice wanting that practice to make you happy like perhaps you think buying that new pair of shoes or new car will ‘make you happy’ then you have materialised the practice , turned it into a commodity. Practice for me is about just doing practice. Yes sometimes doing your practice makes you happy but what are you going to do when it doesn’t? Turn to Hot Yoga? Surely not (jus kiddin hot yoga fans ). There is another Kodo quote about Zazen practice, he says Zazen is the self ‘selfing’ the self – er what? The self selfing the self ? I had to reread that a few times before I started to understand what it meant. When we practice Ashtanga Yoga we are just being who we really are, not seeking or expecting anything – practice for practice sake. Can you do that? You might not have a choice. If you practice for fame and fortune you will soon realise that it aint coming – it’s a bit like pushing pushing pushing to get your leg behind your head then when it happens it’s massive anti climax. After a couple of anti-climaxes the penny drops – or maybe it’s the ego that gets dropped and eventually you will get to a place where the practice is doing YOU. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of world’s happiest people. Read it through and see if you can apply it to your Ashtanga Yoga practice be it a posture that you can’t do or perhaps a wrist injury that won’t heal.  
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck — Dalai Lama XIV  
* this is presuming you live in the North-West of the UK. If you’re reading this ‘darn sarf’ please change this to £18.50 or however much a single yoga class is these days south of the border.    

A mind & body practice

I read a blog last year by some Ashtanga dude who was admitting that he was getting too old to practice the advanced series postures. At the time I kind of laughed to myself thinking I’ve got plenty left in the tank to keep busting through the postures of 3rd and 4th series. Literally a year later and after a 2 month cold ( I kid you not) at the start of this year that was bordering on a serious bout of man flu which meant my practice consisted of blowing my nose and a very heavy dose of lying down, I was ready to throw in the advanced posture towel too. I’m 46 now and over the last sixteen or so years of practicing Ashtanga Yoga I’ve had my fair share of physical & mental ups and downs. A tweaked hamstring here and a sore shoulder there – my injury roll call is quite an impressive list. Added to the physical aspect of practice I also still suffer daily with a complaining/mithering mind – usually when I’m watching football or driving. I always joked that if any of my students saw me at a football match they would never come to one of my classes again. (So I stopped going to matches just in case!) One thought that continually bugs me is ‘why is my mind so crazy when I do all this yoga & meditation’. I’d like to highlight the plight of the mind and body journey with two (real) stories – both featuring the wit and wisdom of the East.
 ‘As long as you have a body Matthew…’ Dr.Su
A few years back a friend recommended I go see a Chinese acupuncturist called Dr.Su after I was complaining about a tight hamstring. My friend had told me that the footballer Ryan Giggs had credited Dr.Su with sorting out his own hamstring problem that had plagued him for most of his career. So I booked an appointment and off I went to Dr.Su’s tiny office / treatment room in Nothenden in South Manchester. It was the start of a beautiful relationship. After a couple of visits the hamstring problem had cleared up and he was now treating me for my sore wrist. Each time I went I was always complaining about one physical problem or another and Dr.Su would smile at me and offer the most simple but powerful advice on the body that I’ve ever had… ’As long as you have a body Matthew, you will always have problems’ There endeth the lesson. So get this boyfriend /girlfriend if you’ve got a body then something will go wrong at some point. The main problem is that we set up in our minds about the level of practice we need to maintain to make the whole thing worthwhile and if we get an injury of some sort which means we can’t stick to the same level of practice then that somehow invalidates what we do. Which if you sit down and think about it, is just (mind) bullshit. However we practice whether it’s all singing all dancing 10th series or maybe it’s just one measly 1 sun salutation (because your body is knackered) it’s all good, it’s all valid, it’s all practice.  
‘I see , I see , I see’ Dalai Lama  
This is my favourite ever true Dalai Lama story, and maybe I’m a little biased because it happened to a mate of mine. Once upon a time in the seventies Albert (name changed to protect identity) was enjoying the good life a little too much. Both legal and illegal substances were being taken on a daily basis which resulted in the good life turning into well, not so good. Determined to sort himself out, Albert ( a practicing Buddhist) decided he would make a pilgrimage to Dharamsala in Northern India where the 14th Dalai Lama was living. Now in the 70’s Mr.D.L. was not as famous as he is now and a personal appointment with him was not outside the realms of possibility. So our friend Albert rocked up at Mr D’s gaff and asked if he could organise a private audience with the top man. After a 3 day wait he got his chance and was ushered into Mr. D’s front room. For the next hour or so Albert went into explicit detail about how messed up he was and how his life was a complete mess. Each time he finished a sentence the Dalai Lama would comment ‘I see , I see , I see’ . Finally after a couple of hours young Albert finished his tales of woe and sat back slumped in his chair, the Dalai Lama looked straight at him and said ‘ You know , my mind is crazy too’. KER BOOM – how’s about that for a curve ball of an answer. In that moment Albert realised that he was not alone in feeling crazy , granted the illegal stuff hadn’t helped but the fact that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama also had a ‘crazy mind’ made him feel ok. I love this story, I tell it a lot in class. We think sometimes our mind is out of control and maybe sometimes it is but the mind certainly has a mind of its own – there’s no on or off switch. Put it this way the heart beats, the lungs breathe and the mind ‘thinks’. We would think that the Dalai Lama would have a mind that was completely peaceful and serene but this isn’t the case – his mind is crazy too. And so is mine and so is yours. But I find that when I do my Ashtanga practice my mind feels a little less crazy so I practice most days so I can enjoy being a little less bananas - it’s a no brainer. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so one day I decided I would do my practice first and then watch football after to see what happened – a little experiment on myself. And do you know what, I managed to get through the whole game without annoying anyone least myself. Read the other parts of Matt Ryan's Experiments with Ashtanga Yoga .. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3