Brian Cooper. Probably the most down to Earth, un-fluffy, says it how it is, yoga teacher on the planet ruffles feathers with the yoga science of the non – mat.
copied directly from
By Brian Cooper PhD and Chris Norris PhD
Much could be written about the psychological significance of rolling out your mat, with its implications of marking out your territory, creating your own space and perhaps saying something about your personality by the size and thickness of your mat. We will leave this for another article and focus on the anatomical error of mat-dependence.
If you are taking a yoga class and the teacher asks to put all props aside, away fly all the bricks, blocks, belts, bolsters and the whole paraphernalia of many yoga classes. But not quite all the props: Few would dream of also removing their mat. And yet they are the biggest, and in some ways, the most pernicious props of them all. They are both anatomical and psychological props, and they are pernicious because few students recognise the role they play in their practice. The general consensus is that props are useful for assisting in approaching a posture, but they should be discarded when it is recognised they are no longer useful and could even be holding a student back. But have you ever heard a student say ‘now I can finally discard my mat, I no longer need it’?
NO! Because students don’t consider the yoga mat as a prop, but a vital piece of equipment to, among other things, protect them from a hard floor, or an unclean or cold floor. Fair enough, but the trend over the last twenty years has been towards the STICKY MAT. Originally produced from carpet underlay to prevent whatever was being used from slipping on the floor, its purpose has shifted to preventing the student from slipping on the mat. One of the most frequent complaints of students who purchase a mat is that they are not sticky enough, and many mats come with instructions on how to get the optimal grip.
Let’s take a look at Adho Mukha Svanasana
Most dogs do this without rolling out a sticky mat. Humans using a sticky mat push their feet away until they are held by the mat, and use the reaction from this to lift the hips and straighten the legs. At the same time, they push their hands into the mat and exploit the hands being held by the mat to lift the hips and draw the head closer to the legs. Hence the typical upside down v shape much admired by humans but not so much by dogs.
The photo above shows the usual posture on a sticky mat. The arrows show the overall direction of horizontal force applied to the mat. This combined with a downward force of compression results in a ground reaction force which lifts the hips and provides the stability necessary to move deeper into the posture. The muscles stretched are the extensors which include the calves, hamstrings, gluteals and latissimus dorsi. The muscles contracted are the flexors which include the quadriceps, psoas and part of the deltoids. When you practice on a sticky mat, you use the reaction of the feet and hands to lift into the posture, and do not have to engage the flexors. You can hang out with very little work being done to contract them.
The effect of the sticky mat is amplified in the above photo by pressing the heels into a wall, a prop commonly used to move deeper into the forward bend. Again, the arrows illustrate the forces acting at the heel, which produce an equal and opposite reaction directed towards the hips.
So what happens if we take away the mat or the wall?
To make it clearer, let’s turn the posture upside down to give Navasana. Here we see that it is a mild forward bend where the anterior muscles need to be contracted to lift the trunk and legs against gravity. The arrows show the direction of action of the anterior muscles used to maintain the posture.
The same applies to the above posture being practiced without a mat. The arrows show the overall direction of the forces required to prevent the feet and hands from sliding. The flexors are now fully engaged. In addition, the slipping action of your hands and feet on a floor rather than a mat creates instability. Removing your sticky mat challenges your body’s proprioception to make it ‘feel’ the movement more. The result is a far more active and mindful movement. To prove this yourself, practice Adho Mukha Svanasana on a sticky mat, and then on a wooden floor. Initially you will find your hands and feet slip. Keep practicing however, and you will find they no longer slip as much. Your hands have not suddenly become sticky of course, all that has happened is that you have learnt to adjust your body subtly to produce the exact amount of muscle force to stop slipping.
By discarding the sticky mat, the extensors and flexors are working together in a coordinated and balanced action which teaches the body useful and healthy movement patterns. The sticky mat over emphasises one set of muscles and encourages a loss of truly integrated movement.
With the feet apart there is a natural tendency for the feet to slide further, shown by the arrows in the above photo, an action which is resisted by the sticky mat. In this asana we are stretching the hamstrings as we bend forwards and the hip adductor muscles because the legs are apart. We also use the quads and hamstrings to stabilise the knee. As we reach forwards our lats are lengthened and as we allow the body to draw down to the floor for the final pose our back extensor muscles lengthen. Many students, particularly beginners, use the advantage of the sticky mat to relax their adductors and take the weight onto the inside edges of the feet. The following variation-Baddha Padottanasana-helps us to explore the action of the feet and the adductors in a very stable position.
The mat is now replaced by clasping the hands behind the legs so the feet cannot slip apart. First push the legs strongly into the arms as you move into the forward bend which can be achieved with confidence. Go to your limit and now lift and activate the arches of your feet-you can do this by pressing the ball of the foot and big toe firmly downwards, and observe how much firmer your feet feel on the ground. At this stage, gently move your legs away from the arms as if you want to draw your feet together. This is the action we want to cultivate in the final posture without a mat. The adductors are now contracting, and the feet firmly planted.
Before moving to the final posture without a mat, let’s try one more variation to really feel the work the adductors should be doing in this posture.
Urdhva Prasarita Padottanasana
To move into a deep forward bend, you will have to engage the flexors and the adductors very strongly. It is these muscles which are being neglected in the usual posture done on a mat. Hold this position for 10 breaths, making sure the back is not rounding and you are lifting through the sternum.
We are now ready to take the final posture without the sticky mat.
The arrows in the above photo show the action required to hold the posture without the feet slipping. Again, as in Adho Mukha Svanasana, discarding the sticky mat will increase proprioception and enable muscles to work in a more balanced way. It teaches us to become more mindful or our body movement and limitations. If the above is not challenging enough for you, try it with socks!
Practicing this posture with a sticky mat encourages the front thigh to be pushed forward, and the weight taken onto the inside edge of the back foot, often with the result of bending the back leg. The posture can be explored further using the wall as a prop. This encourages grounding the outside edge of the foot with a resulting strengthening of the back leg. Again, these movements have to be cultivated if working without the mat.
The photo below shows the posture without a mat. Now there is a tendency for the feet to slip apart (increasing hip abduction) and so the adductors must work more, especially on the back leg. On the front there will be more emphasis on the hip extensors to resist sliding into hip flexion. The feet must grip more without a mat and so the feet need a greater contact area which is achieved as above by activating the arch and grounding the outside edge of the back foot. The front femur feels as if it is being sucked into the hip socket. The overall effect is that of drawing the feet together.
From the above descriptions we can draw some important conclusions highly relevant to the use of a sticky mat.
Essentially we are looking at synergistic actions which we learn as a motor program during walking and running. That is, hip and knee extension combined with plantar flexion of the foot / ankle. Although each muscle is working individually, the action is programmed into a single sequence (an engram) which is familiar to us and so requires less neural activity. Driving the heel down and lifting the arch of the foot combined with pressing the pelvis forwards to rotate the hip locks the lower limb joints more precisely – a sequence called ‘close pack’. During childhood we learn movement sequences such as lying, rolling, crawling, high kneeling, standing, side walk, forward walk, running etc. If we can lock into these sequences it becomes easier for a person to learn the action because the brain is familiar with the way the muscle groups and joints work together. What yoga is doing is to tap into these sequences and allow the body to function in an integrated fashion. If however we place too much emphasis on the use of a sticky mat, these sequences are blocked, leading to potentially harmful movement patterns which encourage unnatural movement combinations.
See also ‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
Brian has been practicing yoga for a long time and is mainly self-taught. He completed the Primary and Intermediate Series with Sri K.P. Jois In 1990. He is currently working on Kechari Mudra without a razor. He holds a PhD in Biophysics and loves researching yogic practices from a western perspective.
His book ‘the Art of Adjusting’ was published in 2006 and is used in training programs world-wide.
He is the founder of Harmony Publishing which publishes out of print Yoga Classics including ‘Hatha Yoga’ by Theos Bernard and ‘Pranayama’ by Andre van Lysbeth, an early student of K.P. Jois in the 1950s.
Visit Brian’s website:
Find out about the trainings Brian is involved with:
Chris is a Chartered Physiotherapist (MCSP). He holds a Masters degree (MSc) in Exercise Science and a Doctorate (PhD) investigating spinal rehabilitation. Chris is the author of twelve books on physiotherapy and exercise, including textbooks on sport injuries (Elsevier) Back Stability (Human Kinetics), stretching, and exercise therapy (Bloomsbury). He is director of Norris Associates, a private clinic in Northwest England.
Visit Christopher’s website:
following on from http://kevollier.com/2014/05/10/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj/
‘I am not a Buddhist’ were words I heard myself uttering at the end of our three day stay in the home of the Dalai Lama – the town of Mcleod Ganj not the big man’s house itself of course.
We dropped our backpacks into the Pink House Hotel, had a hearty breakfast of Mango Lassi, Chocolate and Banana pancakes and a Tulsi Tea and then went off to discover the town. After just 100 yards I was approached by a woman with a baby who told me that she didn’t want money, just food, for her starving child. How could one possibly refuse? - so I was led back the way I’d come, to a shop. It was at this time I realised that I’d become part of a scam I hadn’t come across before. The shopkeeper was well prepared for me as I assume the woman must do this as many times a day as she can get away with. The choice offered was rice or/and milk and I decided to pay my dumb dues and pick rice – at 400 rupees a bag which I later found was about 350 rupees too much. I guess that she gets a small commission and the shop owner, Mr Robin Bastard, gets the rest. I left muttering inner ffs’s and started back up the road only to met by another woman and a baby. I couldn’t tell if it was the same woman and baby and I entertained the prospect that today might actually be groundhog day. This time I said No. I learn fast.
Apart from gangs of babies clutched by women, McLeod is brimming with purple robed Buddhist monks and nuns and a hefty mix of dreadlocked Ohm wearers who fill the many groovy cafes and funky restaurants.
Most of the population are Tibetan non-monk refugees fleeing the on-going Obama and Cameron ignored atrocities of the Chinese which has been on-going since 1960 when the first refugees came and still do to this day.
Tibetans outnumber the Indians by at least 5 to 1
All of the buildings are built in Tibetan style which include the residence of the Dalai, the Tibetan Childrens Village, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute and hundreds more. I wasn’t sure about the Astrological one as I’m a Virgo and it’s a known Virgo trait not to believe in Astrology. There is the Library of Tibetan Works and countless yoga and meditation centres. It was in Mcleod Ganj that I discovered what I assume must be a Tibetan delicacy – French Toast. Everywhere does it and they all compete for taste. This is not Eggy bread, this is French Toast – the names don’t even sound similar.
What surprised me here was being in a restaurant and monks ordering chicken. I was always under the impression that sentient beings weren’t supposed to be eaten and apparently the Buddha himself died choking on pork which might have been his very last lesson on the pitfalls of eating a fellow sentient. But more than that, from what I understand, a monk dons his robes to renounce the world, but I didn’t encounter one who wasn’t holding a smartphone or an ipad where, rather than renounce the world, you can access all of it, 24/7 which makes becoming a monk bloody easy in my opinion.
I always wonder what Christ would think, if he came back, and allegedly he’s supposed to, of all the churches built in his name, each one with his murder hanging from every arch and alter and I do wonder what Buddha would think of all the golden statues of him, some small with holes in his head to hold joss sticks, some so big to rival a cathedral.
At least the Buddhists don’t have his everlasting image as a guy trying to cough up some bacon, so he got a better deal than Jesus.
And where does it say that to understand the teachings of the big B one has to shave one’s heads or don robes or prostate?
The philosophy and teachings of a tuned in being, once again, have been lost or side stepped into a religion of ritual – yet another case of fingers pointing at the moon.
The Dalai Lama was in residence when we were there, though I think he was having a lie-in and indeed the temples are certainly very impressive – as buildings and as symbols of devotion, and all of it with the majestic and mystical snowy peaks of the Himalayas as a back drop. It is a magical town.
The alarm was set for 8.30am to try and force adjust any potential jet lagging and so it was that we fell asleep around 6am. The breakfast room was just outside the bedroom and the smells and laughter crept under our door and a guy pushing a cart in the street outside, a very colourful cart of fruit, hailed his wares to the neighbourhood. I even found myself sing the line, ‘who will buy my wonderful roses’.
Breakfast was a veggie omelette, mango’s and bananas (the bananas actually tasted of bananas unlike the hint of banana found in picked unripened, UK supermarket bananas), orange juice and coffee.
The owner, Ashwari, came and introduced himself and led me to the lounge to give me the Delhi lowdown and to indulge me in one of my favourite pastimes which is sitting bent over maps and pointing. His English, as it would turn out, would be the best we heard on the whole trip and was only matched by the hotelier in Jaipur on our last day, still over 3 weeks away. I quickly learned that essentially Delhi is closed for two days, this being a Sunday and tomorrow there being a big festival called ‘Holi’ which is where everyone throws and rubs paint powder over you. Some do it daintily from beside you, others throw paint bombs from roofs and passing motorbikes or just run up to you in the street. I immediately decided we’d avoid this festival. I asked Ashwari as to which part of Dehli this takes place in exactly and he said, ‘the whole of India, everywhere’.
He left me with some very useful maps and information and it was decided that for the first day in India we would head to ‘Gandhi Smriti’ – Smriti literally meaning ‘that which is remembered- and in Delhi it is the house where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days on Earth, with a beautiful garden where the saint was shot and killed.
It felt fitting to pay homage to the man that saved India, and in many ways, its spiritual heart at the onset of our tour. But first one had to get the Metro.
The Tree of Life was in the beautiful southern Delhi suburb of Saket and Saket has its own metro station situated on Line 2. With directions for the 5 minute stroll to the nearby Metro in my head, we set off. 45 minutes and suffering several completely and utterly incorrect directions later, we arrived. We were 50 yards away at one point, we later discovered, when we asked a policeman ‘Metro?’ and he sent us scurrying ’10 minutes’ in the totally opposite direction. We passed him three times, the latter two I wore my best scowl!
The Metro is very easy to use and has a three day tourist card to go anywhere and everywhere as often as you can tolerate for just Rs3oo (£3). It is indeed very much like London’s only much, much, much busier.
The doors here even close on the throngs as they are still attempting to get off or on – something that is done at the same time. Being English polite here and saying ‘after you’ simply doesn’t work as the doors will close on your politeness leaving you with it on the platform for what could be days, so the result of all this is a sort of stoic, free for all where train pulls in, doors open, throngs rush forward to get on as throngs rush forward to get off, the doors close leaving most people where they started except for a lone westerner who had no intention of getting off but he accidentally caught the wave, leaving his now lone, aghast faced partner accelerating away to another part of Delhi.
I was weighing our options and knew the only way was to crowd surf but the other members of our party of three were not amused so we thronged instead and once on we were stood so tight, so sardined, that when I put my hand into my pocket to check for my wallet I thought I’d lost the feeling in my right leg until the look on the face of the guy next to me told me that I had inadvertently put my hand into his pocket.
He nodded a look of regular experience and I had nowhere to turn – literally.
The train pulled into the Racecourse station leaving just a 5 minute walk to Gandhi Smriti…..
all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
After our last trip to India in 2012 we decided not to ever again sleep overnight on chairs at Gatwick or any other airport and so we booked in at a nearby Gatwick Hotel which is a 10 minute shuttle from the hotel door to the North Terminal.
The staff here were lovely but for all its neon promise of decadence the room was, in a word, shit. The bed, when one sat up straight in it with one’s back against the wall (there was no headboard besides it being London in the 21st century), rolled away towards the door. The one pillow seemed to be stuffed with itching powder and, as the walls were no thicker than white washed kleenex, it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the thoughts of our young neighbours – neighbours, it turned out, that were on a school trip from Brookside, just 2 miles from Glastonbury.
All flights were on time and once again Emirates proved to be real value for money. Their economy class would match business class on many other airlines. The seats are spaced so that in the event of a crash you would actually be able to get your head on to your knees rather than up against the head rest of the seat in front of you and as I practice Yoga I knew I’d have no trouble in going as far to be able to kiss my arse goodbye if the moment called for it. This leg of the journey took 6 hours which the three of us whiled away watching movies. There was an hour to kill at Dubai airport which we did in a Costa before getting the connection to Delhi, a trip of 3 hours.
Arriving in Delhi at 2am to the amazing Mudra walled arrivals building everything was going swimmingly until we met the queue for passport control
We stood in line watching the queue we’d thought about joining diminish at least, I had time to work out, five times faster than ours. After a whole hour and having only 5 people in front of us, we swapped queues. This was a silent protest at the imbecilic official that had converted mild mannered travellers in front of us into potential terrorists. I was particularly anxious as I’d mislaid (turns out, lost) the phone number and address of the small hotel down a side-street that we’d booked and there was supposed to be a driver waiting. Had he gone home, all I knew was the small hotel down a side-street’s name and in the biggest city in India, I knew we could be in trouble and at 3am. We were in 20th position in our new queue but still we went through passport stamping before one other person had moved in the other.
Suffice to say our backpacks were just being loaded onto the Delhi lost persons presumed dead trolley when we arrived and thankfully the wonderful driver from our booked hotel had waited all this time who by now was nonchalantly waving a board with ‘OLLIER’ across it to anyone who would listen. I’d use the word ‘relieved’ to describe his reaction but I might have been mistaken as I think he also had given us up for or wishing we were dead.
At 4am he delivered us to ‘The Tree of Life’ and our second India adventure had begun, this one with our adult son along for the ride – and what a time was about to be had………
all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
At Amazon UK
I have been practicing yoga for 15 years now with the last six of those being Ashtanga with a teacher who some consider to be one of the best Ashtanga teachers in the UK – Jane Piddington, who teaches in and around Glastonbury.
So my bar is already high.
This xmas I was bought this DVD as I wanted to do an extra practice at home with what is as close to my teacher as possible, and this DVD is the MUST HAVE DVD for home practice.
It is like being at a class only with a virtual 1 to 1 feel. It’s the perfect compliment to anyone’s Ashtanga practice and it is the real deal, the pure primary series.
Kino hasn’t filmed this run through from her own design or as a fitness video. This is a pure lineage teaching, passed down from her own teacher, Sri Pattabhi Jois who himself was a student of Krishnamacharya. Kino was and still is the youngest western woman to be certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.
She has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series.
If you practice to this DVD you have the solid guarantee that you are practicing the pure teaching and that in itself is worth it’s weight in gold. Kino is one of the world’s best and most dedicated yoga teachers spreading the word globally.
This DVD is simply a treasure for anyone already taking their Asana yoga practice seriously.
There are more than quite a few people who think that Avocado is a Spanish resort or an Italian motorbike and others that would swear it’s a style of zumba. The rest of us know it as that fruit that unless it has a label that says ‘ready to eat’ is a lottery to when its ripe and is often avoided, by many as a risk.
There are many health benefits to an avocado and they do more to delay wrinkles than any of these anti-aging creams or the more severe practice of ironing one’s face. They do this by being eaten and/or spreading the green flesh over ones face like a mud pack.
Top tip here is to eat the flesh and to rub the remainder that has adhered to the outer skin over ones face. Leave it for 30 minutes and then wash off.
Another top tip is not to do this if you are expecting a parcel from Amazon within the hour.
Apart from vanity they are also very good for preventing or helping to prevent, Cardiovascular disease, Arthiritus, Diabetes and Weight loss, which are probably better reasons for eating them.
Top tip 3 is to always buy those that have been wrapped as Avocados fall prey to squeezing as people presume that they are experts at determining ripeness by a squeeze so many Avocados have been fondled to damaging levels and besides I’ve followed enough people out of supermarket toilets that haven’t washed their hands who head straight to feeling and poking fruit and veg. – I won’t expand on that on this particular post but suffice to say, these people need to be tackled there and then, and loudly, so loudly that they hesitate to punch you allowing shame to take hold.
I wouldn’t trust just washing the Avocados, or any squeezable produce for that matter, in case the stained finger nails of the aforementioned unwashed have penetrated to the flesh..
So, a perfect Avocado day would be to buy a couple of ‘ready to eat’ as opposed to ‘ripen at home’ wrapped fruits. Return home. Switch off phones. Cut fruit in half. Remove the stone/nut – and set aside. Remove flesh and chop, slice or eat there and then, check Amazon have been, spread remaining flesh on skin all over ones face and neck and even hair (It’s good for that too) and then lie in Savasana for 30 minutes (be sure the dog is out of the room, trust me on this).
After 30 minutes, wash and feel brilliant.
Pick up stone/nut and plant in moist compost, put pot in warm and sunny window, keep compost moist and then wait 4 to 6 weeks and this happens !………………………..
As I understand things, all spiritual teachings are taught, essentially, to allow one to strive for one thing, stillness of mind. Yoga Asanas are there, as just one limb of eight, to prepare the body for meditation so that it can sit as still and as comfortably as possible without having ones legs turn blue so to be able to calm the mind, and along with the other seven limbs, to realise that all is just thought from which arise our attachments and aversions and ultimately the universe we individually live in.
Television and the media has managed to shepherd us all into a similar pattern of thoughts and thinking and so we all seem to kind of agree on a similar ish universe. Spiritual teachings however can, at least temporarily, have us experiencing other new and enticing universes, be it a Buddhist one or an Islamic one or Sufi, Hindu, Jesuit, Jain, and so on, until we are ready to drop that too and to simply be. In the meantime whilst we are travelling on our own long yellow brick road to our inner wizard, terrible wars are being fought, insanely, because different collectives of people are holding on tightly, very tightly, to the universe that they think they live in, a universe based in religion, a religion that they insist is the only true one. The truth is that the world is squabbling and killing over who has the best imaginary friend.
Meditation, I am told, is simply a way to let go, to not hold on to anything.
The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” which is different, well slightly different to self familiarity that happens around puberty. The later more grown up familiarity is encouraged for training the mind to understand states that are rewarding such as concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, awareness and mindfulness.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be done sat in lotus imitating Buddha or Ramakrishna. It is accepted nowadays that posture is not really that important. Buddha could just as well have sat on a chair and got boomshanka’d but, like most yogis of the day, he was a wandering sadhu and chairs were not lying around in fields and under enlightening trees. Sitting in lotus is another case of us human types imitating. We no longer dress up as Batman or play air guitar – well not in public at least – but if Buddha got through by sitting cross legged then we seem to think that’s the way for us all, but where does this end?
If Christ had been hung from a gallows, rather than crucified on a cross, Christians would today undoubtedly be wearing nooses around their necks, albeit small ones on a pretty chain – but I digress. So it’s surely not really about posture, you can do walking meditation, standing meditation, kneeling meditation - it’s about stillness – specifically stillness of mind and recently I discovered a forced yoga if you will, about 3 minutes after driving off on a recently required, not been on one for 28 years, motorbike.
Materially, It’s a great bike, the result, some say, well a lot say to be honest, of a ‘mid life crisis’ though I simply fail to see where there is any crisis happening, I’m having a great time – It does just under 80 to the gallon and it will hit 110 mph (apparently) with road tax at only £37 per year. So, by comparison to cars, it’s very ecological and economical and shockingly, to me, extremely meditative. (oh yeah and a lotta lotta fun)
From moving off you are forced into
1/ letting go of any fear immediately and
2/ having an instant and perpetual lesson in both awareness and mindfulness – and you can’t do any of these if you are not totally focused and full to the brim of concentration.
The roads are clogged nowadays more than ever and the Highways Department consider two-wheel riders approximately not at all. The manhole covers are very rarely level with the road surface, any utility works undertaken are then resurfaced by what can only be the local playgroup. Farmers, bless them, do try to help by adding a layer of mud wherever possible and councils love to decorate them with rumble strips and speed humps. This is before you encounter any other actual road users , so from the off you are ‘in the zone’ and to understand or at least second guess other drivers you must have a full tankard of both empathy, and to discourage you from giving the finger, compassion.
Distraction is limited, unlike being in a cocoon vehicle because it’s very difficult and extremely messy to eat or drink on a bike and you simply cannot hear a word on the mobile phone and texting is particularly trying and turning around to see what the kids are doing would be very illegal. You are simply there. On the bike, there is, no mortgage, no debt, not even a family, just you and the space around you most commonly referred to as ‘the moment’ though you can never know that you’re in the moment because you’re in it. I concur with film star and Ducati rider Ryan Reynolds who recently said, “I love the fact that on a motorcycle, riding is the only thing you’re doing”. Although I’d add saying ‘yippee’ in quite a high voice within the confines of the helmet.
I imagine surfers have the same feeling of oneness and yippee, except the only obstacles they have to look out for are passing turds. The organisation ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ isn’t in existence for nothing dude.
And all the time the wheels are moving, you are naggingly, very wide awake aware of the biggest one of all – impermanence but all the time holding an inner smile and something that might be called love. Or maybe delusion
Yogi David Williams once referred to fellow yogi and teacher Brian Cooper as “the real thing. If you get a chance to study with this man do it!”.
I have studied with him on three occasions so far, all in Glastonbury UK, and I can thoroughly recommend that anyone on the path of yoga takes one of his workshops. He is seen by some as a bit of a maverick in the yoga world as he doesn’t tow the yoga industry, fashionista line with all the distracting extras that have grown up around the yoga sensation. He is very refreshing, down to earth and funny. As an example, at a recent workshop in Glastonbury, one woman asked him ‘what is the good of getting your leg behind your head?’ His answer was ‘what is the good of any posture?’ And he wasn’t being flippant.
Halfway through the workshop he told us all to roll up our mats and that we simply do not need a yoga mat and that in fact they do more harm than good as the yoga mat can hinder getting into the correct posture, particularly in standing poses as being on the mat stretches only one half of the muscles and the other half that, for example, need to be pulled inwards need a hard floor to work properly. He added that over many years one could have half a body with strong and stretched muscles and the other half mostly unused which would surely cause problem or injury in the long-term. He agreed with a question that sure, have a blanket or cover for seated postures and for dirty floors but the yoga mat is unnecessary. He is currently writing an article on the yoga mat which I think the yoga world will meet with great interest and the mat producers with some trepidation.
I was nodding in agreement as the mat thing has always bugged me slightly as they were not a part of the original practice. They are a western addition or even invention to some degree. It could be said that hey have become somewhat of an antithesis of yoga – an attachment and they separate each yogi from each other. They are like being in a car or a lifeboat , a sort of lycra or rubber based cocoon, a sock. Indeed when the mats were gone, we were suddenly all one, all in the same boat and barefooted. Individual space was destroyed and the yoga became a little bit more real – is the only way I can put it.
the future? God help us
Originally, ancient yoga was practised on kusha grass – which is said to also be the material that Buddha was sat on as his mediation seat when he gained enlightenment – but mostly yoga was simply practised on hard earth with no barrier between oneself and the planet. When yoga came to the west thousands of years later practitioners decided to use a towel or a cotton mat over the wooden floors. This evolved to rubber to stop those mats slipping on the wooden floors and that further developed, as recent as 1982, to carpet underlay cut to a towel size – and so was born the ‘sticky mat’.
Choice is being slowly taken away now as some insurance companies require yoga practice to be executed with a non-slip mat in order to be eligible for coverage.
Apart from some form of mat being useful for sitting postures, they would still be preferable for filthy floors such as some Indian shalas but it’s getting to the point where Yogi’s are even taking their yoga mats on to grass and beaches!
It is definitely worth trying or if you are a teacher maybe advertising an occasional ‘matless class’ or call it ‘Indoor Wild Yoga’ just to see the difference it makes – which I can vouch, is quite huge. I think there’s a niche – best not tell anybody :0
Brian will be in Glastonbury in October 14 – limited places, see https://www.facebook.com/AshtangaYogaGlastonbury
Brian Cooper http://www.briancooper.eu/ teaches directly from his personal experience and studies. He is founder and director of Union Yoga Training, approved by Yoga Alliance UK, which is dedicated to setting and maintaining high standards of teaching yoga in Britain and Europe.
For more information on Brian’s Yoga Alliance teacher training courses. Brian has dedicated much time to teaching the benefits of Thai Massage for teachers and students of yoga. These interests have resulted in his new book ‘The Art of Adjusting’ written specifically for yoga teachers.Brian has also co-founded Harmony Publishingwhich publishes out of print yoga classics.He is the Honorary Secretary for Scotland for the International Yoga Federation, an Honorary Member of the World Yoga Council, a member of the Advisory Board for the World Yoga Council, and on the Advisory Board of Yoga Alliance UK.
It had to happen and it has. The holier than thou brigade have fired their angry arrows at the rising star of Ashtanga Yoga, Kino Macgregor, and they’ve thrown these white hot coals because Kino, in their opinion, is not adhering to the yoga philosophy laid down thousands of years ago and that’s the point, it was laid down thousands of years ago.
The current Ashtanga yogi’s take their philosophy and teachings mostly from those of Krishna Pattabi Jois who himself was the ‘student’, as it’s commonly known nowadays though it may have been known as ‘disciple’ at the time, of Krishnamacharya who preached that one should make yoga propaganda and to get the message out there. I support that one.
Krishnamacharya in a thong
From my own experience the world would be a totally different place if everyone practiced yoga. I think it should be taught in schools as part of Physical Education and also as part of Religious Education as yoga crosses both boundaries. One only has to pick up an Ashtanga yoga book to know that there are eight limbs of which the asana’s (physical postures) are only one. The eight limbs are very similar to the Buddhist eightfold path and also to the Ten Commandments though in Yoga, which is, or at least originally was (he says controversially), a hindu philosophy there is no commanding going on which is also the case with the Buddhist eightfold path – there is no reward and no punishment for following or for not following except that from and for your own self.
Yoga in schools has already courted controversy as it’s ‘not Christian’, which is like most people then in the west, because for most people who say they are Christian, it’s just a convenience so they know what to put in that blank box on passport and census applications.
Kino has been pointed at for her style of yoga clothes – talk about attachment and aversion! It gets hot in an ashtanga yoga class and I wear as little as I can get away with (vest and shorts and when it gets really sweaty the shorts get rolled up as high as is possible to go). In the warmer parts men mostly just wear shorts and in some cases, I will sit down before I say the next word - speedos ! – and women wear bikinis, but so what? If people are getting distracted by this or fearing that a bout of lust might come upon them, then that, at least, shows them where they’re stuck. This clothes fascism is akin in some ways to the Catholic Church not allowing female priests, cardinals or popes although I think the only reason for that is because the celibate men have all the frocks.
Kino is trying to get yoga on to TV. This has amazingly upset the upper brethren of Mysore yogis. What seems to be the yoga moan lately is whether yoga should or shouldn’t be an Olympic event or whether yoga should become prime time TV. The argument mostly being that the Asanas, what most of the world think is yoga, is not the whole yoga. My personal opinion on this is that when people come to yoga for whatever reason, they are all the better for it and some, probably quite a high percentage, eventually dig deeper and begin to want to breathe properly, try to then maybe regularly practice meditation which leads on to greater empathy and compassion and kindness and bigger eyes to see the world with.
If the population would frown at yoga on TV, yet sit glued to Strictly Come Dancing or the greatest karaoke show on Earth (X Factor) or watch endless programmes about chefs who cook with varying degrees of alcoholism and bad language, then abandon hope all ye who enter etc. Yoga will be on television, this much is for sure and there are many great teachers out there who will embrace the medium and hopefully for the right reasons and Kino should be right up there and lead from the front.
Like it or not, according to Bloomberg, ‘Yoga is the fastest growing industry on Earth’ (and without any TV!). Bill Harper of Yoga Journal announced, ‘it’s not just an activity, it’s a lifestyle’. Are these facts a bad thing? Maybe only to the brethren of the mountain ‘Holier’ which is quite a bit higher up the valley than ‘thou
My naked half leg (bottom right hand corner) at the end of a Kino workshop in London, England
Everyone has their own path to their own G-D and that’s as it should be and whether the path is pathless or not is irrelevant.
see also, ‘Kino MacGregor, London’ at
‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
‘Kino DVD review’ at
Kino’s ‘how to’ videos are here
The article this post addresses by Kino is at
On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See - http://www.holyisland.org/
We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’. We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.
Arrival on Arran
There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.
The main building
The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012. The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.
The retreat building
The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.
There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.
The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran
Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.
In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.
On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.
Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background
On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.
There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd
I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!
Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.
We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.
The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).
The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.
Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.
Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.
This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.
After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!
Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!
Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.
In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/
My qualification for this blog is that I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years, the last five of those being Ashtanga and also a dusting of Kundalini. I’ve been reading books associated with yoga for over twenty years and I thought I’d let everyone in on what I think are amongst the best books available on yoga *that I’ve read so far* and I would love to know what other yoga books people have read and been positively changed by.
My longest mention is firstly to Ram Dass. His books have been mind blowers to me. Born as Richard Alpert (curiously the name that the TV show Lost chose for one of its main characters) he became one of the leading professors of the Psychology department at Harvard in the 1960′s. He was best friends with Timothy Leary and was at the forefront of LSD research that pretty much spawned the post Beatnik flower power movement that overtook the world (apart from some villages in Northern England who have yet to this day to be introduced to Bill Haley)
This LSD research got him famously thrown out of Harvard and after a time he wound up in India and found his ‘guru’, Neem Karoli Baba, became Ram Dass, which means servant of God, and at the same time realised that Psychology didn’t know much about the workings of the mind, which is quite something coming from a professor of Psychology at Harvard! His workshops and lectures since then are legendary and his book ‘Be Here Now’ is a classic. His writings and anecdotes are as laugh out loud funny as those of Bill Bryson, if Bryson did inner travels.
His latest book though is, for me, the ultimate biography/instruction manual on the reason we are here – which is to perform yoga. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean buying lycra and trendy mats and saying hello in a low misty voice, but the discipline of life, that is yoga. ‘Paths to God, Living the Bhagavad Gita’ has been called the greatest commentary ever written on the Gita and is an enlightening, humorous and very easily digested and highly recommended to all those beyond lycra :)
I came across the book ‘The 8 Limbs of Yoga, Pathway to Liberation’ by Bhava Ram in a second hand bookshop in Glastonbury, UK. Seeing the cover of an aging western hippy sat on a rock, somewhere warm, wearing a garland around his neck I very nearly put it back on the shelf but thought I’d read the back cover so I could be reinforced in my initial cynicism.
It stated that ‘Bhava Ram overcame a broken back, failed back surgery and stage four cancer through yoga’. Stage Four is to cancer what Category Five is to hurricanes – so I bought the book – and I’m very glad I did as the book is essentially a modern and western explanation of , as the title states, the eight limbs of yoga – which is Ashtanga yoga as written down 2200 years ago by Patanjali. If you’ve never read about the sutras and the whys and wherefores of yoga, this is a good place to start, though the book is not that easy to get hold of but worth the extra effort to find.
Mysore in India exists as the place to visit for western yoga enthusiasts and tens of thousands do visit each year. Indeed, for westerners, Mysore is to yoga as Goa is to hedonism.
This is thanks to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
who began practicing yoga at the age of 12 and at 15 ran away from home to study Sanskrit in Mysore. He eventually held a teaching position in yoga at the Sanskrit College of Maharaja becoming vidwan (professor) as well as being Honorary Professor of Yoga at the Government College of Indian Medicine. He is renowned for bringing ashtanga yoga to the west when he visited California in 1975.
He wrote just one book which is a book of his original teachings with photos showing all the postures of the ashtanga primary series and reading the book feels like one is reading history and all ashtanga practitioners today, in the west at least, have Jois and this book ‘Yoga Mala’ to thank.
I’m currently reading ‘Heaven Lies Within Us’ by Theos Bernard, an American who is allegedly the first westerner to go to India to study and practice yoga, back in the 1930′s, and from what I’ve read so far he delved more than most ever have since and the book is all about his travel and his delvings and is proving to be another must read for yogi’s. It has just been republished having been out of print for many years.
Although I’ve read many books that refer to the yoga book of books, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I’ve never read the actual book itself. I feel that I may have been leaving it to last, getting everybody else’s viewpoints and translations before going for my own – but now I have a copy and it will be accompanying me on an upcoming visit to India which includes a week in Mysore not doing any of that hedonistic stuff. :)
I’ve been partaking in the practice of yoga, at least the Asana or posture ‘limb’ for fifteen years now and it has indeed brought on profound changes in that time. But at the ripe old age of 47 and now four months a Grandad, which may be the latest catalyst, I’m back in the zone.
My practice was originally a once a week Hatha which moved on to a once a week Ashtanga but since January it’s been a three times a week Ashtanga with a dash of the odd Kundalini plus actual home practice (!) and I’m currently in teacher training and all this has only accelerated the tumult. Not an unhappy tumult may I say but a sort of inevitable and a welcomed one, because sooner or later, as I would assume that any regular practitioner of yoga asanas would concur, one looks to see what the other seven limbs of yoga are all about – and they certainly don’t say, ‘eat, drink and be merry’!
The title of this, my first blog, is perhaps a bit misleading because although once a Prince of partying, and in Glastonbury as well no less, those days have become personal annals in history and if it wasn’t the yoga that put those hazy days behind me, then it was just that I eventually grew up somewhere along the way. So the blog could have been called ‘Yoga versus Materialism’ as the materialism I refer to is the fashion following, money making, selfish, ego driven, image obsessed kind of materialism that on it’s nights off goes partying, a kind of partying that includes the aforementioned only with added alcohol, drugs and bollocks talking.
And I’m no stranger to this yin yanginess of agitation. I’ve been armchair studying Buddhist and Hindu philosophy for over twenty years with sojourns to retreat islands and meditation courses and the like and this tranquil and seemingly undisturbed lifestyle immediately makes one question ones own lifestyle and conditioning. In the past though, being younger, these considerations always got put on to the back burner but now I think that flame needs much more of my attention. I mean, I did it. In 1900 the life expectancy for men was 45 and 48 for women. I made 47 ! I met my wife when we were both sixteen, had two beautiful children, managed to get them to adulthood (through no fault of their own) and now the eldest has given us a lovely grandson – so I’m extremely appreciative and know that I’m living bonus time each and every second when compared to most people born before 1900 and I do think it is time to make a more serious effort to look ‘within’ and the yoga has made me – or more accurately is making me do it.
It seems that there is a kinder and more loving way to live out the second half or maybe the third, third of ones life and I’m pretty sure that the old shackles will be loosened somewhat by light. Here’s hoping.
And just for the record, that picture up there /\ the one of the thong wearer, isn’t of me. I wouldn’t wear orange for starters, it’s so 1980′s.