Astanga Yoga London

18th of July 2020
18th July 2020

As some of you know Anna, AKA farmer wise has decided to stop teaching at AYL. For a few reasons, but mostly because she really enjoys her main job of working for Birth Companions. And now they have offered her more money/hours. Anna and I set up Dharma shala, many hours have gone into choosing how things would be. There is no way I could have done it with out Anna. (or much else)

Today I went for a nice long run, though that would be a way to then relax on the sofa after. Talia went off to Camden with her friends. And we get a call from one of them, Talia has lost her phone. Of course being Crouch end parents we track every move. So we figured the phone was on the 29 Bus. We jumped in the car, and tracked it to Wood Green. We could see the bus coming up the road on the opposite side. So as Anna was driving I jumped out of the moving car, sprinted across the big intersection. And we now have the phone and I’m on the sofa. Someone is on cleaning duty for a few days.

In the last post of the Yoga Sutras we looked at how Patanjali advises us in relationships and the related emotions. Patanjali’s main push is for samadhi, everything is to reach this goal. So not just how we do Marichasana D or that we have satvik food but how we relate with each other is a part of the yoga path. Finding joy in everything. We’re all after the happiness thing, and we can really only get that when we bring happiness to others.

The next sutra is rather interesting 1.34 At first it seems simple. It says Samadhi is obtainable by exhalation/restraining the breath. Which would seem obvious that pranayama can bring about samadhi. The confusion is with the first word. Prachchhadana, hard enough to say. Usually it is translated as exhale. But when you read the dictionaries and question a few people with more knowledge than me it actually comes out as ‘to vomit’. No information is given how to breath or how to hold ones breath. May be this one sutra has more to it than meets the eye. When you are sick your stomach contract strongly. In this way when we hold our breath after an exhale contraction of the stomach muscles strongly is an important part. It’s also interesting Patanjali is only interested in the exhale retention. No mention of inhale is made.

See you soon…

16th of July 2020
16th July 2020

15 has landed! It started out as a book inside a book and then rather like Scotland broke free and became its own thing. It’s a simple book about the 15 questions Arjuna asks Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. It’s like a little taste of the Gita to get you more interested in reading the real thing.

So I’ve discovered the dog has a shopping problem. Where as traditionally a dog would bark at the postie, Scout wags her tail excitedly when ever a parcel arrives. She’s figured out that occasionally there are dog treats inside.

Next in the Yoga Sutras we have three of my favourite sutras 1.31-33. The first is practical, the second is more ‘you want one answer’ and the third is how to be with relationships.

1.31 Are a list of 4 things to look out for when we have a disturbed mind. They are pain, depression, shaking limbs and unsteady breathing. I like to pass this on to yoga teachers as something simple to look out for when teaching.

1.32 JUST PRACTICE ONE THING. It couldn’t get any simpler, concentrate on what you can do, stop trying to impress the ladies/guys. As the saying goes dig one deep well not 100 shallow wells.

1.33 this one is almost word for word taken from the Pali cannon of what the buddha said. Being friendly to the happy, compassionate to those who are suffering, joyful for the virtuous and here is the hard one indifferent to those who push your fucking button. What does that really mean? Don’t treat people who push your button different. You still need to be kind and thoughtful with each interaction. But don’t get drawn in to react.

14th of July 2020
14th July 2020

Counting down the days.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali mentions 9 things that are a hindrance to yoga. Well actually he mentions many hindrances but there are 9 specific ones. 1.Illness, we all get ill and have to learn either to remove, cure or live with our maladies. 2 Laziness, well I think we have all experience of that. And tempting thought is to remain in bed, yoga is effort. Not much is needed, just a little kick up the ass. 3. Doubt, yoga works. We know it does because it brings up and deals with difficult emotions. So even though doubt is natural, faith in practice will help. 4. Being careless, this is something we do when we are not being attentive. Trying to do too  much in one go unless we’re really on it is difficult. 5. Sloth. So how do you say sloth? This is more than laziness this is heavy body, so more of a physical heaviness than a mental heaviness. Good diet will help, no late night pizza. 6. Desire, always gets a bad name in India thought. It’s not that we should renounce desire but we should be able to switch it on or off as needed. Good pranayama helps with this. 7. incorrect philosophy/opinion. What! Surely my opinion is the right opinion. Rather it is better to not be tied with opinion and be flexible with your mind. 8. Not going forward. Yoga requires that you are always ready to learn more, always self enquire and not sit still (metaphorically). 9. Slipping backwards. This only happens when you no longer practice. Practice is not just asana, it is a mind set that anything can become yoga, sweeping the floor, walking, eating. It’s the light concentration that being here now that makes it yoga.

I still haven’t managed to get the going to bed early nailed. But Patanjali never mentions this as a problem.

12th of July 2020
12th July 2020

It’s been nice to start to do some of the things we used to do. Visit friends for a meal and go to Ally Pally drive  in cinema. Of course Talia has had other ideas about entertainment during lockdown. School work has been done, with large amounts of distraction, Nirvana and The Clash. And while your parents are out why not give yourself a little tattoo. Should I be WTF or pretty impressed? Clearly I’m un-woke anyway.

So people have been asking about what will happen at the shala. I don’t think it will be busy busy. Because we don’t have any visiting students, non of the universities are back or taking new students. There will be no beginners, quite a few people are going away, will be working at home or live with someone vulnerable. Obviously we can’t fit in as many people as before, 7 less. We are holding off having a booking system but if we need to we will. And it will be simple, tell us what days, times you want to come in the first day you’re at the shala then if we need a booking system we can easily allocate days, times for people and you’ll get an email. No trying to get online at half a  second after midnight and our website crashing. AYL we are, Glasto we’re not.

When you get to the shala take your shoes off as usual. Come through and we can  use the head thermometer. (Obviously if you have been running or cycling let us know). Please make sure we have your contact details, we only need it once. Then get changed, put your clothes in your bag, or we will give you a bin bag. Then either come in to practice or go to the waiting room. There are 10 spots in the main room, all marked out. Two rows of 3 and a row of 4. If you don’t want adjustments please tell us. Couples or those living together we may be able to squeeze together. We will keep the windows open. (heating on if needed). Please do all your practice in the main room and shavasana/rest. But try not to fall asleep!

When you finish smile and leave. And I will be able to say ‘one more’. The kitchen you can use if you clean after but better to bring your own water bottle.

Re cleaning. Joan will be on hand to clean regularly during the class. All the high contact areas and the toilet and she will mop in between the mats during class, just to add to the fun. Of course the shala gets a deep clean every day as has been our standard practice. Please feel free to clean the toilet too, we will leave cleaning stuff there.

There will be no blankets, shala mats, blocks, towel etc. So if you need, bring your own. You should leave your mat if possible, as this is better than taking it back and forth on public transport. The buses and tube outside of rush hour are really quiet at the moment, don’t forget your masks for this. We don’t expect students to use a mask, but feel free to do so. We will use a face shield when doing face to face adjustments.

We will try to give priority to parents with small kids. So you don’t have to wait.

I really looking forward to seeing many of you and hopefully tea and chat after class.

As you know we have a new payment system call Fair Exchange, please check it out on our website. I’m really proud of this and hope it will work. I know that many businesses are going in one direction, increasing prices. But as you know I don’t always follow the masses. So our simple system is where you pay what you can afford and how you value the shala. This means that if you have lost work, income etc you do not need to be embarrassed to ask for a discount or not come in. Just pay what you can.

Yoga will get you through times of little money better than money will you through times of little yoga.

You can still pay with good old cash and do bank transfers, just ask for our bank detail if you don’t already have them. We will still prefer if you pay at the beginning of the month. So as we are starting on the 25th, just pay a quarter of what you’d pay a month. If you paid for a month back in March, (how long ago was that) we will still honour that payment for the rest of July. Fair Exchange can work if we remember we are paying for the running of the shala (rent is £23,000 a year) supporting the teachers and supporting those students who are struggling.

We are a community and to me this is really important. Mostly because we all support each other.

10th of July 2020
10th July 2020


Saturday 25th of July, count the days. We will open from 6am to 11am (may be later if you are still around). It would be lovely to see you all.  We can’t operate as we used to at the moment. So we won’t be cramming people in. There will be space to stretch out. Please make sure you have read our covid 19 safety page and that we have your contact details. Because we don’t know how many of you are going to be coming in or what times we are just going to keep things fluid for now. We’d rather not have appointments so that students don’t all arrive at once.

From Sunday 26th classes will be back to normal times. 7.30-11am Sun. Mon-Fri 5ish to 11.30am and 5-8pm. If we need to open regularly on a Saturday so that everyone gets time to practice we will do that.

Our online classes will be phased out for a couple of weeks and then we will add a few in sometime in August.

If you have any question please don’t hesitate to email/phone me. We want to make sure you feel safe to come back

Re this blog. I’m going to reduce it the every other day for a while and then weekly. I hope to have some other teachers/friends contribute. So it should get a bit more interesting.

For now we’re back with Patanjali. He introduces the concept of Ishvara, which gets translated as, Lord or God. We’re not sure which God, shiva, Vishnu??? He mentions devotion to Ishvara 4 times in the YS so I guess it’s quite important. It’s also interesting that the YS takes a lot from Buddhism where there is no God and also from Samkhya philosophy which puts Gods as just another ‘life form/stage’. Some have suggested that God becomes a tool to get to Samadhi. Krishnamacharya suggested that the  6 sutras starting with Ishvara pranidhana were śatanga 6 limbed yoga. We also get introduced to Om, which is called Pranava which means before sound. Which suggests that Om existed before there was sound. Which does answer somewhat that age old question of the tree in the wood. And if it falls when no one is around does it make a sound? If you still don’t know the answer it’s no, because sound is only heard in ears. Although if you ever felled a tree you’d know you feel the sound as it hits the ground. But Om was always there before you could hear.

See you on the mat

9th of July 2020
09th July 2020

Today is fun day. We all know that paper airplanes don’t fly well and the pointy bit unfolds. So here is a way to make a good paper airplane. Is it aerodynamic? Paper airplanes are too light for aerodynamics to work. You can’t create a lift with paper. So it’s more about fluid dynamics. To get a paper plane to fly you need weight at the front.

I have folded in half and folded one corner to the midline, but just mark that outer edge of the fold.

Fold the paper up  on a line of the previous mark. Then TURN OVER

Fold both both corners up to the centre, crease sharply. Then TURN OVER

This is a little tricky, fold the bottom edges up to the top of the raw edge. I have drawn a line on the left side where the fold is and completed the right side.

Hold the plane by the point lift the back edge of the raw edge and move it forward as you close the plane

The final step fold down each wing equally from the junction backwards. FLY

Patanjali gives us 5 resources that help us on our path. They are faith, energy, memory, meditation, wisdom. It is rare to have all 5 at the same time equally. Play to your strengths. But each one will strengthen the others. It is your path.


8th of July 2020
08th July 2020

Running AYL has been a learning curve for me. The teaching bit is good. Everything else I’ve had to learn on the job, no you tube help. Everything from supplies and deliveries, gas/electricity, repairs, managing staff, taxes, health and safety, DBS checks, staff training, website content etc. Hopefully I haven’t done too badly. We’ve just changed over to paper towel. When we first opened we debated which would be best roller towel, paper towel or hand dryer. The latter we felt would be noisy. Now we have swapped to paper I wish I’d done so first. So much cheaper. Lesson learned.

I also learnt thanks to one of our lovely assistants how being a person of colour every day you have to think ‘will it be safe for me to go there’. That weighs heavy on my heart. I love our community at the shala and that when new people come in you all make an effort to be welcoming. Remembering your own first day and how trepidatious it felt. Thank you.

So yesterday we tried to tackle samadhi, the different types or levels, the experience. As much as we would like you can not think your way into samadhi. It happens, (usually when you’re least expecting it). And when it does you try to grab on to it which is like trying to catch a bee, buzz off.

Book 1 verse 19. Always been a stumbling block for commentators. For those who are bodiless and/or merged in prakriti samadhi happens at birth’.  Err WTF. Beings without bodies or merged into nature? So most commentators go with the idea of gods, as beings without bodies and those merged in nature as somewhere between human and divine. But if we dig deeper and look at each word we can get a better understanding. Videha is the word often translated as without a body. Firstly do not get confused with the place Videha, the ancient Vedic kingdom of Janaki and the birth place of Sita. Though of course it could be that Patanjali was saying these people of Videha were merged in nature. Vi usually means ‘a moving away’ and deha means body. So simply moving away from the body.

So I think it really means for those who are able to detach from their body and feel one with nature (as in totally connected to the world and it’s rhythm’ then they are not reborn. Remember escaping rebirth is part of a final samadhi.

Or heaven is not where you have all your desires met, but where you have no desires.

7th of July 2020
07th July 2020

I think I’m in the wrong job. I just discovered Snoop Dogg has what he calls a PBR, a personal blunt roller. Who, get this, gets $50,000 a year and all expenses. Good for him.

People often ask how I started yoga, or why. The why is easy, simply I couldn’t touch my toes and thought at 17 that’s pretty shit, better do something about that. So the how was me going down to the local bookshop and buying:

Yoga and your health by Sonya Richmond. Very 60s. This was shortly followed by Hatha yoga by Theos Bernard. This I would recommend. It’s a good story, and an historical insight into yoga in general.

Paying attention to your breath while practicing is something that comes and goes. Try and be more aware, particularly when your breath becomes rapid. Shoulder stand is a classic one where it usually takes people 10-15 breaths before they realise they can actually slow it down.

Patanjali talks a fair amount about Samadhi, well that is what yoga is all about. The yoga sutras use a lot of language commonly found in Buddhist text, so we can safely assume there was cross over. And the same with Jain texts too, but to a lesser extent. Finding a description of samadhi is impossible simply because to use language we are still in this world. So often it’s termed in ‘well it’s not this or that’ or a meaningless ‘supreme bliss’. Patanjali gives us some clues into different samadhis, and of course we assume some hierarchy. My feeling is that they are different experiences. But let’s try to explain them using Patanjali’s words. Firstly there are two types of Samadhi also called samapatti. Samprajnata and Asamprajnata. This words mean with knowledge and without knowledge, but are often matched with Sabija and Nirbija. With seed and without seed. But Patanjali never uses the word asampranjnata, and simply refers to it as ‘the other’. This other does finally get described in the 4th chapter as Dharma Megha, a cloud of dharma. Which sounds a very odd way to describe samadhi. I’ve never got a satisfying answer from anyone that I’ve asked about this Cloud of Dharma (good name for a band). It’s quite poetic, which is unlike Patanjali. It’s a phrase is occasionally found also in buddhist texts. Where it too is the highest state of Samadhi. As clouds are good things in India that fact changes our perception. For someone who reaches this state they rain good dharma down on others.

But what about other samadhi states. How many are there? Well I guess each persons path is unique. But Patanjali gives a some cartography. There are 6 different states. But for some reason Patanjali doesn’t list them simply in and order. We have Vitarka, (nirvitarka), Vichara, (nirvichara), ananda and asmita. So this will take some explaining, bare with me.

Tarka (not the otter) means reason. So we have Samadhi with reason Vitarka, then there is a samadhi on the side similar but without reason Nirvitarka. Next comes Chara meaning movement, as in movement away to more subtleness. Vichara, then again more samadhi on the side, remember it’s not linear. Samadhi without subtleness. Nirvichara. Then comes ananda, which is bliss. Easy peasy. And just when we thought things would become all chilled again we have Asmita, which means egoism! Hey wait up egoism and samadhi in the same sentence? Particularly as later on asmita is a described as a poison. So I need to explain the concepts of ego and egoism in Indian philosophy.

Ego is called Ahamkara, I maker. It is the outer face of Buddhi, our discerning mind through which all senses flow. Asmita is I ness and is the inner face of Buddhi which reflects Atman, soul. The difficulty is that buddhi thinks the refection is the real deal. So to get the real deal we remove the dust from the mirror. So asmita samadhi is one step away from seeing atman.

And if you’re still confused you need a PBR.

6th of July 2020
06th July 2020

Some sense of normality. Eating in a restaurant (support local business) and lunch at a friends. And we have booked a couple of films at Ally Pally outdoor drive in cinema. Greace anyone?

Hardest of all on our yoga path is inner security. We find our security in money, what we do for work, how others see us, the way we look. And yet all are transitory and we end up with a large amount of fear of loss. That is not to say we should give all these things up. We need money, we need work, we need to look after our body. But they should not be us. Slowly with practice our attachment becomes less. When we focus less on outside and more on what is inside.

Of course the question of God comes up and either you believe, you don’t believe or you don’t know how to believe. Or usually some mix of the above. Our problem is we have been brought up with an idea of God, dude with white beard on cloud.

However if God is everywhere. When you say ‘yea I believe in myself’ or ‘watching a sunset is special’, ‘ being quiet and calm feels good’, ‘giving and receiving love is the best thing I can do’ all that is God.

Patanjali says there are two things that will bring about niroddha, stillness. Practice and detachment. We’re all familiar with the practice part. It’s just the detachment part that is difficult. Because even if we get the idea and subscribe to it there is a part of us that thinks. ‘Yes I will detach from everything except… ‘ or ‘I’ll just keep the keys to the cupboard of attachment in my back pocket in case I get an urge to…’

Forcing ourselves to be detached doesn’t work. It has to happen gradually but you also need to sew the seeds and water them. The first step is catching yourself being attached, slowly you will be able to laugh at this. Then try to control your senses bit by bit. Not I will reward myself with some sensory overload. It’s as the Isha upanishad says. Find your happiness in letting go.

5th of July 2020
05th July 2020

Today is not only Full Moon but also Guru Purnima. Purnima means full moon and each full moon in the Indian calendar has a name. Guru here refers to Jupiter.  Guru has many meanings. Obviously the most familiar is teacher or spiritual guide. It also means heavy as in their words have deep meaning. And also Gu means darkness or ignorance and ru means light or leading away from. But guru also is used in Sanskrit to describe part of a meter of a phrase. So if we looked at the first line in the Bhagavad Gita written in anushtubh/sloka meter we find the following,

Dharma kshetre kuru kshetre.    So we have Dhar-ma  kshe-tre  ku-ru kshe-tre.            This produces:   Guru, laghu(light), guru, laghu, laghu, laghu, guru, laghu.

So thanks to all the Gurus who have brought humanity this far, to all future gurus to your inner guru and mostly to all you who have taught me so much.

I am deeply honoured to have you in my life as friends and students.

Now go party.