Sunday, 12 May 2013

Crete - Derek Ireland and the British/European school of Ashtanga

Just heard my place on Manju's TT course in Crete is confirmed, thank god for that, had already booked the flight and hotel ( just changed the hotel to somewhere only five minutes from the shala).

M. asked me why Crete ( she noticed that I'd mentioned there was a much cheaper option of the (now only slightly) shorter course with Manju at Stillpoint yoga in London, oops.

Well how about this...

 it's Crete, spiritual home of British (and perhaps European ) Ashtanga.

And if we have a 'spiritual home' of British Ashtanga then we need a patron saint, well that would have to be Derek Ireland, although I suspect we'd hear Derek's big basso laugh that the obituary below refers to at being called a saint.

I had planned on packing a few fresh pairs of Nike pro shorts for the trip but I see from the video that other attire is, it seems,  de rigueur for Ashtanga in Crete and am now off to tanga.com to pick up a suitcase full, did you say turquoise Maya?

Remember I was reviewing Petri Räisänen's book the other week, seems Petri's first certified teacher was Derek Ireland

"In his yogic path Petri has studied with many respected Astanga Yoga teachers such as Derek Ireland (his first certified teacher)".

Does it make sense I wonder  to talk about different Schools of Ashtanga ? The California or US School of Ashtanga, the Hawaii school, The British School,  Russian school....are there slight differences in character I wonder that reflect the different influences of the senior teachers who pass on the practice. Interesting thought....( or not).

Anyway, here's a post from 2011 on Derek Ireland.

In the video, look out for the most stunning Utthita hasta padangushtasana you'll probably ever see (2:12).

Derek Ireland originally posted Wednesday, 13 April 2011


I've heard tales about Derek Ireland since I first started Ashtanga, I think he was mentioned as an influence and teacher in the first couple of Ashtanga books I worked with. I've seen pictures of him, one quite iconic of him standing on a cliff somewhere with this long hair of his blowing in the wind. I bought the John Scott DVD, too advanced for me at the time, probably still is, he was Derek's student and often mentions him. I never got to see any video's of his practice until Dom linked to this one on FB.

It's a beautiful, powerful, practice ( check out the Utthita Eka Padasana, strewth) and yet there's something sad about the video, has that old home movie feel about it, he passed away in 1998.

I think the video below was uploaded by his kids.


Independent.co.uk


Obituary


Peter Guttridge


Monday, 28 September 1998
IN 1988, Derek Ireland, the charismatic yoga practitioner who was largely responsible with Radha Warrell for introducing to Europe the "aerobic" yoga called astanga vinyasa, accidentally blew himself up with camping gas canisters on a Greek island. He was severely burnt on his legs and arms so a Greek doctor peeled the skin off. "He peeled my hand which really hurt because of all the nerve endings. My lateral ligament was sticking out like an onion ring," Ireland recalled later.
He was flown to London for skin grafts. On arrival the doctors wrapped the burns in netting and plastic bags and bandages then left him for a few days before starting on the grafts. Whilst waiting, Ireland did head and shoulder stands. "It was the Olympics so I turned the television upside- down and watched it for an hour at a time." Seven days later the doctors took the bandages off. The skin had healed. "No scars, nothing. But I felt tiny because I'd no prana left from healing this thing."
"Prana" in yoga is the breath of life - the life force - and it was the power of the breathing exercises ("pranayama") that first drew Derek Ireland, a former Brighton and Hove football apprentice, to yoga.
"I'm not into meditation," he said. "I don't believe in chakras or kundalini. I'm not a guru worshipper - I know they've grown wise but they're still only human and all they know is some southern Indian village. I got into astanga vinyasa yoga for the combination of breathing and movement."
Ireland was a walking testimonial to the health and fitness properties of the form. Tall, deeply tanned and muscular, he radiated vitality and energy. To see him demonstrate the yoga, accompanied by throbbing pop music, was an eye-popping experience. He combined grace and fluidity of movement with strength and remarkable gymnastic ability.
He clearly believed if you've got it flaunt it. He did the demonstrations in designer knickers and his own yoga practise six days a week wearing only a thong. On his daily run he generally wore nothing but trainers, the thong and a personal stereo.
He got away with such shameless exhibitionism by dint of his genial charm and a willingness to laugh at himself. A warm, caring man, he had a quick sense of humour and a ready laugh - a wonderful, deep, basso laugh that filled the "sweat box" at the Practice Place in Crete or the "yoga shack" on the beach in Goa where he was an inspiring, hands-on teacher to hundreds of students over the years.
"I like to work hands on - I look on my teaching as bodywork therapy," he said. One of his students had over 50 broken bones but was on the second series (the yoga has six levels or series, each one increasing in difficulty). It didn't matter to Derek how good you were, all that mattered was that you were willing to try.
Derek Ireland was born and raised in Brighton. A "ferociously competitive" athlete at school, he was apprenticed to Brighton and Hove Albion football team when a severe knee injury playing rugby ended his hopes of a professional sports career.
When punk came along he spent five years promoting the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Stranglers along the south coast and took fully to the rock and roll lifestyle. He started conventional yoga with his girlfriend Radha Warrell after "living off my memories of my sporting triumphs for ten years". Thereafter he did yoga almost every day.
In 1978 the couple moved to Los Angeles where Ireland was supposed to take a band on the road. "It was to be Foreigner, then the Tubes, then Ozzy Osbourne. In the end I didn't take anyone - I think because they thought I was wilder than the bands."
Two years later the couple went on a one-month teacher training course to a Shivananda yoga retreat in the Bahamas. They stayed six years to run the place. During that time a visiting Shivananda swami from New York introduced them to astanga vinyasa, a vigorous form of yoga that had been rediscovered in the Thirties by Patthabhi Jois in Mysore, who claimed it was the original yoga from which all other hatha yogas had developed.
In 1986 Derek Ireland moved to New York to teach it - in the absence of premises he ran big open-air classes in Central Park until the park authorities moved him on. The following year he and Radha spent six months with Jois in Mysore, then began to teach the form as he had passed it on to them all over the world.
In 1991 they opened the Practice Place, a centre devoted to astanga vinyasa, in a secluded bay in southern Crete. The Practice Place quickly established itself as one of the most important yoga centres in the world. Many of the numerous classes now available in Britain are run by Derek and Radha's former students. More and more people have taken up the yoga, including such celebrities as Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sting, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Demi Moore.
Ireland's ebullient manner and deliberately non-spiritual approach to yoga caused raised eyebrows in the yoga community over the years. "I usually do my practice to music - in England I do it to MTV," he said a couple of years ago. "I used to do it with weights on my wrists: that upset a few purists. I also had a weighted jacket but I got rid of that after I did a handstand and nearly killed myself - it slipped down and hit me on the back of the head."
Ireland had lots of injuries, which made his control of his body even more remarkable. He fell out of a tricky posture and severed a nerve once, losing control of his left arm for four years. In consequence, teaching ta'i chi he kept hitting himself in the eye.
In winter he ran courses in a "yoga shack" on a beach in Goa. He attracted students simply by doing his practice on the beach for passersby to watch. The practice would take two hours and within five minutes he would be surrounded by Indians who weren't familiar with this style of yoga. "Some would plonk babies on me for photographs. I tried to stay focused - I only got uptight if they actually walked on me!"
Derek Ireland had started a new phase of his life with Kristina Karitinou and their child Lumiere when testicular cancer was diagnosed and treated. They had another child, Liam, 18 months ago. Cancer recurred. Ireland continued to teach in Crete and Goa in the periods between his treatments with the same care as before. His warmth and ebullience never left him until the breath of life, the prana, did.
Derek Ireland, yoga practitioner and teacher: born Brighton, East Sussex 16 April 1949; married 1998 Kristina Karitinou (two sons); died Brighton 24 September 1998

-----------------

and here's a follow up post I put up last year on the one above

Derek Ireland Ashtanga Led Primary CD and Pranayama CD

I was teaching Vinyasa Krama for much of last week which was fun, an interesting experience but my practice hasn't exactly felt my own all week. I would run through the practice I planned to teach in my morning practice and then half demonstrate/instruct, half practice along with the 'student' in the evening.

I don't know, teaching.... I'd like to do some more, almost feel a responsibility to do so now, to pass on what was shared with me but at the expense of my own practice? I'm accustomed to practicing twice a day, it's a luxury I know...the more students the less time there would be to practice. Ashtanga is a little different perhaps, a fixed sequence, but Vinyasa Krama takes a little planning. But then when I first started teaching, whether as a TA at Uni or as a Schoolteacher or TEFL in Japan, I would spend ages planning lessons/classes, by the end though I'd come up with something on a quick trip to the bathroom or on the way class (just sketch the outlines and allow space for improvising in class, riff off each other). I guess I spent a long time designing teacher training programs when I was a trainer but that was different, even then the courses became pretty much routine after teaching them a few times.

It's a concern though.

Of course if the time ever came when I had enough students to give up work and teach full time (hate the idea, depending on yoga for my livelihood worries me more than a little) one would assume there would be more time to practice again. I'm not convinced, it's no doubt hard to say no to anyone asking for lessons and before you know it your teaching constantly with no time for your own practice or if you do, you fit one in it's with upcoming lessons in mind.

I'd like more time to practice not less, more time for longer pranayama, for longer sits, for more study...

Anyway, I was given Derek Ireland's Primary CD, much better than an apple, thank you. Was looking forward to getting home and practicing with it on Saturday after work. As it happen I ended up with a flat and had to push my bike home, practice was the last thing I was in the mood for.

On FB I asked mentally "Derek, to be gentle" .....wrong teacher, wrong CD, Derek is old school, a fast full on practice.

That said Derek Ireland's practice runs to 1:42 which seems slow, compare it with Sharath's Primary in an hour. That's partly because there are a couple of extra postures in there, a parivtta parsva konasana variation where the arm goes under the leg and binds and then Hanumanasana and Samakonasana are squeezed in after the Prasarita series.

There's a nice focus on dandasna which gets echoed throughout and a pause before each jump through to 'set' yourself up. Time too for an extra breath or so to bind the tricky postures if you want it. It's not exactly a beginners led though, you'd need to know the practice and be practicing for a little while but it makes for a nice led and with a slightly different focus than anyone else. All the led DVD's are useful  every now and again if your practicing at home, everyone has a different take on the practice. I'm still getting a lot out of Richard Freeman's but this was a refreshing change.

I'd expected to suffer a bit, Vinyasa Krama is a slower practice but perhaps it's two weeks of green smoothies but I found the practice comfortable, felt strong and fit but then Vinyasa krama is deceptively demanding.


While I'm mentioning Derek Ireland, I picked up his pranayama CD a while back, this is the Ashtanga approach to pranayama, or perhaps the Ashtanga Pranayama Routine (coming to a shala near you perhaps once Gregor's pranayama book come out in a couple of months) little different than how I was taught by Ramaswami but interesting and highly recommended (here's an outline, pretty much as I remember it on the CD). It goes through Ujaii, nadi shodana (alternating nostrils), sitali... each exercise separated off by a few deep breaths and inhalations, a nice , pre practice routine (pranayama seems to come before asana practice in ashtanag as opposed to after in vinyasa Krama).

I like Derek Ireland, wasn't sure when I first saw the video below with the thong and flowing locks (that WMG seem to have blocked) but his personality comes through on his cd's, he doesn't take himself too seriously, there's a warmth and generosity and even a gentleness from the big man.

Here's a little look at one of his classes

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this video. I love it. It's one of the most beautiful yoga videos I have seen...smooth, interesting camera movements, sun rays in the lens, focus on the imp parts of the asana. The person shooting seems to have been a practitioner as well. I love the way he pulls out on all the "power" poses and adds drama. The beautiful sculptured body and flowing hair of course helps:)
    I am beginning to think about combining yoga and my movie making skills and this video is truly inspirational ...thanks.
    I also love what he says about Gurus: I'm not a guru worshipper - I know they've grown wise but they're still only human and all they know is some southern Indian village.
    With so much scandal and also simply so much ego attached to some of our yoga "gurus" this is an important point to remember. We worship the knowledge and not the person...and the knowledge is timeless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't it wonderful Rani.
      "We worship the knowledge and not the person...and the knowledge is timeless." Yes Yes.

      I did think for a moment though that perhaps this focus on the beauty and power of ashtanga might be something we're ready to move on from by now but then I thought again that the practice we're seeing here comes from years of dedication and devotion to the practice, to discipline, all that good stuff. Yes it's beautiful and it does seem that, for a time at least, gods walked again the dry hillsides of Crete but we don't want to throw the proverbial baby out with the cliche'd bathwater, beauty should never be something to be ashamed of or even disdainful. Beauty speaks of something else, the idea above all ideas.... perhaps.

      Seems the video is by Anthony Parker have posted the Fusion magazine Derek Ireland tribute today with a piece by him.

      Delete
  2. Hahaha! Turquoise it is, then! I'll be looking forward to it! Did you ever read that funny post Leaping Lanka did on what to wear (as a man) to practice, his progression from sweat pants and t-shirt to various shorter and shorter shorts (but not the dreaded euro-thong!). Too funny. Folks sure give the girl ashtangis a hard time for wearing tiny shorts, don't they? Love that post you did a while back with all the men in loincloths and the woman yogini in a full sari, HA. When I used to work in South Beach Miami, people grocery shop in their thongs man, no one cares, everyone has just come from the beach, and everyone looks great for some reason. Those same people in North Carolina (where I live now), aside from being arrested for indecency, would look old and fat--maybe it is something in the air in NC. Instead of appreciative, celebrative looks, you get slimy ones here. Grim, you could totally do the tiny turquoise bikini in Miami, no one would blink--come to think of it, that's where Kino is, duh. But if you ever come to NC, might I suggest longer shorts.

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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