Obituary: Derek Ireland

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone