On your mat, get set, contort

Grunt and groan and sweat and strain. This really can't be yoga - can it? Peter Guttridge on an ancient art's latest gung-ho guise

Perspiring heavily, Sarah balances on her hands, her legs threaded back under her armpits, her ankles crossed behind her neck. Anne, a marketing executive for a London-based bank, slides into the splits on a drenched exercise mat. In one movement, Rob, an Oxford management consultant, drops from a standing position into a kind of press-up, makes his back concave, then swings his butt up to hold himself in an inverted V. Phew.

It's just another morning of astanga vinyasa yoga at the Practice Place in Crete. The popular perception of yoga is gurus, meditation and gentle stretching exercises. Not astanga vinyasa yoga. No dogmas, no meditation - just a lot of sweat. Regarded by its proponents as the truer yoga of which other hatha yogas retain mere fragments, it uses standard yoga postures (asanas) but puts them together into 90-minute flowing sequences that are very vigorous and very chic - celebrity practitioners include Sting, Kris Kristofferson, Koo Stark and the US basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

This aerobic yoga, which comes on like a gymnastic dance, was rediscovered by the yoga master Pattabhi Jois in the Thirties. It has been growing in popularity in America and Australia since the Seventies as a "work- out" yoga. It's the Nineties now, and the new, muscular moniker is power yoga. A very catchy tag - adherents claim that in combining the raw energy of the modern aerobic fitness craze with a New Age interest in ancient, alternative approaches to well-being, power yoga's time hascome. For the past 10 years Derek Ireland, 46, a former professional footballer, and his long-time partner, Radha Warrell, 47, once a Roedean sports coach, have run astanga vinyasa sessions throughout Europe. "We began in New York in the mid-Eighties," Mr Ireland says. "We'd been teaching traditional yoga, but I took to this immediately because of its dynamism."

Living testimony to their calling, Mr Ireland and Ms Warrell have taught power yoga for the past six years at their centre in southern Crete. Sarah, Rob and Anne have all done the yoga before. They are "self-practising" under Mr Ireland's watchful eye. "Most people we get are professional," he says. "They spent 15 years getting their careers together but forgot about fitness.

"We used to teach two classes a day. By the third day, nobody could move. We go easier now. "

During a 90-minute practice, the postures are arranged in a sequence that allows the skeletal system to go back into correct alignment and the muscles to open out. Performing the basic moves, known as the primary series, exercises the whole body - detoxifying, stretching and strengthening. It's tough going. Everything depends on matching breath to movement. The breath (the vinyasa bit) releases the energy to complete the series and the heat generated allows the student to do advanced stretching exercises safely.

In another room, a dozen beginners are finding everything a bit of a shock. They include a personal fitness trainer and a group of yoga practitioners who study a more traditional form - iyenga.

Yoga students always find astanga difficult at first; it seems contrary to good yoga practice. "I was expecting something ... gentler," gasps one red-faced woman. But the personal fitness trainer thinks it's "brilliant. There's been nothing new in aerobics for years. I can see this taking over because you get the suppleness as well as the aerobic movement."

Those who like it love it. Anne, for instance, is going to India to study with Pattabhi Jois. Jois, now aged 80, is a hands-on teacher. His approach includes, on occasion, lying on top of people to get them into a posture. In a article in the US Yoga Joumal, some criticised him for his "risky or even violent" methods. Mr Ireland and Ms Warrell have a much gentler approach. Even so, there are one or two drop-outs on every course at the Practice Place who aren't fit enough to persevere. People who aren't particularly supple (most of us) can suffer niggling knee injuries and strains.Recently, in a UK yoga magazine, one yoga teacher told of a serious injury she had done to herself at the Practice Place.

Mr Ireland says: "It's important to be focusing on what you're doing all the time. But we've developed a way of teaching so that most people have made remarkable progress by the end of two weeks. If they take it home and carry on with self-practice, it will keep them fitter, more energised. You won't need any other exercise."

Still, he knows it's not for everyone, certainly not those who want to do less than the recommended six times a week for a full 90 minutes. He laughs and shrugs: "It's never easy. I've been doing the primary series for 15 years... and it still kills me."

Details of the Practice Place from 12 Beatty Avenue, Coldean, Brighton BNI 9ED, 01273 687071. 'Power Yoga', by Beryl Bender Birch (Prion Books, pounds 8.99).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

    £7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor