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).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas