Sun, sea and sweat - yoga with a kick

A cross between gymnastics, aerobics and contortionism, its followers include Sting and Demi Moore. Peter Guttridge heats up and chills out in remotest Crete

Perspiring heavily, 23-year-old Anna from Hamburg balances on her hands, her legs threaded back under her armpits, her ankles crossed behind her neck. From the front she looks as if she has large ears with toes on them sticking out of her head. Sasha, a late-twenties PR executive for a London-based company, slides into the splits on a sweat-drenched mat. Henry, a Peterborough-based management consultant in his late forties, sprays sweat everywhere as in one flowing movement he drops from a standing position into a kind of press-up, concaves his back, then swings his bum up and holds himself in an inverted V, breathing like a steam train waiting for the off.

Just another morning of astanga vinyasa yoga at The Practice Place in Crete.

The Practice Place, a yoga retreat in a remote bay on the south of the island, sounds like a sybarite's delight, offering an all-in sun, sand and souvlaki Greek holiday (minus the souvlaki - plentiful vegetarian food instead). Plus, of course, daily yoga and other classes designed to de-stress the busiest workaholic.

However, newcomers soon discover that the yoga taught here is unlike any they've come across before. Astanga vinyasa yoga - regarded by its proponents as the true, original yoga of which other hatha yogas retain only the fragments - is a cross between gymnastics, aerobics and a contortionist's nightmare. It's a yoga without dogmas or meditation - 99 per cent practice, 1 per cent theory, 100 per cent sweat. Restful it ain't.

Derek Ireland, one of the two people who run The Practice Place, described it on breakfast television as "no bullshit yoga". An American teacher called it inelegantly but vividly "the most kick-ass variety there is". Another has given it the muscular moniker Power Yoga.

It puts the usual stretching, twisting, headstanding yoga postures into a non-stop 90-minute sequence which is aerobic, dynamic, sweaty and, when you first do it, totally knackering. Rediscovered in the Thirties, only in recent years has this yoga really taken off, particularly in the US. Celebrity practitioners now include Sting, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Kris Kristofferson and Demi Moore.

Anna, Sasha and Henry are among a dozen people who have been here before and are hooked on the yoga. The 20 beginners get a rude awakening from their sybaritic daydreams on Sunday when Derek and his long-time partner Radha Warrell demonstrate the yoga to the accompaniment of throbbing world music.

Aged 46 and 47 respectively, the couple are lithe testimonials to the health and fitness properties of the form. Radiating vitality and energy, they do the flowing sequences of stretching and balancing absolutely beautifully - including postures which to beginners look frankly impossible.

"God, I want a body like that," whispers Fiona, a physiotherapist from Edinburgh. "Yes, she's beautiful isn't she," I agree, looking at Radha, who has in the past been photographed by Snowdon for Vogue. "No," Fiona says, ogling Derek, "I mean his body - and preferably tonight."

Derek has the eyes of almost all the women on him throughout my stay. A former punk rock promoter, he is a charismatic man who clearly believes if you've got it, flaunt it. He does his own practice on his balcony six days a week wearing only a pouch. He gets away with such shameless exhibitionism by dint of his genial charm. Radha, lively and funny but also quite shy (she laughingly describes herself as an "introverted egotist"), is rather more demure.

Between them Derek and Radha are largely responsible for introducing the form to Europe. After spending the Eighties as globetrotting yoga teachers, they opened The Practice Place six years ago. Here they run these two-week courses for absolute beginners (taught by Radha) and more advanced students (Derek's responsibility) for some 30 weeks of the year. The rest of the time they give workshops all over northern Europe and run a three-month winter Practice Place on a beach in Goa.

Arriving sometime Saturday, beginners have the weekend to get to know each other before the first class early Monday morning. We are a handful of men and a majority of women, average age early thirties, from all over Europe and all kinds of backgrounds. Doctors, a banker, a management consultant, a fitness instructor, several nurses, a marketing executive, a Cambridge don, students and secretaries.

We share double rooms, most with balconies. All have views over the quiet bay where on Monday morning half a dozen dolphins are busy doing whatever dolphins do. This bay, Agios Pavlos, is so remote that the nearest town is an hour's boat ride away and the nearest telephone a two-hour walk up into the spectacular mountains.

We do our practice in a sealed, crowded room because the heat we then generate allows us to do quite advanced stretching and bending exercises safely. During a 90-minute practice the postures are arranged in a sequence which 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.

That's the theory anyway. I came here cockily fit, after years spent swimming, running and working out in the gym. Along with most other people, I crawl out of the room at the end of the first class, drenched in sweat and exhausted. Each day I get progressively stiffer. "It wears off by the end of the first week," Derek assures us. "We used to teach two classes a day but by the third day nobody could move. So now we do one class a day and offer other courses for those who want them."

It's the non-stop movement - twisting, bending at the knees, dropping to the floor, springing back up, balancing in odd positions - that over 90 minutes is so tiring. Where in traditional yoga you might hold a posture for a couple of minutes, here you hold for a maximum of five breaths, but you repeat a couple of them again and again. The energy you need to complete the series comes from the breath (the vinyasa bit). Everything depends on matching breath to movement. The "firebreath" breathing can release powerful emotions, however. One Swiss woman abruptly leaves the second class in tears. "That's not uncommon," Radha says. "The practice isn't just about physical ability. Your whole character comes into it so your practice can be rough, smooth, dynamic, emotional."

All this activity takes place before breakfast which is, unlikely as it sounds in this climate, porridge. Breakfast, the take-away lunchbowl and dinner are all prepared by yoga enthusiasts here for the season, who exchange work in the kitchen and cleaning the rooms for free tuition. They make some delicious food.

After breakfast the day is ours. There are other classes if we want. Depending on the fortnight, they include t'ai chi, juggling, pottery, swimming, massage and aromatherapy. The setting is ideal for walks, too, especially in the spring when the wild flowers transform the stark landscape.

For some the remoteness of the location is a delight, for others a problem. "Thank God for my mobile phone," a native New Yorker says as she heads off up the nearby headland to make her daily transatlantic call. Most people have little urge to leave the small bay or The Practice Place but there are three tavernas here if you do get stir-crazy or feel the need for meat, fish or alcohol (none of which are on the Practice Place menu).

Derek's right. By the end of the first week stiffness wears off and people feel energised and exhilarated. Over the weekend, groups go on day-trips to distant and nearby beauty spots or take the boat to Agios Galini, the nearest tourist town.

By the end of the second week almost everybody is enthusing about the yoga. "On that first day I felt sure I was going to do myself an injury," recalls Lindsey, a Birmingham doctor in her late twenties. "I've done other sorts of yoga and the speed with which we did the postures here really knocked me off balance. But I love it now."

Kelly, the personal fitness trainer, thinks the yoga is "brilliant". "There's been nothing new in aerobics for years," she says. "I can see this taking over because you get the suppleness as well as the aerobic movement."

One or two people have suffered niggling knee injuries and strains, largely because they haven't paid proper attention to what they're doing or they've tried too hard.

People who weren't particularly fit have had to learn to pace themselves. In the class Radha has kept a watchful eye on everybody but has left it up to individuals how far they want to push themselves. It's proved crucial to warm up properly and concentrate on each movement.

"We've designed the two-week course to introduce the yoga as safely as possible," Derek says. "Most people we get are professional. They've spent 15 years getting their careers together but they forgot the fitness. This yoga is the quickest way into it. But Guruji says it's important to be focused all the time."

"Guruji" is the affectionate mode of address adopted by Radha and Derek for their teacher, Pattabhi Jois, whom they visit in Mysore every year for several months. Jois starts his teaching day at 4.30 in the morning, every morning. He's 80.

That gives hope to those of us coming to this yoga later in life (I'm 44 and counting). "Oh sure," Derek says. "You've got some time. Guruji says, 'Practice, all is coming but don't bother after you're 77'."

Details of 1997 courses in Crete are available from The Practice Place, 177 Ditchling Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 6JB (tel 01273 276175). Book your own charter flights to Heraklion then travel by shared taxi to Agios Pavlos. A more relaxing route is by air to Athens and ferry from Piraeus. As with any activity holiday, check with your doctor if you're worried about your fitness before you go.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Going down the wrong road: parking fines are
nudging people into debt difficulties

Charges related to car parking rising and leading to serious money woes

Going down the wrong road: parking fines are nudging people into debt difficulties

Stacks of income: Drax is among the companies in Neil Woodford’s portfolio that he believes will pay strong dividends

Mark Dampier: Woodford’s young companies could be the stars of the future

Stacks of income: Drax is among the companies in Neil Woodford’s portfolio that he believes will pay strong dividends

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Simon Read: The markets might not be calm but you should be

Don't panic, it’s a wise idea to check investments regularly to ensure they are on target for your hoped-for returns

Only six per cent of the 13,000 new homes bought during Help to Buy’s first nine months were in London

Money Insider: Help to Buy must be boosted by building

With little or no wage growth being seen in the UK, increasing house-price inflation could see the number of first-time buyers slide further, unless there’s a new accelerated house building programme

House buyers can take their pick of more than 3,500 home loans, the most available since the financial crisis

Simon Read: Those cheap home loans may be built on shaky foundations

You should ignore the headline offers and trickery and work out the total cost of borrowing under different deals

Denise Leigh, who appeared in a production
of Rigoletto with Alan Opie, was left without an essential service

The opera singer, the broadband delay and why customers aren’t divas if they expect a good service

Denise Leigh, who appeared in a production of Rigoletto with Alan Opie, was left without an essential service

Problem debt adds £8bn cost to the economy

A charity has calculated the cost to us all of unmanageable debt – from lost productivity to the extra demands on the NHS

Payday loan stores are to face tougher regulations after moves proposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) call on more responsible lending

Calls for payday lenders to sign up to an officially recognised price comparison site

The regulators are at last tackling the high-profile payday lenders, but they appear to be ignoring the growing problem of internet loan firms

According to the research, only one in five customers trusts their energy company

Rap for energy firms won’t stop the rising prices

As the cold weather hits, the question of soaring bills will be felt by each of us at home

Nikki Galloway has enthusiastically embraced buying and selling over the internet

Selling goods online: The pros and cons

Nikki Galloway (above) sells jewellery via her own website as well as on Facebook, Amazon and Bouf

The city of Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables mountain range in the background.

You can have it all: Asian stocks get on the dividend bandwagon

Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand. The country’s stock market was boosted last month on John Key’s re-election

Staff at work in the packet and parcel section of the Royal Mail's Swan Valley mail centre

Bargain hunter: Halfords’ zero-VAT child car seats are cheap and with a safety message

Royal Mail is cutting its small parcel charges from 20 October

Elderly people living in certain countries abroad are being denied pension rises

Anyone who moved to countries including Australia, Canada, South Africa and a 100 other places, have had their pensions frozen at the rate it was paid at when they left the country

Governor money plans to save clients time and cash with its online service

Simon Read: Relegate struggling funds from your plans

Every fund has good years and bad, but consistent underperformance over a number of years points to something more fundamental

Investments: Spot the difference and pick a fund that’s ready to go it alone

Nick Train thinks luxury fashion brand Burberry is one of the companies that has prospered in digital marketing

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 Money & Business

    SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

    £350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

    Chief Financial Officer

    120-150k: Accountancy Action: We are looking for an experienced CFO from a min...

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?