Known affectionately as ‘Yoga Matt,’ Matt Ryan is our go-to guy for all things yogi. At BOSS, we are advocates of a striving to live a healthy lifestyle in both mind and body. Our bookers often head over to a lunchtime class at Yoga Express with Matt, just around the corner from our Northern Quarter offices. We caught Matt out of the studio to find out about how yoga practise can benefit absolutely anyone.
What first sparked your interest in yoga?
I grew up in Manchester and I’d been here playing in bands, working in shops, DJing and doing a lot of partying. I bought some decks and I was DJing at the Hacienda and a few other clubs.
To cut a long story short, the excesses of nightlife started to take a toll on me both physically and mentally. A friend suggested that I should try some yoga to help relax me and calm me down. I had the standard Northern bloke reaction of ‘No I’m not doing that – what are you on about? Yoga’s for old women in churches in Lycra!’ But I went to a class and it nearly bloody killed me! Even though I played football and went running, I found it quite challenging. It was Ashtanga yoga, which is a very physical practise anyway, but I was really surprised how hard it was and how it helped to relax me at the same time.
What made you want pursue yoga teaching as a career?
I had packed in DJing and set up a clothing company with two mates: Nigel who now runs Oi Polloi, a menswear shop in the Northern Quarter of Manchester and Johnny Marr who used to be in The Smiths. The three of us set up this clothing line and it was doing well, but yoga just took over for me. I went to India for two months and ‘got cosmic’ as Johnny likes to say, and learnt more about yoga. When I came back from the trip I started teaching classes.
What made your classes stand out from others?
For me there was a sense of right place, right time. My first class had 70 people in it, which is a hell of a lot! I think because I had done DJing alongside some nightclub promotion, I just used those same PR and marketing techniques to advertise my yoga classes. I made sure my flyers stood out among the rest. It was also just on the cusp of the internet and I kind of guessed that when people were searching for classes they wouldn’t be putting my name into the search engine, they’d be putting ‘Yoga in Manchester,’ so that’s how ‘Yoga Manchester’ was born. It was kind of the cleverest thing I’ve ever done.
I also started taking private tuition for footballers and for some celebrities. They called me ‘Yoga Teacher to the Stars’ in the Manchester Evening news, which helped to fill up classes. At that time Ryan Giggs did a huge spread in The Observer weekend magazine with the headline ‘Yoga Saved My Career,’ so I took that and put it on my flyer and created yoga for sports classes. In some ways that was what made it accessible for blokes too. I have yoga for cyclists and yoga for runners. For me it’s about making yoga work with what people already do, and showing how it can enhance other activities.
When I set up Yoga Express as a regular feature in Studio 25 in the city centre, I wanted it to be yoga without all the bells and whistles. It’s a 45-minute class – most are hour or an hour and a half which seems like a long time if you’re new to yoga. The flyers literally said ‘No tree hugging, chanting “ohm” or incense.’ It’s a bish, bash, bosh yoga class. I took the Nike tick and got my friend to do an illustration of someone in a yoga pose in the shape of the tick and the flyer literally said ‘Yoga – Just Do It.’
Why do you think there has been a shift of focus towards meditation and ‘mindfulness’ recently?
The internal aspects of yoga sometimes take a backseat or are seen as a secondary benefit. People might get into it because they want to be more flexible or stronger, and then they see the holistic benefits. I became a Zen Buddhist some years ago and meditate for 40 minutes each day – I try and squeeze it in where I can, usually before the kids wake up. I think yoga and meditation are synonyms really. Having done other exercise like football and running, I find yoga to be a really wholesome and holistic practise. What does spiritual mean really? I think it all links together: If you go to yoga and it makes you feel good you’re going to treat yourself and other people better.
What advice would you give to a beginner?
The tagline for Yoga Manchester is ‘Yoga for Everyone.’ My ethos is that there’s no such thing as beginners and advanced, there’s just variations. There are as many variations of yoga poses as there are people in the world. If you’re just starting out or have been doing yoga for years, you’ll still take benefit from a class, whether you can fit your legs behind your head or not. If someone were a runner or a swimmer I wouldn’t say stop doing your sport and just do yoga – I’d say do both! Whatever your career might be yoga can help you to look after your mind and body.