Interview by the Novara Centre

What inspired you to become a Yoga teacher?

I had practised Yoga for about 10 years when I decided to undertake my teacher training. I tried various styles over the years and at that time, had quite a strong Astanga practice but I felt a bit ‘stuck’. I noticed that I had become quite goal-oriented with my practice and that consequently, it had become like a chore. If I didn’t get up at 6.30am and do my hour and a half on the mat, I felt like a bad person! In my quest for a new style or some inspiration, I met the wonderful Sighle McDonnell.

After observing my practice, she suggested that I apply to train as a teacher with Yoga Therapy Ireland (YTI). I told her that I had no interest in teaching and she suggested I do the training not so that I could teach but so that I could deepen my own practice and my understanding of Yoga. She knew well that as soon as I walked through the doors of YTI, I would embark on a passionate journey that would see me teaching along the way! I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for her insight and guidance.

What style do you practice?

I am always reluctant now to hang my hat on any ‘style’. Having tried numerous forms of Yoga over the past 17 years, I have come to the conclusion that Yoga is Yoga – Union of Body, Mind & Breath. Yoga is both an art of living and a science of life. It applies equally both on and off the mat. This is why I no longer find myself ‘stuck’ in any particular style. My understanding of Yoga has expanded so that my practice is not confined to my mat. I look for union of body, mind & breath everywhere in my life.

In 2014 I completed an advanced teacher training with Lisa Petersen, based on the teachings of Donna Farhi – internationally respected Yoga teacher – (also known as the teacher of teachers). This practice centres around developmental movement patterns which can be observed in every human being from conception to death. Working with the developmental movement patterns has given me a wonderful framework to develop my practice and my teaching in a more fluid and natural way, with the freedom to explore and discover new ways of being in my body and of sharing my learning.

Yoga seems to offer wonderful benefits not just physically but mentally, calming down the mind. What have you discovered from Yoga since becoming a teacher?

Since becoming a teacher, I have discovered that the physical practice (asana) is one small fraction of the whole that makes up Yoga. I used to think that the holy grail of Yoga was being able to stand on my head for an extended period and wondered why my life wasn’t transformed once I was able to do that! Now I realise that the benefits are to be found in the Union implied in the word ‘Yoga’. Whether I am standing on my head or standing in a queue in the supermarket, if I can bring awareness to the moment I am in at any given time (mindfulness), that is, in itself, the practice of Yoga.

The postures (asanas) are simply vehicles that we use to bring awareness and breath together in the body. So, for example, If I can find my balance on one leg on my mat, using my breath to centre me, can I then translate that to my life and remain balanced when everything around me is shifting or in chaos? If I can feel my breath in a deep twist when one of my lungs is compressed, can I better negotiate the twists and turns of life that I have no control over? If I can stand for a period of time in a strong warrior pose, one hand pointing forwards and the other behind, with my torso erect and stable in centre, can I remain poised in the present moment when my thoughts are trying to pull me into the past or the future? These are the real benefits of Yoga – a fit and healthy body is the icing on top!

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Unplanned January Detox

So I have had no problem shedding the extra Christmas pounds. My secret: An unplanned diet, which I do not recommend! It’s called: ‘Get flu for two weeks and lose your appetite, then get braces and lose the will (and ability) to eat’.

Yes, braces. I am going backwards. Having had neither spots nor braces as a teenager, I now have both. People think I have braces for aesthetic reasons but honestly, there is no way I would put up with this for aesthetic reasons only. I am a comfort-seeker and while I can put up with a bit of discomfort (grudgingly), the complete loss of pleasure in eating is most upsetting. So if this was for aesthetics, I would have been back at the orthodontist on day two to get them off again.

The reason for these braces is what they call ‘Mesial Drift’. Another joy of hormonal shifts for women in their 40’s. My teeth all moved so much that I was damaging both them and my jaw. I knew for a long time about the connection between hips and jaw from Anatomy / Physiology studies and from hearing many Yoga and dance teachers say “Open your jaw to open your hips”, but I didn’t realise that jaw-joint replacements are as common as hip joint replacements. Mad Ted.

And that’s what I was heading for potentially. The dentist told me years ago that I needed braces to protect my teeth and jaw but I didn’t want them. Eventually, the pain in my jaw got the better of me. So here I am with braces in my 40’s.

Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love my food but now, a significant proportion of what I manage to eat gets stuck in these metal shredders and has to be cleaned off diligently. I wouldn’t dare go to a restaurant unless I learn how to eat a bit more gracefully with these contraptions and less like a horse. I couldn’t subject other restaurant-goers to my open-mouthed, slack-jawed attempts at mastication. Not only do I have upper and lower braces but also a cap of sorts on my molars to stop the braces banging off one another. So there’s way too much going on in there even without food.

I tell myself that it will be worth it in the end to save my teeth and ultimately to have a pain-free jaw. But right now, at the start of this two-year journey, I’m not sure that’s enough to make me smile. Oh no, wait, no smiling for two years either. Well at least that might keep some wrinkles at bay….

 

Flu is Horizontal

Flu. A virus. Highly debilitating. Potentially fatal. For all our cleverness, technology and modern medicine, we have no cure. Not really. We throw the ‘flu jab’ at it and hope it might hit the mark in some cases. When that doesn’t work, we use other drugs to ease the symptoms. The virus runs its course nonetheless and we are at its mercy for as long as that takes.

Before last week, I had flu once in my life. I thought I remembered how bad it was. I didn’t. Not really. I remembered the aches and the shivers, the feeling of utter exhaustion but I had forgotten so much more: How it plays tricks on my nervous system so that I cannot sense hot or cold with any accuracy and burn myself getting into the bath or with my hot water bottle; how smell and taste disappear entirely; touch of any kind, regardless of how gentle feels burning and scratchy; the smallest of sounds booming and irritating; light, no matter how dim, a nausea-inducing flutter behind my eyes.

Distressing as these symptoms are, they are as nothing compared to the Demons. I remember them well. The last time I had flu, I was seventeen and it was the week before my mock-Leaving Cert. I fought and fought through tears of frustration with my exhausted body and foggy mind because I had to study, had to do well in my exams. The stress debilitated me as much as the virus. The future loomed scarily in my seventeen-year old head: What if I didn’t do well? What if my teachers wanted me to drop down a level because of poor results? What if I had something like this for the Leaving Cert itself? In the end, exhaustion overtook me and I gave in. I slept. And nature took its course.

Fast-forward thirty years and I find myself wondering what I have learned in those intervening years. It is with great surprise and dismay that I realise how much I am personalising this ‘attack’. In my better moments, I can laugh at the Ego making a personal tragedy of a virus, which affects many or the same Ego, so convinced of its own importance and ability to control the situation, it cannot accept this as the opportunity for rest and hibernation for which I expressly asked and of which, I am so badly in need.

In the not-so-good moments, lying awake in a pool of sweat, I rail against the weakness and the pain, the inability to function normally. I fret about losing money because I am self-employed and if I don’t work, I don’t earn. I tell myself this is such bad timing.

This thought stops me for a moment. When is there a good time for flu? If it must come, then the depths of Winter, when all of nature slumbers and replenishes itself is surely as good a time as any. Ideally, of course, it should not take illness to make me stop and rest for a while. I often advise students to ‘rest when you need to’. Where was this love and respect for myself as I hurtled, once again, into a busy Christmas and from there, straight into 2018 without pause?

Seen through this lens, perhaps there is a gift after all. Had this virus not found its way into my system, I would have tumbled again, head first, into another calendar year. If exhaustion had not hit so hard and so fast, it might have come nonetheless, seeping away the fresh energy of Spring. Perhaps this is the de-tox I idly mentioned and the down-time I so fervently asked for.

And there are other gifts too, for which to be grateful: Someone to look after me in the form of a loving husband; a warm, dry, comfortable home in which to rest and recover; a hot bath (even if I burn myself in it!); a change of clothes and bed sheets when the others are drenched in my sweat. On an ordinary day, these may seem like small things. In the face of such a debilitating illness, they are a treasure.

Recognising this, I give up the battle as I did thirty years ago and allow myself to rest. I let my own defence system do what it needs to without the accompaniment of unhelpful mental noise. I find perspective: The Leaving Cert was very far from being the most important event in my life; there are no little people depending on me and I am not the main earner in our house so we won’t starve. As for the rest, my classes will still be there, my office work will be there and the World won’t stop turning because I am not pedalling furiously. When I do get back to the wheel, I can smile at the people pedalling beside me who tell me they have flu because I know for sure that flu does not pedal. In fact, it doesn’t move very much at all. Flu is horizontal.