>>Describe your yoga journey.
In 1978 at the ripe age of 19 one of my lecturers in college spoke about meditation, and I was fascinated. A few weeks later I signed up for a Transcendental Meditation course and I began practicing twice a day from the word go. I found the technique very natural and enjoyable to do, and rather than seeking any benefits it might bring about, I actually enjoyed it just for the feeling itself. It was and still is a very interesting, relaxed but aware, peaceful state.
In 1981, I went travelling for a few years, and during that time my practice fell to 3 or 4 days per week. When I returned to Ireland in 1984, my practice returned to everyday, although then I reduced it to once per day. Since then it has stayed with me every day, with the very odd day that it gets missed. It becomes as normal as brushing one’s teeth, and would be as strange to miss it.
In 1988 I moved to Galway and sought out Yoga, as I knew it had ‘something to do with meditation’. I was fortunate to find two teachers who had dedicated their lives to yoga, and who held meditation to be the cornerstone of yoga. I could ‘feel the energy’ when I went into their small yoga room, and knew I would love it even before the class began. The type of Yoga they teach is Satyananda yoga, and this includes meditation, mind focussing techniques, chanting, karma yoga, cleansing practices, pranayama as well as asana.
For the next few years I just practiced Satyananda yoga and used to go to classes once or twice per week, while still keeping up my own daily practice of meditation. These two area dove-tailed into each other, and one supported the other. It was only in about 1992 that I took up a daily practice of yoga to compliment the meditation practice, and it was then that the benefits really started to kick in.
A good friend of mine in Dublin Orla Punch was a yoga teacher, so I also went along to Iyengar yoga classes, and as Orla invited teachers to Ireland such as David Williams and Danny Paradise I also went to Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga workshops and really enjoyed these.
From my point of view, each of the different yoga systems has something unique to offer, and some of these forms suited some type of people, while other forms suited others better. I believe that I developed a healthy respect for the various forms of yoga… but I must admit that I also began to see limitations within many of the schools of yoga. And the biggest glaring limitation within many of the schools of yoga was the absence of meditation.
I could hardly believe that the meditation which was/is the whole corner-stone of yoga, had been left out of many of these modern forms of yoga. And by modern… I am referring to those which have been developed within the past 120 years. Anyhow, I will leave that to a separate question about yoga and meditation that I think Grainne has up her sleeve 😉
In 1996 my own yoga teachers asked me whether I would consider training to be a yoga teacher, and by that stage as I had been practicing yoga for 8 years and almost 20 years of daily meditation, and it seemed like the most natural thing to do. It was a 2 year long teacher training course that involved a residential weekend once per month over the two years, and two week long yoga residential retreats during the summer. It was quite a strict yoga teacher training, and one had to immerse oneself in the practices over the two years to observe the effects as they unfolded… as well as to allow time for those effects to work on one’s own being. One had to also have a daily practice built up before the teacher training, and to build in the various practices into one’s daily practice as the training progressed. This training was not for the faint hearted, and we did lose a few people who found the challenge too much to stay with over the two years.
Having said that, the training was very transformative as the discipline and the effects of the practices began to shape and develop one self. I feel very fortunate to have under taken this particular teacher training and have a lot of respect and gratitude for the two teachers Shraddhamurti and Cheatanmurti who run the Galway School of Yoga.
In 1988 I came across a Tibetan Buddhist Lama called Panchen Otrul Rinpoche who escaped out of Tibet in 1959, and who was/is based in a small Buddhist centre in Cavan called Jampa Ling. I attended residential weekends of Buddhist teachings with Rinpoche, and again the teachings of the Buddha just seemed to resonate with me vary naturally right from day 1. If I am asked to summarise these teachings, I can only describe them as a skilful way of living. Skilful in removing one’s own unhappiness or obstacles in life, and also in helping others towards their own path to happiness and love of others. Again the meditation was the cornerstone of these teachings, and the more I looked into esoteric Buddhist practices, and also tantric yoga practices, the more similarities I could see rather than differences.
Through Rinpoche’s teaching my own meditation practice changed to a combination of an energy channel clearing practice, followed by a mantra meditation. The practice built up over a number of years and became fixed at 40 minutes each day from about 1992 onwards to this day.
When I finished the 2 year teacher training, my thirst for yoga and meditation had been even more heightened, and I travelled to India for a few months a couple of times to visit ashrams and explore.
I also attended many different yoga courses, some of them 10 day silent retreats, and the most transformational one was the 1 month Kriya yoga course with Swami Janakananda in Sweden which had 21 days of silence in it. The change to my energies which resulted from that course was incredible, and I have always been meaning to do that course again at some time.
I also completed a yoga teacher training for Vinyasa flow with David Muehsam, and another yoga training for pregnancy with Uma Dinsmore Tuli.
I have lost track of the number of courses and retreats that I attended both in Ireland and abroad, and also workshops given by well-known teachers who came to Ireland.
In 1996 I bought a small 2 acre piece of land at the foot of the Burren hills right along the Galway Clare border, about 5 miles from the small picturesque seaside village of Kinvara. The site was in the middle of nowhere, and the feeling of peace and tranquillity are obvious to everybody who sets foot in this area. After a few years of overcoming obstacles with the County Council the Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre was finally built in 1999.
Through Orla Punch I had come in contact with many great yoga teachers over the years, and I made sure to only choose the best yoga and meditation teachers to teach here at Burren Yoga. As there were almost no other yoga retreats in Ireland at that time, word got around quite quickly about the quality of the yoga teachers that we had here, and also the amazing Burren Geopark which is one of Ireland’s most beautiful locations which has a very ancient feeling, and is almost uninhabited with people. Right from word ‘Go’, I made sure that all the yoga teachers who taught here also practiced meditation and were living the life of yoga… rather than it being just a superficial thing…or just doing the physical postures.
Over the first few years I used to attend all the yoga and meditation retreats myself, and one week I would be practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, the next Iyengar, the next Kundalini, then Tantric practices, Pranayama workshops, Hatha, Vinyasa flow… you name it… I jumped in and tried them all.
But I found that my own daily yoga practice was badly affected by this dipping in and dipping out of all the other forms of yoga.
So after about 2005, I rarely attended any of the yoga retreats here at the centre, and instead just immersed myself in my own daily yoga practice… on my own. Which I believe is very important… but again that is another question.
As the years went by my own practice began to change. In my 30’s I did quite a lot of physical yoga practice and did between 1 and 2 hours each day as well as my daily meditation practice which takes 40 minutes.
During my 40’s I realized that one needs to take it a bit easier as one gets older, and my stronger ashtanga practice began to slow down and soften with more emphasis on the breath and a much much slower flow… and also a shorter practice. And each day I did between 45 minutes and 90 minutes physical practice as well as meditation. If anyone knew me from back then… even during my 30’s my ashtanga practice was not as strong or as energetic as many of the other people around me, and I did what felt right to me and used to step forward rather than jump, and never did master the jump through 😉 But again this did not bother me, as I have always seen that the asana practice is a preparation for the more deeper inner transformative work, rather than an end goal in itself.
Now in my late 50’s my physical daily practice is between 10 minutes and 45 minutes and my meditation is still the same 40 minutes practice as it has been for many years.
I just do the practices because I enjoy doing them, and I feel they help me get in touch with my inner being. I feel good while I practice them, but more importantly I also feel that the effects of these practices then spill over onto the rest of my day. As yoga is much more than physical asana I try to incorporate the principles and guidelines in how I run the centre, how I interact with people, and how I live my whole life. And I hope that I inspire others to bring these practices into their own lives.
I feel that after almost 40 years, that I am only scraping the surface, and there is so much more. The more years go by, the more I realize how little I know. But I also acknowledge how much more in harmony I am with the many layers of my own being, and also more in harmony with my environment and with others because of the practices.
I think the goal-posts keep changing as the years go by. And hopefully my awareness has become more enriched by these practices, and that I am able to help and facilitate others to come across genuine yoga and meditation teachers, and also to bring these practices into their own daily lives in a very enjoyable practicable way.
I don’t have any big huge urge to actually be the person teaching yoga, but do have a much bigger urge to just do my own daily practice and to help others come across these genuine practices by running the Burren Yoga Retreats and inspiring as many people as possible to bring these practices back home with them into their daily lives. I have hand-picked a team of about 16 of the best yoga and meditation teachers who teach on these retreats, and they will try to make sure you are confident enough when you leave to bring the practices home with you… onto your mat each day.