Friday 21 July 2017

Find inner peace like Leo and Gerry: how to take the lunge into Pilates and yoga

Caomhan Keane with his instructor Fiona McNamara. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Caomhan Keane with his instructor Fiona McNamara. Photo: Douglas O’Connor

Caomhan Keane

Gerry Adams delivered a bombshell about our newly elected Taoiseach as Leo Varadkar took office.

"I do not know him well, though he and I once attended the same Pilates class," the Sinn Féin leader revealed in the Dáil.

Does a session of criss-cross and using a foam roller help with their flexibility, aide Gerry to find his political centre and help Leo Varadkar balance out his lean to the right?

After years of claiming that yoga and Pilates weren't for me, I finally faced up to the truth that I was suffering from performance anxiety.

I'm the most unlimber person in the world. The thought of heading into a class full of yogis, gracefully transitioning through a menagerie of poses while I fell about, was too much for my fragile ego.

But the metropolitan men of Ireland are now embracing Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi with their toned, open arms. Retired international rugby player Gordon D'Arcy has even opened his own Pilates studio, Form School, with his wife Aoife Cogan.

"I had a hip operation in 2006 in Australia and part of the rehab was reformer Pilates," he explained, noting how it helped him manage flexibility in the latter part of his career. "When we came back to Ireland, my wife Aoife and I started doing it together and she loved it so we ended up setting up a studio. I try to do one hour-long class a week.

"For a man trying something new, his worst nightmare is to walk into a class and it's all women. I think it used to be seen as unmanly because it was predominantly done by women, but there'd be very rarely a class where it's all women. We have a really good mix of men and women, and the more men that do it, the less of a stereotype there is around it."

Caomhan Keane with his instructor Fiona McNamara. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Caomhan Keane with his instructor Fiona McNamara. Photo: Douglas O’Connor

Joseph Pilates - the man who invented the practice - would be certain to agree. I am the type of person who would most benefit from an exercise like Pilates or yoga. A Dyspraxic, with low muscle tone, who suffers from every sleeping disorder going, time and again I've been told yoga was the elixir for all my ails.

But when I finally decided to take the lunge, I was bewildered by all the types. From practices that sounded like an Italian side dish (Kundalini) to something I vaguely related to Madonna (Ashtanga), a single Google search throws up options like Beer Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Naked Yoga, yoga to do with your sprog, your dog, or in clogs (Stiletto Yoga).

Like shellfish, one bad class can have you swearing off the whole field for life, so make sure you research what you want from it before going in. There's no point going to a Kundalini class if what you want is a physical work out, while if its a more restorative buzz you're after, Ashtanga's probably not for you.

My first Hatha Class was with Kate McQuillen at Seraph Studios, off Camden Street in Dublin.

Hatha is a form of yoga designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. There's a lot of breathing during the warm ups, followed by Sun salutations, which sounds like the type of thing you would hear from a person who beamingly cooks with their own kiln, but in reality is lots of stretching, flopping and breathing in unison. Then you start on the asanas, which are a series of posture exercises, difficult to hold at first, but with effort and persistence, I found my muscle tone improving, and hence so did my posture.

"A good Hatha teacher will come around and make sure your alignment is correct," says Kate.

Yin, for me, was the cat's pajamas. Amy Kokoszka in Little Bird, Portobello, guided me through five to 10 postures over the space of an hour, using pillows and blocks to help those with stubborn bodies to adapt the posture, as sage burned and Himalayan chanting played over the stereo.

"It's learning how to collect our strength, so when we are in real life situations we are less reactive," says Amy. "By working on our joints and our ligaments by holding poses for a long time we are slowing our heart rate down and connecting to the breath."

I arrived for my Kundalini class with Emer Murphy in Yoga Hub, Camden Place, in a post-festival huff, which was not lifted by her revelation that this class was going to focus on gratitude.

"If you can't stand chanting or singing Kundalini may not the best thing for you," she says. "On the flip side that might be the very thing you need and you are pushing it away."

I decided to get over myself and commit to the practice, which is a series of simple stretches, again, focusing on the breathing, chanting and that feeling of gratitude, for ourselves, for others and for the entire human race.

Finally there was Bikram: 90 minutes stretching in 40 degree heat, sweating like the pig that knows he's bacon, as my internal monologue bitched, berated and begged to be put out of its misery.

"Take care of yourself in the room," says Fiona McNamara of Dublin City Bikram. "When you're dizzy sit down, build up your stamina slowly. You're taking in a lot of information. If you feel like it's too much or you're out of breath, lie down on your mat and focus on your breathing."

Irish Independent

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