'20 years of yoga and I'm still learning'
Published 21/04/2015 | 02:30
It's rare to meet a yoga teacher without an interesting back story. Nomadic by nature, their passports have as many stamps as their CVs have job titles.
Noeleen Tyrrell (51), originally from Rush in north Dublin, certainly fits the stereotype. Her introduction to yoga came when she was living in San Francisco in the early 90s. She followed some friends to the city to work in the buzzy bar industry but, little by little, her interest shifted to the emerging health and holistic scene.
"It was a total eye-opener for me," she recalls. "When I saw how focused they were on their health - in such a fun way - it just lit my fire. I saw yoga as a way to maintain health. The moment I got on the mat I wanted to know more."
Her interest soon broadened to bodywork modalities. She became a registered Swedish massage therapist before exploring other forms of therapeutic massage.
Meanwhile she met her future husband, fellow Dubliner, Brendan Murphy. The pair eventually moved back to Dublin, where Noeleen pursued her other talent as a singer and musician.
She placed an advert in Hotpress magazine reading 'Singer Available' and was contacted by a band in Dromahair, Co Leitrim. She got the gig, and Dromahair got her.
"I fell in love with Dromahair very quickly," she recalls.
Luckily, Brendan was just as captivated by the rugged Leitrim landscape. They soon moved into a creaky country pile called Ard Nahoo and Noeleen, who was now a registered craniosacral therapist, sports therapist and reflexologist, ran a practice in the neighbouring county of Sligo.
When she became pregnant with her first son, Daragh, she looked at ways in which she could avoid the daily commute to Sligo. One idea led to another and the couple went on to convert the main house and barn at Ard Nahoo into a modern health farm. In 2001, they opened their doors for business.
There were, of course, some early hiccups. "I had a very naive idea when setting up Ard Nahoo that I'd be able to have my kids by my side," explains Noeleen, who is now the mother of two boys, Daragh (15) and Eoin (11). "The reality is that I couldn't because it was a full-on business that I opened. And I'm very much the linchpin in it."
There were five "very tough years" before Noeleen found a sense of work/life balance. The labour of love paid off, though.
Today, Ard Nahoo is an award-winning eco-retreat that is recognised as one of the most environmentally friendly 'green' businesses in the country. They just won an Irish Green Award (in the small organisation category) and a Silver in the Responsible Tourism Awards.
Following a renovation in 2007, the retreat now includes an extended yoga studio, indoor/outdoor wet area (including sauna, steam room and outdoor hot tub) and treatment rooms. Guests stay in one of just three eco-cabins, which include kitchens and private decks.
Ard Nahoo offers weekly yoga classes and retreats as well as part-time teacher training, which involves one weekend of tuition a month during the academic year along with a five-day residential programme.
Her students come from home and abroad - a London-based primary school teacher flies in to Knock airport every month to partake.
In June, they're kicking off a new 200-hour residential teaching training programme - the first of its kind in Ireland. The course is accredited by Yoga Alliance International (which has become the gold standard in certification) and participants will graduate as fully qualified yoga teachers.
Noeleen interviews prospective students ahead of the teaching training. "Mostly what I need is a work ethic," she explains. "If I take you on, I let you know that you have to move on. You can't arrive at one place and leave at one place. You have to work hard. You're going to be immersed in [yoga]. It will occupy your mind and your body."
Participants are required to be at an advanced stage of their practice, but Noeleen adds that they shouldn't equate flexibility with progress.
"Some people are born naturally flexible but they may have no notion of inner alignment, or working with their breath or any depth to what they are doing."
Approximately one third of participants sign up to the programme to deepen their personal practice rather than to diversify their career. Explains Noeleen: "Aside from workshops, if you want to learn more about yoga or go deeper, the only way to do it is in yoga teacher training."
The other two-thirds are eager to carve out a new career. This course gives them the certificate they need but many would-be yoga teachers encounter a catch-22 situation once they gain their qualification: they can't get work without teaching experience, and they can't get experience without work.
Noeleen addresses this issue from the outset: "I encourage them to get student trainees' insurance and to start teaching from the moment we start teacher training.
"They get up and teach the group during the course and they are required to teach six classes outside of the course. It doesn't matter if it's two or three of their neighbours in their sitting room, so long as they are teaching.
"Once they start these practice classes it's amazing how many of them are approached - it builds its own momentum.
"I trained a doctor who now teaches her staff in the waiting room when the surgery is closed.
"This is very much rootsy yoga. It's about working with people on the ground and making a difference to their working lives."
Noeleen doesn't follow the purist ethos of other teacher training schools, which often include raw food diets and a zero-tolerance approach to addictive substances.
"I don't push these issues because I know that yoga works. I had a number of smokers in my school who gave up over the course of the programme, while others cut out toxic relationships.
"The enquiry we do on the course really opens people up to themselves and their lives. I don't have to push the agenda - people will get there by themselves."
The course curriculum at Ard Nahoo is both physical and philosophical. Students study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text which covers the ethical principles of the practice. "That text is still so relevant to how we're living today," she explains. "It's like a directory to enlightenment."
The Sutras include the ethical tenets of yoga practice, known as 'yamas' and 'niyamas'.
Examples include 'ahimsa', which translates as 'non-violence'.
"If you are approached with anger, ahimsa means dissolving that by not reacting, or reacting in the most passive way you can," explains Noeleen. Ahimsa also means not being violent to yourself by straining unduly into poses.
'Santosha', meaning 'contentment', is another of these ethical precepts. "It's about recognising that everybody has issues and accepting them just as they are," says Noeleen.
"It means being content with the 'is-ness' of things. Once you accept that, you're a lot happier and a lot lighter."
Yoga teacher training students can expect to do a lot of inside work. "It's quite intense, to be honest," admits Noeleen. "The whole experience transforms you on so many levels. You're exploring parts of yourself that you're not normally given a chance to look at in any depth."
The introspection deepens the bonds among students and lasting friendships are formed.
"They go off in the evening and continue the conversation on a much more personal level. There's a lot of self-realisation," adds Noeleen, "but there's great craic too."
Noeleen has been practicing and teaching yoga for over 20 years now - and she's still learning. She recently discovered a more modern school of yoga called Anusara, but she says it will be another 20 years before she's ready to teach it.
Those thinking of embarking on a yoga teacher training course should know that it is a major commitment. However, those who choose to study at Ard Nahoo can at least be sure that they are under the tutelage of a woman who is as committed to learning as she is to teaching.
The first residential yoga teacher training programme at Ard Nahoo takes place from June 29 to July 17. Participants will learn to teach Hatha yoga. The price of €3,800 includes accommodation, all meals, tuition fees and course manual. They are also launching a 300-hour advanced yoga teacher training course, which is designed to follow on from the one above. See ardnahoo.com or call 071 913 4939.
5 reasons to practice yoga
HELPS SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION
Depression and anxiety are associated with low levels of the central nervous system neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric). Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital discovered that yoga elevated GABA levels in participants by an average of 27pc after just one session.
BOOSTS BRAIN ACTIVITY
A 2013 study at the University of Illinois discovered that 20 minutes of yoga boosted brain activity, including memory and reaction time, more than intense aerobic activity for the same amount of time. One of the lead researchers speculated that the "enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises" may be responsible for the cognitive benefits of the practice.
EASES ARTHRITIS PAIN
Yoga significantly improves both the psychological and physiological symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis according to numerous studies. Recent research, published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, reviewed nine of these previous studies and found that "yoga can provide physical relief of symptoms around the affected joints... [and] reduces stress which is known to exacerbate arthritis".
LOWERS BODY FAT AND BAD CHOLESTEROL
A study published in the American Journal of Managed Care discovered that those that performed restorative yoga (which doesn't feature challenging poses) lost significantly more subcutaneous fat than those that performed stretching exercises. Elsewhere, studies show that those that practice yoga have lower 'bad' blood cholesterol levels.
HELPS YOU SLEEP BETTER
Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that daily yoga can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep of those suffering from chronic insomnia. Study participants practiced yoga before bedtime for eight weeks and noted significant improvements to their total sleep time. "Yoga is an effective treatment because it addresses insomnia's physical and psychological aspects," concluded the study author.
Health & Living