'My life had been shook' - How yoga helped Síle Seoige rebuild her mind and body after cancer
Síle Seoige was undergoing cancer treatment when she discovered yoga. The powerful practice made her physically stronger, and gave her a sense of inner calm when her life was in turmoil
Chanting is not the first thing you think of these days when someone mentions yoga, but it is an integral part of what the practice has to offer according to broadcaster and newly qualified yoga instructor, Síle Seoige.
"The word yoga is Sanskrit for 'union and connection', so it is all about getting to know who you really are and that doesn't mean being this perfect person, because no one is perfect," explains Síle, who is now running weekly classes in chant and meditation.
"It means exploring all of the elements of your personality; the stuff that is good and the stuff that is not. The positions are just a method of doing that.
"It is quite simple when you break it down; breathing techniques, the physical positions, the chanting - these are all just ways of stilling the mind so that you can hear what is going on for yourself."
Síle attended a number of yoga classes over the years, but it wasn't until her battle with thyroid cancer in 2012, that the practice took on a whole new dimension for her.
"I would have done the odd yoga class down through the years, but I came to yoga properly, I suppose, when I wasn't in a great place.
"I was at the tail-end of cancer treatment and my life had been shook. I was feeling fragile and not just physically. My mental state was also weak; everything was a bit low, a bit lost and disjointed, so when I came to yoga, I very quickly realised that something magic was happening.
"There was a lot of healing and a lot of self-discovery," Síle adds. "Slowly, but surely, it went from being something quite traumatic in the beginning - because I wasn't in a good place and there was a lot of turmoil in my life - to being something very pleasant and fun and I have made a lot of great friends through yoga since."
Síle's favourite aspect of yoga is the fact that there is no emphasis on 'perfection' or 'getting it right'.
"It is lovely because it is just about being real. It is not about being perfect; it's about being able to say you're feeling crap, if you are feeling crap, and honouring that," she laughs. "And the great thing is that you don't need to look a certain way, behave a certain way or dress a certain way to do yoga; it doesn't matter who you are, what you do, what size you are, whether you are physically flexible or if you have broken bones, there is something for everyone."
Yoga is not just a passion for Síle; it has become her way of life.
"When you really start to get into it, you realise that yoga is not just about partaking in a class," she says.
"It is just a very simple and pure philosophy about really tuning in to who you are and bringing that awareness into your everyday life.
"You can go to a class and breathe and feel calm, but if you are going back out into the world and you are not practising what you do on the mat, there is a disconnect there and life will teach you lessons as a result," Síle adds.
"So it is important to bring that integrity and truth into your normal life."
Since qualifying in January, Síle has been teaching alongside Lisa Temple at the Olive 3 yoga studio in Bray, Co Wicklow.
"There is something very organic about the way we work," Síle explains. "Lisa does a class first and then I will take over. In Lisa's class, you will have worked yourself from a physical and a mental perspective and then you will move on into further expanding that in the class that I do.
"My class involves the yoga of mantra or sound-based yoga, which is something that is part and parcel of everyday life for those who practise yoga in the East, but is still a relatively new element of what yoga is here in the West," she explains.
"And the benefits of chanting are vast. It boosts immunity, improves our mood, balances our hormones, reduces anxiety and depression and it gives the chanter a feeling of empowerment to name but a few."
Yoga has also changed Síle's approach to food.
"You start to really think about what you are putting into your system and ask yourself if it is going to help your body. I am sometimes good at this and I sometimes fail because I absolutely love food and I cannot say that I don't.
"I have a sweet tooth, but I've recently tried to cut dairy from my diet, which is helping a little," she smiles.
"Weight-wise, I am heavier than I have ever been now, but I am much happier than I have ever been. There have been times in my life when I have been a lot slimmer, but I have not felt as fulfilled.
"I actually feel very good about my body because it is working and it is healthy and, having gone through illness, I know the importance of being grateful for what you have, even if it is a slightly rounder, more voluptuous shape than I would have had," she adds.
"Yoga is about connecting with your body. Sometimes we can just go into gyms and go through the motions, but yoga gets that mind-body connection. It brings you into your body and allows you to feel everything, to connect with the mat and ground yourself.
"So you really start to appreciate what your body is doing for you on a daily basis and you start to really accept it and that is a gorgeous thing."
She adds: "Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and whisper in my own ear and tell myself to try yoga earlier in life because I think it would have saved me a lot of heartache."
* Síle recently helped launch Macra na Feirme's 'Know your Neighbour' campaign in partnership with Calor, which aims to encourage positive neighbourly relations through community events. Visit knowyourneighbour.ie for more information
Síle's Food diary
Breakfast: Fruit, soya yoghurt and chia seeds. Oat cakes and almond butter and tea with almond milk.
Lunch: A healthy, colourful salad with plenty of vegetables and good protein, like eggs.
Dinner: Chicken with smoked paprika, spinach, tomatoes and toasted almonds.
Snacks: Fruit, nuts, rice cakes or a protein bar.
Treats: Tea and a dark chocolate rice cake or some dairy-free ice cream.
Síle's tips on chanting
Close your eyes, breathe and relax: Try to let go of any preconceptions you may have, especially if you're new to chanting as it may feel strange at the beginning. Just go with it!
Be comfortable: It is best if you are not distracted by any physical discomfort. So wear comfy clothes, use cushions, blankets and whatever you need to make sure you are as cosy as possible.
Bring water: You will be surprised at how much heat you can build up through chanting.
Observe yourself: Become aware of your thoughts and release yourself from any judgements, attachments or expectations.
Open your mind and be present: Chanting is a powerful practice used to soothe and balance the body and mind. 'Om' is believed to be the sound of the universe. And 'Shanti' means 'peace'.
Remember that there are no mistakes: If you don't think your pronunciations are accurate, don't worry. Everything will come in time. Your intention is the most important thing; chanting with an open mind is what you need to do.
PHOTO: MARC O'SULLIVAN; HAIR AND MAKEUP WITH THANKS TO BROWN SUGAR, SOUTH WILLIAM STREET. SEE BROWNSUGAR.IE
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