Thursday 22 March 2018

Keep calm & do yoga

Yoga: the answer to the stresses of the modern world?
Yoga: the answer to the stresses of the modern world?
Anto Kearney
Dee Dunne
Sinead O'Connor
Brian McVeigh
Ciara Cronin
Mari Kennedy
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

In the remote ashram or the urban studio, yoga is being hailed as the answer to the stresses of the modern world. So can deep breathing and feats of flexibility really change your life? We ask six Irish devotees.

Ciara Cronin

Ciara, a former record label manager, is the founder of The Yoga Room, a designated yoga studio in Ballsbridge, Dublin

It's difficult to imagine the gentle and mild-mannered Ciara in her former incarnation, in which she promoted some of Ireland's most controversial musicians. "I certainly had a hedonistic lifestyle in my 20s," she admits. "I toured with bands like The Pogues and I was the PR officer when Sineád O'Connor tore up that picture of the Pope."

Such occupational hazards would either drive you to the drink or the yoga mat -Ciara chose the latter.

She discovered yoga through the non-profit Raja Yoga Centre where she was practising meditation and she went on to practise Ashtanga yoga in the former Digges Lane Dance Studio. Teacher training in the US soon beckoned. The studios she discovered there inspired her to open Ireland's first designated yoga studio when she returned home. "I just knew a purpose-built environment was conducive to letting people draw deeper into the practice," she explains.

A lot has changed in the 10 years since. "I've seen such a massive shift in the demographic. We get more older people, more men and even schoolchildren who come to deal with exam stress. Doctors, obstetricians, schools and professional sports people are all now endorsing it."

Ciara's husband, Michael Ryan, is also a yoga teacher - they met when he came to one of her classes (and yes, there was an instant spark). He was a chef at the time, but has since hung up his apron and now teaches retreats around the country.

Ciara recently completed an MA in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, which dovetails very nicely with her practice, and helps her better meet the needs of students who have taken up yoga to overcome personal challenges.

"Yoga can ground you in such a way that you can trust that this is just a transition. You're going to get through it. It will pass. It's not permanent," she explains. "There are always parts of your life that are in constriction because they are getting ready to shift into something else. The growing pains are part of life." Wise words from a wise woman. See

Morning ritual

"In the mornings, I practise yoga, then take my dog for a walk. Having passed 45, it's important for me to have a nutritious smoothie with oils and nut butters."

Brian McVeigh

Brian, from Newry, discovered yoga when he was 29. He teaches in studios across Dublin.

Many shy away from yoga on the grounds that they can't even touch their toes. When teacher Brian started practising, he couldn't even touch his knees.

"I was 29 and I had just given up smoking so I was trying to get healthy by going for long walks and working with a yoga DVD at home," he explains.

His DIY practice eventually inspired him to try a led class with Ciara Cronin.

"When I walked out of my first class with her, I said to myself: 'I'm never going back to how I was'." He has practised every day since.

Brian, who was at the time working in restaurants to finance his college education, says yoga immediately resonated with him. "I never wanted to teach," he insists. However, he ended up instructing his first class by sheer chance.

"I was working on reception at the Elbowroom studio in Stoneybatter when a teacher didn't turn up. They said: 'You're going to have to take the class'."

You may have noticed that Brian doesn't look like other male yoga teachers. "I'm not going to wear the Bangladeshi fisherman pants and the beads," he laughs, when I put this to him.

He does, however, admit to owning a pair of man leggings, or meggings. "But they're for raving," he quickly adds - and by raving, he means Morning Gloryville, the drug-and alcohol-free dawn disco.

"I like football and Led Zeppelin," he continues. "And I try to have a little bit of craic during my classes, but I'm very serious underneath it all." See

Morning ritual

"I get up at 4am or 5am and practice for an hour, and then I'll go for a walk. Some days I teach a 7am class and some days I'm finished at 8am... that's a great day."

Mari Kennedy

Originally from Sligo, Mari is a former project coordinator for Mary McAleese, an Anusara yoga teacher, mindfulness teacher and transformational coach.

Mari has been meaning to write a letter of gratitude to the former boyfriend who introduced her to yoga - hopefully this article will suffice. "I was 29 and this boyfriend told me that I needed to do yoga," she explains. "I just laughed at him but he put on this tape anyway -Yoga Nidra - and he was right: I did need yoga."

She was working in high-stress roles at the time, including as marketing manager for the National Concert Hall and project coordinator for Mary McAleese.

"I had lot of stress in my personal life, too," she adds. The holistic world became her outlet and she went on to train as a yoga teacher, and then a transformational coach and mindfulness instructor.

Every yoga teacher has a niche and Mari's could be best described as 'joy' - which is what Anusara yoga is all about. "I've been studying neuroscience and we really are so wired for negative thinking," she continues. "Yes, we all have good days and bad days because life is messy and not perfect, but I welcome it all. Well, I attempt to welcome it all."

Her corporate-world experience came in handy when she recently co-wrote a corporate mindfulness training programme in collaboration with the Oscailt Centre. "Global organisations have huge pressure and it's really hard to be human in these places. People are afraid of compassion - they think it's weak - but it has been the most amazing strength-giver in my life."

Another project of Mari's is the outdoor yoga class she occasionally teaches in Dublin's Dartmouth Square. With the help of a microphone, she once taught to 140 people. "It's amazing to teach under the trees and on the grass in the middle of the city," she says. See

Morning ritual

"To start the day, I prepare some hot water with apple cider vinegar and I get on my cushion and meditate for 20 to 45 minutes."

Dee Dunne

Former model Dee teaches a style of Hot Yoga called the Absolute Series as well as Vinyasa Flow, Core Flow, Yin Yoga and Yoga for Sport. She co-owns Urban Health (a health shop, salad and juice bar) in Ranelagh, Dublin, with her husband Darragh.

Dee describes her yoga classes as "strong with an emphasis on core stability". Put simply: she's hardcore. Her first yoga class was with Anne Leonard of Bikram Yoga Dublin. She loved the "physical intensity" of the practice, which is performed in 40°C heat and, like many Bikram devotees, she was hooked.

"I became addicted to the amazing feeling I felt after doing a class and how much my energy levels increased when practising on a regular basis," she explains. "I was also less stressed and my moods elevated."

It was in 2011 that she decided to progress to teaching-training level. Limber and lithesome, Dee is both a walking and talking testimonial for yoga, which she hails as the antidote to all ills. "When you start practising a lot your life patterns tend to change without you even realising," she says. "You get up earlier, you put good, nutritious food into your body, self-discipline increases, moods are elevated, you have more energy; you're more confident, healthier and optimistic. The use of the breath calms the nervous system, helping with anxiety and depression. It also cleanses the body of toxins."

According to Dee, the practice can even heal debilitating illnesses. "I've witnessed so many students who've suffered from chronic pain such as arthritis alleviate their symptoms through yoga, especially hot yoga."

Her only issue with the practice is the lack of gender parity.

"Yoga isn't just for women," she says. "The benefits of yoga for both sexes are endless, especially those doing other types of training and sports. I've seen first-hand the benefits it can bring for both prevention of injury and enhancing sports performance."

As for men who think of yoga as soft and gentle? A class with Dee will have them wondering if they're man enough. Find Dee on Facebook at urbanyoga - Yoga With Dee

Morning ritual

"I usually get up at 6.30am. I drink at least 500ml of water. I'm never hungry first thing in the morning, so I'll usually have an organic coffee."

Anto Kearney

A Dublin-based Ashtanga yoga teacher, Anto discovered yoga when he gave up drinking in his early 20s.

Even yoga teachers can suffer from burn-out. Anto recently took three months away from his practice to reflect, reinvigorate and reinvent.

"I was practising too strong and trying to achieve a lot in the shapes that I made," he explains.

For the uninitiated, Ashtanga is a particularly energetic school of yoga and Anto felt that he just didn't have the same stamina for it as he got older. "Once I hit my mid-40s, the strength and stamina wasn't the same. And I think it broke me somehow - but in a good way. I realised it was just age and it's OK to take it easy."

These days, anything even resembling strain or effort is avoided in Anto's classes and the result is a more flowing and meditative practice. His is a class for people who want to learn to go with the flow, both on and off the mat. [Full disclosure: the interviewer is a student.]

"It's like meditation, you go deeper when you don't put so much effort in. And I like being softer."

Anto discovered yoga after he gave up drinking in his early 20s. "I was in AA for a few years and then I went to my first class when I was 23. I did it once a week at first and over time it progressed to a solid practice." He attributes it with calming his active mind and helping him to settle into his body.

Anto doesn't think of yoga as his career or his hobby. In fact, he's loath to even call himself a yogi. Like his practice, he prefers to keep his definitions simple: "It's just the glue that holds me together these days."

Anto teaches in studios across Dublin, including Samadhi Temple Bar and Yoga Dublin. Email

Morning ritual

"On days I'm not teaching I'll go for an hour-long meditation with a group at the Oscailt Centre on Baggot Street, or do a bit of Zen {meditation} in the mornings."

Sinead O'connor

Sinead is a former contemporary dancer-turned-Vinyasa Flow yoga teacher and holistic health coach.

Sinead is always on the move or, as a yogi might say, evolving.

The former contemporary dancer recently became a holistic health coach, which is a similar concept to life coaching only it centres on health and wellbeing. In her spare time, she organises retreats, works alongside charities and acts as a brand ambassador for doTERRA essential oils. Sinead wanted to become a yoga teacher when she was 20 but the school she approached told her she was too young and needed some life experience. "So I packed my bags and headed off to Madrid," she says.

Her dance career once again became her focus but when she later moved to New York to further advance her studies, she found herself gravitating towards the yoga studio. "It balanced the stress of becoming a dancer - and you can imagine how competitive it is in New York."

She soon signed up for a teacher-training programme with Sri Dharma Mittra, who is considered to be something of a guru. Has she ever encountered yoga students that idolise their teachers?

"I think that's really dangerous," she answers at once. "There are people out there who are looking for so many answers and they want people to tell them how it is.

"But you have to go through your own story and figure it out. There are people who can guide you along the way, but everyone's story is personal."

She says Dharma Mittra never allowed his students to believe that he was more elevated or enlightened than them. "He said again and again and again: 'You are your own guru. I am not your guru'."

"But I see it all the time," she continues, "and I also see that some yoga teachers crave it. They want to be the person that shows the light and leads the way and gives the guidance.

"I think that's equally dangerous, if not more so."

This is the mindset Sinead adopts when working with her holistic health coaching clients.

"My goal is to give them the tools so they can go away and work by themselves." See

Morning ritual

"For breakfast, I have hot water and lemon, which is great for digestion. Then I meditate. I put a little Frankincense on the back of my neck to settle my mind."

Photos Mark Nixon.

Irish Independent

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