Thursday 13 December 2018

Meet Ibiza's Irish guru Trish Whelan who quit her demanding music industry job to teach kundalini yoga

Kilkenny-born Trish Whelan took the road less travelled when she quit her demanding job in the music industry to teach kundalini yoga in Ibiza. Here, she chats to Katie Byrne about leaving the rat race and finding contentment on the White Isle

Kundalini Yoga teacher Trish Whelan.
Kundalini Yoga teacher Trish Whelan.
Xuclar Beach House overlooks a panorama of mountains and sea
Trish Whelan
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

The end of the season is drawing near in Ibiza as the biggest clubs on the island get ready to go out with a bang… and thousands of seasonal workers prepare to go out with a whimper.

Kilkenny-born yoga teacher Trish Whelan is familiar with the annual exodus from the White Isle, but she won't be joining these exhausted workers on the Ryanair flight home this month, or next.

Ibiza is her home now. And besides, her secluded beach house in the pine-studded hills of Portinatx - the most northerly point of the island - is a long way away from the bedlam of San Antonio.

Whelan prefers the relative seclusion of her North Ibizan hideaway. "I'm not a 25-year-old rock 'n' roller," she says when we sit down to chat. "I'm a nearly 50-year-old woman."

Xuclar Beach House overlooks a panorama of mountains and sea
Xuclar Beach House overlooks a panorama of mountains and sea

However, there are times when she dips her toe back in. Today she's busy digging through her music collection to prepare a "one night and one night only" UK garage and ragga set for a gig in the infamous Pikes Hotel.

"I thought, maybe I just want to play mantras," says the occasional DJ, "but I've been listening to my tunes and dancing around the living room all morning!"

Whelan moved to Ibiza in 2013 for what she thought would be a six-month stint. Five years later, and people are travelling from all over the world to attend the residential kundalini yoga retreats (see right) that she runs from her home in the hills, while locals have come to think of her as an all-round medicine woman.

Whelan is now one of the most in-demand yoga teachers and healers on the island, but she doesn't conform to any New Age stereotypes. She groans a little when she hears the word "manifest" (we'll get to that). She wears red lipstick and Gucci sunglasses when she's feeling fancy. And while some of the characters working in the wellness industry can be that little bit too earnest, Whelan is known for her wicked sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude.

Then there's the music. Those who attend Whelan's classes have come to expect a carefully chosen soundtrack, but her students don't always know that their teacher spent almost 20 years working in the music business.

Whelan's erstwhile career started in London in the late '80s when she got a gig running Vince Power's Mean Fiddler venue in Harlesden. The experience led to a job in PolyGram Music Publishing, which in turn opened the door to a stint in Island Records and another in 4th and Broadway.

Trish Whelan
Trish Whelan

When the latter record label folded, she started working with Grammy Award-winning producer and composer, Nellee Hooper, who produced songs for artists like Smashing Pumpkins, Massive Attack and, to Whelan's delight, U2.

The self-proclaimed "biggest U2 fan on the planet" still has her ticket stub from the band's gig in Croke Park in 1985, so getting the chance to work alongside her heroes was a dream come true.

"London in 1988 was pretty epic," she remembers. "We were going to raves in warehouses in East London where the walls were made of psychedelic printed curtains. Dance music made us feel like we were changing the world - and we were changing the world. That was what was happening with this freedom."

Garage was another defining musical movement for her. "Ayia Napa was a spiritual experience for me," she says of Cyprus's '90s garage scene. "It just felt like UK garage was going to take over the world at some point. It was such a movement of energy."

Whelan first visited Ibiza with fellow Irishwoman, Róisín Murphy, in 2001. Hooper had a side project at the time called The Dysfunctional Psychedelic Waltons and Murphy was the vocalist on the first single, 'Wonderland'.

"They thought it would be a good idea for us to come to Ibiza to plug it," she says before laughing heartily. "That was one of the most life-changing weekends of my life.

"Pete Tong subsequently said that he had never had anybody plug a record to him in such a novel way. We were just very loud and very Irish - demanding that he play the record by shouting at him."

Did he play it? "Of course," she laughs.

Whelan says it felt like she had "come home" that weekend but it would be a few years before she made it official.

It was around this time that she started thinking about exiting the music industry. She had become interested in Reiki - a Japanese form of energy healing - and she started to wonder how she could combine it with her love of music. This culminated in a trip to India where she produced Soul Adventures Volume 1 - "the first record to ever transmit healing".

"Then I almost lost my flat because I wasn't very good at selling myself," she adds matter-of-factly.

Whelan was more interested in the healing arts at this stage in her life, but with nothing going on but the rent, she went back to work - this time running Jade Jagger's lifestyle brand, Jezebel.

A few years later, after qualifying as a Reiki master, she opened her own treatment room and became an apprentice to a shaman in the highlands of Scotland. She was finally carving out a new career but alas, the music industry tempted her back one last time.

For four years she ran the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music - and almost ran herself into the ground. "I put on a festival called Strummer of Love for his anniversary," she explains. "It was a really, really, really stressful situation. The locals didn't want to have what they thought was going to be a sort of Woodstock all over again.

"I had been practising kundalini yoga for four years at that point and then I started to really practise it when shit hit the fan," she continues. "I realised that the kundalini yoga was doing exactly what it said it would do. I realised I could leave a stressful situation, and take myself to yoga. And then, two minutes later, I had completely forgotten about it."

Whelan had qualified as a kundalini yoga teacher just before she arrived in Ibiza. She wanted to bring the practice to others, and she wanted some time out after the death of her mother. "I knew, having been in London when my nana died, that English people don't know how to grieve," she adds.

She didn't expect to be there five years later. And she certainly didn't expect to be running retreats where she met other people experiencing work-related stress and burnout.

"Life has become so hectic for everybody because of technology and social media," she says. "We're constantly contactable and so visible to everybody all the time. And there is just nowhere to go then. People are getting completely burnt out with modern living so the need for people to retreat is really at an epidemic level."

Whelan realised that the best way to move forward is to retreat. But what about other people who are considering leaving the rat race? Does she have any advice for them?

"It has to be full-body," she says. "It's got to come from your gut; it's got to come from every cell in your body. Every fibre of your essence has got to be 'yes' and there has got to be a real surrender.

"I know there can be a whole ,'I'm going to manifest x, y and z' but we don't really manifest anything -it comes to us as a gift," she adds. "And we can often receive things that are so much greater if there is a surrender, a faith and a trust that there is a bigger picture.

"We've got to remember that there is a mystery - and the mystery is where the magic lies."

Trish Whelan runs kundalini yoga retreats in Ibiza, Goa and Ireland, as well as a yoga B&B in Ibiza.

See souladventures.co.uk for more.

What happens at a Soul Adventures retreat?

People were surprised when I told them that I was going on a relaxing yoga holiday in Ibiza. They assumed the White Isle was a magnet for 24-hour party people and they suggested other, more peaceful, places for me to roll out my yoga mat.

They changed their tune when they saw the photos. The Xuclar beach house is tucked away in the northernmost tip of the island, close to some of Ibiza's most secluded beaches, yet a world away from the throbbing superclubs. And the views from the terrace are nothing short of spectacular.

I've done a few yoga retreats but this was different. Trish keeps groups small and intimate so that she can provide a luxury experience: the bedsheets from The White Company and body oils from MOA didn't go unnoticed, and the plant-based menu by nutritionist Melanie Atkinson could turn a committed carnivore.

Rules are looser too. Sure, they recommend a digital detox - or at least a partial one - but they won't scold you for checking your emails. And while they gently suggest decaf coffee at breakfast time, they'll happily brew a pot of proper coffee (and join you for a cup too).

If you want to increase your flexibility and practise Instagram-worthy yoga postures, this probably isn't the retreat for you. Kundalini yoga focusses on 'kriyas' (short and specific actions that are designed to achieve certain goal), meditation and sound healing. It's a potent form of yoga. So potent, in fact, that tears started rolling down my cheeks during one of the kriyas towards the end of the retreat. Trish wasn't surprised when I said it to her afterwards. "If you're not crying, it's not working," she smiled.

The Soul Adventures retreat pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it was worth it. On the last day, the whites of my eyes looked whiter (and it wasn't just the tan!) and, overall, I felt lighter and brighter. I'll be back.

Katie Byrne

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