Kids’ yoga teacher Tanja Tomas (36) moved to Ireland from Germany 15 years ago to study at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin.
A student in a new culture, she had a lot to learn. But life stepped up another notch when, one year later, she became pregnant.
“I was basically falling apart. I didn’t know much about the system here, and then I got pregnant, unplanned. It was a strange country, I didn’t have my parents. It was difficult being in a system I didn’t know,” Tanja recalls.
“When she was born we had a very difficult time. I wasn’t aware of her condition until she was born. I was quite young and I was only in Ireland for about a year. So it was all very unexpected.”
Tanja’s beautiful daughter Siofra was born with complex congenital heart disease and dextrocardia, a condition where her heart is on the right side of her body.
“I was a young mum and I didn’t have any experience, never mind of a baby with a heart condition. Our first few years were of surgeries, doctors, and medications.”
“Her condition can’t be healed, it can only be helped along. So I knew I had to be strong for her; it helped me to find a strength in her first years.”
Síofra had her first surgery, a glenn shunt, when she was just 18 months old. Her second surgery, a Fontan procedure, was done when she was six years old.
Tanja discovered that yoga would help her overall wellbeing, and help her to cope emotionally with the medical world she'd been forced into.
Now aged 13, Síofra has found yoga to be beneficial for managing her health and anxiety.
“When I see her every day, I see that she’s quite strong, and she knows the tools she can use when she feels down or has anxiety,” Tanja said.
“I came to yoga because of my daughter basically.”
“I didn’t know much about yoga. I just knew that it helped me.”
“Her second surgery was quite a big process. I had my yoga practice, it kept my anxiety at bay. I stayed with my breath and kept it together for her at that stage.”
Tanja explained: “They helped her heart by pumping the blood into the lungs. So that meant that she needed to practice extending her breath and that was the first time she started practising yoga.”
“She needed a lot more oxygen to come into her circulation. We started the breath practise together.”
Now, Síofra and Tanja also practise positive affirmations, "to activate their own self-healing capabilities".
Tanja explains: “I became a kids’ yoga teacher, to be able to practice with her and get her body strong. She’d experienced a lot of trauma.”
“She was very traumatised by medical intervention and didn’t like anyone touching her body and the practice helped her to come back and feel in control again, and use her breath in difficult situations like when she had to do a blood test and ECGs . I brought what I learned with her into the practise.”
She added: “I saw how it was so beneficial for her and I decided I wanted to go out and share it with other children.”
Tanja teaches yoga to children, and specialises in teaching yoga to children with additional needs. She will lead classes at the Vitality Expo, which promises to be Ireland’s largest health and well-being show, taking place in Dublin’s RDS on September 8th and 9th.