Ever stop and think to yourself, ‘How did I end up here’? Today, as I listened to reports of the start of the Leaving (State Exam for School Leavers, for any non-Irish reader!), I began to reflect on the circuitous route that had brought me to the path of Yoga. How did I get from school, to the world of research science, to the theatre, and from there to Ashtanga Yoga. Looked at from the outside, it might seem to be a rather incongruous route, but for me, it has its own logic, one which I will try to unravel briefly here!
When I left school, I had two loves: one was science, the other acting. Of course, back then, my suggestion that I would like to become an actor was greeted with equal measures of horror and disdain. The result was that I decided on a degree in Genetics, which I was quite happy to do. It was a very interesting time back then, as the field of Molecular Biology was just opening up and it seemed that our understanding of what makes humans tick at a genetic level was just around the corner. Now, it is amazing to look back at everything that has been achieved in the last 30 odd years, since I hung up my white coat!!.
As things turned out, my own contribution to the wealth of scientific knowledge was to be minimal, as after only three years of Post Graduate research, the realisation that I was not cut out to spend my life in a lab was dawning. I found the impersonal nature of the work unsatisfying and, despite all the incredible new discoveries, I found myself disheartened. I had fundamental questions about the nature of being human that genetics could not answer My way of mitigating this dissatisfaction was to turn to my other love. I joined a Theatre Workshop! This was a bad move from an academic point of view. Soon, me at my Lab bench was about as rare a sight as a cloudless sky is these days in Ireland! I was now in a real dilemma, struggling and unsure what to do. It seemed like an impossible choice to make to leave science after seven years of work and embark on the perilously insecure life of an actor. I am indebted to one of Ireland’s great playwrights, Frank McGuinness, for the nudge that gave me the courage to take the leap. I heard Frank speak at a conference, at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1985. He was asked what was the ‘creative impulse’ that moved him and he said, ‘The absolute necessity to record the beating of the human heart.’ This phrase struck such a cord with me that I resigned the following day.
As part of my new life, I resolved to get healthy, as I had lived with quite an amount of stress over the preceding year. I was advised to take up yoga and so I bought Mr. Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’ and tried to do some asana. I started to take the odd Hatha class as I worked on establishing some sort of a career as an actor. A pattern began to emerge whereby I would practice Yoga when I wasn’t working in the Theatre, and when I had a job, I let Yoga slide. The balance was all or nothing, very much at the extreme ends of the See-Saw. (See my post Finding The Balance) It took several years, but by 1992, I was a little more consistent and decided to train as a teacher, thinking it would be a good thing to do when I had longer periods without acting work. The TT lasted two years and by 1993 I was teaching my first class. The greatest thing about the course was that it introduced me to the Yoga texts, Patanjali Yoga Sutra, and Bhagavad Gita. I began to realise that there was more to yoga than just getting a healthy body. I taught Hatha Yoga on and off through the 90’s and then in 1998, my house-mate introduced me, via a David Swenson Video(!) to Ashtanga Yoga. Now I had an asana practice that resonated with me. The breath was there, there was concentration, there was a sequence that kept me from wandering. Because of my inability to perform many of the asana, I had to try to practice the principles of yama and niyama in a real way. (More of these in another post.) I was learning slowly to accept what is, and not chase what I wanted to be, even though I still didn’t really know what I was doing.
I continued to juggle the two aspects of my life for several years. The life of an actor is tough. Long hours of physical and emotional commitment and a tendency sometimes to even longer and later hours of, let’s call it, R&R! I was in it for over 16 years and it takes it’s toll! I found that I took recourse to Yoga more and more to redress the balance. Then in August 2002, I met Lino Miele, and for the first time, the full clarity, beauty and elegance of the Ashtanga system of Vinyasa Krama was explained to me. I began to teach Ashtanga, and whenever possible, to travel to practice Yoga. I was offered acting jobs which I turned down (crazy!) in order to go to India, Italy, Finland, to do yoga. My teaching developed from one class to two, then three and four a week. Without intending it at all I found myself launching the first incarnation of this website, and lo and behold, I was running a Yoga School. I didn’t give up acting per se, I just took up teaching Yoga full-time! In April 2003, teaching a workshop, I met Paula and the rest is history!
So what is all this about, giving you this potted version of my life story. Well, from my perspective it is about allowing things to flow, even if we are unsure of where and how they are flowing. It is about trusting life, and opening ourselves to freedom, by allowing energy to move. I see the three stages I have gone through as part of a single journey of exploration of what it is to be human. As a scientist I was exploring our physical nature, as an actor, our psychological and emotional nature. Now, I have come to what, for me, is the most rewarding part of the journey so far. The incorporation of our Spiritual nature as humans into daily experience. To paraphrase Frank McGuinness, this is my ‘absolutely necessity to record the beating of the human Soul’. I didn’t know it at the time but I see it now, and thank God I didn’t get in my own way!
Through yoga practice everything in life has come to me. My beautiful Paula and Grace and the love and joy we share. My teachers and their wisdom and guidance. My students and their receptivity, their pushing me to find out more. The daily privilege of teaching this stupendous Yoga. At every step of the way, something unfolded, a teacher appeared to show the way, at just the right time, even though it wasn’t obvious that that was what was happening. Practice makes us receptive, it helps us to surrender fears and let go of the need to ‘know’ everything that is coming. So when you are in doubt as to the future, or regretful of the past, when life, as it always will, throws you yet another curve ball, try not to panic, or cling on, or wish it was different. Do your practice, let go and trust. Let your own journey of exploration unfold itself as the magical mystery tour it is. It is the reason we are alive in the first place; to experience life; to be free.