I met Dermot on my first day in Vancouver- through a mutual friend. We talked about his life before moving to Canada, how things (and he) have changed since moving here. The impact that alcohol has/had on his life and how a slow progression into the world of meditation and yoga has been of benefit in his life – in many ways.
I can relate to a lot of Dermot’s story and the unfolding of life in this way – I hope it inspires others who might find themselves in a challenging space.
I really enjoyed this chat over coffee in Kelowna as we waited to attend a class at the One Yoga studio there.
How would you describe yourself when you first moved to Canada in 2011?
I would say I was a party animal; lost in a lot of ways and focusing solely on partying and a heavy drinker. I was only 25 when I got to Canada, so I was in that mode of drink, drink, drink every weekend.
I had never travelled before Canada. I had lived at home in Kildare with my parents.
I remember chatting with my siblings, who are both settled down and married, and their encouragement that I take the chance to get out of Ireland and move somewhere new.
That got my mind thinking and I felt that I could do it; before I probably thought that it was something other people do. After successfully obtaining a visa, I was gone a month later.
How did it feel to make such a drastic change in your life?
There was certainly a numbness with regards to the effect it had on me – I’m sure a big move or change in my life right now would be a lot more unsettling. At that time I just knew it had to happen – but a lot of my behavior did transfer over here, so not much had changed in the beginning.
It wasn’t until after a few years of living here that the Vancouver health vibe kicked in.
How did that happen?
In 2014 I was suffering with heavy depression. I had attributed that to a really unhealthy relationship I had with alcohol. I did give some thought to the idea of quitting, but was very much under the influence of alcohol and peer pressure. I wasn’t even able to voice the idea of quitting with my Irish friends.
It was a funny thing, I was always embarrassed at the thought of quitting – the peer pressure that I felt – which may have just been in my head. I was definitely more concerned about what others would think.
In January 2016 it was the first time that I tried to stop drinking alcohol and I tied it in with a blog on which I shared my training attempt to run the Boston Marathon and at the same time I gave up alcohol and cigarettes.
After 2 months I fell off the wagon in Ireland – on St.Patricks day! I was really disheartened as I had been so confident that I was succeeding. I wasn’t aware that there was so much unknown territory associated with making a decision like that. I started drinking for 2 or 3 months after that, tried to quit again and lasted about a year – all the while the depression was still there.
How did depression manifest itself in your day to day life?
I can’t pinpoint when it started but I guess it was a culmination of living in a way that I didn’t want to live.
How did you know it was depression or a mental health struggle?
I don’t think I knew it then, but it was more in hindsight a year or two later that I saw it was a mental health issue.
I gave up alcohol again in January 2018. I stayed running but wasn’t chasing the Boston Marathon goal anymore. I realized how much I had learned in that whole process of training and giving up certain aspects of my lifestyle. I could feel how much I enjoyed working on growing as a person and that led me to start trying to make a positive lifestyle change again.
Where did your yoga journey start?
In the summer of 2018 we had a yoga session at work. I don’t know what drew me to attend that as I had never practiced yoga before and I never went to work events.
I hated the class! I think there were about 5 or 6 people who were all barely moving and making some weird shapes. It spoke to my relatively close mindedness at the time.
A few months later I found myself online looking up the benefits of yoga and I saw the connection with depression that ignited my interest again. If it was going to calm my mind I was keen, so I decided to get a month pass for a yoga studio and give it an honest shot.
Did you notice any mental health benefits when you initially quit alcohol, before you started to practice yoga?
I found I had all of these expectations that if I gave up alcohol it would fix all of my problems. While it doesn’t do that, it certainly is the first step I took in order to look at my problems in a bigger sense.
I happened upon a personal development ‘guru‘ who had a video about meditation – it took some time for the practice to have a benefit in an obvious way but it did after time. I think that opened my mind up to yoga.
How to go from no exposure to spirituality or yoga to then being open to the idea?
There was one really scary hangover I had after a heavy nights drinking and I remember just lying on the couch shaking and feeling so scared – something in my head just said , “you know what – you don’t have to do this to yourself”.
Did your life or the people around you change during this transition? It can be difficult and disconcerting!
Yes it can definitely get lonely. When you are with a group that is about the partying lifestyle all of the time, you don’t have that connection with them anymore when you give that up. While they do support you, it is a very different world between you. It is a tricky one!
What was your idea of yoga before you stated to practice and how has it changed?
Before I got into yoga I thought it was a form of exercise and nothing more. Now I see it as something very different. I see the exercise as being a very small part of it and there is a whole lot that I do not know.
It is a far bigger world.
I noticed that it makes me far more patient. I can also see this in the Vancouver yoga community, there is just something about being around yoga practitioners and in yoga studios – they just – generally – seem to be a lot more content.
Where do you practice and do you practice any particular style?
I practice in One Yoga and the style of yoga I practice the most would be Vinyasa. I really enjoy the flow and movement. I wasn’t learning much about yoga in any depth from just going to classes, or so I thought, but I still went consistently and could feel the benefits.
Have you noticed any difference mentally and physically?
I have noticed a greater awareness about the thoughts that I have. I know I am not perfect and never will be – I still have thoughts that I wish I didn’t have. For me, a large chunk of what yoga is about is being aware of those thoughts. To have the level headed-ness to just recognize how I am thinking about something and what may be a better approach.
This is why yoga is great for my depression – you go through the yoga sequence and you have the difficult moments in the postures, you want to get out of the postures but you stick with it and it feels better. You just let it be, all of it is temporary and it will pass. I always thought when I got depressed it was there to stay but I can now just recognize that it will pass.
Do you feel the changes in your life have created a change for anyone else in your personal life?
I started to life coach because I had people who were drawn to my online blog posts and then reached out to me and asked if we could meet and talk about it. That was great, even if it is just one person that you can help. You hear some pretty dark struggles from people, and you see that everyone struggles.
I spoke with a woman from work that had taken time off due to her own mental health struggles and mentioned that she had completed a yoga training course and how it really forces you to take a big look at yourself deeply and how transformative it can be.
I signed up for a course at Karma Teachers , which I am looking forward to.
The community is a big part of any change or transition in your life, having a community outside of your close friends and family –perhaps a neutral community that are all there collectively to encourage you to grow or focus on self development. Did you find that in your own life?
Yeah it is great here in Vancouver to have that community as it can be hard in this city to make friends sometimes.
The reason for theses interviews and blog is a lot about showing that yoga is accessible to everyone and not just one type or style and is a lot more than what we may associate with being a yoga practitioner. What would you say about that?
I have had people ask me about yoga and say they are afraid to go as they will not be good at it. When I see someone who comes to class and you get the feeling they have never done yoga before, they are my favorite people to see in a class., The person I see who is really struggling, but still shows up, that is inspiring.
It is not about proving anything, it is about showing up for yourself – and no one else is watching you.
How did you find it as an Irish guy practicing yoga at the beginning, it might be something new to most as it is not yet widely practiced by many men- or would you agree?
You won’t meet that many Irish guys who are really into yoga. I guess with the conditioning in Ireland, there might be an attitude towards yoga – but this is an assumption of mine.
Was that ever a barrier when you first started out?
I did consider it in the start that I was one of three guys in a room full of 50 women but the teachers always make you feel so welcome and that feeling just fizzled away eventually.
Why do you like practicing at One Yoga?
It was the first and only Studio I practiced in when I started out. I have trust in the way things open up for me, so I stuck with this studio as I enjoyed coming here.
The first class I took at One Yoga, I told the teacher that I had never practiced yoga before, he was really welcoming and encouraging. I took a few different classes and tried different teachers and there wasn’t any class or teacher that I didn’t gel with – and it is such as wide open space.
You can also hear it in the volunteers there, everyone is always so warm and welcoming to those who are showing up for the first time
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to get it out there how beneficial a yoga and meditation practice was for my depression, while the struggle still continues in a lot of ways – I think yoga is my greatest anti depressant. I also really think that changing my habits around alcohol and lifestyle, really played a big part and a supportive place to start a new change or journey from.
Can you pinpoint what it is that helps?
I know that physical exercise is one of the best anti depressants you can use. I think it is also that connection to community, I feel I have found my people and that is where I want to continue my efforts.
For someone who is in a position you were –what would you say?
Just go to a class. If you are struggling with the idea of being judged or watched, the yoga community is not like that and most are just delighted you are three looking to better yourself and that is why most others are there too. Most people will have been in your shoes at some point. Give it a try for more than one class – everyone has to show up for the first time.
Read some more of the other faces of yoga I have had the pleasure to chat with: