The lovely Joseph Mathers from Newry, Co. Down is a fellow member of the Irish Ashtanga community. I got to chat with him on his most recent yoga trip to Galway. We spoke about how Joe initially came to yoga for flexibility, then are the end of a relationship and how his understanding and practice of yoga has evolved and benefited his daily life.
What brought you to yoga?
The first time, or the second time?
The reason I first started yoga was to become more flexible. During this time a senior Ashtanga teacher, David Roache, came to Newry and that was my first experience with Ashtanga yoga.
I continued to practice yoga in Newry with Eddie Kelly, who practiced led classes, and I kept practicing there to keep fit and stay flexible. I knew it was doing me good but I didn’t really know much else about it at that point.
The second phase of yoga would have been after the breakup of a relationship over two years ago. What I have learned from previous experience is that I can easily be destructive by throwing myself into action(s) as a result of being hurt. So in this phase I am on a constructive path. I would say I didn’t really start yoga until two years ago and the relationship break up was the catalyst. It was probably a bit mindless at the start but I knew I was practicing to at least turn that energy of hurt into something which was positive.
Did you have an idea of yoga before you began practicing?
No, not really.
I hadn’t a clue. You hear that it is good for stretching so I went mostly for the flexibility and for some relaxation.
I would have thought that it was some form of special Indian exercise to make you more flexible, I didn’t know it was a science or a practice.
How has your idea changed since you began to practice?
That yoga is massive. I would say I am only at the tip of the iceberg.
What I know about the practice is that the practice changes me, that I can say for sure. It changes me in ways that I don’t even realize; I work things out without actually working it out. I worry less, I have better concentration, I don’t get as spooked (as much) by situations and I think I understand myself better – that’s probably the biggest change.
There is also learning to just stay with stuff, just stay with whats going on in your life, good or bad. Asana teaches you to stay and be steady or at least you are trying to find a steadiness. The liklihood now is that if I fall out with someone I can sit better with being uncomfortable, I don’t try to fix the situation in a frantic way, the way I used to. I am better at saying sorry and maybe I am more courageous.
My idea of yoga has changed because of the people, it is a community. There is a sense of belonging to something as well, which I like, it probably comes from Catholicism. I know it’s a science but I don’t see the practice, in its simplicity, as any different from any practice. It isn’t even about flexibility anymore, it is more about friendship and if that friendship means being more understanding of myself or more friendly with myself then that’s also a big plus.
What is your background in yoga?
I have done some yoga that I don’t even know what it was called to be honest with you. I have also done some Vinyasa flow and then David Roache came to Newry about six or seven years ago. It was my first experience of Ashtanga yoga and I was very lucky he came to Newry, I didn’t realize it was Ashtanga yoga I was practicing at the time. I had been practicing two or three times a week with Eddie Kelly in Newry for 8 years. Then about two years ago Kiera McGroarty had an Ashtanga invitation for 40 days and thats when I started learning and studying more about Ashtanga yoga
I like Ashtanga yoga because it is a system, I need to have a fixed point and a system gives me structure.
Did your lifestyle change?
I stopped going out at night for one, as I was getting up in the mornings to practice. At the same time I changed my food and what I was eating. I went to a nutritionist, Lisa, and reduced my sugar intake by a large amount, reduced my meat intake and dairy products.
I used to go out partying and clubbing, that ended. I was burning off energy on the mat, I was burning off stuff in a different way than how I used to on a night out. I was burning through things constructively and by doing that I was able to create more positive things at the same time.
How about your attitude or mentality, have they changed?
My lifestyle has changed, my work life has changed, everything. My go to things for stress relief would still be my go to things but I will go to them and I think, hold on there Joseph, don’t do that. I don’t always succeed but I do most of the time!!
You travel a lot to practice yoga, what inspires that?
I like people, I like to connect with people and to be social and these trips are my holidays! I like the energy, practicing on your own is bloody hard. I like seeing how other people change – not on the mat but when I meet them.
Basically I like seeing how I’ve changed, that’s the truth.
Have other people in your life started yoga since you have began practicing?
That’s a very big question actually. Everybody in my life is now doing yoga, everyone – without exception.
I have changed and as a result everyone around me has changed, certainly the way I see others has changed. I’m not interested -now- in knocking other people’s practices or lifestyles I just want to have a chat and connect with people. I am interested in sharing my practice but only to like minded souls.
I probably talk about yoga more now than anything else (well, almost!).
Have you anything else you would like to say about yoga?
What’s interesting about yoga is that it is the first practice I can actually identify with and call my own. I can look at myself and see that I am changed for the better in some ways and will try to get better in others. As a general rule of thumb I would say that I am more content – whatever that means- than I was before.
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