It is so easy nowadays to forget that yoga is a lot more than what you can do on the mat. Yoga for me is, among other things, helping us to come back to ourselves, what is true to us and what we feel passionate and inspired to do, not only to benefit ourselves but also the world around us.
I was inspired when I came across the great work that Ronah is doing through her yoga space Amara Yoga & Wellbeing in Westside, Galway city. After years working in social care and with the Galway Simon Community, Ronah now shares yoga with the homeless community of Galway among other great projects.
It is a reminder of the powerful benefits and effects that yoga can have in anyone’s life – in whatever form- and that sometimes it is the most vulnerable people in our society who can feel excluded but who need it the most.
Here is Ronah’s story and inspiration behind her new yoga journey.
What brought you to yoga?
I was practicing as an holistic therapist since 2004 and was looking for something that would combine the physical and mental side of things, I hadn’t been really moving my body and I was approached by a few people who suggested I take up yoga. At the time I wasn’t sure – I was 42 and I thought it was a bit late to be starting yoga. Another person came up to me and suggested that I start, I looked into it, somehow managed to manifest the money to complete a yoga training with Yoga Therapy and Training Ireland and the rest is history. I just love it and it was just what I was looking for.
Did you have an idea about yoga before you started to practice?
Not really. I hadn’t really studied it at all, I thought it was a type of exercise but I never connected how much more it is. That was an eye-opener for me and it was only during my training that I discovered it was so much more.
How did your idea of yoga change then?
It changed as I found it was something that worked for the whole body and everybody should be able to access it and use it to the best of their abilities – it is just a whole body and mind system. It was just everything that I had been looking for- you can work out the body without looking at the emotional side or relax the body after exercise but with yoga it involved meditation, relaxation, exercising the body – everything I was looking for really. It’s hard to explain but I just found it a system that was whole or complete.
Did you find that your lifestyle changed when you got into yoga?
Yes, I am trying to get that bit healthier, however, I am not quite there yet. Bear in mind, and I think some people resonate with me as well on this, I started yoga at 42, slightly over-weight and not being the healthiest individual in Galway.
I do feel that certain foods are starting to not agree with me anymore, I’ve lost weight, I am considering giving up meat, drinking less – it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. I’m still on the journey, I could still be a little bit healthier but it has definitely changed my whole life, and in a natural way.
How about your attitude or your mentality?
Oh yes! I used to be very ‘what you see is what you get’ or if somebody wasn’t very nice to me I would react quite strongly, whereas now it doesn’t bother me. I just don’t have time for negativity or drama and it doesn’t seem to come to me that much anymore, which is fantastic!
It is great when you can just be and not get sucked into negative energy, life is so much easier. Obviously that doesn’t mean I never have a bad day, I do, but I can snap myself out of it pretty quickly.
What is your background in yoga?
Basically I had done a kid’s yoga training with Rainbow Yoga before I had ever done a yoga diploma and I loved that but wanted to study it more for myself and to start to teach adults. The program that I did in 2014 was a Hatha yoga training which I completed over one year.
One of the elements of the training was that we had to start teaching classes from the beginning. For me, as I was working in social care at the time with Galway Simon Community, I thought why not teach the homeless clients as I already had a group available to me and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing. I put that forward to the management and they wholeheartedly agreed that it was a fantastic idea and within two or three months I started teaching yoga to a few clients and staff and it was such beautiful experience.
How did the homeless clients take to the idea of practicing yoga?
They were very open to it. It would be slightly different to a beginner’s yoga class, you might just start with some simple breathing techniques or standing straight. For me one of the most powerful experiences from that time was a client who had bad posture and by the end of the program he was standing straight for the first time, he actually started crying – it is a very humbling and rewarding experience.
The other thing I decided was to give them all a little certificate at the end and again that was such a simple yet rewarding thing – some of them came up to me telling me that they had never received a certificate in their life and how much it meant to them. It was, again, a very beautiful experiences in my yoga journey.
What was your inspiration behind your yoga space Amara Yoga & Wellbeing?
I opened Amara Yoga & Wellbeing in September 2015. My vision was, I guess due to my background in social care, to create a place where affordable and inclusive yoga could take place. Somewhere that the classes weren’t over-priced and that everyone regardless of their background, age, ability or income could come and learn yoga. That is my vision to have a space where that is possible. I took my inspiration from a place in Paris that offers really affordable yoga classes and adapted their classes to groups coming in, because anybody can do yoga – there is always a way that you can do yoga.
I think that more needs to be done on talking about what yoga is than this perception that it is for twenty year old, fit, energetic people – it’s not, it is for everybody.
A lot of people, for example, would leave out the relaxation at the end of class, I think it is the best part and the most needed part in our society. Trying to bring that message across that yes, it is great to exercise the body but it is nearly as important to rest the body as well as we are all so busy nowadays and a lot of people forget that they need to rest. That is a very important aspect of my yoga practice and I would never leave it out.
What else do you run here at Amara Yoga and Well-being?
We have done a little project with the youth over the summer and I’m hoping to run that again and we are always open to groups or people coming and using the space.
We are also running another homeless project at the moment through additional funding that has come through. We offer yoga, meditation, holistic workshops and one-t0-one therapies to the Galway Simon clients between September and December this year. I am delighted to be asked to take part in this project and I am very hopeful that it will continue.
Interestingly 90% of the participants are male,which is fantastic because a lot of the time yoga is geared towards women and more is needed to bring it towards men. As part of that program we also do workshops around stress and relaxation, aromatherapy, dance.
We had a dance workshop last week from the Galway Simon Community and all of the clients were under 35 and loved it, you can have this perception of who you think will turn up to these events and it is another humbling experience.
It is my dream to be able to combine my background in Social care with yoga. I would love to do more – I also did a few classes with the women’s refuge and hope to continue that as I do feel that yoga is also about giving back and it feels like it can be a bit lacking in that department. It is a lot about making money more than what yoga is actually all about.
Anything else you would like to say about yoga or your experience?
Well, for me I feel like I am living truly for the first time after having discovered yoga. I don’t think I was fully living before – I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t minding myself and yoga has kind of brought that all together and I just feel that I am living the way I am meant to be living. I have found my purpose in life. I am not saying it is easy because it isn’t – opening a business is never easy but it is my passion and especially to bring new people to yoga who wouldn’t necessarily think that they would be able to start yoga and getting to do that is a dream come true.
I want to get as many people to yoga who I feel are excluded, whether it is because of expensive memberships or studios or because the classes are just advertised in a way that someone who might be slightly overweight or suffering from mental health problems is just not encouraged to attend. I just want to make sure that this gap is filled and that anybody who wants to learn yoga in Galway can do so.