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Himalayan region of India

Since 2010 my life has basically revolved around travelling as much as I can to practice and study yoga. I have met some wonderful teachers, people and experiences along the way.

I came to yoga randomly. It was 2011 and I was in my final year at University in NUIG, where I studied Spanish and English. I met a friend in the hallway who mentioned he was on his way to a yoga class and it inspired me to give it a try. I had never really been drawn to go to yoga before this but for some reason I decided to go along. I went to my first class, loved it and I haven’t looked back since.

If you get into practicing yoga or even looking around for a class you will see that there are endless styles and ways to practice, which is great for yoga’s accessibility factor. I pretty much started with Ashtanga yoga and this style and tradition has remained my daily practice ever since. Ashtanga yoga is an ancient system which focuses on the breath and synchronizing it with a series of yoga postures or ‘asanas’. This style of yoga comes from India and was shared with the western world by from Mysore in South India and the lineage continues through the teachings of his grandson at the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore and through direct students of theirs around the world.

Around the same time that I started practicing yoga I became interested in meditation. I started to attend regular weekend and 10-day silent meditation retreats in Ireland and the UK in the Theravadan Thai forest tradition of Buddhism. I started to notice that yoga really helped with meditation, the yoga asanas or postures help to make the body less stiff and increase flexibility which makes sitting for long (and short) periods of time easier. The meditation in turn helped my yoga practice by encouraging more focus and balance.

Yoga has also been great for my body physically, it helps to remove stiffness and pain that has built up over time. I have a lot more energy and it has really helped my fitness levels and made me more conscious of looking after myself. It increases flexibility and strength, which is great for just day to day life and to prevent straining the body but it is also really beneficial if you practice other sports or activities which may over-tighten the body or muscles.

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Stunning Manali, Himachal Pradesh

Most people will associate India with yoga or vice versa. I had wanted to go to India for a long time, even before I ever came to yoga or meditation. I decided to finally take the leap and I booked a flight for a two month trip during my summer holidays from University in 2008. I was nervous as it would have been my first time travelling alone outside Europe, I had traveled to Morocco, Thailand and South America before that particular trip but this was my first time going somewhere so different from our culture on my own.

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived there and when I did it was such a whirlwind stepping of the plane – swarms of taxi drivers calling you, the air is thick, humid and sticky and there are people everywhere – and it seems the whole world is staring at you! I remember that first drive from the airport and crying – a mixture of relief, happiness and anticipation, but they were definitely good tears!

A few days later, once I had settled in, I knew that this was going to be a lifetime love and journey between me and India. I just love everything about it- the colours, the smells, the people, the madness, the stillness, the diversity and also just that knowledge and feeling that yoga has been practiced here for thousands of years and continues to be shared with people from all over the world.

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Me in 2010 on my first trip to India

Fast forward six years and I have just returned from my third trip to India. While my first trip to India was mainly backpacking around the North of India, the Himalaya region, the past two trips have been to practice and study yoga with teachers there.

My 2013 trip was to Mysore in South India where I spent 2 months practicing Ashtanga yoga with Indian teacher Jai Prakash. I loved it so much, rising at 6am every morning to walk to class and then have the rest of the day to rest and enjoy the Indian way of life. I was there during the start of monsoon season so most of the other yoga practitioners and tourists had left, it was quiet and a great way to connect with the local environment there. I would spend the day going for walks or runs at the nearby lake, sampling delicious street food and in the evenings I would go for another yoga class – simple living away from the hectic lifestyle I was used to in the West.

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Jai Prakash & I after practice in Mysore

I ended that particular trip in Nepal, I travelled there by trains and buses- that was a long journey. The first 60 hours were spent on a 3rd class sleeper train with 30 other Indians and that only took me to the Indian city of Gorakphur! I had another couple of 12- 15 hour bus rides to catch before I finally reached Nepal. I really enjoyed the whole experience, it is amazing to see how so review many people squashed into a very small space can work. If you have someone sitting too close to you on a bus at home you get frustrated, but here we all were, moving around to make space for your neighbour, offering each other food and chai, playing cards games and every evening without fail they made sure that I had my bed laid out so I could sleep – and I slept a solid 8 hours every night.

That is one beautiful part of travelling for me – trust; trusting others want to help and be kind to you as you would to them – and in my experience, most of the time, that is exactly how people are.

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The World Peace Temple, Kathamandu

I had organised to stay at a monastery in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. I had a few days before I had arranged to be there so I spontaneously changed my plans at the border and decided to get on a bus to Pokhara, a beautiful part of Nepal with views of the Himalayas. I was so happy with this decision as my few days there were really amazing.

A Nepalese woman who was sitting next to me on the bus, but didn’t speak much English, was concerned that I was not married and that I was travelling alone so she called her English speaking daughter and they invited me to stay in their home, to which I happily agreed. They were a beautiful family who lived outside of Pokhara city with views of the stunning mountains from their rooftop. I was really treated like one of their own. I spent the next few days eating and learning about Nepalese food, hearing about life in Nepal and being brought to see some of the beautiful spots in Pokhara. 

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The rooftop views in Pokhara

After three or four days I caught the shaky bus to Kathmandu where I was met by two nuns and a monk from the World Peace temple in Kathmandu. I spent almost a week there in the monastery, rising at 3am to take part in the daily chanting, being brought around to visit some of the neighboring temples and Buddhist communities and being treated to banquets of delicious Nepalese food by the families of monastic community.

I got to visit some of the famous tourist spots in Kathmandu, which have now since devastatingly been destroyed in the Earthquake of 2014. I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity when I think about all that has happened in Kathmandu since then. I don’t really know how I ended up there but I did and I loved every minute of it, another aspect I love about travelling is that you can plan as much as you like but sometimes the most memorable and special experiences happen all of their own and seemingly out of the blue.

I was gifted an antique bronze Buddha rupa by Chini, the head nun from the World peace temple and I have it next to my practice space here at home as a gentle reminder of these memories.

My most recent trip to India was three months spent in Goa on the south-west coast, I loved it there. Goa is a well known destination for backpackers and travelers because of its beaches, relaxed (as India goes) atmosphere and the general scene there is a mixture of ‘hippies’, party-seekers, yogis, holiday makers and travelling workers alike. It really is a great spot if you want to experience India, but not have so much of the chaos or culture shock that you may experience for a first-time trip in other parts of this vast land.

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I went to Anjuna to practice with Rolf Najakot, an original student of Shri K.Pattabhi Jois and one of a few students of his who are certified Ashtanga Yoga teachers by the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. Rolf began his yoga studies in North India in 1975 so it was an incredible learning experience for me. I got to meet some great people and make new yogi and non-yogi friends, dance on the beach, drive around and explore new places on my scooter and deepen my knowledge and understanding of yoga a little bit more.

One thing that I started to notice over the past few years is that many people tell me that they would like to practice yoga but that they are not flexible enough/ they can’t do yoga/ they are too old/ they are not fit enough, among other reasons and this inspired my project ‘The Many Faces of Yoga’.

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Joe from ‘The Many Faces of Yoga’ project

You can definitely be led to believe that you need to be of a certain body type, age group, background  or gender to practice yoga from a lot of the stuff we see nowadays promoting yoga. I believe that it is much more than that and is completely accessible to all. Through this project I carry out interviews, informal chats really, with some of the people that I have met along the yoga path. From the interviews I wish to show that yoga is accessible to all and not dependent on age, size, lifestyle, gender, background or reason for practicing. People come to yoga for many different reasons and benefit from it in many different ways.

I have spoken to people in Ireland and during my most recent trip to India I got to hear and share the stories of some wonderful people from all over the world – Chile, France, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Australia, America- the stories were definitely very different but all with the same underlying theme – that yoga has really had a positive and trans-formative impact on their lives in a variety of ways.

I find it really fascinating and interesting to hear all the different views and understanding that people have about yoga – both before they ever went to a class and after building up a practice. Each story inspires me to keep practicing yoga and to share what I have learnt with others in the hope that it can bring something of benefit into their lives. While I don’t think that yoga is the only way to go if you want to explore a practice of some sort – whether it be for physical, spiritual or mental reasons- I can only speak from my personal experience and what I have been drawn to and that is yoga, more specifically Ashtanga yoga.

So after the past six years of studying, travelling, living and teaching in Spain and practicing yoga with some wonderful teachers around the world, I’ve started to teach and share some of that which I have had offered to me. It’s a whole new learning experience and I feel very lucky to get to do it all and share what I love with others.

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Kathmandu, Nepal

 

You can read my project on my website: www.yogafootsteps.com