I spoke with the wonderful Aisling Reidy from Optimum Health about her experience with yoga, meditation and health in general. Aisling teaches here in Galway and it was really interesting to hear her thoughts about yoga and meditation with the added perspective of being a trained psychotherapist, sport’s massage therapist as well as a qualified nutritionist. Aisling runs yoga teacher trainings here in Galway city as well as several other training courses in the field of nutrition, counselling, massage and nutrition.
What brought you to yoga?
I first came across yoga when I was 19. I was really just interested in the gymnastics side of it. I did a one day retreat in East Galway and really enjoyed how relaxed and peaceful I felt. I began weekly classes in Galway and even though I was incredibly stiff and really not that good, I began a gentle daily routine of my favourite stretches (the easy ones!) and ten minutes of meditation. I didn’t always stick to this on weekends, but during the week I quickly formed my daily practice.
Did your lifestyle change when you got into yoga?
I was quite lost in many ways when I came across yoga. I had moved away from home, my mother had passed away and I had been travelling quite a bit – so I don’t think I knew who I was or what I was. Yoga helped me connect back to myself and I began meditation classes in the Zen DoJo in Galway City. Sometimes I got up at 6am to go here to meditate. None of the people that I hung around with were really that interested in yoga and so I felt like I had a bit of a dual life, one side of me really focused on the spiritual aspect of yoga, I read a lot and was fascinated by Buddhism; it all felt like it made so much sense to me. The other side of me wanted to fit in socially and I sometimes really struggled to balance the two.
The more I practiced yoga and the more I read, the more I didn’t like the way my life was and I wanted to really get immersed in yoga. I started looking at teacher training courses, I really wanted to be in the Himalayas and for it to feel authentic and close to the source.
I started really working on myself- I changed my diet and I became a vegetarian. When I found yoga it was like a confirmation for me that this was the type of life I always wanted. At that time in Ireland it was definitely much harder to live that lifestyle. Some of my family really thought it was weird – that being a vegetarian was weird and that when I was pregnant my daughter would die because I was a vegetarian.
Did you have an idea of what yoga was before you started to practice?
No, I didn’t really know anything about it other than seeing someone doing push-ups in the crab and how fun that looked. I might have heard about it but not known what it was; I don’t have any real memory of it other than that.
How has your idea of yoga changed since you started practicing?
When I started practicing yoga I couldn’t touch my toes, I could barely touch my knees and my hips were really tight. I rode horses for all of my childhood, so my legs were completely seized up. It took me a couple of years to be able to touch my toes and I notice that this is quite a big deal for people – everybody is always trying to touch their toes!
I notice that things I hear from people who come to yoga consistently over the years is that they sleep better and that their lower backs aren’t in much pain. Yoga is great for loosening the lower back. I also had difficulties with my lower back which are long gone now.
There were a few things that have changed my perspective over the years. When I got into yoga I got really into it, it became my life’s mission and I had such a drive – I just loved it so much and I kind of wanted to be perfect, or the perfect ‘yogini’. I just loved the connection with the heart, spirituality, following your truth and being a good person. I had to learn not to over do it and not to be obsessed with it, but to live a more harmonious balance.
I heard about Vipassana meditation retreats pretty early on and I have been doing 10-day silent meditation retreats every two years for over twelve years now.
Another huge thing in my life was acceptance, especially because my mother died when I was younger and having to come a place where I could finally find some way of accepting her death, which is a massive thing. Acceptance and letting go is kind of the essence of yoga and Buddhism for me.
I studied nutrition so I was into healthy eating, making my own chocolates, not buying anything that was bad for the earth or the environment and I even set up charities and festivals to raise money for women and children in Iraq when the war started!
I have also trained as a psychotherapist and learned about healthy anger, healthy boundaries and being strong within yourself first and then being able to look after people second. I also learned, which is something in Buddhism that would have helped me to learn this in Psychotherapy, that when you help others you are not necessarily helping them but instead teaching them that they need to be helped (of course this depends on the situation and is just a generalisation). So the real way is to empower people to help themselves, that is what makes changes – you can’t do everything for everybody, people have to learn how to do it themselves and become responsible for their own lives.
I feel like all the things that I have studied carried on from my yoga practice, for me all of them are yoga – massage is yoga, sports therapy is yoga, nutrition is yoga, psychotherapy is yoga – it just means union and a connection with yourself. All of these studies involve understanding yourself deeper.
Did you find that you changed mentally and emotionally when you started to practice yoga?
I suppose the biggest change in my life came when I was in India doing my teacher training. I was devastated by my mother’s death when I was 15. I went to India when I was 24, going all around the Himalayas and to the top of all of the mountains and into Buddhist monasteries asking “What is it all about? Why am I here? What is the point?”.
I remember sitting by the Ganges and just having this realisation that it is not about my mother, it is about the essence of what a mother’s experience is and how it feels for me. I don’t know, something about that made it feel as if the whole world dissolved and I have been a different person ever since. There was a deep sense of acceptance and letting go and now I find it harder to cling to things. I suppose that is because I had to learn how to let go of the biggest attachment in my life. I attend vipassana retreats, for me that is all about letting go and so I can sustain that. From what I teach I haven’t really lost that experience or mental ability – it is the greatest gift. So I have really changed, I wouldn’t say it is just from the yoga though but also because of the grief.
Where did you do your yoga teacher training?
In Uttrakeshi, India I completed a Sivananda training and then I did another year in Cork. The first training was so profound; when I came back people kept telling me one month was not enough for a training so I did another one year course. It was the first one, in India, that had such a huge impact on me – I was eating, breathing and sleeping yoga and I loved every minute of it. The teachers in India were so genuine and sincere, I was really lucky to have had such beautiful teachers.
So do you teach yoga in Galway?
Yes I teach a variety of types of yoga in Galway, including a one year yoga teacher training programme. I teach all types from gymnasts to football players, rugby players to body builders, doctors & nurses. I teach pregnancy, mum & baby yoga and kids yoga. I also work one-to one and in groups in a therapeutic style. I even have a young family whose house I go to and they all do yoga together which is really lovely 17fwag7.
How do you find yoga for mothers and pregnant women?
From a sports therapy perspective, obviously, if you free up the muscles that you know are going to tighten around the pelvis as a result of being pregnant, you are less likely to get back pain and swelling of the legs. So my pregnancy class is very tailored to the specific ailments that pregnant women get and we also do the different practices for birthing and getting the baby to turn, giving the baby the space in the womb.
I imagine, from a sports perspective that it has to work, however, the type of people who tend to do pregnancy yoga tend to be into their health anyway. With the natural birthing we do a specific breathing technique throughout the birth so many people who have been to pregnancy yoga and who have had natural births have said that the breathing really helped and really worked.
The mum and baby yoga, is also very specific for loosening the muscles from carrying the baby all the time and being hunched over.
Do you find that meditation is an important aspect of practice for you?
Yes. Our minds are phenomenal, the amount of thinking that goes on every day. I think that its really good to look at the mind and to be able to use that for your greatest potential rather than just ruminating and having the same habit patterns repeating over and over again, especially if the patterns are not helpful.
We are kind of governed by our minds & our bodies and if we feel like our mind falls apart we are totally taken by it. Our mind has a massive impact on our world and our experience of the world. In order to live fully I think we could at least try and spend time looking at what is in there, looking at what we are saying to ourselves. Asking “Is that what you want to say to yourself or is that some old habit pattern that you have since childhood that doesn’t work for you anymore?”
What you put out there is what you get back and you can only learn that when you look at it and you can only change when you really look at yourself honestly.
To me yoga, mindfulness, meditation, breath work are about taking responsibility for my own body, my own mind and my own health. I feel that I have this responsibility and that I can take charge and control of my life.