by Pamela Butler, Yoga Therapy Ireland, January 2005

Our dedicated group, 2001, taught by Paula McGrath.Astanga, Hatha, Iyengar, Shadow. It's all yoga and it's all available around Carlow. Whether you are looking for the ultimate in relaxation (think candles and incense), seeking a physical challenge that a vinyasa-style yoga class offers, looking to incorporate meditation into your life, or seeking alternative health products, Carlow's offerings are blossoming.

Carlovians' interest in yoga is not new, but the opening of a dedicated venue late last year is an indication of yoga's established and growing popularity in the area. Paula McGrath's Carlow Yoga and Health Centre offers not only a range of yoga styles but also holistic treatments such as homeopathy, reflexology and holistic massage.

 Experienced in Astanga and extensively trained in Iyengar, Paula is now introducing Shadow yoga, a flowing style based on Ayurvedic texts, to enthusiasts. In addition to the mixed ability Iyengar yoga classes she has been teaching for nearly a decade in Carlow, she has also begun a more advanced Iyengar-style hatha yoga class for those with a “strong regular practice.” Such a class is hard to come by outside of Dublin, so her students are delighted to be able to live in the countryside and get “big city” practice!

The next step? “I would love to see [Iyengar] teacher training happening at the center,” she says, to students' enthusiastic nods; currently, that requires regular trips to Dublin. As some of Paula's students are already Iyengar-certified teachers, they are familiar with the Dublin trek and would welcome a teacher training program closer to home.

Marie Lennon, co-founder of Yoga Therapy Ireland and a qualified teacher for over a decade, notes an uptick in the Irish interest in yoga. “Usually in September there's lots of interest, but this year I could have filled up my classes twice over.”

Evidently there is a demand requiring supply, and YTI is helping to meet the demand. In 2002 YTI doubled its Teacher Training courses, meaning that every year, rather than every other year, a new group of teachers – about twenty nationwide – graduate. Marie credits her large and loyal Carlow class for encouraging the YTI program. Four of the first group of trainees come from her group. Post graduate courses are also being run by YTI.

Paul Whelan teaches Astanga yoga in several venues between Dublin and Carlow. Astanga yoga has a reputation as “power yoga” meant for fit yoginis, but Paul remarks that “yoga should be done according to each person's ability. If you're doing yoga with awareness, you're hugely reducing the chance of straining yourself.” His instruction and corrections are gentle, and help to break down the myth that Astanga is only for fit yogis.

Healthy Lifestyles

Tullow is a traditional farming town in County Carlow, and even here a market for healthy living is blooming. Kathleen Rock opened Tullow's first health shop, “Over the Bridge,” two years ago. “I felt there was opening, that it would be appreciated. More people are turning to natural health and it would be great if these remedies are on a shelf,” available to professionals (such as aromatherapists) and laymen alike. Customers come from all around. Kathleen reckons her shop services Ardattin, Ballyconnell, Ballon, Hacketstown, Rathvilly, Shillelagh and Tinahealy.

“Business is growing. I'm learning all the time,” she beams, referring to the vast number of health products available on the market – and on her shelves – today, from supplements to aromatherapy oils to vegetarian and organic foods to nature-friendly detergents.

Kathleen touches on an important point when she observes that some customers come “as a last step, when they can't get an answer from the doctor. They take their health into their own hands.” It seems the general populace is more and more inclined to find his/her own answers. And they keep coming back.

This attitude ties in with many people's reasons for taking up yoga. It is something you can do virtually anywhere, any time, and at any age to keep yourself supple and healthy. But more than that, yoga has been described as “intelligent exercise” as it requires concentration and develops body, mind and spirit. Jonathan Sattin, founder of TriYoga in upmarket Primrose Hill, London, and a practitioner for over 20 years says, “People have started to get the idea that exercise needs to be more intelligent. Yoga focuses you in an uplifting way. It makes your mind sharper.”

In 1999, Andrea Norton founded a holistic health program at the Carlow Vocational School. Six students enrolled. Now forty students enroll each year and although each applicant is granted an interview, many hopeful applicants are turned away for lack of space. The program is a two-year full time International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) Certificate which allows graduates to pursue a career in areas including diet and nutrition, reflexology, stress management, Indian head massage and sports injury massage. These classes are “very popular,” according to Marion Haughney, who works at the school.

But Marion singles out yoga, offered as one of several alternative health night classes, as the most popular. “That class sells out within a few hours of [registration] opening.” (Incidentally, it is taught by Helen Jeffers, one of YTI's Carlow teacher-training graduates). Recognising both the popularity and importance of yoga as part of a holistic health approach, Andrea hopes to add yoga to the full-time program in due course.

Major hotels are offering alternative therapies to members of their swanky spas in a bid to attract clients. Carlow's Seven Oaks Hotel opened the Greenbank health center a couple of years ago and offers yoga classes to their members as well as reflexology and Indian head massage. Bunclody recently saw the opening of the smart, centrally located Millrace hotel, complete with pool and spa. It also offers yoga, reflexology and Indian head massage to members. And the ever-expanding Mount Wolseley hotel and golf club will be opening a large new spa in March. The offerings will include mud baths and a variety of holistic massages.

Yoga for All

“In the beginning, you have to make room for yoga in your daily life, and give it the place it deserves,” says Vanda Scaravelli in Awakening the Spine. “But after some time yoga itself will pull you up by the hair and make you do it.”

I love that comment, for I have felt my yoga mat calling, or rather my hair being pulled up, and my students have described a similar experience when they have stopped practicing for a period.

I also love that Vanda transcends age. She was youthful in spirit and in spine to the last. It is deeply inspiring to see someone in the age group usually associated with decreased mobility enjoying movement, so graceful and so accomplished. When I began teaching, I sometimes brought Vanda's book with me, casually put out on the side so that students could peruse at their leisure. A couple of times a prospective student would wonder if they were too old for yoga, and Vanda's book provided a more eloquent answer than I could.

I had the privilege of having as one of my very first students a wonderful 80-year-old. At first, K was stiff, uncomfortable sitting on the floor. Soon she was practicing a modified shoulderstand. Her progress was noticeable. Her secret? “I practice a little at home, every day, every day.” Yoga was tugging at her too. The enjoyment was mutual: her enthusiasm was a ray of sunshine to my mind. Mixed in with the nervousness that came with being a new yoga teacher, a new feeling emerged: joy. The joy that comes from passing along some truly good and useful information to someone who truly appreciates it.

Notably, had yoga not been offered in K's town, she would never have tried it – she had no car and no lift, “Just me and me two feet,” she grinned.

It is worthy and delightful news that yoga is making its way into the nooks and crannies of this corner of Ireland!

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