Words by Agata Stoinska
June 21st, 2017
Yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Yoga means to control and still the running currents of thoughts in the mind. Once you practice stilling the mind, you can learn to control the currents of thought, enabling you to observe the world clearly and directly without distortions of the ego.
I run a very busy life. Every day is full of projects, meetings and deadlines. I’m addicted to my work and as much as I love it, it can be tiring at times. After years of juggling millions of things, I had to find something that would keep my life in balance and would help me to keep up with my intense lifestyle – I started practicing yoga. So easily we mistakenly identify ourselves with activities of our mind and we get lost in our thoughts. We lose the true sense of who we are and become a reflection of other people’s expectations, the roles we play, the duties we have and the society we live in. Yoga helps us to focus, step back, relax and see the same issues from an entirely different and broader perspective.
Once a year I travel for a few weeks and the first thing I research is where is the best place to do yoga. This means I have experienced many different styles, teachers and places. After trying all of these practices, I now know what I like and what works best for me. I must admit, I have never really made an effort to go anywhere in Ireland (except some classes in Dublin) because I always connected my yoga retreats with time off, which, for me, means time to travel. I do, however, keep my own yoga routine going at home regularly.
For many of us, yoga is just a set of exercises to keep us slim and healthy, and it’s rare to find somewhere that delves into the philosophy and full true meaning of the ancient wisdom of yoga. Yoga is approximately 5,000 years old and not many people are aware that the asanas (physical postures) only emerged as part of the practice about 1,000 years ago. For the first 4 thousand years, yoga was all about meditation, working with internal energies, working with pranayama, transforming your energy and your animalistic human being into a far more enlightened, caring heart-centred being. Physical postures are excellent for removing energy blocks and balancing the nervous system, as well as aligning the flow of energy throughout the body and improving your willpower. They also help open up the body so you can sit comfortably for meditation. However, the postures are only stepping stones to prepare you for the deeper work that is possible with yoga. Unfortunately, most modern forms of yoga over the last 100 years have focused on the physical postures as being the ultimate end goal, neglecting the original purpose of yoga and the opportunity it presents for inner balance. It’s a challenge to find an experienced teacher who can mentor you effectively on the asanas, as well as guide you in breath work, non-violence to yourself and non-achievement. How you practice the postures is crucial if you want to engage in yoga authentically.
Due to various circumstances over the last couple of years, I have had fewer opportunities to travel. This has meant that recently I haven’t spent any time deepening my practice at dedicated yoga schools, I have been limited to practicing at home on my own. While I very much enjoy my yoga, I was missing the energy I get from practicing with other people and the opportunity to learn more. I was at a point of exhaustion from my work life, desperate for a few days of regeneration and rest. It was time to take a few days off but going away wasn’t an option. I needed to find a good retreat close to home, and I found my destination here in Ireland.
This was my first visit to the Burren, and although I have travelled extensively, I am always amazed at how beautiful and unique the Irish landscape is. Open fields of rough, jagged stones create a moon-like landscape, mysterious and peaceful.
The centre itself is very quiet, intimate and… The WiFi is very weak – perfect for workaholics addicted to emails! It’s a great solution for taking time off!
I arrived there late Friday afternoon with just enough time to unpack in my cosy room and go downstairs to meet the rest of the attendees. There were 10 of us, mixed male and female, aged mid-thirties to forties.
We sat at the dinner table lit with candles and loaded with an amazing choice of healthy vegan food! Anyone concerned that vegan food might be boring will be spoiled for choice! A 4-hour drive from Dublin, it was worth every mile!
The weekend was run by the owner, David; a softly spoken, kind and warm person. David made our arrival easy and welcoming, we all felt right at home as soon as we walked in the door.
The next day we began early with a cleansing and yoga session. The class began with very gentle postures and breathing exercises, leading on to more advanced asanas and ending with meditation. The morning calmed down my running thoughts and I finally relaxed, I forgot about deadlines, emails, to-do lists…
After breakfast, David took us for a guided walk around the area. The Burren has a special feel to it, a unique part of Ireland with the largest concentration of stone forts, dolmens, wedge tombs and ancient monuments. There’s a magic to this ancient landscape that only enhances the retreat experience.
On our way back to the centre we stopped for lunch and had some time to rest before the next yoga session. I used that time to sit down with him and ask about his centre, the reasons he set it up and to see if he could shed any new light on my personal yoga practice that I could take away with me.
Since his early 20s, David has had a burning urge to help other people to reach their potential. His ‘if I win the lotto’ dream was to set up a retreat centre. In his 30s, he was introduced to yoga and meditation and he quickly realised that they are the two most inspirational things he has ever learned in his life, and as such would be an amazingly effective way to empower people. Since then, his aim was to facilitate people to learn those same skills.
In 1999, David followed his vision. He designed and built his beautiful yoga centre with the view to providing an ideal environment for people to learn and deepen their practice in an enjoyable way. At first, it was just for evening classes for locals but now there are over 40 residential retreats per year. During the summer, Christmas, New Year and Easter periods, the retreats are week-long while throughout the rest of the year they run on a weekend basis. There is a maximum of 15 people, so each person receives personal attention. David assures us that we can learn enough in these weekend breaks to start our own practices. “I want people to feel confident and comfortable enough that they know enough to start their daily practice on their own. I want them to feel confident in a small number of practices which they take away with them.’’
What holds many people back is the thought of an hour-long yoga session. For many people, it’s too radical a change, and they feel as though they will lose too much time from their day. According to David, it’s enough to start with just 10-15 minutes per day!
“If you bite off too much, too many times, you form a reaction against it. It has to be at the start of the day, there is no compromising on that. What’s recommended is you get up in the morning, empty your bowels, empty your bladder and take a shower so you are not sleepy while sitting on your bed. You should be wide awake and do it at the start of your day. I recommend going to bed 15 minutes later or getting up 15 minutes earlier.’’
David developed a team of 16 teachers and they all teach different types of yoga. Everything from strong, dynamic yoga to soft yoga, so it’s suitable for everyone, no matter how old they are.
He is very particular about his team and inputs a lot of effort into recruiting the right teachers. “When I hear about a very good teacher I usually just slip into one of his classes to see how they are. If I’m inspired by the teacher then I usually talk to them to see if they practice the meditations they teach, do they actually live yoga as part of their life rather than just teaching a yoga class? Living according to yoga means caring for others, and you should live according to yamas and niyamas, which are guidelines of non-violence, honesty, simplicity and contentment.”
This is exactly what I was looking for: an honest place, run by people with a passion and a true belief in their mission, gentle and easy-going in their approach, allowing visitors to take what they need from their teachings, slowly integrating yoga in their lifestyles without any pressure.
We finished the day with a long soft yoga session. After that, and all the fresh air, I had the best sleep ever, peaceful and energising.
Visiting the Burren gave me solid hope that I don’t need to look for good yoga retreats in India or Thailand, and that I can recharge my batteries here in Ireland. I highly recommend this place to anyone who needs a quiet place for time off, to recharge, reconnect with nature and yourself. You can expect high-quality yoga and meditation instruction and individual guidelines so that when you leave the retreat you are empowered to do your own practice. It was good fun, the food was superb and spending time in one of the most spectacular places in Ireland and meeting like-minded people was truly inspiring. I will be visiting Burren Yoga again.
All upcoming yoga retreats are listed on burrenyoga.com.
You can find Burren Yoga on Facebook here.
Photography by: Agata Stoinska, Julian Ruffle, Dave Brocklebank
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