Breath and Presence

Page 7 Bikram Yoga teacher Claire Anne Tobin_credit ross

Ballsbridge residents and people on the move around D4 will be familiar with the Mind Body and Spirit exposition held in the RDS once or twice in the calendar year, and if you’re an enthusiast for holistic pursuits, then you may already have seen that the expo is undergoing a rebranding this year, as the Mind Body Spirit and Yoga expo. This maybe indicates a sea change of some kind, so NewsFour set out to investigate.

We spoke with Claire Anne Tobin, who teaches yoga in Ringsend and other locations in Dublin. Tobin’s background is in Dance and Performance. She taught Dance in Dublin for ten years before seeking to diversify, which led her to an intensive study of Yoga. “I took up the opportunity to take on a nine week intensive training course in Los Angeles. It was 500 hours practice over nine weeks, six days a week, with one day off. You’d be too tired for anything on that day.”

If that sounds like a steep learning curve, that’s because it was: Tobin describes it as an experience of “testing mind and will power,” which neatly brings us to an under-discussed aspect of yoga – the mental aspects. Yoga as a discipline is divided into eight distinct areas, or ‘limbs’. These include moral and behavioural proscriptions and progress through health practices into psychological and spiritual exercises.

The physical aspect, Hatha Yoga, which is what most of us might learn in a yoga class, is just one of the eight limbs. All that stretching and reconditioning of the body is a preparation for the work of Dhyana: concentration of the mind.

Tobin explained that her own meditation practise began before she began teaching yoga. She took part in regular Friday evening group meditation sessions for many years here in Dublin. “At first, meditation seems a little trepidatious and hard, but if I had any distillation from my years meditating I’d say it’s all about breath and presence: slow and soften your breath and stay focused on the present moment.”

Asked if she thinks yoga really is more popular than it once was in Ireland, or if this is just a trick of marketing, Tobin says it’s almost bigger than it’s ever been from her point of view. “There are Bikram classes, community-led classes; it’s really diverse.” As well as Bikram, there are other types of so-called hot yoga (yoga classes held in heated studios for greater flexibility and detoxification through sweating).

“There is Hot Vinyasa Flow, which is about fluid movement between poses. And there is a method called Yin Yoga, which is very slow, maybe just eight postures performed over an hour class. It’s about teasing out the poses, really staying in them and staying present.”

Lastly, she talks yoga as a competitive sport, which is sure to raise an eyebrow for some (raise, hold and breath before releasing, of course). Ireland holds National Yoga Asana Competitions (asana means ‘pose’), she explains. There have been two so far and our female champion, Fiona MacNamara, is ranked within the world’s top 10 competitive practitioners.

“People from a more meditative background may dislike the competitive aspect, but there are people from an athletic background who want to show off their prowess.”
And why not?

By Rúairí Conneely