Introducing the Celtic School of Yoga, a 21st Century vision rooted in ancient mythology
Have you ever wondered if yoga’s roots could be traced to any place other than India? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason yoga is so globally popular, is simply that it belongs to everyone; that it is not just the property of the Indian subcontinent?
Is it such a wild idea to imagine that we don’t need to import all of our yoga from India, that in fact we could, even while we respect and honour all that comes from India, have right here beneath our feet, our very own, grass roots, home grown yoga philosophy and practice?
Are you enchanted by this idea? If you are it could be because you are resonating with a deep and ancient history of spiritual practice that is rooted right here in these islands. We’re enchanted by this idea because it calls to us from a long way back in our own ancestry and spirit.
One of the most recent, and beautiful developments in the contemporary yoga scene is the emergence of the Celtic School of Yoga, whose roots are firmly planted in the rhythms and traditions of our own lands.
The Celtic School of Yoga is an Invitation to Enchantment. The school represents a new paradigm in the sharing of a yoga that is not the exclusive territory of a far-Eastern tradition but rather it sings inside themselves, inspired by their own tradition and their own place in the world.
In its simplest form, Celtic Yoga is there to dissolve the boundaries between West and East, between Ireland and India, to effect a creative reconciliation between women and men, and to remove those boundaries that separate us from our own natural yoga. To practice Celtic Yoga is to be fully rooted in the earth and enraptured by life. Celtic Yoga enchants us; it calls us to be fully alive and in deep connection with the land, and with the stories and poetic traditions that grew from her. Western yoginis and yogis have always looked to India to discover yoga, often without realising that its essence is intrinsic to our own culture and is dramatically alive at our far Western boundaries.
The myths and stories of Shiva, Shakti, Lakshmi, and Krishna and the philosophical reflections that we learn from the Vedas, Upanishads and Tantric texts, give us the inspiration and structure within which to place our yoga practices. But where does our yoga vision come from? Does it not arise in Ireland or Scotland or Wales as much as in India? Can our own stories be as much a basis for a real living yoga as the stories we hear from the other side of the world? There are resonances between the origin stories of Vishnu and the great Irish hero Fionn. In the mythology of India, Vishnu came from the world ocean as a fish and child at once and was “radiant with the lustre of wisdom”; Fionn was born of the river goddess Bóinn to become a seer/Druid. He emerged out of her river bringing with him all the Imbass (wisdom) from the nine hazel trees which grew at the source of the Boyne. The Indo-European links are endless.
One of the difficulties of importing to northern countries a wholly traditional Indian approach to yoga is that the climate and culture are so very different; what may feel natural and easy to practice at four am in the tropics in January feels like torture in November in the west of Ireland, or on a desperately cold February afternoon in Somerset. Things are different here. Seasonal changes in available light and heat shape our lives according to where we live. Insistence on rigid structures or schedules of practice imported from India, and/or upon an authoritarian scheme of teaching that demands long periods of retreat in ashrams, is not always appropriate, possible, or nourishing for us.
When we attempt to adhere to Indian systems and schedules of yoga practice we can become depleted, frustrated, or disheartened because these methods and rhythms simply do not fit with our lived experience. We need a new way to share yoga so that it nourishes everyone. The sharing of yoga through the Celtic School of Yoga is responsive, subtle and intelligently attuned to the rhythms of our lives here and now.
“The Celtic School of Yoga – An Aisling for the 21st Century” written by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and Jack Harrison will be available to buy from November 2015. A series of Celtic workshops are also planned in the UK and Ireland. This month, you can join them in London at the Yogacampus training centre on November 6-7. For information visit: yogacampus.com
I got the music in me
Crafting the perfect yoga soundtrack. Lexie Williamson
A missive pinged into my inbox recently from one of my employers: a well-known chain of gyms. It stated that us yoga instructors were no longer allowed to play music in class for licensing reasons, apart from a list of pre-agreed bland stuff you hear in beauticians.
Some teachers at the gym treated the no-music announcement with indifference. They like a reverential hush in the studio apart from the sound of deep breathing, toes sticking and unsticking on mats and the odd tummy gurgle.
I’m not one of them. I love to play music. I believe it can fast-track time-pressed, harassed students into the yoga zone, suspend them there for an hour and lay them softly into savasana – if you craft the playlist correctly. It can also provide the perfect backdrop to self practice.
Many a happy evening has been spent concocting the ‘perfect’ yoga playlist for vinyasa flow.
So what denotes a perfect playlist? For me, there are a few rules. Firstly, it must contain no obvious lyrics to distract or annoy so play the track all the way through to monitor the words. I recently aired a trippy version of a Bob Marley tune only to hear Burnin’ and Lootin’ drifting across the studio.
Secondly, your selected tunes should be timeless. Some music is hard to pin down to a time or place. Legendary music man and inventor of the ambient sound Brian Eno is the master to consult. A good trawl around Spotify will also unearth some classic gems but clear your diary as this takes time.
Thirdly, watch your beats. In my opinion they should be non-existent (classical piano works well) or low-key, quiet and unobtrusive. Thomas Newman’s entire American Beauty film sound track is pure gold and dub reggae could be made for sun salutations.
There are many teachers, of course, who would disagree with this last rule and regularly blast pop or rock songs out in class. I had a fantastic teacher and DJ who pushed the music/yoga boundaries with mostly excellent results although 80’s
pop didn’t work for me personally. I was transported from the yoga studio to acne, heartache and the school disco.
My last and final rule is that a good playlist mirrors the mountain-like curves of a flow yoga class. That means beginning with soft, gentle tunes, gradually upping the tempo for the standing sequences then easing back into mellow tunes as the students lower to the floor. Oh and go easy on the Indian flute. You can definitely over egg the Indian flute.
Still stuck for tunes? Select Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, roll out the mat, close your eyes and off you go.
Lexie Williamson is a yoga teacher and health and fitness writer (pulseyoga.co.uk)