I was delighted to catch up with Samantha, friend of Narosa and founder of Ashtanga Yoga Donegal, to learn about her yoga journey and understand how the practice is closely interwoven with surfing.
It was a long journey that brought Samantha to her current level of yoga practice. As a dancer, she had a natural draw to the physicality of yoga, and towards the end of her time at university tried practicing on and off for many years. At the start, she held the common misconception that yoga was simply ‘stretching’ and didn’t feel the need to practice it when she was still dance training so intensively. However it was a change of pace during her first pregnancy, almost 17 years ago, that really brought Samantha back to yoga more consistently. With gradual progression it still took took time for her to explore the options available, and after a few more years searching stumbled on Ashtanga where her commitment to regular practice was truly solidified.
“I always held the dream of wanting to open a dedicated space for yoga in the area. I wanted to create a space that would be a welcoming sanctuary and refuge from the chaos of daily life”.
Samantha has been teaching here in Donegal for 13 years, spending the majority of that time renting community centres, and multi-purpose spaces. “I always held the dream of wanting to open a dedicated space for yoga in the area. I wanted to create a space that would be a welcoming sanctuary and refuge from the chaos of daily life, open to anyone who wanted to learn about and practice yoga”. Finally last summer she took the plunge and took over the lease on a space that had been vacant for more than 12 years. In September 2019, after a complete renovation, she opened the doors to her own dedicated Yoga Shala. “In India, a Yoga Shala is a home for wandering yogis, it is a refuge and gathering place for students of yoga to share, experience and grow. This is what I’m hopefully creating here”.
“People come to yoga for so many different reasons. But if I had to pick one benefit, I would say balance”.
Regular practice is the key. People are generally aware that yoga has wellbeing benefits, but a regular, consistent practice over a long period of time is necessary to gain any real and lasting benefit from yoga. There are so many benefits to practice: the physical, mental and emotional strength, stamina, flexibility, stress management, improved concentration, the list is endless. “People come to yoga for so many different reasons. But if I had to pick one benefit, I would say balance. Yoga brings balance into people’s lives, physical balance, mental balance, emotional balance. Yoga teaches balance in all things, in all aspects of our lives and I think for most people this is very beneficial”.
When asked why she practices Ashtanga yoga specifically, Samantha describes herself as a disciplined person and found solace in the structure of Ashtanga. She gravitated naturally towards a strong, challenging practice, with her dance training influencing her draw to the rhythm and flow. It’s all laid out for you, the series, the breathing, where to focus your eyes. Ashtanga gives you a lot of tools to work with to keep you focused and present in the moment. Other popular yoga practices don’t have this framework, so you are often left trying to figure out what to practice next or dependent on following a teacher. Ashtanga is a self practice, it fosters and supports independence, autonomy and listening to your own inner guidance. Ashtanga is a modern practice, as is all postural yoga, but it has a connection to a history and lineage of teachers, scholars who studied, practiced and experimented for many, many years to develop what we practice today.
“Yoga practice supports surfing, obviously in a physical sense, but also by increasing concentration and the ability to find ease and calm under pressure”.
Samantha advocates that there is a clear link between yoga and surfing due to similarities both physical and mental. They can both be described as ‘moving meditations’ as they both require and teach present moment awareness. In Ashtanga yoga there are so many tools for this: focus on the breath, the postures, the eye gaze, the sequence, the physical sensations. Surfing requires tremendous concentration, technique and there’s the danger factor, you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. All these things work to get you into your body and out of your head (which is a good thing!). “Yoga practice supports surfing, obviously in a physical sense, by helping to build core strength, balance, flexibility, agility, stamina but also by increasing concentration and the ability to find ease and calm under pressure”.
“Just start where you are. Go slow and build your practice. Be willing to let go of all your expectations and all your ideas about who you think you are and what you think you’re capable of. Be open and kind to yourself”.
I asked Samantha her greatest learning from regular yoga practice. If I had to choose one thing it would be acceptance and letting go. They go together. My favourite definition of yoga is from the Bhagavad Gita, it says “Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself”. Yoga is about self-acceptance. I’m still working on it. Yoga is a life-long practice. And for those new to the practice? “Just start where you are. Go slow and build your practice. Be willing to let go of all your expectations and all your ideas about who you think you are and what you think you’re capable of. Be open and kind to yourself”.
We are delighted to be hosting our Coastal Retreat at Narosa from 16th – 23rd October, combining surf coaching with Ashtanga yoga tuition from Samantha. An opportunity to connect both land and ocean practice in the beautiful setting of Donegal.