Deirdre is a true tsunami of sensitivity, elegance, good cheer, wisdom and optimism. When you meet her for the first time you are surprised by how often she expresses joy, curiosity and gratitude for being alive and able to explore this world. It’s like she is overwhelmed by the beauty she sees in human beings all around her. A rare gift! Finally a virus you wish you could catch! We swear her radiance and generosity is an antidote to feelings of gloom, covid related or not. This afternoon we sat down and enjoyed this chat.
How did you discover yoga?
I got invited over to a friend’s home. I was only 17 and I didn’t really know yoga. I saw his sister practicing yoga on the balcony. I immediately got sucked in and joined. Combined with the beautiful view from the balcony it was a life changing experience. I was instantly hooked.
Today you are a yoga teacher. How did you go from being a complete beginner to teaching yoga yourself?
My first reaction was to go online and hunt for more information. I came across books, articles and yoga teachers on YouTube and Instagram who have amazing value to offer. Eventually I joined a class of course and then later I started traveling rather extensively. On the road I was lucky to find three yoga teachers, each with their own approach and different range of expertise. This happened in Asia. These three teachers worked together and alternated. A man and two women. One was more focused on the philosophy of yoga, one was more an expert concerning anatomy and the man taught me a lot about mantras for example.
What does yoga do for you?
It gives me peace. In our culture we are so driven by success and material gain and proving what we can do and what kind of expensive ‘toys’ we can amass and I don’t like that. I think we let our ego get too much in the way of our happiness. Yoga offers me a bulwark against what I see as the negative consequences of capitalism. That’s also why I see a yoga session as a work-in and not so much as a work-out. In our culture we are focused on what’s happening externally. We expect to find happiness outside ourselves. There is always one more thing we think we need to buy or acquire. You also see this on social media. Social media offers so many possibilities. But how do we choose to use these tools? To profile ourselves, to get attention, maybe to get some material gain and to compete. Who has the most followers? Who has the most ‘influence’?
Yoga is not about that. Yoga is about looking inward. If you can heal your own wounds you heal the world as well. I am not saying this is easy and the world around us can certainly drive us crazy, but even the simple act of consciously breathing can slow things down, center you and bring you back to yourself. In my opinion the way our society functions – some call it the rat race, but that’s a degrading term for what is basically a society that needs some loving care to heal itself – alienates us from our true needs. Our true needs are not so much materialistic, they are about human connection, about taking care of each other, about emotions and about treating ourselves with respect and attention.
This society you describe is all around us of course. How do you turn to yoga when everything that is happening around us every second of each day seems to be so much in opposition with what yoga stands for?
You can always turn to yoga. You don’t have to get acrobatic and you don’t have to get your assanas perfectly right or something like that. Yoga should not become yet another source of stress. Just listen to your body. Return to yourself. Focus on your breathing. Embrace the moment. There is only this moment. In that sense worries are pointless. There is so much stress in our society! The ego wants to control everything, but a lot of what is happening is outside of our control. There is only the moment. If you can embrace that moment you instantly feel much more calm.
Is yoga something for everyone?
Yes, absolutely. This is not a competitive sport. You don’t compete with other practitioners of yoga. The threshhold is very low. That’s another thing I love about it.
So how do you start teaching a total beginner?
I explain a little bit about the philosophy behind it. I teach my students some prayers, some mantras. There are breathing exercises and we gradually build from there. The goal is to let go off our ever needy ego and to learn how to just exist and be in harmony.
I suppose these days you teach mostly online?
Yes, I teach via Zoom. I live in Austria, so when circumstances allow it I do love to take my students to a lake or meadow or a forest and practice yoga there. But the online world offers a lot of possibilities nowadays. I have students all over the world this way. The principle are the same. I show my students what to do and they repeat after me.
You have traveled a lot for someone so young. Can you tell us what’s been your most beautiful experience?
There are so many. It’s hard to choose. I am always so impressed and so grateful when people who have almost nothing and certainly lack all the comfort and luxury we in the west take for granted offer me their hospitality, share what little they have and ask for nothing in return. There were many times I was completely blown away by this generous spirit of people in poor countries. We live in abundance in the west, but it’s much rarer to see that attitude here. There is more of a collective approach there, less ego, more connections. These people accept that they are a link in the chain of the greater whole. In the west we tend to have rather inflated egos.
I also remember one instance in Vietnam where I thought I saw a group of Vietnamese people celebrating on the beach. I got excited and ran towards them. As I got closer I realized this wasn’t some sort of birthday party. All those people were cancer patients. But they were so joyful! How could this be? They were so friendly and generous. One of them told me he had a teenage daughter and he hoped he would be able to work long enough to buy her a trip to Europe. Receiving pictures from his daughter while she would be exploring Europe was his last dream. It kept him going. I can’t talk about this without starting to cry. The love in these people was overwhelming. It made me very grateful to be alive and to meet such good natured people.
Deirdre, thank you so much for sharing these stories with us! How can students get in touch with you?