Renata Byrne is the Founder of Samadhi Yoga Studio, a Vinyasa Flow & Yin qualified yoga teacher. She offers group classes, private sessions, workshops and retreats. Self-awareness and conscious embodiment are the predominant focus of her work, which she feel are particularly needed during these turbulent times. She sees yoga as a way to realign with our true nature; to recognise the interconnectedness of all life and to restore balance.
The beginning ? It always makes me smile to hear students say they can’t believe I’ve only been teaching yoga for two and a half years. I think I have finally found my dharma or purpose in life and feel very at home on the mat. After an initial career in journalism, I ran my own events agency for over a decade, dabbled in acting, then took my skills into the sports and art worlds. Each role offered the opportunity to engage with new concepts and ways of being. Yoga was the one constant that kept me together during some pretty hectic times.
My very first experience of yoga came as an attempt to alleviate ongoing back pain from a herniated disk suffered during childhood. I began with the Iyengar method, then Hatha, Sivananda, Bikram, Forrest, Ashtanga and finally Vinyasa Flow. Until my late teenage years I’d studied dance so the fluidity of the Flow style, linking movement to breath, instantly appealed. I would enter a trance-like state which allowed my body to open effortlessly. A liberating experience!
I’ve always been fascinated by the mystical aspects of spiritual pathways too, whether Christian, Pagan, Buddhist or Shamanic to name a few. Intrigued by the human psyche and mankind’s quest for the meaning of life, I discovered metaphysics, ontology and Jungian psychology. An interest in esotericism and energy fields lead me to train in Reiki healing, which I never really grasped, even though it often seemed to work.
Then, after stumbling across an Introduction to Hypnotherapy workshop I came to witness the power of the mind and how our thoughts can be reframed for healthier ways of being. Eager to learn more I undertook the full training. Eventually, I began practising the two healing modalities at a West London complimentary health clinic as sideline to my event management business. The results were astounding.
The idea of yoga teacher training did not arise until many years later but I pursued my personal practice with diligence. At the end of each class in savasana (dead man’s pose) I’d breathe a sigh of relief. Often I’d hear a whispering thought, “This is what you should be doing.” So I kept showing up, mostly because it brought much needed respite from the trials of everyday life. Though perceived as successful among my peers I was silently disenchanted, something was missing, I somehow felt incomplete.
Then, one day nearly four years ago, the eureka moment came. The whisper during savasana sparked a realisation that yoga was calling me to deepen into its wisdom and, unbeknown at the time, would entail making some major changes. The message was felt loud and clear. Thus, began my search for a school whose philosophy would resonate with my own heart. I signed up for a 200-hour training with School of Sacred Arts (SOSA) in Bali in October 2014.
Six months before the training, a number of misfortunes came my way: I found myself homeless, ridiculously overworked and newly single. Worst of all, I’d developed a severe and sudden hip injury. One day my leg literally buckled under my weight as I stood up from my desk. The pain was so intense that even the physiotherapist was reluctant to touch me before I’d had an MRI scan. It felt like the rug had been ripped from under my feet.
I’d just moved to Folkestone and despite really enjoying working on the Triennial, felt quite adrift at times, but the knowledge that I’d soon be away from everyday life and doing nothing except yoga kept me going. However, my mobility and the pain worsened to the extent that I began to wonder whether I’d be able to travel. Under the guidance of SOSA I made the journey, partly in good faith, partly in desperation and still with no concrete evidence from the MRI scan.
The yoga teacher training was one of the most profound and humbling experiences of my life, with my own injury playing a leading role as a guide in the art of healing. I found myself within a yoga community of like-minded individuals; supported by the most extraordinary teachers and light workers, all of whom nurtured me along the path back home to myself. The knowledge I had gleaned from my earlier spiritual investigations merged with the yogic teachings. Suddenly, the scattered pieces of the meaning of life puzzle dispersed into oblivion, leaving infinite space pregnant with possibility. Om Tat Sat
Today, I recognise injury as an invitation to greater self-awareness, exploration and growth. Where once I thought I may cease to walk I can now even do the splits. Incredible! But we are never just done, there is always more to uncover and discover as life continues to raise new challenges. I found the teachings of Tina Nance on the Chinese Yin system, with its focus on stillness to release fascia (connective tissue), extremely beneficial in my recovery process. Yin practise invites you to observe suffering and in so doing to move beyond it.
Yoga is a peeling away of layers towards greater self-love, acceptance and trust so that we can better deal with life. It is a journey of self-realisation.
After graduating, I took the first opportunity to start teaching, initially at a youth hostel in Vietnam, then at a couple of retreat centres in Cambodia, on to a group in Australia and eventually, thanks to my connection with Randall O’Leary’s Jungle Yoga School I got some work with Blooming Lotus Retreat in Thailand. Six months later I returned home and began teaching at Folkestone Yoga. I now mostly teach at my own Samadhi Yoga studio, preferring the intimate setting and natural views onto my garden and the hills. You can also find me at a handful of classes at Bannatyne Health club and Folkestone Sports Centre.
Teaching ? Being a yoga teacher totally lights me up because I love people, especially those who have the courage to venture into their bodies and minds. I believe we are all mirrors for one another and so the relationship between teacher and student is entirely symbiotic – I learn just as much from observing my students as they do from me. Yoga teaches us how to navigate through the vicissitudes of life with integrity and responsibility. We learn how to acknowledge, love and accept ourselves exactly as we are. As a teacher, I get to hold space for each individual’s personal journey. There is no greater honour.
I also really enjoy choreographing movement sequences, putting together playlists to set the tone and creating sacred space with incense, candles and blessings. When I put on a workshop or retreat I get to use all those event planning skills from my past to create a whole experience. I often collaborate with other creatives who bring different but complementary perspectives and skills to add variety and depth to the teachings and practices.
Samadhi ? There was once an ancient Hindu philosopher called Patanjali, whose life is defined by a revered manual called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Within it Patanjali outlines an eight-limbed system on how to live and die well, of which Samadhi is the eighth and final limb. To offer some context, Asana, the physical poses that we all know, love and most associate with the practise of yoga, comes third in the chain; Pranayama or breath control techniques comes fourth. Dhyana or meditation and contemplation comes just before Samadhi at seventh.
The Sanskrit term Samadhi describes a state of pure bliss or ecstasy whereby the adept, having mastered all eight limbs, transcends the Self to unite with the Divine. This is said to be possible whilst still alive for very few great masters. For some of us it is a goal we work towards in preparation for passing. More relevant on a day-to-day level though, Samadhi speaks of inner peace, something we all strive for in our busy lives and certainly something which can be attained through simply bringing ourselves to the mat for 90-mins at least once a week. I chose to call my studio Samadhi Yoga in commitment to this ideal as my contribution to humanity for however long I am blessed to walk this mortal coil.
To learn more of yogi philosophy, here’s an a good article on the Eight Limbs of Patanjali
Is yoga passive ? It is true that meditation is often perceived as passive because we simply sit and take our focus inwards. Initially this is a lot harder than you might think. It takes discipline to observe the constant stream of thoughts, also known as the monkey mind, whilst staying with physical sensations that arise out of stillness. Ordinarily, we submit to the itch, ache or discomfort impulsively. Much of our waking life is dictated by those unconscious ruminations of the mind. Meditation helps us identity our patterns and move beyond them, in full awareness. Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodah (Yoga Sutra 1.2)
On a physical level we practice asana (poses) and pranayama (breath control). As with anything that requires effort it can be gentle or vigorous, energising or calming. Hatha, the Sanskrit term used to describe the genre of yoga from which the majority of modern yoga styles derive, means Sun (Ha) – Moon (Tha). The sun relates to the masculine, dynamic or Yang forces and the moon the feminine, calming Yin forces. Each represents an opposing but complementary force, which unite to form a balanced whole. Yoga helps us identify our inner forces so that we too can find balance and harmony in our lives.
In Chinese philosophy this is illustrated by a Yin-Yang symbol. Check out this Ted Talk for more on Yin-Yang
Yoga invites us to explore who we are, what truly matters to us, and what we stand for. For many it is a call to activism, whether that be campaigning for an important cause or extending small gestures of love, compassion and understanding within your immediate community. If you do this already then you are practising Karma Yoga.
One of my own teachers, Bex Tyrer, who runs workshops and trainings at Yoga Barn, is a champion of Yoga Activism within disenchanted and war-torn communities. The moving and inspirational stories and reflections she then shares of her observations and experiences are in themselves an invitation to activism. We all have a part to play in forming the kind of world we would like to live in.
I would like to live in a world where all life is respected. My personal action towards this the mission to embrace Veganism, which is not always easy, but is something close to my heart. Moreover, I believe veganism is the way forward with respect to sustainability of the planet. So, however you look at it yoga and meditation are far from passive practises. As everything in life, how far you take it is up to the individual.
Women vs Men ? It is quite ironic that yoga has become considered as predominantly a women’s activity because traditionally it was practised only by men. Indeed, all the great masters responsible for the resurgence of yoga in the twentieth century, i.e. Sri K Pattabhi Jois, T Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar are men. Men benefit as much from yoga as women and for all of the same reasons.
As generalisations, where women tend to hold stress more in their hips, men tend to hold it more in their shoulders so yoga is therapeutic for both. Where women are perceived to be more flexible than men – I hear so often the statement “I wouldn’t be good at yoga because I’m not flexible enough,” – men tend to have greater upper body strength which means that arm balances and core control tend to come more easily once techniques have been mastered. By the way, if you’re not flexible, yoga is perfect for you as it redresses tension to create greater suppleness and comfort in the body.
Yoga is designed to either stimulate or relax the internal organs, and digestive system, as appropriate, which do not differ according to sex. Highly driven, yang personalities (irrespective of sex), for example, those who enjoy over-exertion, working and playing hard, tend to be more predisposed to burnout. Yin yoga in particular nurtures and support the nervous and endocrine systems helping restore equilibrium in the body and mind.
Yoga at school ? I do think yoga and meditation would be an invaluable asset to schooling of the young. Foremost, it would provide children with tools for responding to emotional, social and physical challenges they encounter day to day. As yoga is non-competitive in spirit it is a great option for children who shy away from physical and group activity for fear of failure or being picked last.
For the more athletic types it can help excel performance in chosen sports. Studies have shown that meditation in schools reduces anger and aggression, improves grades and decreases absenteeism. It has also been shown to help children who are socially withdrawn, hyperactive or with other special needs.
Amid the distractions of modern life, imposed measures of success and failure and a growing sense of uncertainty about the future yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas, a set of ten ethical principles, instil notions such as Ahimsa (non-harming), Saucha (purity), and Satya (truth), to name a few. They cultivate an emphasis on compassion, tolerance and gratitude for self and other. For example, my earlier reference veganism can also be seen as a practise of Ahimsa.
Yoga develops inquisitiveness and personal responsibility, which seem to have become overrun by social media, TV, gaming and activities that fixate on the superficial. It is my belief that yoga would enhance the experience of life, helping children to make future decisions in alignment with their heart’s desires, rather than blindly following the dictates of a system based on fear.
In my opinion, teaching yoga in schools can definitely bring about a lasting and positive impact upon the individual, society as a whole and the planet at large.
Folkestone ? I think Folkestone is a very progressive town. The regeneration project has made it a viable place for people like myself to live and work. Still in its early stages, there is a lot of scope and affordable space to replant and create. Having lived in the East End of London well before it became trendy, I sensed something similar occurring in Folkestone. Undoubtedly, that’s what drew me in.
Over the past couple of years there has been an explosion of activity in the town. The Creative Quarter is now fully inhabited with independent coffee shops and boutiques. Folkestone Food Assembly which pools organic produce from local producers inviting a sustainable approach to sourcing food. The Folkestone Triennial and Folkestone Fringe are about to enter their fourth cycles placing Folkestone on the map as a destination for art lovers. And the Harbour Arm has become the go-to place for summertime entertainment.
There is a growing music, theatre and dance scene including the recent Profound Sound festival as well as promoters such as Anima Collective, Dolly Doowop’s Dance Club the new Space Bar and Gallery, Out of Town DJs, and the local band Rudy Warman and the Heavy Weather bringing a much needed boost to Folkestone’s cultural scene. I am also very excited about the recently announced Folkestone Pride, indicative of the population’s diversity, as well as our very own imminent TEDX talks.
All these events and happenings are bringing people together, growing community spirit and hopefully generating a better economy for the benefit of all who dwell here.