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Meet Aoife Kenny — doctor & expat yogi.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 by Marianne Elliott

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One of the greatest rewards of my work as a yoga teacher is getting to know, learn from and be inspired by the people who take my courses. As we’re gearing up for the next round of 30 Days of Yoga, we wanted to stop and put the stoplight on a few of the students who have inspired us over the years.

Today we’re featuring Aoife Kenny, an alumna of the Aid Worker version of the course. She inspires us — and we think she’ll inspire you too.

-1Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m in a state of change at the moment. Originally a medical doctor in New Zealand (with a few stints overseas), I am now living in Rwanda as the first of many overseas placements.  I’m the ‘trailing spouse’ as I’ve heard it described.  How awful!  I trained as a doctor to be an aid worker, but I realised (perhaps too late, although nothing is wasted) that it wasn’t the way I wanted to make my mark.  I am in awe of those who do, but it isn’t for me.  And so I am at a cross roads, and in a fascinating country to be deciding which road to take.

How long have you been practicing yoga?

I had been practicing yoga as the opportunities arose for a few years, but nothing ‘serious’. The course came at the most perfect time for me an my yoga.

You took the Aid Worker’s Version of the course. What made you decide to take the course?

To be perfectly honest, I felt a bit of a fraud doing this course in particular.  At that stage we were in New Zealand and not sure what the next step was going to be.  I suppose I took the course in ‘preparation’.  I knew we would be out in the exciting, crazy, different world soon.  Also, the type of practices that were promised enticed me.  I am a person who finds more and more to pack into each day – something I am working on! – and I am not great at the same-old each day, so the variety of length of practices was attractive.

However, my journey to do this course came a few months earlier.  I was given your book as a birthday present, and unbeknownst to the gift-giver it was the most perfect moment.  At that stage I was going through a really tough time. I was changing my life’s work and not sure where the path was going to bring me.  I was struggling with external factors and many, many internal ones.  I was scared that I was ‘cracking up’ even in the relative calm of New Zealand, how was I going to deal with the life I wanted – moving around the world?  I read your book in what was the hardest week, a week I took off work due to stress.

And wow, it was a weird and wonderful experience … I felt as though it was me writing the book.  Of course not the specifics, but the sentiment.  It was like someone saying “It’s ok, you are not wrong to feel like this”.  I wrote and thanked you, and was thrilled to receive a reply.  From then on I followed your work online.  The book encouraged me to use the benefits of yoga to get through the tough time, which I did, joining a local studio.  But I wanted to build my personal practice, and knowing that Rwanda (and then further afield) was coming up, the course sounded perfect.

It’s a long answer, but I must say it was one of the most important personal journeys I’ve been on.

I’m curious about whether your yoga practice has birthed any clarity in your life — big or small.

Oh yes, it certainly has!  I don’t know if I can put my finger on it, but I will try.

For one, I find the grounding exercise phenomenal.  I use it, or a version of it, whenever I feel myself flying off and becoming overwhelmed.  I also see ‘now’ as the only true thing.  Standing on my mat, nothing else is happening.  The past is gone and the future is not here.  I bring that with me through the day.  The other clarity has been a wider one: self-care, nourishment, loving yourself.  Hard.  ‘Unnatural’.  And probably the biggest, and hardest, lesson I’ve learnt from yoga.  Yoga is first an excuse for, and then a teacher of, self-care.  That principle spills into everything, and I’m not a selfish awful monster for it!  I’m still learning, but I am eternally grateful for it.

Tell me about your yoga practice now, post-course. What’s still working for you and what challenges come up?

I do yoga most mornings – this varies from a few gentle movements and a couple of minutes of meditation up to perhaps 30 minutes or more of really active stuff and a sumptuous shavasana.  I am also discovering some classes here in Kigali (amazing!) and I’m working on how to include them in a way that works for me (self care!).  My biggest challenge remains:  the perfection-striving.  I must do it every morning!!  I must be able to do all of the advanced poses the teacher suggests!!  etc.  These thoughts are there and I am learning to live with them.

I brought my mat with me, which has been a great way to re-invent the habit.  I roll it out, and there I am.

What words of encouragement do you have for fellow Aid Worker yogis — or those wanting to get started?

Yoga is what you want, or need, it to be.  It doesn’t have to be what the lycra-clad ladies are doing, or the uber-spiritual stuff. It is not a scene, it is deeply personal.

So stand there or lie down, and do what your body is asking you to do.  The lessons and guidance from Marianne are great, and you can include them and shape them into your own.

I also think the aid-worker-type is often the perfectionist-type.  The world will not end if you forget to do your yoga one day.  You are not a bad person.  Yoga can teach you to take each day as it is, and to be inquisitive, not judgmental.  If you are reading this you are ready.



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