A flexible outlook on life: Sabina Higgins on the benefits of Yoga

A flexible outlook on life: Sabina Higgins on the benefits of Yoga
Yoga Warrior Pose: Regular yoga can help people deal physically and mentally with the pressure of living in today’s society. Pictured provided by Eveanna de Barra, of Cork’s Himalaya Yoga Valley

Sabina Higgins – alongside her husband, President Michael D Higgins - has long been an advocate and practitioner of Yoga.

She reveals why she thinks Ireland’s young people could benefit from yoga, especially as we come out of Coronavirus lockdown.


We are living in a very difficult time, as the world combats the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of us are affected in some way, and there are many vulnerable groups for whom the virus is life-threatening.

Young people may not be as much in danger from the virus, but the crisis has an invisible impact on many of them.

Keeping physically and mentally well is crucial. This time could be used to do great good, by giving the young people the tools to cope with their concerns and anxieties. 

It is a strange and challenging time for them, and to come through it with strengthened character, they have to resolve to stay positive and stay active and to beat off any negativity or lethargy.

One of the greatest ways they can do this is by taking up yoga.

Sabina Higgins: 'Yoga can be done on one’s own, every day, in a small space, with no equipment. Once a person understands and experiences this technique, of the stretch and the relaxing and the holding still, the body itself understands and responds and has the enjoyment of observing the progress. 
Sabina Higgins: "Yoga can be done on one’s own, every day, in a small space, with no equipment. Once a person understands and experiences this technique, of the stretch and the relaxing and the holding still, the body itself understands and responds and has the enjoyment of observing the progress. 

This will not only be an exciting and lovely experience now, but they will be giving themselves a lifetime gift that will provide them with the tools to become and remain, healthy in body and mind and spirit.

This is attested to by the thousands of people in Ireland, and the millions around the world, who practise yoga. It can be done on one’s own, every day, in a small space, with no equipment.

Once a person understands and experiences this technique, of the stretch and the relaxing and the holding still, the body itself understands and responds and has the enjoyment of observing the progress. 

Many primary schools already do yoga and many teachers have done the training in yoga for children. I have advocated for yoga as an integral part of the education system, as the benefits to the individual and society would be innumerable.

Now is the opportunity to give this great skill and tool to our children, by teaching it online as part of the daily educational programming on television. 

It would be just a matter of 20 minutes a day and I believe yoga schools have already approached RTÉ with a structured programme and are ready to go online. 

There are potential benefits of yoga for the coming generations, who are facing all kinds of challenges, on both a personal and ecological level.

Of particular concern is gender and domestic violence, and the misuse of technology to bully and hurt, even to the point of suicide. 

Regular yoga can help people deal physically and mentally with the pressure of living in today’s society.

People would have the ability to be conscious of themselves and have an awareness of where the tension was building up in their body and causing such anger and frustration. 

They would have the technique and the tools to be able to consciously relax, and also control their breathing, and maybe respond positively and take whatever action they can, rather than responding negatively.

Yoga is a valuable resource at this time, when the world really needs it and when the planet itself is under threat.

Yoga is for everyone

Eveanna de Barra, of Cork’s Himalaya Yoga Valley, offers some practical wisdom on yoga. 

One of the most common misconceptions about starting yoga is that you need to be a particular shape, age, size, or level of flexibility. 

Yoga really is for everybody, with each yoga journey as unique as the person practising it. Done properly, yoga is a science that will shape itself around an individual and their unique needs, limitations, and potential.

During times of stress, when we are so easily pulled into the future and past by anxious thoughts, yoga helps us to connect to the present moment by uniting the mind, body, and breath.

The word ‘yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yug’, which translates to ‘unity’. 

The ultimate goal of yoga is not to get into pretzel-like shapes, but to experience this unity of mind, body, and breath.

If we look to the birthplace of yoga, India, we see that yoga has been available for thousands of years — not just to sages and scholars of the science, but to everyday people. 

It is, in fact, a science that was developed to help individuals and society to navigate life, and each day, with more ease. 

Today, in India, most individuals do yoga at home and they utilise yoga as a prescriptive tool to boost their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

In this time of instability, we can also bring yoga into our homes to help us become more grounded, healthy, and stable.

The benefits of starting yoga

During this challenging time, you can easily make yoga a tool for your own emotional and physical wellbeing.

There are plenty of scientifically proven benefits of yoga. 

Yoga nourishes the connective tissue, brings mobility to the joints, and strengthens and lengthens the key muscles.

Yoga improves posture and bone health, increases respiratory function, and boosts immunity. 

Most importantly, during times of challenge, yoga is of particular value, as it works on balancing the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, helping us manage stress, and process emotions and situations, with more grace and integrity. 

While adults can reap all of these rich rewards of yoga, so can children. Yoga helps children of all ages manage anxiety and build focus, coordination, and concentration.

Hopefully, yoga will become part of the school curriculum in the future.

Yoga for everybody

In Himalaya Yoga Valley, we share yoga with all types of people: From babies to grandparents, to wheelchair users, to sportspeople, to corporate workers and everyone in between.

There is something for everybody and we have never had a client who could not benefit from yoga in some form. If you are reading this, you can start yoga!

When it comes to learning yoga, nothing beats being in front of a teacher, but right now, in this time of lockdown, we are offering free online yoga classes. You can also begin practising yoga at home today with some simple postures, as outlined below in these images of our school founder, Lalit.

Warrior pose: Tones the legs, opens the hips, improves posture, and builds strength. Practise on both sides for five deep breaths.

Padmasana: Improves posture, brings calm, and stillness. Simply sit cross-legged to begin with, close the eyes, and bring the thumb to the pointer finger. Practise for 30-60 seconds.

A flexible outlook on life: Sabina Higgins on the benefits of Yoga
Padmasana- Improves posture, brings calm and stillness. Simply sit cross legged to begin
with, close the eyes and bring the thumb to the pointer finger. Practise for 30-60 seconds

Prasarita padottanasana: Opens and tones the hamstrings, brings balance, and improves immunity. 

A flexible outlook on life: Sabina Higgins on the benefits of Yoga
Prasarita padottanasana- Opens and tones the hamstrings, brings balance and improves
immunity. Avoid if you have high blood pressure. Hold this posture for 5 deep breaths.

Avoid if you have high blood pressure. Hold this posture for five deep breaths.

Himalaya Yoga Valley is holding free online community well-being classes daily for all ages and levels. 

See www.yogacorkireland.com for details.

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