Seamus Casey was born into the conflict and turmoil of Northern Ireland. Having been practising yoga for over 20 years, he now teaches classes at several gyms and bodywork centres across London including Re:Centre, Total Chi and The North London Buddhist Centre. He works as an actor in Radio and TV and as a musician, he plays piano, guitar, drums and loves to sing. He lives in Muswell Hill and the majority of his time is joyously spent with his three sons: Henry-Joy, Corrado and Claude.
When Seamus Casey dropped into the Yogamatters office to discuss equipment for the yoga class he’s setting up in a local school, we were interested to hear about his yoga journey – and when we heard it, we thought you might like to hear it too! Seamus speaks of his life with an honesty that is both inspiring and challenging.
How and when were you first introduced to yoga? What were your first impressions?
I first came to yoga in the early 90’s whilst based out of NYC where I was working as a musician. A dear friend was adamant that yoga was a possible direction I should head in and gently persuaded me to attend a class with them. I got something from the class. I was active as a child. I had been into Ju-Jitsu and Karate and enjoyed stretching; simple hamstring and shoulder stretches with the idea in mind that this would enhance my ability to kick and punch, but yoga was different. Yoga seemed complicated. I was breathless. I was out of sync with what I perceived was going on and I was slightly bemused bordering on confused by it all.
It was a while though before I attended another yoga class. I think I was dismayed by my perception that “I wasn’t good at yoga” and stayed away as a result. There were other reasons too. I loved to party. Self-care wasn’t very high on the agenda in those days. I know today that simply turning up for the class is a great act of gaining knowledge and participating in a yoga practice.
I returned to Ireland in 1996. I actively sought out a yoga teacher in the local area. I phoned a few only to be advised that men didn’t attend the classes. Fortunately, I found a job with a theatre company and was delighted to be invited to participate in the warm up sessions with the dancers and actors. They were encouraging long, deep stretches and taught me basic sun and moon salutations. This was invaluable as I quickly gained some confidence in the sequences.
I am very grateful for the care and attention they gave me. It just takes one person to take a little time with another person and show them how to do something to develop understanding.
Soon after this, I applied to drama school for a three-year course in acting. This was where I developed a real taste for yoga practice. Each day, we began with a vinyasa style yoga class. This loosened us up for other body, voice and breathing work. A lot of modern voice training techniques have a solid grounding in more ancient yoga practice. In the book ‘Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga’ by B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta S. Iyengar, there is a section titled, ‘The Importance of Voice while teaching and the use of clear language. This was a skill I learned at drama school – how to use my voice effectively, so when I discovered the emphasis Iyengar placed upon it, it was a relief.
From 2000, you studied Iyengar Yoga for four years with the same teacher and started on your teacher training. What changed?
After drama school, I moved to North London and again sought out a yoga class. I found a class at a local gym. For the best part of a year, I was the only student at the class. This was a phenomenal time. I benefited greatly from the one to one tuition.
It was an Iyengar class and though the work was challenging, the reward of the practice far outweighed the physical effort of the asana.
I maintained a regular practice with this teacher for several years and she was instrumental in encouraging me to join a teacher training course which I did in 2006.
I discovered Yogamatters around this time. I loved the shop in Woodgreen. I would drop in and chat with Paul. If there was anything I needed for my yoga practice, he would come to an arrangement. I would help move some shelves or help with a delivery and the equipment was payment. I completed the first year of Iyengar teacher training. In the same year my first son was born. My partner returned to work and I became a stay at home dad during the week and took a part-time job which consumed the weekends. I loved the time with my son and two more children after that, but I took no time for myself. My sleep patterns changed and I allowed my yoga practice to slip away. I also slipped into the habit of beer and wine in the evenings which ruled out any morning yoga practice the following day. Partly, the boom in yoga merchandising around this time fuelled my disenchantment with a practice. One thing I had loved about yoga was that it was a little ‘out there’ on the margins of hippiness and although I believed the world could benefit from a practice, I watched as it moved into the mainstream of the public consciousness.
How, when and why did you return to a yoga practice?
My youngest child started preschool in 2012. I suddenly had time on my hands. I was 130 kgs. I was unfit and not very happy. I returned to a yoga class. It was hard work. I was very conscious of my belly and my inability to twist. A few of the standing postures were still in my body and I knew that I had to get back into shape. I became quite obsessive and pushed myself very hard. Too hard. I ended up in an ambulance on my way to hospital having suffered a heart attack.
I came out of the hospital with a renewed vigour to regain my body and live a healthier life. I met people at the Cardio Recovery clinic who were returning regularly with heart problems.
I took this as a serious message that a complete overhaul of my life was necessary: what I ate, when I slept and how I exercised.
I returned to yoga gently. I took it easy. I researched what is needed for healthy hearts. I researched what maverick physicians are prescribing to heart patients around the world and discounted nothing. I attended lots of yoga classes as a student. I took a job as a receptionist at Total Chi, a yoga studio in Baker Street who were amazing and allowed me to work around my children’s school hours. One of the great things about London is the sheer choice of yoga classes available every day.
My GP tells me I am very healthy and have the resting heart rate of a 25-year-old professional athlete. I like telling people this.
And how is life looking now as a yoga teacher, a dad and an actor?
It was while working at Total Chi that one of the teachers advised me to return to Yoga Teacher Training. I spoke to several teachers who recommended Sampoorna Yoga in Goa. I sold my car and went there for 5 weeks. The training was rigorous and I hope to return there soon. We learn to teach and we teach to learn. It’s been three years. I am in regular contact with teachers from there and have developed great friendships with people I met on the course.
I have been fortunate to have gained classes quite quickly after my return from India. A local gym needed a yoga teacher and I have been there for over two years with a fantastic group of regular students. I feel very honoured that I am asked back to cover for teachers. I also taught acting students at Drama school in London for 2 years.
The benefit of having a sustained teaching practice and getting to see different bodies in asana is invaluable. This month, I am a guest teacher at Re:Centre concluding with a workshop for men on 27th July. These days are the greatest days.
Today, yoga has given me a life I never dreamed was possible.
My children are healthy, happy and adventurous. I have three boys and it is fantastic to keep up with them. Last year, I learned to back flip on a trampoline. A fortnight ago, I started to front flip. I have immense gratitude for everything I have and also for the things I wanted that didn’t come my way.
I work as an actor too. My agent and I discussed that I am not available for work that takes me away from my boys for extended periods and I get a few days here and there on film and TV drama as well as voiceover work. I teach yoga nearly every day and this allows me to be back in time for the school pick up. I attend a variety of classes as a student and always come away from a class with a nugget of information I didn’t have before. Sometimes I’m reluctant to practise but when I do, I always feel better. Sometimes I’m in a yoga class and I think, ‘Never again – why am I putting myself through this?’ and by the conclusion of the class, I realise it has been the greatest class ever and I have reached places which last week seemed like a million miles away.
Yoga is not a competition. Everyone attending a yoga class is a winner – by simply turning up.
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