A YOUNG Cork woman left a permanent, pensionable job with a leading pharmaceutical company to follow her life’s passion — and now she’s helping others find their bliss.
For Jean Noonan, originally of Ballincollig, that passion is yoga and through her teaching she’s helping people ‘take yoga from the mat’ and into all areas of their lives to increase health and happiness.
Ultra-passionate about what she does, she says yoga isn’t something we should do, it’s something we all need to do.
The 33-year-old studied Chemistry in UCC and graduated in 2007, but didn’t have any immediate desire to work in science — but the tragic death of her mum after an illness changed her plans.
“I didn’t want to take a gap year and so instead I did my Diploma in Dance in Coláiste Stíofan Naofa. It was a full time, one year course in performing arts dance.
“Every Monday we had yoga and I loved it. It was movement but with meaning, with intention and healing. I found it so interesting, the depth and complexity of it. Not to mention I felt amazing. But it was during this year my mum passed away. I was 23 and my sister was 25 and we had a 15 year old brother and a mortgage to pay so it was then I took a job in pharmaceuticals, in Eily Lilly. We had yoga every Tuesday and Thursday on site at lunch time and it was here I dived a little deeper into it.
“I loved working in Eli Lilly, they are an amazing company to work for and I made the best friends. I still have them! But there came a time where I realised it wasn’t making my soul sing. It wasn’t my dharma (this is a concept in yoga of what your path is, your life’s purpose. Why you’re here, on this earth, in this physical body).”
So after seven years, and to the horror of her father, she left her permanent job and jetted off to India to study to become a yoga teacher.
“I trained with Himalayan Yogarishi Vishveketu of Akhanda Yoga in Rishikesh India. I think I’m the only person teaching Akhanda Yoga in Cork, and one of five in Ireland. It is a system to bring the ancient practices of yoga into the modern world.
“My students can’t get enough of it. Akhanda means whole, complete, indivisible. It incorporates all aspects of the ancient practises of yoga, not just the physical.
“Combining mantra, movement, breathwork, philosophy and meditation, it leaves the practitioner feeling ultimate bliss.”
Back in Cork for the past two years, having been based in Germany and the UK, her business has grown organically. She insists there was never a business plan.
“I just want to be happy, live a nice life and help as many people do the same!”
There are four pillars to what she does, she explains — yoga, food, education and community.
“The yoga one is most straightforward. I have a studio on the Model Farm Road where, along with other teachers, we teach regular weekly classes and workshops at weekends. I also run day-long, weekend and week-long retreats in Cork, Dublin and Spain.
“I am assisting teacher training in India where I originally trained, helping other new teachers gain more knowledge and develop their skills.
“In the studio I teach Akhanda Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Parent and Baby Yoga, Pregnancy Yoga, and a Sunrise and Superfood Morning class with Breakfast!”
She said she ‘grew up standing on a chair by the cooker, helping my mum’ and feels that food is such a great source of nourishment and connection.
“All the best things happen over food. The connections between yoga and food are vast. Yoga starts in the kitchen and so I began to come up with ideas to help show people this connection. To take ‘yoga off the mat’; as I call it. You may only get to one yoga class a week but you’ll eat three meals a day so if you can apply a yogic ethos to your food you’re onto a winner.
“Food is the fuel you put into your body. Would you use cheap, processed, ready-made petrol and expect your car to run well? Nope. So why do we do the same to our bodies?
“I run a ‘Yoga and Food’ walking tour of Cork city. We start in the morning with a digestive- focused class, then visit lots of eateries with a yogic ethos and yoga spaces that teach authentic yoga. It’s a super day out and a beautiful way to see the city.
“I also run ‘The Yoga of Food’ evenings in Cork restaurants that also operate with a yogic ethos, serving healthy, local, seasonal and sustainable foods that nourish the soul.
“On all my retreats we have amazing food, all local, packaging free, in season and cooked with love in a beautiful environment. We also have a food discussion and, without being dogmatic or strict, open up the discussion of how yoga and food connect and hopefully inspire people to look into it more.
“Almost all my events feature tea/cake/food of some form. I feel people are slow to say hello to their neighbour sitting next to them on the yoga mat but they will happily chat to a stranger over food. Food brings people together!”
And that explains the community element, she says: “Using food and events to unite people. Yoga means Union. And in a world where we are leading more isolated and online lives and with previous community-related spaces in decline (like the church) it’s even more important to have the human connection. We are not solitary creatures. I love hosting events that are community-focused and enjoyable that don’t centre around alcohol. I enjoy my glass of red and gin like the rest of us but I feel too much of what we do in Ireland revolves around drink.
“I hold monthly Kirtan and cake evenings. Kirtan is an evening of chanting and mantra. We all have cake after — it’s like going to a gig but you feel amazing after.”
And the education bit? “You’ll find a yoga class on every corner. But I noticed very few people are teaching yoga. You either have to commit to becoming a yoga teacher and do a training or else just go to a class a few times a week. I wanted to change that. I endeavour in every class, retreat, event and interaction that people leave having learned something. Whether it’s a muscle they never knew the name of or a posture or breathing technique they can do at home if they are feeling overwhelmed, ill or tired.
“I always give out manuals and leaflets with the information there for people to re-read, take home, or share with others. Yoga is an ancient science and philosophy gifted to the world by the Rishis (sages/wise ones in India). It is to be shared, developed and explored.
“Teaching teachers is another aspect of the education. And this year in the studio I’m launching a series of workshops called Yoga School where people of any background can come and learn more about yoga.”
Jean says yoga is her sanctuary that’s helped her through all areas of life.
“To me, it’s a space of non-judgement and bliss in a world growing ever more hectic. Yoga is a way of life. It takes dedication, commitment and practise but it rewards you 10-fold. Yoga practices can be weaved throughout your day to allow you to live an authentic, beautiful and happy life. To me, you can do yoga any time anywhere. You live and breathe it.”
She feels these days we all wear our busy-ness like a badge of honour: “We are human beings, not human doings, yet most people ’do’ all day and rarely just be. When was the last time you did nothing? No music, no phone, no internet, no book, nothing at all to occupy your mind or body? I bet it was a long time ago.
“We need time to process, integrate, assimilate and digest. Yoga gives you these opportunities, and some. It’s not something you should do. It’s something you need to do!
“I always say, if you don’t have time in your day for yoga... you need to do yoga twice!”