Speech by Sabina Higgins at the Yoga Therapy Ireland Conference
Marino Institute of Education, Dublin, 13 May 2023
I am very happy to be here with you this morning at the opening of the Yoga Therapy Ireland Conference, my thanks to Maureen Nightingale and Yoga Therapy Ireland for the invitation and to all of you for your warm welcome. In our present society to be healthy, the need to keep physically and mentally well is crucial. I know one of the greatest ways you can do this is by taking up the practice of yoga, which can give people a lifetime gift that will equip them with the tools to become and remain healthy in body, mind and spirit.
The answers to what makes Yoga so important lie in the science behind the ancient practice. When we perform yoga, we engage both our body and our mind and spirit in a way that is unique to this ancient discipline. Yoga, as you know, is more than just a form of exercise or stretching, it is a science whose knowledge and techniques have been passed down, tested through generations and proven so effective over time. As we look forward to seeing today it can be a legitimate health management tool that can improve our physical mental and emotional well-being. The thousands of people in Ireland, and the millions around the world who practice it testify to this.
One of the major events of my life has been the discovery of the existence of such a thing as yoga over 50 years ago around 1970. I was searching for balance and suddenly I saw a program on television with Richard Hittleman talking about a yoga exercise plan. I recognised as once it’s importance and my gratitude that it had come to me. I got his book, the Richard Hittleman 28 day yoga exercise plan, one of my treasured possessions to this day, I found it so exciting and wonderful practising the assanas and having them reveal the changes in my body movements to me. It is amazing there are still discoveries to be made. I spent all my money, buying copies for my family and friends, as an actor I taught it and practiced it with my studio and theatre members. I say yoga is God’s gift to mankind and have promoted its benefits and possibilities at every opportunity. In education for it to be part of the curriculum and in sport etc.
In later years, as we see the rise in gender violence and in domestic violence, I feel it is more and more important that it should be part of the school curriculum, so that young people, as they grow up and as adults are equipped with the tools that will give them the bodies that function well and breath well, so they can manage the demands, strains and frustrations of life.
By becoming more self-aware individuals can identify where tension is building up in their bodies. With the practice of yoga individuals gain the necessary techniques and tools to relax consciously, control their breathing, and respond positively to situations instead of reacting negatively to situations.
In addition to its physical and mental benefits, yoga can also help us develop greater spiritual awareness and control over our thoughts and emotions. The ethical principles of yoga, encompassing non-harming, compassion, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-possessiveness, and the maintenance of vitality, can help us develop greater empathy and understanding towards others, and ourselves through yoga, we can develop a greater sense of connection with the world around us and cultivate a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.
Adhering to these principles can collectively promote a moral code to help address great global challenges, such as climate change, and aids in achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals, our collectively agreed blueprint for creating a more just, peaceful and prosperity for all sustainable world. These goals are founded on a strong moral agenda that satisfies the human desire for peace with fellow humans and the natural world we inhabit. Therefore, the philosophy and implementation of yoga are ideally suited to help us assist in the achievement of the goals.
I wonder, and maybe despair, that if so many people are practicing yoga, and that one acknowledges that people are good, how is it that as our planet burns and is in danger of extinction, that people are paralysed and silenced in the face of war. They either consent or are unable to protest at war as their governments bow down to the militarists and the armaments lobby, to the armaments industry who are the only beneficiaries of war. The cry of “victory on the battlefield” and “more destructive armament” and “for as long as it takes” goes unchallenged by the silenced cry of Peace-Ceasefire negotiation.
Democracy is inadequate and has failed us, there is no constitutional instrument by which the opinion of the mass of the people can be checked. Once support for war is decided on by government there is no further consultation, no checks and balances with the people, you only hear the group repetition “for as long as it takes”
I think there must be a space where yoga can and probably is making a difference, a place of hope that all the people who practice it are somehow getting inclinations in their hearts that the space for peace must be free to breathe again. For now, there is a coercive silence, suggesting that there is a consensus that peace must not be spoken of.
Today, we stretch back to the greats who thousands of years ago developed the science of yoga. We see it as a valuable resource that could be and should be utilised fully. In our healthcare systems, we can wish there were yoga teachers and therapists that would work hand in hand with staff in primary healthcare centres, nursing homes, and hospitals, educating healthcare professionals about the incredible value of yoga in treating medical conditions; a world where yoga professionals are trained to design and deliver programmes that perfectly complement the evolving needs of out healthcare system. I believe this could truly help society address its many challenges in a humane and compassionate way.
Here today let us celebrate the science of yoga and benefit from the great programme that this conference offers, for our learning and enjoyment.
It gives me great pleasure to open the Yoga Therapy Ireland Conference.