Turtle steps, tango steps: healing and breathing by a Furbo forest
A post-birth trauma led Ciara Ní Dhiomasaigh to her true calling as a therapist and yoga teacher
Josef Steiner and Ciara Ní Dhiomasaigh at Naduir in Furbo, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Ciara Ní Dhiomasaigh and Josef Steiner at Naduir in Furbo, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Ciara Ní Dhiomasaigh in a yoga pose at Naduir in Furbo, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Josef Steiner in the gaden at Naduir in Furbo, Co Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
When Ciara Ní Dhiomasaigh was born, she had a congenital hip dislocation and was encased in plaster of Paris that was two inches thick.
“I spent my first 18 months as a turtle,” totally unaware that life in a cast was not normal, she says. “And when it was taken off, I spent the next 20 years reacting as if I was a turtle that had lost its shell.
“They used to call me the Storm Cloud,” she says, recalling how she became “incredibly armoured and angry”. Looking back, she is convinced that she was on a “crash course to self-destruction”. The fact that her dyslexia was never picked up at school in Co Galway didn’t help.
She went to France at the age of 19, took a job as an au pair, and after a massage one day she began to develop an awareness about herself.
“I cried solidly for about two and a half hours, and began to realise that I had been locked in and had no understanding of my body,” she recalls. “It was the start of a release.”
She found herself writing for hours, sending letters home to her parents. She trained in 13 forms of massage, spent time in London and Paris, went to India and ran a yoga studio in Mumbai.
To support this search for wellness – this “deep dig for health”, as she puts it – her initial day jobs were in Sheridan’s cheese shop in Galway, where she became manager, and at Delphi Adventure Centre, where she taught outdoor pursuits.
There came a point where she was able to take the leap and set up a practice in massage and yoga. Her mother was both a touchstone and an inspiration, for she had taught her children how to massage from a very young age.
“My mum was a qualified midwife, worked in a US hospital in Libya, as a counsellor for a family planning centre and ran breastfeeding support classes,” Ní Dhiomasaigh says.
“When we were about 12 and smoking outside Mass, she sat us down and told us that we had it all wrong and that spirituality was more important than religion.
“She encouraged us to think of Sunday as a contemplative day, and even offered to pay for psychotherapy sessions when we were older.
“Her philosophy was that it was not what happens to us all, it is what we do with it that matters.”
Spiritual homeOn hearing about the Karuna Institute in Devon, Ní Dhiomasaigh signed up for a two-year course, and it was then that she felt she had “come home”.
Karuna, founded by Maura and Franklyn Sills in 1984, is an international residential training and retreat centre in biodynamic craniosacral therapy, a form of therapeutic touch. The concept is rooted in western anatomy and physiology, but inspired by mindfulness practice.
“The craniosacral training deepened my understanding of health and wellness, and how to support it,” she says.
At that stage, she had met her partner, Josef Steiner, who also trained in Karuna and is an Aikido teacher. The couple decided to develop a complementary health centre at their wooden house in Furbo, Co Galway.
They developed an organic garden, where they now grow their own food, rear geese, hens and guinea fowl in the shade of a centuries-old forest that runs down to the sea.They have built a community of practitioners at Nádúir, as it is called. Their spare-time passion is Argentinian tango, which they teach at the Galway Rowing Club.
“I remember a pain specialist in Australia talking about our tendency, when a red light flashes up on the dashboard of a car, to reach around and take the bulb out and keep driving,” Ní Dhiomasaigh says.
“Our philosophy and practices try to promote self-awareness, health as a lifestyle and self-responsibility in our daily lives, and not only when the lights begin to flash.”
Not machines“The medical profession is doing a fantastic job within its paradigm,” she says. “But we are educated to expect our bodies to behave like machines that can be corrected and repaired without consideration and consequences.”
Similarly, the merits of breathing to control pain are not recognised beyond maternity wards, she says. Yet deep breathing has established scientific benefits, and mindfulness as a resource has now become mainstream.
“We can be completely medically repaired but still not feel healthy at all, and we meet a lot of people who are stuck with this dilemma,” she says.
“Subtle qualities can be felt and experienced, but often not measured in conventional scientific ways. And yet they are really important for a healthy life.”
EmpathyShe admits to having an acute sensitivity and facility for empathy, which this writer and others have experienced in her yoga classes, that may have grown out of her own post-birth trauma. “We talk constantly about changing, but if change is too big, it cannot be sustained,” she says.
“It is not about stopping, but about starting something, and doing it for five minutes.”
Taking small, but steady baby turtle steps.