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Inspired living

Q&A with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre


John Ogilvie

John Ogilvie

We sit down with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre based in Byron Bay, NSW, and find out the most important lessons he’s learned from yoga.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a yogi?

I think the most important lesson is that yoga is a continuous process. I see this as the ongoing ability to integrate the eight limbs from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras into daily life. These include the practices of asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), concentration and meditation that you learn in yoga classes, and ideally you carve out some regular time for these and develop your own self-practice. But the real aim is to develop the positive qualities and attributes of the yamas and niyamas or the yogic codes of conduct: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, restraint, non-greed, purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender to the Divine or to your own concept of a higher power. Of all these, I think the most important lessons come from self-study — observing your thoughts, emotions and interactions with others. It’s about learning to let go of the things that hold you back and cultivating the things that propel you forwards towards being the best version of yourself.

What was your initial vision for Byron Yoga Centre? Has it changed over time?

My vision was to help spread yoga to every city and country. When I started teaching more than 30 years ago, yoga was still on the fringes of society. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it is now one of the most popular activities in Australia and in many parts of the world. I am humbled to have been involved in that incredible growth.

Here at Byron Yoga Centre, we have trained more than 3000 yoga teachers and in 2018 we hosted about 400 retreat guests.

What does yoga mean to you?

I developed a style of yoga I call Purna Yoga, which is what we teach at Byron Yoga Centre teacher trainings and retreats. Purna means “complete” in Sanskrit, and we integrate classic hatha yoga asana with philosophy, meditation and pranayama.

I have always combined these elements when teaching yoga and in my own practice. The real work of a yogi is to use the practice to cultivate positive qualities that will enhance our own lives, our interactions with others, and help improve our community and the environment.

Why did you decide to open a yoga centre in Byron Bay?

I had been living in Byron Bay and teaching classes for a couple of years and then, in 1988, I opened a studio near the beach. Byron Bay was one of the few places where yoga was already popular. Byron Bay’s reputation as a yoga hub and healing place continued to grow over the years as more and more people travelled here to study yoga and embrace an alternative approach to wellbeing.

What courses do you offer at Byron Bay Yoga Centre?

We are now the largest yoga teacher training academy in Australia and run a whole range of trainings and retreats from our centre. We also currently have non-residential trainings in Melbourne and have done courses in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Bali, India and more. The minimum qualification required by studios and for insurance is a 200-hour Level 1 qualification. Byron Yoga Centre offers this as a 20-day or a 12-day course (with correspondence components). However, to cater to the growing number of students looking for more in-depth training, we have a 500-hour 40-day training and a Certificate IV non-residential 12-month part-time course.

Last year we launched our Diploma of Purna Yoga Management, which follows on from the Certificate IV, so students can immerse themselves in three years of yogic studies by participating in sessions two days each week. This is an amazing opportunity to truly develop as a yoga teacher and for personal development.

Can you please describe the centre and its facilities?

Byron Yoga Retreat Centre is set on 30 acres and surrounded by trees. It’s a tranquil eco-haven and although it feels so secluded, it’s just a 10-minute cycle ride to the centre of Byron Bay and its beautiful beaches. While it is not a luxury resort, we hope that the simplicity and authenticity of our centre allows guests to reconnect with nature, slow down and disconnect from the outside world. The rooms are basic, clean and comfortable, most with views of the pool or lush tropical grounds and organic veggie gardens. Our guests enjoy the mineral salt pool (solar-heated in winter), the tranquil treatment rooms and yoga studios, as well as plenty of comfortable spaces to relax and read a book.

Please tell us about the food at the centre.

The organic vegetarian food is not only delicious but also highly nutritious. It’s prepared using fresh ingredients, either from the on-site organic gardens or from local suppliers.

We always offer vegan, gluten- and dairy-free options and allergies can be catered for. The menu changes with the seasons and our cooks showcase our garden produce. Meals are buffet-style and range in influence from Mexican to European. There are usually several hot dishes and always an abundant salad bar. Retreat guests are offered a fresh cold-pressed juice during the morning break, and coffee, hot drinks and healthy sweet treats are also available for purchase.

What’s next for Byron Yoga Centre?

Our focus for the past year has been to build a team in Melbourne and to get the two-year diploma underway. The content for the diploma course has been a really interesting challenge as it’s not a teacher training; it is training for teachers. We are able to guide participants to become qualified in specialist areas such as yin and restorative yoga, plus they gain a diverse range of skills from small business management to becoming Ayurveda lifestyle assessors.

For more, visit byronyoga.com