A Q&A with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre
We sit down with John Ogilvie, owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre, based in Byron Bay, New South Wales.
What was your initial vision for Byron Yoga Centre and has that 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 over 3000 yoga teachers and in 2018 we hosted about 400 retreat guests. Although my initial vision hasn’t changed, I would now add a more personalised note, to help our students and guests become the best versions of themselves.
What does yoga mean to you?
I developed a style of yoga I call Purna Yoga, which we teach at Byron Yoga Centre teacher trainings and retreats. Purna is Sanskrit for ‘complete’ and we integrate classic hatha yoga asana with philosophy, meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises). Teaching yoga and my own practice has always meant a combination of these elements. 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 studio/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. Creating our own eco haven, Byron Yoga Retreat Centre, was a natural progression from running a few teacher trainings and retreats each year at other venues. It has grown faster than I could have ever imagined! In just seven years we have grown from one yoga studio and a couple of dorm rooms to five yoga spaces, beds for more than 50 people in cabins, twin and private rooms, plus a 20m swimming pool and spacious dining area. I am most proud of our organic gardens. The abundance of fresh produce goes towards creating an amazing menu of tasty, nutritious food that our guests rave about.
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 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.
Yoga teachers are perpetual students. It’s so important they keep honing their skills and developing their knowledge. This is what keeps the passion alive in the teaching and helps to best develop yoga students. Byron Yoga Centre supports teachers along the path and provides a 300-hour Level 2 training plus specialty course in yin, restorative, remedial yoga and meditation. Also new this year is a course in trauma-aware yoga.
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 the 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 vegie 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.
Tell us about the food at the centre
We love to talk about our food — and so do our guests! The feedback we get is continuously excellent. 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.
The centre follows the principles of SLOW food: seasonal, local, organic and without processed foods of any kind. 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 in the morning break, and for those that choose, coffee, hot drinks and healthy sweet treats are available for purchase.
What sustainable practices do you follow at the Byron Bay Yoga Centre?
We have a strong focus on sustainable practices and policies. We have rainwater tanks, compost toilets, most of our hot water comes from a solar heating system and the mineral salt swimming pool is also heated by a solar system. We are (almost) fanatical about re-using, re-cycling and re-purposing.
Most importantly, though, is that we foster a culture that promotes awareness and action. We hope that our rules on the level and use of air-con, the insistence on energy efficiency and our initiatives on saving resources not only help our centre lighten its environmental footprint, but also inspire our guests to reduce theirs.
What are your top tips for someone who is considering becoming a yoga teacher but hasn’t yet taken the plunge?
It really depends on why they haven’t taken the plunge. If it was a current inability to take the time out for training, I would suggest our Level 1 Flexible Learning course. Participants can start right away on the correspondence components and online learning units and work at their own pace. Then, when ready, they can book into one of our residential trainings. If the student is feeling apprehensive, one option would be to come to Byron Yoga Retreat Centre for a retreat, maybe even just the Three-Day Weekend program. They will get to meet the teachers and staff and can get a really clear idea of how the experience of training with Byron Yoga Centre would be for them. I would also suggest that anyone who is considering becoming a yoga teacher, but for whatever reason has yet to book, should call our office and chat to one of the admin staff for some expert advice.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt 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 8 Limbs from Panatajali’s Yoga Sutras into daily life. There are the practices of asana, pranayama, 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 Nyamas 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. 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’s next for Byron Yoga Centre
I am really keen to actually just pause and consolidate what we have. In 2018 we opened a new yoga space for our retreats, created specifically for our women’s retreats. We launched our new repeat retreats for returning guests, we started the two-year Diploma of Purna Yoga Management that follows on from our 12-month Certificate IV in Yoga Teaching, and we expanded our trainings in Melbourne.
I am really happy with all that we currently offer for our yoga students and retreat guests. So when I dream of ‘what next’, it’s actually to showcase our expanding organic gardens and to utilise what we have learnt in running yoga trainings to start permaculture courses. I believe that good food, like consistent yoga, helps people become the best version of themselves.
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