Getting to know Sean O'Leary


Many of you have had the chance to meet or take classes with Sean here at Live Yoga in White Rock. For those of you who haven’t, here’s a blog post so you can learn more about this owner and teacher who strives to create a safe and empowered community of yoga practitioners.  

 Sean originally trained with Daniel Clement in 2010 and recently became a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and trained at the Yoga Space in Vancouver with Louie Ettling, Geraldine Primerano and Eileen Millar. He has studied meditation, ayurveda, and thai yoga massage over the years and continues to train in yoga related fields.  Read on to learn more about Sean and his fascinating yoga journey. 


How did you find yoga?

 When I was 13 years old, my mom and I followed along with a 14-page Reader’s Digestpamphlet on yoga.  She was a classic 1990’s fitness icon in a unitard without instructions, just  pictures of the poses.  This lead to a pretty consistent stretching and breathing routine most nights before bed throughout my teens. I was very involved in sports and the personal practice helped me find develop good body awareness.  I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks as a busy, stressed-out teen, so this nightly practice was a great tool to unwind and experience some calm after my busy days. 


 My first experience in guided yoga classes wasn’t until my first year of college.  Playing varsity rugby scored me a free gym membership and they offered a few yoga classes.  Yoga was not that popular in 2003 in Ontario, especially for guys.  My teammates often poked fun at me for taking the classes, but it was such a great tool for injury prevention and to help regulate all the nervousness, stress and anxiety that comes with juggling the stresses of being a student.  I continued with an infrequent home practice in my early twenties as I travelled around the world and explored some different employment opportunities.  

 In 2006, I moved to British Columbia form Ontario to pursue a job as a journeyman CNC machinist. This was a high-stakes, fast-paced and insanely stressful job which lead me to do more and more yoga to cope, both in studio and at home. 



How has yoga transformed your life? 

 I have had chronic back pain since I was a teen.  I’ve never been comfortable sitting on the floor and I can’t count the number of injuries I’ve sustained.  My shoulders have been dislocated and separated, my collar bones fractured and broken, and my knees have been twisted and torn.  I’m not complaining – this is the trade-off for living an exciting life! Rugby, hockey, downhill skiing, soccer, volleyball, mountain biking all took their toll on my body.  Yoga has never been easy for me.  In fact, I would say yoga still continues to be an uncomfortable hobby that requires constant attention and commitment. Yoga has always been tough because I was a really stiff guy, but I learned from many great teachers how to work with my body and eventually discovered more openness and flexibility. 

 My life’s experiences suddenly caught up with me when I was promoted in my machinist career. I endured long stressful hours designing and programming different projects and manufacturing parts to high tolerances.  Tension, stress and poor posture resulted in chronic back pain and intense sciatica.  Yoga had worked for so long at keeping me fit, happy and healthy, until it didn’t anymore.  The hot, vinyasa flow, anusara and power classes that I loved suddenly began to be injurious to me with my back pain and sciatica worsening.  I was desperate to get better and back to my “regular” yoga practice.  

 I went to massage therapists, chiropractors, rolfers, acupuncturists, yoga therapists and tried cortisol and steroid injections and dry needling to find relief.  After working with the top back pain specialist in BC, I received some devastating results back from x-rays and MRI’s -- I was recommended to undergo complicated back surgery (with no guarantee of success!) to remedy herniated disks (slipped or ruptured disk), spinal stenosis (narrowing of nerve channel) and spondylolisthesis (vertebrae slipping forward/backward) and severe osteoarthritis (disk degeneration).  

 Add on to this bad news, my girlfriend at the time broke up with me, my work became increasingly toxic and my car broke down.  Welcome to the 25-year old mid-life crisis! 

 My back was out, I was in constant pain, I couldn’t move, and guided yoga group classes were not helping. Something had to change.  This crisis moment was a crucial time in my life that helped me understand the mind and body connection.  My body was incapable of healing without addressing my emotions, depression, anxiousness and general dissatisfaction I had in my life. 


 I also started to realize that yoga wasn’t all handstands, arm balances and deep backbends.  I began practicing gentle yoga and breathing, by myself, guided by my own experience to find comfort and, eventually, strength, courage and confidence.  I also made the decision to phase myself out of my manufacturing career over a three-year span and began my path teaching yoga and helping others find comfort in their bodies. 

 One of my fellow yoga teachers recommended taking Iyengar yoga classes.  I fell in love with the guidance and support the teachers offered, as well as the detailed alignment and structured methods to performing the postures.  I learned so much about the fundamental actions in basic poses and how to progressively work on more challenging poses.  Most importantly, Iyengar yoga showed me that yoga is truly for everyone and instructions are completely unique to each individual practicing.  I was hooked and have studying the method for eight years now.

 In 2013, my girlfriend at the time wanted to buy a yoga studio in White Rock and I offered her my life-savings to make it happen. We renovated it together, ran it together, got married and thus launched my full-time dream job of owning a studio and teaching yoga exclusively. Life doesn’t get much crazier than being a part-time stay-at-home dad to twin toddlers and self-employed business-owner, but every day taking the time to listen to my body, breathe and connect makes everything work somehow! Yoga works, if you listen. 


What do you want students to take away from your classes?

 I enjoy helping students build confidence in their bodies and making yoga a fun and meaningful exploration of what is possible.  I encourage students to develop a felt experience of each pose while focusing on their unique alignment - all as a mediation to connect the mind and body. 

 The performance-driven culture of yoga often aims at achieving the deepest poses and infinite flexibility which can result in students injuring themselves. So rather than performing the postures, I work to facilitate the expression of each pose for each individual student with their diverse conditions, histories and experiences. This requires students learn to build strength and stability while moving in and out of each posture and weaving confidence into postures with progressive instructions and support where needed with props and other tools.   

 Being in control of your own practice has a wonderfully soothing effect on the nervous system and definitely empowers students to decide how much, how far, and how long a posture is performed.  I love that students learn in my classes! 

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 I am constantly talking about passive versus active range of motion, trying different alignment and movement ideas, educating students about anatomy, skeletal variation, and our unique proportions in relation to classic yoga postures and bridging all of these ideas with mindfulness and a calm and steady breath.  Constantly reinventing how postures are executed is the spice of life and keeps students engaged and classes fresh and inspiring.  

 I especially love playing devil’s advocate on dogmatic or prescriptive ideas, techniques and philosophies in yoga. This results in trying poses differently, with different props or other techniques that might change our perspective and offer insight into practicing yoga.  It also empowers students to question what they are doing and to trust their own experience. These embodied experiences lead to more internal practices like breath work (pranayama), and other meditation techniques where students can enjoy the bodies subtle energies, deep relaxation and meditative states. Allowing students adequate time for quiet and introspective practices leads to down-regulation of the nervous system where deeper connections can be made. 

 Most importantly, I want students to leave class feeling strong and confident in their bodies, as well as calm, grounded and present in their minds. Being awake in the world is a result of good yoga. 


 We hope you enjoyed this amazing post from Sean. This teacher spotlight is also part of a larger blog tour taking place digitally across the fraser valley!  You can learn more about other great teachers and find so many other blossoming yoga communities! The blog post is running March 1 -23 and if interested you and follow along by searching for hashtag #fvyogateachers on all social media platforms.  

If you missed yesterday’s post, check out Jennie’s blog from Harmony Kids Yoga:

 You certainly don’t want to miss tomorrow’s post by Alithafrom Zen Den Yoga :

 Happy reading yogis! #fvyogateachers

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