Maya Fiennes in the IRISHTIMES.COM
Mind What Matters - Mimi Murray
Maya Fiennes may have access to Hollywood glamour, but she prefers the lifestyle afforded by teaching Kundalini yoga
RISING AT 3AM in order to chant may seem extreme, but not in Los Angeles where Maya Fiennes practises and teaches Kundalini yoga.
The Macedonian-born instructor moved from England to LA two years ago with her husband, composer Magnus Fiennes, and their two children, leaving behind a glamorous lifestyle. Magnus is the brother of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.
Rubbing shoulders with some of London's A-listers while she was working as a fashion designer was fun for a while, but Fiennes says she is more suited to the Santa Monica lifestyle which includes healthy eating, exercise and those 3am sadhanas.
She comes to Dublin next month to teach a workshop and says she can't wait to visit the former home of her husband's family. The Fiennes spent several years in west Cork and Kilkenny in the 1970s and the family still speak fondly of these places.
"I'm very excited to be there for the first time and am interested to see what people think of the course," she says. "I had a couple of Irish people on an intensive course I did outside London last year. They loved it and said I should come to Dublin. That's how it started."
Fiennes says Kundalini differs from other types of yoga as it hones the mind as much as the body - which is vital for the creative minds that inhabit the Hollywood Hills.
"It's a combination of breathing, mantra and position," she says. "And every class is different. There are thousands of different sets and I work with a lot of music as well, which is part of the experience."
Having trained as a concert pianist, she often tinkers on the piano after her 3am chants, and comes up with music that will work alongside her poses.
Fiennes says no knowledge of yoga is needed to take part in her class as it is not about specific positions.
"It is more about movement and breaking through the pain barrier. It could be moving your hands up and down for five minutes until you get a complete rush of endorphins: a complete alchemy takes place and stuck energy gets freed up. I teach a lot of ex-addicts. They say they get the same high from Kundalini as they did from drugs."
Kundalini yoga originated in the Himalayas 5,000 years ago. Hidden for centuries, it was rediscovered and updated by Yogi Bhajan. It works on the central nervous system and is a great stress buster according to Fiennes. She has even managed to convert the more famous of the Fiennes siblings.
"Ralph has practised Kundalini, but he is also into Ashtanga and is very into his body. The last time he was here his reaction to Kundalini was amazing: it was hitting his mind very quickly and it gives you great calm. It is also great for the skin and wrinkles."
Mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in today's society, and Kundalini provides a release for the mind.
"Often with other types of yoga, it is about opening the body but it's not hitting the mind. Your adrenal gland is working all the time; it gets tired and overused, it can't function well, and the body can't cope with stress. If the adrenal glands don't work well, other areas like the immune system don't work."
Fiennes says mantra or chanting is the best way to release the mind from thought. The result is better than sleep.
"We use very simple words. When you say them it stimulates eight reflex points in the mouth and sends commands to every cell in the body. It is very difficult for some people to meditate but when you go into mantra and keep chanting the words, you go into a different frequency.
"After a while the thoughts go and leave you alone and your blood pressure becomes more balanced. Then you are ready to sit for a few minutes of meditation. That is better for you than deep sleep."
Kundalini has many high profile followers in LA. Fiennes is teaching British model Liberty Ross. "She is living here at the moment, although she is going back to London for a year as her husband is directing Cinderella ."
Even so, she admits that many people are still more focused on defining their bodies than on strengthening their minds.
"A lot of people here are into the body and getting that right, but not the mind. It does work for the body as well: we sweat and some classes are really geared towards that, but others are there to calm us down. I call it a body, mind, spirit workout."
For the most part, Fiennes leads the archetypal chilled out LA lifestyle, but she is not adverse to some Hollywood trappings. Having married her husband just as Ralph was finding fame in Schindler's List , she says, parties and premieres were part of every day life for a while, but that is becoming more of a rarity.
"We have times when the family come over and we do the Oscar or Golden Globe parties. I used to do it much more when I lived in London, but it gets boring and loses its sheen after a while.
"If I was living in Hollywood it would be just another city, but the lifestyle is so different here in Santa Monica. The weather makes people calmer."
Diet is also important to Fiennes, who is vegetarian for the most part, however she says she doesn't buy into the idea of depriving herself.
"If I feel like having a piece of meat or fish I will. I follow what my body wants. It's about being moderate. I have a glass of wine as well if I feel like it, but I know my limit. Restriction is based on fear and guilt and is not good for you.
"I have gone to parties where nobody is drinking and you think, that is not right. It tightens up people's whole body because they are being so restrictive. I allow myself to relax," she says.
Maya Fiennes' Kundalini Yoga workshop takes place on May 16th, 11am-4pm, at the Liffey Trust Centre and costs €100 including lunch. Contact Carrie Eddison on 087-6546910 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org