Meet Yoga Instructor and Educational Psychologist Dr Fyona Flynn.
Living on purpose, following your intuition and why empathy & connection are key to well-being
“ Through my Therapeutic work the most important thing to me is to help other people feel good about themselves, listen to them, let them know they are important
and if you can be remembered for doing that, well that's very special”
Born in California, to Irish parents who were living in America for about 10 years. Not only was Fyona a part of a big family with 6 siblings, she is also a twin to her sister, whilst not identical she does love being a twin and they share an incredibly close bond. Being a part of a big family comes with many benefits, growing up everything was shared, no matter if it was boys clothes or girls, we all wore hand me downs.
Returning to Limerick in Ireland, along with her parents, four sisters and 2 brothers when she was four or five years old, to a tiny place in the countryside, her home for the next 15 years where she made some of her dearest friends, who remain close to her heart, even today. Moving to Dublin upon reflection was a far greater culture shock than the move from California to Limerick.
“We were teenagers, kind of awkward, country bumpkins, from a place where we knew everyone at school and we all simply loved to play sports, to now find ourselves living in Dublin, attending a private school, some would consider to be quite snobbish. It was a shock to the system, it was a tough year! I was a teenage girl with braces, feeling self conscious about being overweight and having bad skin,” says Flinn.
Growing up with sports Flinn admits she didn't really push herself until she was 16, living in Dublin when she was playing Hockey, a game she grew to love and realized she wanted to become fitter and her interest in wellness first arose. An avid learner she began studying Psychology in her twenties as her undergraduate degree and then she went on to do a Master's before taking seven months off on an epic adventure to travel and explore Asia with her twin sister. Returning home after 7 months of travel, partying and having the time of her life she discovered yoga as a way to get back in shape.
Bikram yoga was her first kind of yoga love, she says “I was probably a bit of a hardcore Bikram addict for a while but now I love all types of yoga and went on to do my teacher training, and that really brought my two loves together; physical fitness, exercise and mental health and wellness.”
Yoga is the union of body and mind and Flinn saw it as a perfect fit for her. Year on year she made it a big priority, taking time out where needed to focus on her personal wellness.
Things began to fall into place as a result of her hard work. Grants opened up and she landed an exciting opportunity to live and work in Dubai as a Psychologist at a special needs school and Therapy Centre as a part of a multidisciplinary team and learn from other healthcare professionals. It was here Flinn discovered the joy and fulfillment of working with kids and as 2 years went by she started to ask herself, some important questions like; What's next, What do I want to specialize in?
She found herself torn between her original plan for a career in Occupational Psychology, a vocation which she had always found very interesting and had until this time achieved great success. Though she had already dedicated a tremendous amount of research and time, even though it opened up a number of new doors, it just wasn't her passion. The experience of working with kids in Dubai, unexpectedly sparked a passion she couldn't ignore and her intuition was clearly trying to get her attention.
“Following your strong gut feelings is something that comes up every now and then and when it does, you have to follow it,” says Flinn, this is what has led her to submit her application to do her Doctorate at the prestigious Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland.
In 2018 Queen's University appointed the former United States secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton as its new Chancellor. Clinton, who received an honorary doctorate from Queen's University Belfast in October 2018, will become the University’s 11th and first female Chancellor. The University is making waves internationally for its research and impact and I am proud to be an ambassador and help grow its reputation for excellence,” says Clinton in the Irish Central.
Returning back home for a one day interview not knowing what the outcome would be and somewhat hesitant to give up the life she had created and loved so much in Dubai, however she put aside the small voice of self doubt and uncertainty and instead again she trusted her intuition. Shortly after receiving the good news of her acceptance as one of 6 all female candidates Flinn made the move to back to Ireland, arriving in Belfast ready to begin a new chapter. Studying alongside five other girls, similar ages and at a similar place in life, who became like sisters, spending an enormous amount of time together and supporting each other.
The universe got it right again and this experience reaffirms just how powerful our intuition is and it paved the way for where she is today.
“Studying psychology for so long, you begin to understand so much more about the power of the mind and really mental health is everything, if you're not balancing it with your physical health, you're like a car without any petrol in that you're not going to go anywhere.
So this is when Yoga became a really big part of my life,‘’ says Flinn.
Fueled by her deep desire to help others feel good about themselves, whilst maintaining her own health and fitness, inspiring those around her with her dedication, discipline and her unwavering commitment to learn as much as she can. Living on purpose this is the drive behind her professional endeavors so she can help young children and adolescents discover a sense of self awareness, improve their self- worth, find balance and ultimately experience some kind of inner peace. Is there any greater gift you can give to another!
What is the meaning and purpose of your life, what fulfills you?
Through the Yoga Teacher training and books I have read I have become a much more reflective person. What gives my life purpose is the relationships with other people. I think life would be meaningless without those connections and relationships. I have been really lucky, my family is so close and I would very honestly say I am so close with everybody in my family, and equally with my friends and my partner, the love I have for these people is what gives my life a huge amount of meaning and purpose.
Even just connections with people you don't know, like a laugh with a stranger, that energizes me and I feel fulfilled. I feel a spark inside of me. So people and relationships are absolutely number one.
My work is very fulfilling as a Child Psychologist, its challenging but its rewarding, you work with children and young people and their families who have really significant struggles and feeling like you have made any kind of difference to them, even if it's that they finally feel heard, they finally feel like someone has actually listened to them. That is why work is so important, if you are in a job where you don’t feel that sense of purpose or you're not adding value that's when people are prone to depression or lethargy or feeling a bit useless. You certainly won't be energized, having a sense of purpose with work and feeling like you are making some kind of a difference and you can do that in any job whether you're a nurse or a teacher so it all comes back to relationships with people, if purpose with work and having positive relationships in my life then I feel very fulfilled.
You clearly have a strong mind/ body / spirit connection? Where did this come from?
The mind body part I would say I have had since my teenage years, growing up with sports has really helped with that. I think we do have a real disconnect in society, people are disconnected and don't understand themselves. The kinds and adolescents I work with are completely unable to describe how they are feeling or unable to understand why they do what they do. With really self destructive behavior. I am not saying sport is the answer but I do think growing up with sport is really important for that, it made me very aware.
I remember when I was about 15 years and my twin and I were on the senior hockey team playing the cup final, it went to penalties and I was the last penalty taker.
At the time it was the most important thing in the world and the whole school was watching. I remember shaking and I told myself I need to stop shaking,everything slowed down and I said well you're shaking because you're nervous and you're nervous because this is important to you and that's a good thing. This is a random memory but it really stands out, as a good example of self talk, though I didn't know what that was at the time.
The mind body connection grew from there and studying psychology for so many years really deepened it. You start to understand the power of the mind which is so phenomenal. Together with the yoga teacher training you become more spiritual and it's been through meditation, there's definitely a journey to go for that third and final part. It's funny, because now I do have a regular meditation practice, you do feel a connection with something, whether it's a spiritual or some form of energy. When I am in that meditative state I feel connected to some sense of a higher being or some sense of higher consciousness whatever that might be.
Beginning to feel that sort of connection, of some kind, I have started to develop the habit of putting out affirmations and say them to myself before I go to sleep. I put out to the universe this is what I want and it really has worked for me, in the last couple of years I have felt my happiest.
What are the cornerstones of your peace and creativity?
I would have said before, things like exercising on a regular basis, getting good sleep, nutrition, spending time on relationships and all of those things are definitely of great importance to me. Though, I now think I would see them as tools to maintain peace.
What has to come first and foremost is being completely comfortable with who you are. Liking who you are, I think I only realized that a few years ago, before Yoga teacher training.
A number of years ago, I went through a very difficult time and I was really not at peace with myself. Very unsettled. I was scared of going to bed at night because that's when I was going to be alone with my thoughts and my feelings. I couldn't hide from them, whereas during the day it was okay because I was extremely busy. Every hour of my day I was doing something and from the outside looking in, people were like, how do you fit so much in? You're amazing! You do all this stuff. But in reality it was avoidance, to not deal with what was going on for me. I went to the doctor, mainly about not sleeping and I wanted to get a response that perhaps I must be deficient in something. By the end of it I was in tears and they were prescribing antidepressants and anxiety medication. I remember feeling so embarrassed cause I'm a psychologist. I have a doctorate in psychology, I'm supposed to work with people who have these things. I can't have these things! I was stigmatizing myself. It was a very difficult time. You could strip it all back and really I just wasn't at peace with myself and I had to spend a lot of time deciding who I wanted to be, what are my values, what do I want, what is my value system that I want to live by. I spent a lot of time reflecting on this and that's what's going to guide me. It definitely wasn't easy or quick, it took time, but it was all worth it because by the end of it, I was very comfortable with who I am. I do like who I am and I know what my values are. I think it just gives you good boundaries as well.
“So, the foundation is being comfortable with who you are and really genuinely liking who you are. I do think when you have that inner peace first, that's when creativity starts to flow.”
Define balanced living? How do you find balance and inspiration in your life?
For me, balanced living is equal priority and time given to your physical health, your cognitive health, your emotional health or mental health and your social health. I think those are the four pillars and we need to give them equal time.
There was a period of my life where I was giving all my time to physical health. I wanted to be the fittest, strongest person and so my social health was deteriorating. I wasn't making time for my friends or family because I had to get a gym class or whatever it was. So finding balance across those four areas for me is very important.
Cognitive health is so important, you know, we all exercise our bodies but forget to exercise our brain. I think I always need to feel challenged and I love learning. I actually remember my oldest sister, she's a pediatrician and she's a bit of a machine, you know, one of these overachievers in everything that she does. I remember her saying to me once that she just loves learning and I remember thinking that is such a positive way of thinking about it and that became my mindset, the same way I love physical exercise, I now love cognitive exercise!”
Finding Inspiration - Who Inspires you?
There's lots of people who've done amazing things and of course it's very inspirational. But for me it's much closer to home.
I feel most inspired by my parents and my partner Paul. My parents because I just think they really inspire me to live by a moral compass. They are two people with the most integrity, really of anyone I know. It's not about idolizing my parents, they are just really good people, they are both very successful and it has been very inspiring to me to see that you can live a very successful life while still being a very kind, honest and decent person."
My partner Paul had a long and very hard road to go down and to see where he is now is just so wonderful. He really is very inspiring to me in terms of resilience and persistence and what he's done in the last couple of years. It just makes me think again, similar to how I would think of my parents when it's like a moral compass situation. If I'm in something that I'm finding hard or challenging, I think of Paul and remember what hard work and consistency can do is truly amazing.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
My main project I guess is myself and my self development. And that's why I'm taking this time out at the moment. Paul and I are spending 3 months in Thailand, mainly teaching yoga for me and for Paul it's doing strength and hiit classes, we're also doing some talks.
I'm also focused on developing mental health programs for teenagers in schools supporting teachers and parents on topics like trauma, anxiety, depression and an attachment. Either working directly with the young people myself in a therapeutic way or training teachers and parents so they feel more skilled at managing the mental health issues that these students are facing.
Is there a particular book that changed your life or direction in some way?
Dr Edith Egers book is called; “The Choice - Even in hell, hope can flower”. She was a prisoner in Auschwitz as a child and later became an educational psychologist and clinical psychologist. And this led me to “Viktor Frankl’s book; Man's Search for Meaning” a Psychiatrist who wrote his book while he was in prison. It's just all about the power of the human mind and this idea, you always have a choice, no matter what the situation is, you have a choice. So they are extremely inspirational books, life changing!
What is your favourite healthy holiday destination or Wellness Resort/retreat?
I have done lots of fitness holidays, yoga retreats, cleanses and always enjoyed them. But Phuket Cleanse has definitely been my most positive experience. We spent our first few days here as guests and then started working here. I could talk about the facilities, the classes and the food, but it is the people here. It's the atmosphere here. It's just so uplifting and so genuinely positive. I really haven't experienced anything like it anywhere else.
I think as well there's a very holistic approach to health here, which I really appreciate. And there's so much on offer every day. People are leaving empowered and skilled, as opposed to dependent on what I need to be in that environment, where someone's making me juices every day. I think by having so much on offer there's something for everybody, but it also encourages people to try new things. Allot of people come here for their physical fitness and then while they're here, it becomes much more about emotional wellness as an example. So we are very grateful to be working here. I honestly can say it's life changing here. I just think you go, your mindset changes and that's the most important thing.
How do you start fresh each day, do you have a morning routine or a favourite smoothie you can’t live without?
This is something I'm really working on at the moment. Actually I am inspired by Paul because that was one of the first things he changed for himself. He became really disciplined about his morning routine, he gets up no matter what, he'll get up at 6:00 AM to do his workout. The first thing I do is not reach for my phone, not anymore. I now have a notebook on my bedside table now and I write 3 things I am grateful for and 3 intentions for the day.
Then I will get up and meditate maybe outside in the garden or inside on the cushions and meditate for 15 minutes everyday. Then I will go downstairs and Paul and I will make breakfast together. We try to have something really healthy, home-made as I am gluten and dairy free, and we take time to chat to each other in the morning first thing before checking in on the outside world or touching our phones. Sometimes I will exercise in the morning right after meditation, before breakfast it depends on the day but I am equally happy to exercise after work. It definitely takes discipline and once you are disciplined it becomes habitual and you have a much better day.
I remember I read a quote, I think it was by the Dalai Lama and it said “Everybody should meditate for 10 minutes a day, except for the people who are too busy. They should meditate for an hour every day.”
"I use this sometimes in my yoga classes when it's the end of class and we encourage students to take at least two minutes lying still in their savassanah, and I say everybody has two minutes and if you feel like you don't have two minutes then you need to take ten minutes here." I do love all smoothies but it can be hard sometimes in the winter, in summer I really try to have 50/50 half fruit half veggie conscious of the fruit sugars.
What does self care look like for you?
Self care is balance. For me, I do need to be exercising most days. I think it's really important again to know yourself and know what you need because self care might look very different for me depending on the day and the situation.
It might be that I come home from work and I put headphones on and I go run up the Hills blasting music, or it might be that I come home from work and I put on my pajamas and watch my favorite movie. Or I get dressed up and feel good about myself and I go drink margaritas with my girls or something like that. Living a good routine and having balance and boundaries in place. You know, it may be a cliche but you have got to fill up your own cup first, some people think it's, being selfish. But it's definitely not, you have to look after yourself first and then you're more than able to go and be the helpful support to other people in your life.
How would you describe your perfect day?
Well, currently I'm lucky enough to be having a perfect day every day. It's true!
To wake up without an alarm going off naturally, feeling very rested, do my morning routine. Have a nice, relaxed, easygoing breakfast with Paul. Maybe go out for breakfast to one of our favorites, then we would go exercise. If it's my perfect day I would probably go to hot yoga. Then meetup with a friend. Go for a coffee, or for a walk. If it's my perfect day, it'll be sunny and we would be on the beach. I would love all my family over for a big dinner, maybe like a barbecue. We're all very spread out. So that would be an extremely perfect day. Just chill, play games, chat and if it's my perfect day, there would be Bruce Springsteen music on in the background.
What is your legacy, How would you like to be remembered?
Being remembered as long as it's in a positive way is very special.
Through my Therapeutic work the most important thing to me is to help other people feel good about themselves, listen to them, let them know they are important and if you can be remembered for doing that, well that's very special.
Do you have a favorite quote?
"We don't know what's going to happen, but no one can take away from you what you put in your own mind." By Edith Eger
Connect with Dr Fyona Flinn
For anyone interested in psychology/mental health, if you are an adolescent seeking help or advice or a teacher or parent, who are looking for more resources.
By Gaye Gerard