Byron Yoga Centre blossomed from the depths of despair and is now a pinnacle of hope and healing. We are celebrating a milestone – 35 years as a local business in Byron Bay. This also makes us the longest running Yoga Centre in Australia. An incredibly inspiring story by John Ogilvie, founder and CEO of Byron Yoga Centre.

Our Story

By John Ogilvie, CEO and Founder of Byron Yoga Centre

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Our Story Begins with Emptiness

I had a long battle with drugs. I was a shy, insecure teenager who started drinking alcohol at the age of 12. I felt like I didn’t fit in, so getting ‘stoned’ or intoxicated made me feel different, that everything was OK. It also gave me a social group to fit in with.

The weekend drinking at football games became more regular, and as I approached my mid-teens I started experimenting with other drugs – marijuana and ‘pills’, speed, acid and other hallucinogens like ‘magic-mushrooms’.

When I was about 19, there was a ‘drought’ of marijuana, so my supplier offered me heroin. This heralded the beginning of a relentless cycle that had me in its grip for the next 10 years.

When I turned 23, I was at the lowest of ebbs and made a ‘conscious decision’ to terminate my life by taking an overdose. I was nothing but a burden and a pain on anyone and everyone around me, so I decided to finish it, it was in the best interests of everyone, including myself.

Fortunately I survived, and embarked on my detox journey. I was admitted to a detoxification centre in Melbourne. It was there at the ‘Pleasant View’ Centre, that I was first introduced to yoga. There was a guy who had a few photocopied sheets of yoga poses, and he used to take us out into the garden and we would do a few postures. 

When I left the detox centre I took a copy of these ‘foolscap sheets of paper’ detailing some very basic yoga movements. I started a daily practice of about 2 hours. This however was still not enough to fill the ‘huge, black hole of emptiness’ that I experienced whenever I was drug free. It was not long until I started using drugs again.

Yoga Saved Me

After so many previous failed attempts to fight my addiction, it was the Buttery a local residential rehab centre on the Northern Rivers that offered the winning formula. It was thanks to the longer, 5 month residency there, that the pieces finally all came together.

By integrating the spiritual guidelines of the 12 step program with the practice and philosophies of yoga, I succeeded in ‘healing the hole’ that had haunted me since my teens. By living these principals in all my affairs, helped the hole, slowly over a period of years, to close and heal. Even now, there is a sensitive scar where the hole had been. I see it as a healthy reminder of where I’ve come from, and that it’s really important to maintain my sadhana – regular practice of meditation, pranayama, asana and study.

This brings us to my ‘second life’. After completing my time at the Buttery, I moved to Sydney, where I obsessively attended classes at the Action School of Yoga, and apprenticed to Diane Currie. I also religiously attended daily N.A. meetings to continue to support my new, healthy lifestyle.

Byron Yoga Centre was Born

In 1986, I decided to make the ‘sea change’ back to Byron Bay. It’s hard to imagine, but at the time there was an absence of yoga in the region. I still managed to immerse myself in yoga, I apprenticed with Jenny Groves at her yoga school, and attended two classes daily across the northern rivers, from Ballina to Lismore. 

I taught my first yoga class in 1986 at Vision Studio, which was near Mitre 10 at the end of Jonson Street in Byron Bay. We shared the space with activities such as martial arts, dance and aerobics. Within a year, my dear friend Jenny Groves and I wanted to set up a dedicated space for yoga, so we created a studio above Westpac bank.

In 1988 I had the opportunity to partner with two other teachers, Liz Sears and Jacinta McEwen, and we opened a studio at the Epicentre at Belongil – and Byron Yoga Centre was born!

The Epicentre has a checkered history. It had been the local whaling slaughterhouse and a meat factory from 1912 to 1983 but had been bought and re-purposed by the McKeller family who transformed it into a creative centre. Our studio was part of this amazing hub that included artists, performing arts and quirky events. 

For several years I taught three classes each week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to noon. Over summer the classes got too big and I added an 8am to 9.30 class, so was teaching 6 sessions each week.

1988 – Welcome to Byron Bay Ewingsdale Road. Image credit: Geoff Bridgeford

1988 – Corner of Johnson and Lawson Streets (now a roundabout) Image credit: Geoff Bridgeford

The Vision to make Yoga Teacher Training Affordable and Accessible to All

I had been running Byron Yoga Centre for about 4 years when students started to approach me, wanting to learn how they could become a yoga teacher. At first I took on apprentices on a one-on-one basis. Soon there was an informal waiting list to become an apprentice so I took on a small group of 5 and gave some sessions outside of regular classes and the apprentice structure. Seeing the exclusivity of yoga teacher trainings priced at over $10,000 at the time, I wanted to establish my own affordable option at just $1,600. So in 2006 I began the first formal Byron Yoga Centre teacher training course.

During their training, my students faced the challenge of finding budget accommodation in party-filled hostels and share-houses, deviating from the SATTVIC lifestyle they were learning about. This inspired me to create on-site cabins and a camp kitchen serving nutritious SATTVIC food for my students to fully immerse themselves.

Between trainings, we began offering on-site Yoga Retreats, fostering a sense of unity and growth among practitioners. I also took my students on yoga retreats to Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, opening new horizons for my students. 

Byron Yoga Centre Finds it’s Forever Home

In 2008, the Epicentre Belongil was sold to developers and demolished so we were forced to find a new site. 

Fortunately we were lucky enough to purchase the property that would become the forever home for Byron Yoga Centre – 50 Skinner Shoot Rd Byron Bay. A breathtaking 30-acre land merely 1km from town. Historically, this site was cleared of vegetation and used as a holding ground for livestock, an airfield and then a racetrack for training horses.

The surrounding area contains wetlands of state significance, sensitive coastal dunes, coastal swamp forests and riparian areas. It contains three endangered ecological communities, which provide habitat for a wide range of native animals including threatened species including the Black-Necked Stork, Koalas, Large-Footed Myotis and Little Bent-Wing Bat.

The landscape of the Byron Yoga Centre and its greater surrounding area is made up of many features that are interconnected. These include the land, waters, plants, animals, special places, stories, historical and current uses, the Bundjalung of Byron Bay (Arakwal) people, other Bundjalung people and their interactions with each other and place. These features are seen as inseparable.

2008- The Epicentre building at Belongil was demolished by developers. Image Credit Daily Telegraph

50 Skinners Shoot Rd, Byron Bay 2481 (photograph taken 2019)

Creating a Yoga Centre for All

Byron Yoga Centre was gradually transformed and we hosted our first yoga retreat group on-site in 2010. It was a rustic camping experience, infused with a deep love for yoga and the sense of community. It was perfect.

The yoga we teach at Byron Yoga Centre is called Purna, meaning integrated or complete. Purna Yoga represents a holistic approach to yoga integrating not just the physical postures but also philosophy, meditation, pranayama breath control and the yogic personal and social code of ethics. The postural instruction is alignment focused. Sequences range from gentle restorative to dynamic. Blocks, belts and bolsters are available to be used to support and modify postures safely.

Over the years, our retreat center has blossomed. We’ve added various accommodation options, from quad-share tents to single ensuites – ensuring we had a place for everyone, regardless of budget. In 2016, the dream further expanded, as we added an admin office, a dining room, a 20m solar heated salt mineral pool, and a sprawling garden teeming with orchids and vegetable market gardens. 

We have created a sustainable eco village, with a focus on having as minimal carbon footprint as possible. We implemented solar panels, compost toilets, and our gardens being the source of our food. The people who come to Byron Yoga Centre practice mindfulness and yoga, eat a healthy vegetarian diet, and are introduced to the principles of its eco village. They then go home and spread the sentiments of Byron Yoga Centre to their work colleagues, family and friends – creating a beautiful flow on effect. 

When you pass through the entrance of the Byron Yoga Retreat Centre you leave the material world behind and enter an embassy, a spiritual oasis…

Amidst the growth, I continued to travel the world, sharing the transformative power of yoga at festivals across Bali, Jakarta, India, Japan, and more. Our humble beginnings had evolved into a haven for yoga, with 40 dedicated staff, six yoga spaces, and fifteen devoted teachers. We even continue to run our Yoga Retreats to India. 

I also feel so blessed to call Byron Yoga Centre my home. We welcomed my daughter Shaani here, and now my beautiful grandson Oliver. I married my wife Tabata here – who hosts the Women’s Retreats and is the author of Burst into Bloom. And we welcomed our two children Lucas and Celeste here. Byron Yoga Centre truly is a wonderful place.

The Challenges We’ve Faced

As for many local businesses, it has been a  turbulent few years for Byron Yoga Centre. We’ve experienced the horrific bush fires, temporary closure due to COVID-19 and the 2022 flooding. I have also recently experienced my own health complications, of which yoga and Byron Yoga Centre has nurtured, supported and carried me. 

Thanks to you, our amazing community, we have been able to keep our doors open and continue doing and providing what we love.

Byron Bay’s CBD inundated in 2022. Image credit ABC North Coast: Bruce MacKenzie.

An aerial photograph of the fire burning north of Byron Bay. Picture NSW RFS

Spreading Yoga to Every Corner of the World

I’ll be forever grateful to The Buttery, with a percentage of our profits going to continue to support them. Over the years I’ve trained teachers to ensure the weekly yoga class at the Buttery continues. I also run regular fundraising classes and workshops at Byron Yoga Centre from which all the profits go to The Buttery, Rainforest Rescue and provide all of our surplus food to Liberation Larder.

I’m proud to provide a welcoming and non-judgmental place for ex-residents of The Buttery to nurture their interest in the yoga lifestyle, encouraging them in the weekly classes and teacher training courses.

We are now the longest running yoga centre in Australia. Our vision has remained steadfast—to make yoga accessible to all, without exclusivity. Through our Yoga Retreats, Yoga Teacher Trainings, and International Student Programs, we aspire to spread the light of yoga to every town and village, for we believe that yoga has the potential to change the world. With this fervent belief, the Byron Yoga Centre will continue to be a beacon of transformation, where hearts open, and souls find solace in the embrace of yoga.

As the benefits of yoga start to ripple out you start to feel you again. It’s from this place that we can discover how to become the best version of ourselves, and how to start to live a sustainable life for ourselves, the community which we live in and planet Earth as a whole. 

Namaste,

Owner and CEO
of Byron Yoga Centre since 1988

Yoga
Retreats.

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International
Students.

Over the last 5-years I have returned 3-times for retreats. The first time I went I’d never done any yoga in my life – it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner have a lifetime of practice. The teachers help us all. The entire staff from the cleaners, gardeners, cooks, teachers and resort hosts are so lovely and nurturing. Always greeting you with a smile and and open heart. If you are worn out from life and need some nurturing then Byron Yoga will give you a recharge, love and laughter and let you get to know yourself a little better.

Duncan L

I stayed for a 7-day yoga retreat. It was an amazing week of learning, relaxation and new friendships. I would highly recommend this place for anyone who wants to deepen their yoga practice or even start one and learn in a supportive environment. The teachers were excellent at providing options for those like me with injuries and you are supported with amazing food, massages and magnesium salt pool. Equally as good were the friendships formed, and the conversations had. The location is beautiful and peaceful, and all the staff are lovely and knowledgeable

Heather G.

The staff at BYC were wonderful — friendly and helpful. My daughter and I enjoyed the classes, the food, massage treatments and the services/facilities. It may not be super flash like some high-end spa-retreats, but it was comfortable, clean, relaxing and exactly right for us. We had the freedom to come and go as we pleased, which allowed us time to visit Byron and other surrounding towns. All of the teachers are very attentive and caring in how they teach beginners as well as more advanced practitioners.

Jen B

Not being a proficient yoga practitioner, and being somewhat older, I initially felt some trepidation at the prospect of a 7-day yoga retreat, with 3 classes a day!
Yet, all of the staff and yoga teachers were amazing, in that they were not only congruent with what they were teaching, but they were also 100% supportive of each individual’s preferences and needs.
The rustic atmosphere was relaxing and the 3 massages included in my package were amazingly calming, which was exactly what I needed after such a busy year work-wise. I also really enjoyed learning and experiencing a truly authentic yoga lifestyle, great food, early nights, and simple amenities, all within a stunningly beautiful location.
Thanks so much for having me!

Janet S.

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