People at first thought it was strange and some wondered why I wouldn’t be joining them down the pub
Back in the early 1990s Sean O’Leary defied the gloom and doom of a country that was still feeling the after effects of recession to launch one of the leading accountancy firms in Tunbridge Wells.
An ‘enthusiastic participant’ of the corporate lifestyle of drinking and partying, the successful businessman, who founded Ward Mackenzie in 1992 aged just 29, was content with his success.
Today, 23 years down the line, he has laid aside the excesses of the corporate life and become a teacher of yoga and a life coach who now prefers meditation and philosophy to ‘partying’.
Speaking to the Times, Sean O’Leary explains how his life as a ‘deeply unhappy’ and ‘out of condition’ accountant was transformed by the ancient discipline which has him ‘hooked’.
“The 80s was a time of heavy drinking and lots of partying and I had done my fair share of the corporate fun stuff,” he says.
“By the time I founded the company the 80s were over and so was most of the corporate excess as money was tighter but I was an enthusiastic participant of the corporate life.”
Despite enjoying a career as a serial entrepreneur who went on to found, direct or invest in a range of new companies since leaving Ward Mackenzie in 1998, Mr O’Leary said the lifestyle he led was ‘extraordinarily stressful.’
“I drank too much and had go to a point where I would look down and couldn’t see my toes and 30 per cent of my body mass was fat.
“I just thought there must be more than this, there must be another way of living and making a contribution than just making money.”
It was following an injury to his knee that he sustained during a game of five-aside football, and which needed surgery, that Mr O’Leary stumbled upon yoga.
He came across Yoga Tree of Life run by Nick Barrett while browsing online, and decided to give it a go.
“I went to a session and I just loved it. It helped with the flexibility in my knee and to relieve the stress.
“He is quite focused on the spiritual side of it which I like as it opened my eyes to meditation, and the philosophy and psychology of yoga.”
He also began training with a second practitioner, Mark Freeth, an ‘ex punk rocker’ who had made his living in the music industry and who ran the Freestyle Yoga project, a class which opened Mr O’Leary’s eyes to how wide the discipline really is.
“I thought I was quite advanced at yoga but I turned up and Mark said if I needed a rest to say so, which at the time I thought was quite an odd thing to mention.
“But after ten minutes I was knackered. There is no spiritual side to his type of yoga, it is more like gymnastics and gets you very fit.”
Mr O’Leary began training with both methods before deciding to qualify as a practitioner himself in 2014 in order to teach.
His new direction in life did not go unnoticed.
“People at first thought it was strange and some wondered why I wouldn’t be joining them down the pub any more.
“Some relationships haven’t endured the change, but I made others through their interest in yoga.”
He has no regrets, feeling far more at ease with himself now he has found a new way of dealing with life, comparing it unfavourably to how he had lived before.
“I just wasn’t happy about me as a person. From the outside all the aspects of my life looked fine. I was successful and have a wonderful family but many of my relationships were superficial and based on business.
“I was quite athletic in my youth but by the time I had found yoga my default at the rugby club was a glass of wine or a pint.
“Then one year I embarrassed myself when I got a bit too drunk before a family party around Christmas. It was a bit of a wake-up call.”
And while he is proud of his business successes and describes being an accountant as a ‘smart move’ at an intellectual and analytical level, he believes that on an emotional level it was ‘not so smart’.
“We go through life not consciously questioning why we are doing what we do.
“I had enjoyed my career but I was not fully aware why I was doing it and I realised I had become an accountant simply because my parents had suggested it would be a good job.
“It left me feeling unfulfilled and a bit of an impostor.”
Although he still derives income from his company MacKenzie Byrne Ltd, which sources funding for large scale commercial and residential investment portfolios, it is through yoga, not business, that he derives his satisfaction.
“Truly I have enjoyed a yoga transformation. Yoga helped me become lean, strong and flexible in my mind, body and emotions and guided me back to my authentic self.”
As a practitioner and teacher of yoga Mr O’Leary has a lot of empathy and understanding for his main clientele.
“My cohort are generally guys in their 40s and 50s who are directors, managers and business owners dealing with the stress of their jobs.
“But they realise that without a doubt setting aside time for some yoga can help you be a better businessman.”