Featured Yoga Teacher
10 Questions with Claire Corcoran, of Stretch It Yoga:
This month, The Yoga Site interviews Claire Corcoran, the founder of Stretch It Yoga. Claire's yoga journey started when she was 23 years old. Unlike most yoga students or teachers, Claire was born with Klippel-Feil Syndrome, diagnosed at age 6. For the first 23 years of her life, she says she lived in pain and refused to acknowledge her body and health. Yoga finally allowed her to reconnect with herself and also allowed herself to regain a mind and body connection that was previously thought to be impossible. After graduating from a yoga teacher training diploma in 2007, she taught Hatha and Vinyasa yoga part-time for 7 years before finally becoming a full-time yoga teacher. At that point, she started training in Pregnancy Yoga and became a mum to daughter Izzy - 2 life changing moments. Her focus started around Hatha and Vinyasa and she now teaches Pregnancy Yoga, Mum and Baby Yoga, Baby Massage and is exploring yoga for disabilities. She has valuable information to share with students of all abilities and mums-to-be. We caught up with her, and her little yogi, Izzy, at Om Yoga, Dublin 7.
1. Can you share your own story of physical disability?
I was born with Klippel-Feil Syndrome. It's a bone disorder where 2 of my vertebrae are fused, I also have mild scoliosis and two extra ribs! They didn't notice when I was born but I wasn't fully diagnosed by a doctor at Temple Street until I was 6 years old. I had a head tilt and my pigtails we're constantly crooked! It restricts movement from side to side and results in a lot of neck tension. There was a time in my twenties, I was a smoker, I was so hunched over, in pain, my breathing wasn't great, I wasn't fit or healthy at all and Killian, my then friend, now husband, suggested I try yoga. So I started with Roy Griffin at the Yoga Therapy and Training, (YTTC), and loved it form day 1.
2. How did yoga help with Klippel-Feil Syndrome?
I stayed doing classes for about 2 years, doing yoga 2-3 times a week, then I wanted to start my own home practice. I was doing Vinyasa Yoga and Hot Yoga and if I didn't do yoga I would get pain in my neck. Overall, I could suddenly breath better, previously I was only breathing shallow breaths in to my chest and was quite short of breath. After doing yoga for a year or so I could breath fully into my ribs and belly, utilising all of my lungs properly. I was also a volatile, emotional person. I wasn't aware of this or that I was a reactor until I started yoga! I became more aware of my actions. I don't think I would have lasted in my relationship if I hadn't discovered yoga!!!
3. You teach yoga to people with intellectual disabilities, tell us about it?
I've been teaching in St Michael's House in Santry Hall for a year and a half now and I have just started a second class with them in Ballymun. When I started the first class, the students kept their eyes open during breathing exercises and relaxation. They were tense, fidgety and found it hard to listen and to let go. Now most of them can do 10 minutes of deep relaxation and they don't want to finish. Their level of focus in the class has gone up so much. It's clear they are enjoying the yoga and getting a lot out of it, which is very rewarding for me. Staff at SMH tell me there are noticeable improvements in behaviour after class on Fridays.
4. How do you prepare when teaching people with learning disabilities?
I didn't do any formal yoga training around disabilities so I more or less threw myself in the deep-end. I had my own experience of what it was like to practice with a physical disability so I knew I had to start out simply and slowly. I started with the usual class preparation but that went out the window as you can't predict what's going to happen in classes at St Michaels! Three quarters of the class can be taught while in a seated position so those who are less mobile aren't being left out. When we come to do standing poses, those on chairs or in wheelchairs can focus on the upper body and the breathing. I am now looking into doing some training to teach adults and children with Autism, ADHD and other disabilities.
5. Did yoga play a part in your pregnancy journey?!
Well when I signed up for Pregnancy Yoga Training at The Elbow Room, I realised I was suddenly pregnant. I had to secretly pretend I wasn't pregnant for the first few months, as you do, and then I became the class guinea-pig. It was a nice time. I had my yoga exam on the Sunday, 36 & a half weeks pregnant and straight after the exam my waters broke and Izzy was born! The breathing exercises and poses practiced in pregnancy yoga were a god send in labour and definately helped me cope much better. Yogis are very aware of their pelvic floor muscles and yoga tones and stretches the pelvic floor so of course this was hugely beneficial too - both before and even more importantly after having a baby.
6. You were obviously meant to teach Pregnancy Yoga, how has been a mum changed your practice?
Personally, I don't know if I would have got so into teaching Pregnancy Yoga if I had not become a Mum myself. Having gone through the life changing process of pregnancy and motherhood and understanding the massive changes your body goes through during this time has given me a real passion for helping women through this time in their lives. After Izzy was born I went back to train in Mum and Baby Yoga and Baby Massage. I saw the benefits firsthand. Baby Massage is so beneficial for nurturing touch, body awareness, releasing feel good hormones, (in baby and caregiver). It's soothing and calming for babies, helps them sleep better, relieves wind and constipation, reduces stress and most importantly it helps the bonding process.
7. What's the main thing your mums-to-be talk about?
What my mums-to-be talk about is aches and pains and the trials and tribulations of pregnancy and hopes and fears for their labour and childbirth. The pregnancy yoga classes are a safe space for women to really open up about how they are feeling from week to week and it provides a support network of other women who are on the same journey as you and can relate to what you are feeling. Pregnancy yoga is enormously helpful for helping them prepare for labour and for reducing any fears they may have around the whole birthing process. Unfortunately the culture we live in presents childbirth as something awful and scary so I find a lot of women are scared. I try to remind them to spend some time thinking about whats going to happen when the baby arrives - for example of they want to breastfeed they have a much higher chance of success if they do some research beforehand.
8. Has yoga effected Izzy's life?
I like to think it made her calmer. I practiced for an hour and a half everyday when I was pregnant. She has loads of awareness of herself, me and others. I also did lots of Baby Massage with her, relaxing her and myself. I think it's made a huge difference to her. Now she messes around on the mat, mainly copying me, but I hope she gets into it herself properly one day. But her father is very chilled and calm by nature too, so who knows.
9. What's life like now?
Well I've come a long way, I'm healthier, more balanced and happier than I've ever been. My husband Killian is a runner and has his own practice, I taught him! We cook all our own food, unprocessed, and juice and do all that. I was vegetarian for 3 years but caved after a trip to Cuba where a month of rice and beans sent me over the edge! I still have a glass of wine at the weekends and a packet of King Crisps. I'm trying to get Izzy into veggies. Smoothies seem to be working. She likes strawberry and banana smoothie and I sneak some spinach in. As for my practice, since having Izzy and returning to my own practice, I have found that if I do too many planks and chaturangas my neck gets a bit sore so I have toned the physical side of things down a bit, (I must be getting old!), but I still practice on average 5 times a week, (its getting harder with Izzy dropping her afternoon naps recently). These days I am focusing more on the meditation and breathing techniques and developing that side of the practice more.
10. What's next for you?
As I mentioned I'd love to train to teach adults and children with Autism, ADHD and other disabilities. I've yet to find somewhere to do this in Ireland so I'm beginning to look at training abroad but all depends on this little one. [Izzy!]
More about Claire:
Claire has been teaching yoga since 2007, after graduating from a Yoga Therapy and Training (YTTC, Yoga Alliance registered) teaching diploma. Much to her own surprise, she found she had a great passion for teaching yoga and in 2012 she left her career in TV production, set up Stretch It Yoga and pursued her dream of becoming a full-time yoga teacher. Claire was born with Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a rare syndrome characterised by the congenital fusion of two of the cervical vertebrae. This resulted in poor range of movement of the neck, bad posture, shortness of breath and neck and back aches throughout her life. A sedentary unhealthy lifestyle wasn’t helping. On the advice of a friend, in her early 20’s she began taking a regular yoga class. She was hooked from the very first class. Over the next couple of years she began to develop a regular yoga practice at home and attended many classes and workshops with many wonderful teachers. Over time pain and other symptoms improved dramatically. As a result of her dedicated yoga practice, Claire has managed to stay off long term pain medication, which is the usual route for her condition. Yoga gave Claire the tools and the discipline she needed to self-manage her symptoms and taught her to accept herself as she is. In 2013 she completed the Trust in Birth prenatal yoga teacher training with The Elbowroom while pregnant. Her waters broke the day she finished her exam! Yoga was a huge help to her throughout her pregnancy and birth. When her baby was three months old, she decided to embark on the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) baby massage teacher training course. She practiced on her baby girl every day and found that baby massage relaxed both of them and helped her baby sleep better. She has since gone on to train in Mum and Baby and Toddler Yoga.