We catch up with Claire Lormor, founder of Sunderland’s fabulous yoga studio, Wellness Space…
Some people say you’re more likely to find love when you’re not looking for it. And we’d say that’s pretty accurate. Whether it’s falling head over heels for someone else, a place, a type of food, or a hobby, often, the greatest love affairs begin unexpectedly – but can last a lifetime. It certainly was the case for Claire Lormor.
The 30-year-old, who hails from Sunderland, stumbled across yoga accidentally while travelling – and hasn’t looked back since.
“I was in Vietnam, teaching English as a foreign language, when this whole yoga thing began,” she recalls, with a smile.
“I’ve always been into fitness, but I found it hard to do the activities I loved while over there. My sports background is in tennis and skiing, but of course, there’s no snow in Asia and the outrageous rain meant tennis was nearly always out of the question.
“Then, one day, I decided to check out a local gym and discovered it offered tons of yoga classes. Because Vietnam is so close to India, where yoga originates from, there was a huge demand and love for it. And many of the teachers at the gym were Indian.
“I tried it, liked it and started going a couple of times a week – mainly because there wasn’t really much else to do outside of work. I wasn’t at all flexible, but I figured it would at least keep me somewhat active. It wasn’t until my travels look me to Canada that I really fell in love with it.”
Claire soon moved on to Banff to get her snow fix. But just as sparks began to fly between her and her old loves – snowboarding and skiing – yoga came along again to sweep her off her feet – for good.
“Turns out, Canada is really big on yoga. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that lululemon – now one of the world’s most famous yoga clothing brands – was founded in Vancouver. Who knows, but I gave it another go to see how the Canadian teachers went about it and it was a game-changer. I found myself practicing every day and soon became addicted. I did my teacher training and, well, here we are today.”
Soon after returning to her native North East, Claire began teaching at The Yoga Project in Sunderland, honing her craft, falling deeper in love with the practice and helping others stretch it out and find mental stillness during her classes. Dreams of owning her own studio were never too far away, though, until early this year, when she made them a reality and opened Wellness Space.
Moments away from the River Wear, the serene space offers a range of yoga sessions for all abilities, six days a week. For those who like to take it slow, there’s Gentle Yoga and Yin Yang, which mixes all-round vinyasa yoga with relaxing floor work. More experienced yogis, meanwhile, can have a go at Power Yoga, a mix of cardio, strength-training and yoga, classes which combine HIIT training and yoga, or Hot Yoga, in which you stretch and sweat it out in 28-degree heat.
“In terms of the types of yoga I offer, I try to provide as much variety as I can – around 11 different styles at the moment. But whichever one people decide to go for, the message is always the same: go at your own pace, do what feels good to you and enjoy yourselves.” Inclusivity, I learn, is important to Claire, which is why you’ll discover a mixed bag of abilities and a laid-back, easy-going vibe in every class.
“I don’t really like labels – things like ‘classes for beginners’ or ‘men’s classes’. Everyone – male or female, old or young, experienced or inexperienced – is welcome. I even offer ‘bring your own baby’ classes, so that busy parents can still fit yoga into their lives.
“That said, if people do fancy something a little more private, I also offer group classes for special occasions, such as birthday parties or hen dos, one-on-one sessions and corporate classes for the region’s tight-muscled office-workers.” But it isn’t all about downward dogs and stretchy lycra here at Wellness Space. You can also indulge in massages and reiki treatments, bond with your little ones during special baby and child wellness sessions, or head along to one of Claire’s Sunday yoga brunches at Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland.
“It’s the perfect way to start the day,” says Claire. “We alternate between ‘sweat’ classes, which mix typical vinyasa yoga with some strength and conditioning to get the heart pumping, and ‘relax’ classes, which are slow-paced and focus on gentle stretching. After an hour-long session, we sit down to a nutritious brunch with plenty of tea and coffee. It’s just a small, fun, way to bring Sunderland’s yoga community a bit closer together. I always look forward to them.”
“In terms of the types of yoga I offer, I try to provide as much variety as I can,” says Claire. “Whichever one people decide to go for, the message is always the same: go at your own pace, do what feels good to you and enjoy yourselves.”
Claire has lots of exciting plans in the pipeline for her new beloved business and Sunderland’s yoga scene – including more of her blissed-out wellness retreats.
“Our wellness retreats are very special to me,” says Claire. “We set off to different locations in and around the North East – often gorgeous cottages and luxury country homes – for a long weekend of yoga, healthy, home-cooked food and plenty of chill-out time.
“Accommodation, food and drink, classes and equipment are all included and everyone has a blast. Some people book up with friends, some come along with a family member, others turn up by themselves. But regardless of who you come with, you leave feeling like you’ve made real connections with people and have really invested in yourself. I think of them as mini holidays for the mind, body and soul. Our next one takes place this September in Yorkshire. I can’t wait.
This April, with the help of some of the North East’s best-loved yoga teachers, fitness instructors, nutritionists and speakers, Claire will be hosting Sunderland Wellness Festival – a whole day devoted to all things fitness and nutrition, which she hopes will bring more people to her home city and help put it on the map as a destination in the region for wellbeing.
“It’s unfortunate, but I feel like Sunderland has a bit of a bad rep,” says Claire. “I’ve heard a lot of people criticise it for not being exciting, attractive or cosmopolitan enough.
“So often it’s overshadowed by Newcastle, which is such a celebrated city, with so much going on. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Newcastle as much as the next person. But my roots are in Sunderland and I’m really passionate about where I come from. I want more people to visit the city and to believe in it, which is why I chose to set up my business here and to host the festival here.
“There are so many talented people from the world of yoga and wellness living and working in Sunderland and I hope that the event shines a light on that.
“My aim is to make the yogis of Sunderland realise that they don’t have to travel further afield to be a part of something great. It’s all happening and here for the taking, right on their doorstep.
“My affection for yoga just gets stronger and stronger and I hope that through my classes, retreats and events, maybe, just maybe, I can make others fall in love with it too.”