#nofilter Interview: Victoria Cunningham-Downey, Founder of Stretch Body Mind
Describe who you are and what you do in 3 sentences or less.
I’m Victoria Cunningham-Downey. I’m Irish and I live in Scotland where I train people to become yoga teachers, pilates instructors and all-round good eggs. I’m an avid reader of self-help books, an aspiring author and an awesome teacher trainer.
What prompted you to found Stretch Body Mind?
After doing youth work by day and teaching yoga by night I developed successful charity Stretch & Play for children and young people back in 2006. I then created Stretch NI in late 2009 to work specifically with adults and when I moved to Scotland in late 2012 I developed this work into online and offline courses through StretchBodyMind. I had this idea about stretching minds as well as bodies and incorporated lots of personal development techniques into my professional development courses.
Who or what inspires you?
I am hugely inspired by Max Strom and his work on the breath. What I love about him is that his definition of yoga is so much broader than asana practice. Plus he helped me to sleep better than I ever have before! I was thrilled to be able to host him during his first Scottish workshop weekend and I’m so happy that he’s on the mend from his recent heart surgery.
In your career and life, what’s been your greatest asset?
My creativity and sense of humour. I grew up in a family of story tellers and jokers and even though I had a traumatic childhood during ‘The Troubles’ I remember life as being joyful.
And, if you care to share, your greatest hindrance? How did you overcome it?
I would say my greatest hindrance is that I’m sometimes too open about my feelings. I find it hard to hide my emotions and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2009 which I take medication for. However, I have found my yoga practice to be very grounding when I’m hypomanic and stimulating when I’m feeling down.
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is creating communities. I encourage my students to get to know one another and be there for each other, in class and outside.
The worst part of my job is the isolation. Much as I love to create these communities in my classes and courses, there is always an invisible barrier between student and teacher. It’s important to maintain a slight separation for professional and ethical reasons, but between that, writing, and working for myself it can sometimes feel lonely.
Do you ever feel self-conscious or insecure about putting yourself or your practice out into the world?
Of course. Who doesn’t? But spending 4 years working directly with children in my charity, Stretch & Play, knocked any self-consciousness out of me!
How do you bring yourself back to your badass self when you’re not feeling it?
I always find that chocolate and a cuddle with my furry dog-babies works.
Do you ever feel pressured to conform to society’s idea of a ‘good yogi’?
I began practicing yoga back in the 80s when I was 13 and being a ‘good yogi’ was not about being a contortionist but about applying these ancient Indian teachings to my life in war-torn Northern Ireland. So, as I’ve grown up these teachings have helped me to avoid conforming to any of society’s norms!
What is your personal measure of success?
Feeling that I’m making a positive difference in others’ lives. That’s why it’s so important to me to keep my classes small, so I can connect with my students, and see those differences in action.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I am in the process of developing a CPD course called ‘Stretch Yogalattes’ which is a unique combination of yoga, pilates and barre stretches put together with a whole lot of humour. I will be launching this nationally at the OM Yoga Show Glasgow in March 2017 and want to launch in internationally the following year.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“If it’s for you, it will not go by you.” I suffer from a serious case of FOMO and have to stop myself from buying every book or every course about every subject I’m interested in. This saying always reminds me to pause before purchasing.