Finding inner calm – giving children elbow room works
An innovative hub of wellbeing brings children with sensory issues into the fold
When Lisa Wilkinson read step number 32 in the idiot’s guide to managing stress – “if all else fails, run away” – she knew what she had to do.
A strategic marketing manager with Baltimore Technologies at the time, having been headhunted back to Ireland from San Francisco, she had become disillusioned with the corporate world and was suffering serious burn-out.
“So I left my job and went to the Bahamas to train to be a yoga teacher,” she says in an understated summary of the sort of life-changing leap that many people dream of but few follow through.
Just over 10 years later, at the age of 46, she is happily pursuing her alternative vision at the Elbow Room, an innovative and ever-evolving “hub of wellbeing” she founded off Dublin’s north quays. Her life experience is etched into every development stage of the complex, housed in an old woollen mill.
Sitting in its newest addition – a purpose-built sensory integration suite that was officially launched last week – Wilkinson explains how the new facility has personal resonances as the mother of a daughter with sensory processing difficulties.
But it all started with yoga. Wilkinson built on her experiences in the Bahamas with further training in San Francisco, before returning to Dublin to teach yoga while also working as a consultant with business start-ups.
When an acquaintance mentioned there was a derelict unit under her art studio on North Brunswick Street, Wilkinson went along to investigate. With the backing of family members who are in the business of plumbing, ventilation and building services, she took it on to turn it into a yoga studio.
Two months after signing the lease, she discovered she was pregnant with her first child. She trained, lived and taught her way through pregnancy yoga, mother and baby yoga and, in the process, became, in her own words, “a complete birth nerd”. Active birth, breastfeeding and infant massage workshops, along with family-friendly yoga and Pilates classes, all feature at the centre.
Then she opened a second studio, for hot yoga – “that was something I was really into, trying to get fit, trying to get my body back”.
After the birth of her second child, Seán, four and half years ago, she says she felt her body was in an even worse state and she started yoga classes where he, and her clients’ babies, could be minded in part of the room. And, as Seán grew, she realised the importance of catering for toddlers separately, “as first-time mothers don’t like to see their newborn babies trashed by somebody else’s toddler”.
When she saw people coming to yoga and Pilates classes with posture problems, who needed a little more help than just stretching and exercise, she invited a physiotherapist to work onsite. That went so well she decided to open a whole clinic two years ago, with services ranging from nutritional therapy and acupuncture to osteopathy and craniosacral therapy.
After Wilkinson’s teaching of yoga had broadened to include children with Down syndrome, she decided to go to the UK to do more study of yoga with the special needs child.
Meanwhile, at home off the Navan Road, Wilkinson was aware her daughter, Tuilelaith, who will be 10 next month, was struggling with school work.
“She was having resource hours in school because she was not reaching the same developmental milestones as her peers, as far as writing and reading were concerned.” Homework was taking about two hours a day as Tuilelaith would be all over the place.
“I thought it was just my bad parenting, the fact that I could not get her to sit still,” she admits.