We left 'steady' careers to focus on wellness

A new wellness clinic was officially opened in Ballincollig in the past week. MARTINA O’DONOGHUE spoke to the dynamic women behind the new venture
We left 'steady' careers to focus on wellness
Claire Dunniece, Yoga & Meditation Teacher and Catherine Hassett, Life Change Strategist , both Co Founders Essential Wellness, at Old Town House, Ballincollig Co. Cork.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

WELLNESS has become something of a buzzword in recent years but for two women who have just opened a business in Ballincollig, it has long been a way of life.

Catherine Hassett and Claire Dunniece have teamed up to open Essential Wellness in Ballincollig, a centre offering Yoga, Nutritional Therapy, Herbal Naturopathy, Physiotherapy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Mindfulness and Relaxation, a psychologist and Baby Reflexology all under one roof. Birthing and Babies is another aspect, with postnatal workshops and lactation consultancy among the services.

It seems Catherine and Claire have much in common, with both women already busy running two other businesses each, and both having started out in careers far removed from wellness.

Catherine Hassett, Life Change Strategist and Co Founder Essential Wellness.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Catherine Hassett, Life Change Strategist and Co Founder Essential Wellness.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

For Catherine it was a permanent, pensionable job in payroll for the HSE, although deep down she knew it wasn’t for her and she was keen to follow her passion.

She took a year out to engage with fulltime education in order to become an internationally accredited Life Coach.

“I left the course thinking I’d save the world but it was 2006, coaching was new and people would ask, ‘Is it that American stuff?’ or ‘Is it counselling?’”

Catherine returned to the HSE but she wasn’t happy and so after nine years there, in December 2010 she finally jumped ship, eager to work in an area that would “reflect who I am and what I want to do”.

She established herself as a life coach in the following months, specialising in guidance relating to over-eating, admitting that she has, in the past, had her own struggle in that regard.

Many of her clients would have been yo-yo dieting for years, often ending up worse off that when they started out.

“Food has become more than fuel for them. Food is in control of them; they try to stop it but they are always drawn back. They’d love to be in control of food again but they need to re-establish a positive relationship with food.

“When they leave me their whole life has changed, they have new strategies for dealing with life and they’ve returned to being natural eaters. So much of it is undoing what they’ve done for 20 years. When you see them come out the other side, it’s incredible.”

Catherine feels she is lucky to have married into a family of natural eaters who eat “proper food” when they’re hungry and stop when satisfied; an instinct we were all born with but have since forgotten.

“Can you get a bottle or bob into a baby’s mouth if they’re not hungry? Not a hope. But if they’re hungry will they scream the house down? Yes, they will”, she says.

Catherine’s second business grew from a need to connect with her community and also to help inform her private practice clients of other practitioners whose services could benefit them when they were in need of additional supports. With neither Catherine nor many of her clients aware of other groups, organisations, practitioners and businesses that could assist in improving their mental, emotional and physical health, she felt limited in her ability to provide what she calls ‘the wider wellbeing role’.

Cllr Derry Canty, Deputising for the Mayor of County Cork, Catherine Hassett, Life Change Strategist, Claire Dunniece, Yoga & Meditation Teacher, both Co Founders Essential Wellness and Aindrias Moynihan TD.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Cllr Derry Canty, Deputising for the Mayor of County Cork, Catherine Hassett, Life Change Strategist, Claire Dunniece, Yoga & Meditation Teacher, both Co Founders Essential Wellness and Aindrias Moynihan TD.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

As she explains online: “I am qualified to do a certain job, but sometimes clients need help from others too, so they can achieve a holistic and more effective level of care. I also did not feel confident in referring my clients to others if I could not do it with confidence and trust.”

Initially she started writing articles in a local news letter but soon realised there was a market for an entire publication related to wellness in the Ballincollig area. Hence, two years ago, Ballincollig Health and Wellness came to be; a monthly magazine without conventional advertising, but rather with articles written by local wellness practitioners who buy space to share their message.

“I firmly believe in empowerment and people can only be empowered with information”, says Catherine.

Her own 83-year-old mother took up five sessions of reflexology having learned about it from the pages of the magazine.

“You’ll meet plenty people in the area of health and wellness who are out to make a fast buck but our people are qualified, insured, and passionate and are not making wacky claims. They’ve trained for a long time and invested a lot in their careers”, says Catherine.

As well as informing the public, the magazine also helps practitioners to network amongst themselves and to build their reputations for referrals.

“Everyone seems to be thriving from supporting each other”, says Catherine, who has more recently set up the same model of magazine for East Cork and Castletroy in Limerick.

Claire Dunniece, Yoga & Meditation Teacher and Co Founder Essential Wellness.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Claire Dunniece, Yoga & Meditation Teacher and Co Founder Essential Wellness.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

It was through the magazine that Catherine met Claire, who had spent eight years in an accountancy practice.

“I was a chartered accountant, having done a BComm in UCC, and I was a manager in a firm, working long hours, sometimes six days per week. Over the years my health got worse”, says Claire, recalling her fast and hectic lifestyle.

Her body started to suffer from sitting, while chronic pain and fatigue became the norm. She persevered through it but increased her practice of yoga, something she had been interested in since her teens.

“I took a break and went to India. At that point the only thing holding me together was my yoga.”

Even though she had no intention of teaching yoga, she completed teacher training in Goa in 2015 and fell in love with it. Back in Cork, as her classes got busy she worked towards giving up accountancy and making yoga her sole focus.

Yoga also provided Claire with yet another business opportunity.

“My husband and I always travelled a lot and he’s an incredible cook — he’s a food technologist — and we both came from a hospitality background; I worked for six or seven years in restaurants. We put all these skills and passions together and started leading yoga retreats to Spain and Poland and here in Kerry.”

Husband Piotr does all the catering for their business, Prana Yoga Retreats, and tying in with a practitioner’s philosophy of ‘Do No Harm’, all the food is vegetarian.

“When you get into yoga quite heavily it comes part and parcel with it. After I came back from India I felt I couldn’t do it anymore [eat meat]. With Piotr’s cooking, guests on a retreat learn how to nourish themselves and through his workshops they learn how to do it at home and how easy it is. We still have a glass of wine at a retreat; it’s all about enjoying life”, she says.

That’s why their retreats have a theme of ‘Relax, De-stress and Nourish’.

As for her own chronic pain, suffered over a period of three years, there’s been a remarkable outcome.

“A lot of our modern illnesses are coming from stress. When I rested I got better. My nervous system began to repair itself. And I’d been to nine or ten doctors, neurologists, ENT, every holistic treatment you can think of.

“My nervous system was shot, living this high pressure life. We need that time when we slow down and stop. We need to find time for stillness and peace. You could be sitting on the couch but if you’re watching TV or scrolling through Facebook, that’s not rest. You can be on the couch but you can still be full of anxiety.”

While Claire teaches various types of yoga (her roots are in Ashtanga and Hatha) her core speciality is Restorative Yoga, which she insists is accessible for every individual regardless of age, size, strength or perceived flexibility.

“It’s about finding that stillness inside yourself”, she says.

Both women feel that they benefit from their business and accountancy backgrounds in running Essential Wellness, but it’s obvious that they are now in their dream jobs.

“I jump out of bed in the morning, to be honest, I love what I do”, says Catherine.

“Claire and I are on the same wavelength; we have the same passions”, she says.

“Our passion and belief in this will get us over any challenges. Working together, we’re stronger.”

To give back to the community, the centre, located at the Old Town House on Ballincollig’s main road, is offering a free meditation class every Monday morning at 7.30am.

For more information see www.essentialwellness.ie, while the centre is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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