Over the last few days, we at SeasonedFork, have been discussing the role of women and the environment as we lead up to March 8th, International Women’s Day. We have been celebrating the accomplishments of women who have helped to shape the culture of our agricultural and maritime community and their backgrounds are all similar in some ways and vastly different in other ways. Some of these women we are featuring were born and raised here, some moved here from other parts of the country and others from other parts of the world. In either case, all of these women call the North Fork home and have contributed to our way of life; how we care for the health of the environment, our bodies and our souls.
The story of Claire Copersino, of North Fork Yoga Shala and Health Coaching by Claire, is similar to some of the other women we have featured in that she is an entrepreneur and a trailblazer in her field. Claire is a native of England, the product of parents raised during the post-war era, who could not indulge her in the frivolity of adolescent and teenage dreams. From an early age, she was taught value of hard work as the broken British economy left limited opportunities for young people at home. By the age of 16 she quit school to support herself and by the age of 20, she used a wedding in New York as the catalyst to England. With the clothes on her back, and the resolve of a titan, she embarked on a new life in America.
Many women dream about being their own bosses but not as many can make food or yoga businesses self sustaining and legacy-worthy as did Claire Copersino with her little store called The Natural Choice. She often wondered if she would make it past her first winter and with a shoe string budget, there wasn’t much room for error. Back then, the natural food and yoga industry were considered alternative businesses and there were few options for financing, but little by little the customers trickled to shop, more people showed up for yoga and a business was born. Despite that initial hurdle, her resolve was further tested by the death of her first husband as he lost his battle with cancer, and at the age of 33, she found herself widowed. Claire rose from the ashes, moved her business ahead with many more chapters of work and love, and came out on the other side: stronger, wiser and determined to continue the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Tell us about the journey that led you to your current career?
When I was a child, I suffered from some health problems that doctors did not seem to be able to resolve. I began to realize that when I ate fresh vegetables and whole grains, my digestive problems seemed to go away. That was the genesis of my quest for knowledge in natural food, yoga and meditation. Many years this interest became one of the passions I shared with my late husband who was battling non-Hogkins Lymphoma and in our quest for solutions, we explored this world together. At the time we were living on the South Fork and started to explore the real agricultural and unexploited beauty of the North Fork and we decided to open a health food store and yoga center. I ran that business for many years and when I remarried and had my son, I decided to step back from the business, closing the store in order to be a full time mother and later re-entered another yoga venture. Two years ago I open North Fork Yoga Shala in Greenport from where I run my yoga practice and health and lifestyle coaching.
When considering that we are celebrating International Women’s Day, how do you feel your career choice can inspire other women to improve their lives and their communities?
Most of my clients tend to be women and I see a process of empowerment through yoga and taking control of their health. When you work with women on making better food choices, their choices impact their families as women continue to do most of the cooking at home. When I can help these women with young children, they will eat vegetables. Through my sustainable lifestyle coaching, I also work with mothers on their body image as I address their health. This is extremely important as the first self images of young women come from their mothers. I see it having a positive impact on them from an improvement in their health and even their posture. This improved nutrition and body image makes them more confident and more likely to view themselves in leadership roles.
Please share your views on the economic viability of your career choice and how can it be possible for other women to support themselves in the pursuit of their aspirations?
When I started teaching yoga, I didn’t think about it as starting a business. Teaching yoga and teaching people about better nutrition was a lifestyle choice. I had limited resources and when we started the store and yoga center, I waitressed and did other odd jobs in order to fund my venture. I worked from 6 in the morning to teach morning classes from 8 am to noon, then worked in the shop till 4pm, and then drove an hour to the South Fork to waitress until one o’clock in the morning. Then little by little more people started coming to yoga, more people began to frequent our shop and I finally built up the courage to quit my waitressing job and focus on my business. As you journey through life, you can look back at more examples of how you make it through tough times and this helps to fortify you when it comes time to make tough decisions. Learning how to juggle personal and professional responsibilities is what enables us to be mothers; Motherhood is the ultimate 24/7 job.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Despite your desire for security, take some calculated risk from an educated perspective. If you don’t educate yourself, whether in school or on your own, you will not have the knowledge to persevere and believe in yourself. I left school when I was 16 to work but I have spent a lifetime educating myself. Also I want young women to have the courage to know when something is not working in your life. I think that women tend to rebuff change and will hang on to things even when they are not good for us.