• Alexandra Filia

I tried four different ways to practice yoga in London. Which is the one for you?

Sure, if you google types of yoga, google will cheerfully inform you that there are eight major types and literally hundreds of offshoots including goat yoga, cannabis yoga, nude yoga and the list goes on. Stick the word “yoga” after most words in the dictionary and some crackpot is guaranteed to be teaching it somewhere.

Yoga is fast becoming the darling of the exercise scene, and the statistics are staggering.

· The yoga and Pilates market was worth over £875 million in 2018, up 2.1% from the year before.

· There are over 10,000 yoga teachers in the UK, and it seems like you can’t shake a stick without hitting one. In the past year alone, three women I know personally, quit their perfectly good jobs to become minimum wage yoga teachers.

· Up to 460,000 Brits are taking part in yoga classes each week at a good number of them spend their entire day in yoga pants.

· 5% of Brits have spent money on an online fitness, yoga or training service in the last year.

With its meditative elements and spiritual bend, yoga has become a sanctuary to millions of people seeking peace and stillness in what is an increasingly hectic world. I gravitated to yoga to counteract the stiffness that came with years spent hunched over a computer or pounding the floor in weekly aerobics classes. I started quite gently with a weekly class included with my regular gym membership. I suspect many others begin in the same way.

I wish I could say that I increased my hours of yoga because I absolutely loved the exercise. The truth is that I didn’t. I hated breathing through one nostril, and I found the jargon pretentious and annoying. In reality, what brought me around was the high percentage of astonishing bodies that dominated the classes. Bodies that defied gravity and could contort and bend in ways that I did not think possible. “If yoga can do this, I want to get me some”, I thought, and set out to find what would be the perfect yoga home for me in London.

I discovered four ways to do yoga in London and which one you choose will depend chiefly on your availability, what you can afford, and the demands of your job.

Evening classes at the local gym

The first yoga class I attended at my local gym was a long evening class that annoyingly started bang on at dinner time and went on well past it. You are meant to do yoga on an empty stomach. As I looked around the room, I wondered who can joyfully join this class after a long day at work. How can they achieve stillness with a rumbling stomach and knowing that they will not be able to eat dinner before 9 pm?

The front row consisted of the show-offs. They could do everything, and seemed to know what was coming even before the teacher had said a word: Headstands, peacocks, crows and other exotic birds; they could do them all fluidly and flawlessly.

The second row could make some of the moves, and as for the rest of us backbenchers, we gave each other painful looks, convinced that we would probably never manage a graceful headstand. My favourite move was the one that came at the end, “Shavasana”. It was long and restful, usually lasting 10 minutes or more, and more importantly, I could do it perfectly.

The social structure of the class was very rigid. If any of us “beginners” occupied one of the spots in the first or second row, we would get very un-zen looks from the regulars who usually arrived early and laid corpse-like on their mats waiting for the class to begin. They would revive on occasion to chastise anyone entering the room who dared disrupt their meditative state.

For most of us in the back rows, this was our once-a-week yoga class. The schedule was punishing and virtually impossible for anyone who had to feed dinner to a family. Oh, and the mats reeked something awful.

Daytime classes at the local gym

Local gyms offer these classes often taught by slightly disinterested teachers, and they usually resemble lukewarm soup; They are neither wonderful nor terrible. Classes typically run for the full hour and consist of a bit of meditating in the beginning followed by a bunch of sun salutations, and a few balance poses, a couple of twists and a short five-minute “Shavasana” at the end. Nothing challenging, everything predictable, and in my opinion very, very dull. The yogis are with few exceptions women, and there is a lot of kissing at the beginning and end of class. It is the kind of yoga class ran by hotels and spas where the participants are transient, and the level is mixed. In my view, such classes offer neither fitness nor meditative stillness and not even a hint of spirituality.

Boutique studios in business locations

These classes are expensive and offered by specialised high-end studios in convenient City locations. Frazzled city workers, burst through the door five minutes before the class, quickly change into their Lululemons and lay on pristine mats as quickly as possible hoping to slow down their racing hearts and worried minds before concentrating on their breaths. In the first ten minutes, the class is interrupted by breathless participants who are running late. At the end, the ridiculously short “Shavasana” is interrupted by those who leave the class early to be first at the showers.

To accommodate the length of a typical lunch break, the class goes on for 45 minutes, allowing 15 minutes for people to shower, change and get back to their desks. I feel ambivalent about these truncated, stressful classes as I am sure that whatever mental benefit, they gain from their practice evaporates in the subsequent battle over the few hairdryers and limited mirror space. Perhaps they offer some respite from work stress but so would a walk with a friend, without having to take a shower afterwards.

Boutique studios in residential locations

It is in one of those studios that I found my yoga home. They run a variety of classes throughout the day, accommodating different schedules from housewives to moms to busy executives. The equipment is top of the line, the studios are serene and immaculately decorated, and the teachers are the best in the business. Despite the busy schedule, nothing feels rushed, and the café is full of moms with babies, people working hard on their computers and friends having a chat over chai. It is the sort of studio that could have been pretentious but has somehow avoided it. I even came around to concentrating on my breath and trying to meditate because my teachers turned out to be magical, caring and genuine beings who have succeeded in lifting me out of every negative thought.

This being London, there are, of course, several other options. I have now discovered Paddleboard Yoga, Yoga in the sky, Dogamahny (yoga with dogs), Secret Yoga and many different variations that may appeal to the more adventurous. But for your everyday, run of the mill class, a yoga studio is the place to go. It is built for purpose; it attracts the best teachers and can offer a wide variety of classes to accommodate most schedules.

“Say ur a bad girl”

I’m a bad girl

“oooh yeah, and tell me what bad girls do…”

ooh i’m gonna sign up for 3 months of yoga and only go twice - Anonymous


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