ClassPass diaries – aerial yoga at Skylab Studio

Skylab Studio in Camden is probably the cutest fitness studio I’ve ever seen. Set up in the attic space in instructor Astra’s home, it offers lessons in hoops, silk and rope as well as aerial fitness and yoga in a really friendly and cosy environment.

I went along to an aerial yoga class on a Saturday morning together with seven other early risers and it got my weekend off to a great start.

Like with all good drop-in classes the exercises and positions could be tailored to different levels so that everyone who attends feels challenged, whether they’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced.

I thought that having done a fair bit of pole fitness in the past would be to my advantage here, but it was still pretty tough going! If you head along to aerial yoga expecting something chilled and yin-like you’re going to have an unpleasant surprise – it was a really active hour and we worked up a sweat in no time.

I felt like the class worked almost every muscle in my body – we did TRX-style pull-ups for the arms and shoulders, inverted sit-ups for the abs, and single-leg salutations for quads and glutes. I’ve got aches all over today, which is always a good sign!

In the second half hour we had a go at some tricks, like the star and a pike-type move where you lie horizontal supported only by the hammock underneath your hips. Astra has been a circus performer for ten years so really knows her stuff and you feel more than safe in her hands.

There was a return to traditional yoga moves at the end of the class when we finished with a Shavasana, or corpse pose, but with our entire bodies inside the hammock like it was a cocoon. This would have been very relaxing, if I hadn’t been worried that I was going to accidentally either kick or headbutt one of the others as my hammock rotated!

As I have a weird thing about being upside down (it’s not just me – Kerouac used to start every day with a headstand), I absolutely loved this class and will definitely be back again. I’ve been desperate to try aerial hoop for ages so plan on giving that a go once I’ve worked on my pull-ups… watch this space!

IMG_0759

 

The ClassPass diaries – Music Video at FRAME

IMG_0719When I left my last job in December, my truly lush colleagues got me the best leaving gift a fitness fanatic could ask for – a one-month ClassPass.

A ClassPass allows you to try out a whole range of crazy classes at gyms and studios across London, offering everything from barrecore and burlesque to kick boxing and krav maga.

Seeing as December is inevitably a month of indulgence, I decided to wait until January to activate my pass and am hoping that it will help me to kick start 2016 in style.

First up on my list was a visit to FRAME, a dance studio that’s made a name for itself by offering themed classes teaching you how to werk it like your favourite pop stars.

The Music Video class which promises to show you how to ‘move and groove like they do on MTV’ seemed like a good shout, and I wasn’t disappointed!

We learnt a routine to Blow by Beyonce and, although I know I definitely can’t dance like Queen B, I still FELT like I could by the end of the class.

Instructor Alexus teaches the same routine three weeks in a row, ramping up the difficulty level each time, and I’m pretty glad that the week I went happened to be a ‘beginner level’ week – otherwise I would have struggled to keep up!

No one took the class too seriously though – it was much more about having loads of fun. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely while unleashing their inner sassiness. It was awesome – I’d definitely visit again!

Yoogaia – my top three picks

So after extensively trialling the amazing Yoogaia website over the past week, I’ve learnt an awful lot about the different types of guided yoga sessions available. If you’re a beginner it can be tricky to choose, so here are my top three picks!

1. Yin

When I visited Yoogaia HQ in Helsinki*, studio manager Katja told me that yin was the most popular form of yoga practiced in Finland – and I can understand why. This is a really mindful and slow paced yoga, with poses being held for three to five minutes each. The aim is to open up the body and sessions often focus on particular areas. Through Yoogaia I learnt that many yogis believe the hips are the key to unlocking pent up emotions – apparently people can even unexpectedly burst into tears or laughter when doing poses that target the hips. I haven’t had this experience myself, but I have felt amazingly calm and content after every session.

Instructor Heidi Poon reminds us that patience is love, and yin yoga creates a moment for you to love and appreciate the incredible machine that is your body. Many of those who practice yoga see it as a way of taking care of yourself before you can take care of others, and this practice helps you become aware of any areas of your body which are tight or ache or need to be looked after a little better. The required physical stillness leads to a mental stillness which enables you to focus on all the things you have to be thankful for, starting at the most basic level with the physical body that allows you to experience life, and this unity of mind and body in the moment is what yoga is all about for me personally.

2. Glute Max

At the other end of the spectrum is Glute Max with Linda Torbet. Anyone who has ever asked me about my gym routine knows I’m all about booty exercises – I cannot get me enough deadlifts and hip raises – so I was bound to love this class! And it wasn’t just a gentle workout, oh no. My glutes were genuinely aching by the end so I knew it was doing me good. Some of the exercises felt a bit silly so it’s really nice to be able to do this one from the privacy of your own home rather than in a crowded yoga studio, but then again if you like training glues you’re probably used to doing exercises which look / feel weird…

Also worth a mention here is Michael Musch’s Abs Express – another genuinely tough workout which is more ‘turbo charged’ and less ‘chill out’. Eat right and do that on the daily and your six pack will soon be making an appearance!

3. Morning Flow

Somewhere in between these two is Morning Flow, a vinyasa session designed to energise. Vinyasa is a faster paced practice so it warms the body and gives you a chance to move and stretch – particularly good if you’re facing a long day that will likely be spent sat at your desk. The practice closely links your breath to the movements, which is both invigorating and grounding.

Yogis often talk about setting an intention for your day, and allowing yourself a half hour of vinyasa when you wake up gives you the opportunity to cement a good feeling that you can draw on long afterwards. I’ve done yoga every morning this week and whenever I’ve felt stressed I’ve reminded myself of the promise I made myself to have a positive day. You might well be feeling cynical reading this, but try it – it works!

Do you practice yoga regularly? What kind? I’d love to know, as I’m sure there are types I haven’t discovered yet!

*This was an all expenses paid trip courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

Health hacks: the holiday edition


When I’m on holiday there’s no way I’m going to deny myself something I fancy, like a giant pistachio ice cream or a buttery pastry… yum! But equally I don’t want to come back from my break feeling worse than before, so here are my top five tips for staying (moderately) healthy on your hols.

1. Get off to a good start

I know how tricky it is to resist the temptations of a breakfast buffet, but think of it this way – choosing a healthy start to the day will mean one extra treat later on! Admittedly I’ve frequently caved in and gone for a full (veggie) English myself, but I usually end up feeling pretty terrible (as in ill, not guilty) afterwards, and no one needs that with a full day of sightseeing planned! Greek yoghurt and fruit (preferably fresh berries) is a good option.

2. Use your pins

Can’t work out the local transport system? Who cares! Walking is not only the best way to explore somewhere new, it’s also a great way to burn fat – more so than running, in fact. So make sure you pack a comfy pair of shoes and get your hands on a map as soon as you arrive.

3. Don’t forget the H2O

Always carry a bottle of water with you. It’s easy to get dehydrated while you’re on holiday, especially if you’re like me and you decide to just go for a quick wander to get your bearings and don’t come back for five hours… Carrying a bottle with you will mean you won’t have to halt your adventure mid way to hunt for the nearest corner shop or supermarket.

4. Avoid the crowds

A packed gym is never ideal, and it’s particularly hard to avoid on holiday as hotel facilities are often rather ’boutique’ (i.e. tiny). If you can, steer clear of the morning rush and try going at a quieter time of day. Early evening is usually pretty good – when most other guests are having their pre-dinner nap! (Although I do also love a pre-dinner nap.)

5. Travel with Yoogaia 

Pack your tablet and you can take hundreds of different guided yoga classes on holiday with you. Even if you can’t join a live session because of the time zone you’re in, you can choose from the many recordings available on the site. All you need is an internet connection!

Now if all of this has got you in the holiday mood, enter the #travelwithyoogaia competition for the chance to win a weekend break in a Nordic city – just like the one I’m enjoying now*. All you need to do is start your free seven day trial, take a photo of your practice and upload it to Instagram along with the competition hashtag. Good luck!

*This was an all expenses paid trip to Helsinki courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

Behind the scenes at Yoogaia HQ

I’m writing this post from my hotel in Helsinki. Okay to be more specific I am writing it from the bar in my hotel in Helsinki…! I’ve been invited here by Yoogaia*, to help them let yoga fans around the world know about a really easy way to keep up their practice while they are holidaying or travelling abroad.

The main point of the trip is to use Yoogaia to practice yoga in my hotel room and write about the experience, but as the business’ HQ is in Helsinki I was keen to take a look around while I’m here. I learnt lots whilst chatting to Katja, who is a Yoogaia instructor and manages the Helsinki studio, so I wanted to share some of that with you!

For those of you that don’t know, Yoogaia is an online platform that you can log on to anywhere and at any time to follow a recorded yoga class or join a live one. The unique thing about Yoogaia is that it uses two-way visuals, so as well as being able to watch the yoga instructor live from your own home (or hotel room), you have the option to allow them to view you as you practice – so that they can give advice, correct posture or make recommendations about how best to tailor the session to your individual needs. 

The business launched 18 months ago right here in Helsinki, but has since opened up two new studios in London and Hong Kong. Classes aren’t actually held at the studios, but having more locations where instructors can film from means that Yoogaia can offer classes in more languages and to suit more time zones. Growing at a pretty impressive pace, the business already has its eye on other markets too, keen to capitalise on its USP before the idea catches on and competitors start popping up across the globe – which they inevitably will do with a concept this good.

One of Yoogaia’s other selling points is that the team take their yoga pretty seriously, with scores of different types of session available covering everything from mindful yoga and chakra meditation to, you guessed it, Broga! Katja tells me that yin yoga is the most popular here in Finland. Yin is a slow-paced practice – poses can be held for up to five minutes with the aim of increasing circulation and flexibility. It’s definitely one I’m keen to try and I’ll be checking in for a session this weekend.

In addition, all of the instructors, no matter where they’re based, are carefully recruited and put through their paces before being offered a place on the team. This is really important for maintaining a high quality across the board and ensures that, if you fancy trying something different from your usual practice, you won’t be disappointed by your new instructor.

While I’m here I’m going to be joining as many different classes as I can fit in around being a very excited tourist in a new city. If you want to join me, why not sign up for the one week free trial? If you’re not yet convinced, check out Yoogaia’s stunning Instagram feed which is full of yogis practising against beautiful backdrops of green meadows and peaceful lakes. If that doesn’t get you feeling inspired, I don’t know what will!

*This was an all expenses paid trip courtesy of the lovely people at Yoogaia.

International Yoga Day – Broga® with ParkLives

Matt Miller leading a Broga class

On Sunday I went along to an event celebrating the first International Day of Yoga put on by my client Coca-Cola Great Britain as part of its ParkLives programme run in partnership with Newham Council and activeNewham. The event included a free Broga® (yoga for brothers!) class which, not being one to miss out on a new fitness trend, I couldn’t wait to try.

A new form of fitness yoga, Broga® combines a workout with accessible yoga postures to develop strength and increase mobility. It was founded by former American football star and super-heavyweight bodybuilding champion, Matt Miller, with the aim of reducing the possibility of injury. The name appeals to men to encourage them to get involved and experience the benefits of yoga, but classes are open to anyone.

As you’d expect from Matt’s background, the practice is less about the meditative side of yoga and more about its effects on performance, but he uses poses such as runner’s lunge and warrior that will be familiar to anyone who has done a little yoga in the past. From these poses he builds in movements that become steadily more difficult and, even though I think he was going easy on us, we were really pushing ourselves that morning… I had a little giggle with the lady on the mat next to me as we both had a bad case of the shakes trying to hold a side plank.

For this beginners introduction to Broga® Matt chose to focus on the upper body. We spent some time correcting posture, focussing on drawing our shoulders down instead of hunching them up as many of us are prone to do, and I can tell it worked from how heavy my arms felt the following day! I particularly loved the buddy section, where we worked with a partner to stretch ourselves that little bit further.

As an instructor, I thought Matt was great. He struck the perfect balance between really encouraging everyone to work their hardest and often reminding us that we were free to take a breather whenever needed. He also always gave us options so that everyone could participate at a level they felt comfortable with.

Broga® was certainly different to any other form of yoga I’ve tried, but I really enjoyed the challenge – particularly as the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day in Central Park.  And this was just one of a whole range of events taking place across the city to mark the International Day of Yoga – London has so much to offer, even in terms of exercise, that you could probably work out every day for a year and never have to do the same class twice!

Drop the Pom, Gymbox – review

Girls at the Drop the Pom class

Yesterday I headed to the Gymbox in Farringdon to try out urban cheerleading with PT Esmee Gummer. Esmee is a member of London’s Drop the Pom group and devised the class based on the workout cheerleaders get when practising and performing their routines.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how strenuous shaking some pom poms about would be, and was kind of hoping the studio wouldn’t have any windows so that no one could catch me in the act… Having found my love for exercising through weight training I wasn’t sure how seriously to take this class, but it turns out that the answer should have been VERY. Cheerleading is hard work!

After warming up, Esmee put us through our paces with a series of drills for legs, abs and arms. I started training years ago because I hated my thighs (which sounds stupid to me now), so I can squat with the best of them, but I found the arms section a challenge – you’d be amazed how hard it is to keep your arms up in the air for four minutes! So this is definitely a class I’d recommend to anyone who wants to sculpt their upper arms/shoulders.

After that there was a HIIT (high intensity interval training) section, which was probably the toughest section of all. This involved badass cheerleader-variants of side lunges, high-knees, jump lunges and the dreaded burpees, for a minute each, and I am more than happy to admit that I had to stop for a breather mid way!

Finally, we worked on a little routine, and by this point I had totally forgotten my worries about looking daft with the pom poms and could not have been loving it more. Esmee was a great teacher and taught us little sections at a time, always building on what we’d already practised.

One of my favourite things about the class was learning how strong you need to be to perform as a cheerleader, both physically and as a person – Esmee kept reminding us to smile and not let them know that we were in pain, ‘them’ being the audience of 10,000 that we were imagining performing in front of! This reminded me of pole dancing and how it looks so pretty and graceful but actually you need to be hard as nails to do it because it hurts like hell. There’s a weird satisfaction in making something difficult look easy – maybe it’s endorphin-related.

Esmee knows all about overcoming challenges to succeed, having had to learn to walk again after a complication during surgery for a sports injury left her temporarily paralysed from the waist down. This stopped her from going to performing arts school, but hasn’t prevented her from becoming a successful PT and dancer and even releasing her own fitness DVD earlier this year. It’s an impressive story and you can read all about it here.

All in all, Drop the Pom was a super full-body workout. My arms are aching today, which is always a good sign! More importantly I really enjoyed myself and felt so much better walking out of the gym than walking in, all set to enjoy the weekend.

I think I got lucky in that the class I attended was on a sunny Friday evening, so it was quieter thanks to the number of people who weren’t able to resist the pull of the beer garden! But Esmee’s class usually has a waitlist so if you decide to give it a go make sure you book in plenty of time.