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!

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What can crystals do for you?

I recently attended a Stress Free Sunday event put on by my favourite yoga brand, Yoogaia (who’ve recently been named one of Apple’s top 25 apps of 2015 – pretty cool, huh?)

As well as a fantastic yoga session and deliciously healthy brunch, we got to meet Bunmi of Crystal and Rox, a yoga/lifestyle clothing range with a twist. Each item in the Crystal and Rox collection has a concealed pocket for holding crystals – the idea is that the benefit of your yoga practice is amplified by wearing the right crystal close to your heart throughout the exercise.

Now I consider myself a fairly sceptical person but I’m always open to being proved wrong, so I really enjoyed having a good chat to Bunmi to find out a little bit more about the concept. After hearing her story I was motivated to give crystals a go. Bunmi was kind enough to gift me four to try out for myself:

  • Amethyst, which is said* to relieve stress and its physical symptoms (e.g. headaches and migraines) as well as help you make good decisions
  • Blue lace agate, which is said to calm anger and allow you to speak truthfully without causing drama
  • Rose quartz, said to encourage unconditional love towards both yourself and others, and help attract your twin flame (note: I was particularly keen on this one…)
  • Smokey quartz, the stone of serenity, said to transform bad energy into positivity and help overcome negative emotions about your situation

For the past three weeks, as a bit of an experiment, I’ve been choosing one or two crystals to carry with me almost every day, dependent on the kind of day I anticipate I’m going to have. So, if I knew I was going to have a stressful time at work I would take the amethyst and the smokey quartz. If I was feeling a bit down on myself I’d choose the rose quartz.  (As I don’t have an unlimited supply of Crystal and Rox clothing I’ve been keeping them in my bra, to the amusement of my friends and colleagues who have to deal with this kind of oversharing from me on a regular basis…) And honestly… I think it’s helped.

Now I’m not saying that I’m convinced the crystals have special powers. What I think has happened is that the act of consciously choosing a stone based on the way I want to handle a situation has helped me to actually handle it in that way. For example, on a day when I needed to have a difficult conversation with someone I’m close to, I chose the blue lace agate. I was able to say my piece without reacting in a disproportionate way to what had happened, essentially because by choosing that stone I had acknowledged that the best way to approach it (for both parties) was calmly and without drama. 

So does it really matter whether you believe crystals have innate properties, or whether they just remind you about the best way to behave to cultivate happiness? Are you a bit of a fraud if you don’t buy into the whole idea, but you like the fact that crystals prompt you to act a certain way? Personally, I don’t think so. Who cares if you’re only experiencing the placebo effect if the outcome is positive?

As for me, I remain intrigued, and pleasantly surprised, by the results of my little experiment – and grateful to Crystal and Rox for introducing me to the idea!

*All info about the properties of crystals provided by Crystal and Rox.

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!