Emma Payne enjoys an energising afternoon in Clifton
Once thought of as the seemingly unorthodox pastime of hippies and new-age types, yoga is now a mainstay on gym timetables; ubiquitous among young and old fitness buffs alike. Widely recognised for its physical and mental health benefits, it appears in many forms, from traditional Hatha or Iyengar to yogalates, ‘doga’ and ‘broga’ (yoga for dogs and blokes, naturally). There’s a class on every corner in every suburb of our great city, with seemingly very little to tell between them – I, for one, have done my fair share of sun salutations and tree poses in village halls, parks and studios.
From the outset, Sacred Therapy Yoga promises something different to the norm. Based on Kundalini, the ‘mother of yoga’, each class fuses meditation, chanting, breath work and traditional physical poses. Teacher Michelle Henderson is a savvy, spiritual yogi, who explains her interest in fusing ‘spirit and science’ in her lessons when we meet – something she knows a great deal about, given her current neuroscience and psychology studies at King’s College London.
Eager to give it a go, I make a beeline for leafy Clifton, where Michelle holds her Sunday classes in the bright, top floor space of Clifton Library. The room is quiet, save for some ambient music, and I immediately start to feel the stress of the working week fading away. Our session is rather enigmatically titled ‘Opportunity and Green Energy Set for Prosperity’, which Michelle assures us will open our hearts and help us to attract new opportunities. Bring it on, I say…
Comfortably settled on our mats, we begin with a simple chant to get the energy flowing, before moving into some spinal flexes and finishing with a ‘body lock’ – a technique of tensing and drawing the lower abdomen upwards. So far, so relaxing (despite my dodgy singing, of course). Things start to heat up with a series of ‘body drops’, where we use our arms alone to propel our bodies up and back down onto the ground. I, embarrassingly, fail to get my feet up off the floor, though the class is so laid-back that I find myself laughing with everyone else rather than worrying about my terrible fitness levels.
One of the common misconceptions about yoga is that it’s not ‘fast-paced’, and therefore unlikely to be enough of a physical workout. Well, I challenge anyone to maintain three minutes of ‘crow pose’ – a deep squat with arms out straight and fingers interlocked – without feeling the burn. I huff, puff and tremble, attempting to master ‘fire breathing’ (a surprisingly demanding technique involving forceful nasal exhalation – Michelle describes it playfully as ‘blowing a candle out with your nose’).
With the support of Michelle, who delivers the session in an upbeat yet peaceful manner, we make it through a series of increasingly demanding postures, interspersed with serene moments of meditative chanting. Keeping an open mind during the latter is essential, as is leaving your inhibitions at the door – whether you believe in spiritual energies or not, there is something undeniably peaceful in the sounds that wash over us.
Like any physical activity, you get out what you put into yoga, and as the class draws to a close, I feel increasingly refreshed and energised. Michelle calmly instructs us to lie back on our mats for a period of rest, and there’s no need to tell me twice as I roll over, clutching my water bottle, before (legitimately) dozing off.
With such a range of yoga classes on offer in Bristol, Michelle’s approach is refreshingly authentic, well-informed and, providing you’re able to stay awake for the walk home, a perfect workout for both mind and body – but don’t expect an easy ride!
Sacred Therapy Yoga classes take place on Sundays from 4 – 5.15pm at Clifton Village Library, and Thursdays 7.30 – 9pm at The Alma Vale Centre. Sessions are £9 each or £40 for a block of five; sacredtherapyyoga.com