Health and fitness has definitely been having a bit of a moment recently. Fad diets abound, and it’s nigh on impossible to scroll idly through your Instagram feed without being confronted with dozens of guilt-inducing posts showing gym bunnies in various states of physical perfection. Take heart, though – Leeds’ fabulous offering gives you the chance to try out exercise like yoga and pilates in a welcoming, social environment smack-bang on your doorstep.
We Are Wellness opened at the start of January 2016, and in its 2 year life so far has made big waves. This urban sanctuary is based at the majestic Hilton Court in Hyde Park, working on an ethos of making wellbeing holistic, social and inclusive for people from all walks of life – or, in their words: ‘Yoga, fitness, therapies and a feeling of being part of something with friendship and fun!’.
The brainchild of accomplished yogi Helena Byles and savvy business owner Stephanie Green, We Are Wellness pulls together several fitness disciplines taught by expert instructors, all housed in a tranquil setting that allows newbies and old hands alike to stretch, strengthen and relax in peace. As someone who practises and loves yoga (but definitely feels the shame of being unable to hold a good pigeon pose), this sounded too good to miss.
I met Stephanie in between classes to find out what’s driving this venture, and on arriving was gobsmacked by the imposing building that’s home to the We Are Wellness studios. Ornate floor tiles, intricate mouldings and an impressive stained glass cupola provide a really luxurious surround for the peaceful yoga room, and busy Otley Road seems miles away at the end of a green garden (still a work in progress, but will be lovely – outdoor sessions are planned for the summer, I’m told).
Stephanie gave up her organic delivery business to form a partnership with longstanding friend Helena, who she met at Chapel Allerton yoga studio, Yoga Kula. With plenty of experience, the two are all too familiar with the common barriers people experience when they toy with the idea of attending fitness classes. Self-consciousness, time constraints, lack of ability (perceived or otherwise), as well as more practical barriers which are often overlooked, like lack of physical mobility or psychological difficulties, can make any regular fitness practice impossible. Their plan is to dismantle these barriers for their students, or if that’s not possible, to find some ingenious workarounds that allow everyone to take part.
“For me, it’s about inclusion; providing a space for people from all walks of life to join in in a way that suits their needs. We have people travel from all over Yorkshire, of all ages and abilities, who come and practise here and it’s a really nice, almost social environment a lot of the time.”
The studio offers a range of snappily-titled classes, from slow and relaxing We Are Yin Yoga to sweat-inducing Ashtanga yoga (We Are Powerful). There’s even the option to work your yoga class into a Friday night out with We Are Social, an energising class where a lively atmosphere flourishes and the group round off with drinks at the nearby Hyde Park Book Club bar. Cool or what?
If you feel you need a helping hand to get started, or have some specific aims you’d like to achieve, the gang at We Are Wellness can help with that too. Helena and the rest of the staff offer personalised training programmes to help students achieve their fitness goals, no matter how big or small.
“There’s no judgment, it’s not about being the best – it’s just about finding what works for the individual and building on that.”
For total beginners and those in need of refreshing, We Are Wellness also offers a four week introductory course that has been really well-received – great for learning your namastes, sun salutes and pranayama!
They’ve were granted Sportivate funding, allowing staff to teach yoga to teenagers from the local area – a venture that really proved the founders’ vision of making yoga affordable, accessible and inclusive for all.
The positivity is palpable at We Are Wellness, and for this fitness part-timer the studio is a really exciting opportunity to get involved and support an up-and-coming Leeds business with some serious wellbeing credentials. If you’ve been thinking of trying your hand at yoga, pilates or ticking off some personal goals, I say there’s no time like the present. Check them out – I can almost guarantee you’ll find a class that suits you, and it could well be the start of something beautiful!
Updated by Helena Byles
Photographs supplied by We Are Wellness.