Having practiced yoga for six years and becoming a converted ‘ashtangi’ two years ago, finding my true yoga style, I considered myself someone who was well and truly on their yoga journey when I rocked up at Leeds Dock to Yoga Hero’s new studio on Friday after a day at the office. Straight in, brushing off the stresses of work, I delved into my first Rocket Yoga class. The festival, catering to all levels of experience, gave optional classes throughout the weekend, meaning that whilst I launched myself into rocket (quite literally), the class across the road were making their way through the basics of yoga. Rocket Yoga, much like the name suggests, is a fast paced, dynamic class that tests your balance, core and endurance simultaneously, and for the Ashtanga lover in me allowed a much needed escapism from the week. Lead by Yoga Hero founder and festival organiser Holly, the class was followed by a meditation before we meandered together for a hosting of healthy juices and nibbles. A literal ‘taster’ of what was set to come, our weekend was to be filled with new concoctions of vegetable and fruit based fresh juices courtesy of nutritionist Laura Thomas PHD, refreshing our bodies and taking us on a new journey of plant-based dietary knowledge.
When news of the Leeds Yoga and Wellness festival first arrived at the Leeds Living office, my colleagues happily turned to me, pointing out how this was ‘my thing’. The popularity in yoga has seen a real surge in recent years, both for men and women, young and old and even with pro footballers and athletes endorsing the physical and mental benefits that the practice has had. Shedding its ‘only for the hippies’ status I was pleased to see that the festival attracted everyone. From regulars to Yoga Hero to people completely new to practice, and even new to Leeds, seeing the festival as an opportunity to learn new things and meet like-minded people.
Much like yoga teaches us to accept where we are and partake in journeys (rather than ‘goals’) LYWF took each person on a journey, an opportunity to jump into workshops, find new skills and take some time out of our busy day-to-day chores to give something back to ourselves. A fully packed Saturday saw our achey muscles stretched by a morning Vinyasa Flow before we ascended onto our daily adventures. This is where we all became students, with yoga teachers from all practices and different studios introducing us to new styles. A challenge for someone who has been loyally with the same two teachers for the past few years I was put through my paces with a workshop on Pranayama breathing by Yoga Kula, an Ashtanga class through the primary series, but even further from mine, and everyone’s comfort zone, a taster workshop in belly dancing by the tantalising Helena Orientale. The majority of us sheepishly put on our tinkering skirts and reluctantly skulked into the back row, but Helena’s audacious energy, quick wittedness and ability to poke fun at herself and us was addictive and energising, meaning that by the end of the hour we had learnt an entire routine and performed it twice (with a whole lot of ab-inducing laughter throughout). Those wanting to take some time out were also offered a chance to knit their own yoga carrier with Stitch Up, surprising themselves as they finished the session with a completed, professional looking carrier to show off at their next session.
Whilst three day intensive festivals such as this can leave you ravenous and tired, LYWF had honed in on a real collaborative effort from the city. Lunch and brunch was provided by Café 164, fuelling everyone with energy-inducing, mostly vegan and gluten free supplies that were as satisfying on the taste buds as for our health. Their pick-me-up energy smoothie of banana, almond butter, gluten free oats, chia seeds and medjool dates was both satisfying and delicious, to the point that I hastily returned for seconds. The combination of nourishment from a plant-based diet all weekend, and the opportunity to have a one-on-one consultation with nutritionist Laura Thomas PHD left me craving more information on how I could feel this good, post festival. Luckily Sunday’s timetable included a lecture from Laura on just that, talking through the benefits of going more plant-based when it comes to cooking and choosing food out and about. I’m always suspicious of the ‘miracle’ diets that get enforced upon us by click-bait articles and plastered across fitness magazines, but Laura’s approach stems from her academic and scientific background and expertise, providing evidence based antidotes and educating us on thinking about what we’re putting in to our bodies. Being vegan, she admitted that people often suspect her whilst clear that her motive wasn’t to convert us, but to be more mindful of our diet as a whole and look towards the benefits of exchanging certain habits for cleaner, more wholesome alternatives. If the talk didn’t flick an internal light switch for me then the pizza I had following the festival, and the overpowering sense of fatigue and bloating certainly did.
These new challenges to my body and mindset were certainly an empowering experience, physically and even emotionally. The level of confidence and energy to explore my yoga practice further was boosted ten-folds in just a few days. The Yin Yoga class with Saltaire yoga instructor Heather Gregg took my aching, overworked muscles to a point of emotional relief. Unlike the dynamic, intensive yoga I was used to experiencing Yin Yoga takes you back to basic poses, held for several minutes at a time. Overwhelming, this internal struggle massaged my stressed and tense outlook, something I didn’t even realise I was carrying with me into my sessions. A chance to look internally to our wellbeing, Holly had cleverly moulded the perfect partnering of internal and external exploration, with even the added treat of a free Shiatsu massage with Talia Lyon and Reiki treatment with Holistic Therapies Yorkshire.
Amongst the flurry of workshops, talks, practices and refuelling, a true highlight of the weekend was the partner yoga workshop lead by The Middleton Corpus. It was an unfortunate oversight that the workshop was under attended, but could otherwise be viewed as a stroke of luck for myself who received intensive training from The Middleton Corpus’s Artistic Director Anthony Middleton and Associate Director and trained yoga instructor Isabel Slingerland. Working on a fluid sequence of weight shifting, sharing and bearing weight with your partner, the acro yoga workshop worked every inch of my body and ignited the breathing techniques I’d learnt over the weekend allowing me, at one point, to hang upside down with my partner only holding onto me with her feet hooked on my hips; a surprisingly relaxing and therapeutic experience. For those wishing to take their experience of yoga to the next level keep an eye out for their workshops at Yoga Kula.
Returning to the office on Monday morning, my aching muscles were worn like a badge of pride, the claim to my body’s achievements and regardless of the hours of physical endurance that I’d put myself through it was as if my mind had been through a spring-clean. A bounce in my step (though steps were my nemesis for a few days after) I was boastful to my colleagues that Leeds Yoga and Wellness Festival was not just ‘my kind of thing’, it was for everyone who needed that bit of extra TLC for themselves, and rightly so.
Find out more about Yoga Hero here.