One of the world’s greatest cities has much to offer, including just about every kind of yoga class you could wish for.
by Sascha Wyness
It’s been built, destroyed and rebuilt for over two millennia and what has arisen from these transformations is a truly diverse city known as London. This big dot on the map of England is incredibly rich in history and it’s modern-day self is a hub for business, trade, fashion, education and life experience. It is lovingly associated with big red buses, changing guards, Kings and Queens, “mind the gap”, pounds and pence and cucumber sandwiches.
As well as its rich cultural offerings, Londoners are tapped into refuges from the buzz of big-city life, therefore yoga centres are plentiful. So too is a diverse range of yoga styles and luckily, some highly experienced teachers to guide you into Downward-Facing Dog. Besides yoga, the activities of shopping, visiting art galleries and dining at restaurants are usually high priorities for visitors to London. The sprawling greenery of Hyde Park and smaller inner-city gardens offer respite from the orderly chaos of tourists and locals making their way around the UK’s capital.
With so many choices, it helps to have a bit of a plan and a Tube map on hand. If time or money are limited, you can still find plenty to entertain you and, if yoga and a healthy lifestyle are important, then take a deep breath in, you have a lot to do in this city!
If there is one yoga school I would happily plan my itinerary around, it’s triyoga. There’s something about the coloured glass window panes and streaming natural light that make me want to do as many classes here as humanly possible during my stay. Looking at the board of upcoming courses and retreats makes my brain salivate as I wonder if it’s possible for me to move to London permanently. The timetable abounds with various yoga and Pilates classes, including vinyasa flow, Iyengar, Ashtanga, kids yoga, Yoga Pilates Fusion and even “never-too-late yoga”; drop-in classes start at £13. Classes are taught in four studios, including central locations of Soho and Covent Garden, and larger venues in the gorgeous leafy suburb Primrose Hill and affluent Chelsea. Regardless of the beautiful surroundings, it’s the quality of the teachers that has kept me visiting this school. I always leave feeling inspired and refreshed. It was principal Jonathan Sattin’s goal to create an accessible centre of wellbeing by combining yoga, Pilates and treatments of the highest quality, and since the first location opened in 2000, it has been a successful mission. Triyoga’s Primrose Hill and Chelsea studios have treatment rooms and an organic cafe (try the fresh lemon, honey and ginger tea).
Head to London’s East End for Yoga Place, a short walk from Bethnal Green Tube station. Keep an eye out for the orange sign, ring the doorbell and head up to the first level where two naturally lit, wood-floored studios await.
It’s not one of those glamorous, big yoga studios, but a comforting space with attentive teachers. If you arrive early or wish to sit quietly after practice, there’s a small lounge area with cushions and yoga and health books. Yoga Place has plenty of Ashtanga classes, including Mysore-style practice from 6am Monday to Thursday, and from 8am on Sunday. Other options include taking a dynamic or vinyasa class, or even the more introspective Yin style; drop-in classes start from £10.50. Mats and props are provided or can be bought from the studio. You’ll also find a communal change room and a shower, but bring your own towel and soap.
Wind-down by booking in for a therapy treatment or if you’re looking for an after-class snack or drink, take a 10-minute walk to funky Brick Lane or Shoreditch and do some London trend spotting at the same time.
The Life Centre
Another London yoga staple, The Life Centre has been open since 1993 in Notting Hill and has recently established a second location in Islington. The former is on Edge Street, accessible from pretty Kensington Church Street. The staff are knowledgeable and polite, reflecting the successful 19-year run in the yoga world. For this reason, I am happy to overlook the crowding that occurs on the stairs when class is about to start because really, attending classes with great teachers is most important and the studios themselves (the larger downstairs is a converted chapel, while the upstairs studio is known as “the Loft”) are both light-filled and airy. Mats and props are provided and there’s a great deal for newcomers, who can pay just £14 for 10 consecutive days of classes; otherwise drop-in classes are priced from £13.
The Islington branch is a 10-minute walk from Angel station. A few steps down pretty Britannia Row (off Essex Road) will take you directly from the urban bustle into serenity. With two gorgeous studios and a schedule offering a variety of styles of yoga (Pilates and treatments also on offer), The Life Centre Islington is worth travelling some distance to visit. It attracts some incredible teachers (I note some of the same names are on the triyoga schedule as well). For an invigorating and meditative class, I recommend Graham Burns’ gentle yoga and meditation class. For students of yoga who are staying longer in London, it’s worth noting that YogaCampus, where you can undertake various workshops and teacher trainings, is located next door.
A recent addition to London’s yoga scene, Indaba Yoga in Marylebone reflects the concept that your surroundings can impact your practice in a positive way. The muted tones, rich, warm furnishings and parquet flooring all give a sense of calm as you enter. The details that go into these types of studios serve the visitor immensely and offer a true place to gather (this is what “Indaba” means) away from the busy city streets. It has three studios (one hot, and one reserved for private tuition and Thai massage) and the sort of clean, well-stocked changing rooms and showers that I wish all yoga studios would have.
Find More Yoga
If you have access to a smartphone with wi-fi, it’s a great idea to download the MindBody app (www.mindbodyonline.com). This yogic godsend will search based on your current location and tell you which yoga studios are nearby as well as provide a list of classes. Other recommended studios to keep an eye out for are Alchemy the Centre and the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale. Perhaps even hop on a Barclays Cycle Hire bike (free for the first half hour) and ride to class; visit www.tfl.gov.uk for info.
It’s all in the name—Bliss London spa is a heavenly retreat for all things relaxing. As I arrive (frazzled thanks to London traffic) I am handed a white robe and slippers and shown around the spa. After changing, I am invited to relax in the waiting room and enjoy the free tea and snacks before the therapist arrives. One soothing deep-tissue massage later, I’m on a whole new level and can feel my pulse slowing down to a nice even rate. Upstairs I get a pedicure while watching Sex and the City on the TV screens with the headphones provided (OK, it’s not challenging on the brain but life is about balance, I decide) and bliss out for another 45 minutes. It’s certainly not a cheap service but definitely professional and worth the extra spend if you can manage.
This tranquil day spa and hair salon is located in Covent Garden amidst the urban hubbub. The treatments are wonderful, with a focus on rituals such as a pre-treatment foot bath and deep breathing, and visiting the spa is a superbly calming experience. After checking in, the therapist brings me downstairs to the treatment rooms. Here, the surroundings are all natural hues and wooden furniture (re-used wood sourced from Canadian riverbeds). Sipping Aveda tea, I am happy to wait and read some magazines. The spa menu is like the best restaurant menu—you want at least a bite of everything. I settle for a deep-tissue massage and am pleased with this choice. Visit the website for the full spa menu, including packages and men’s treatments.
Whole Foods Market (www.wholefoodsmarket.com) on Kensington High Street is an organic shopper’s paradise. I float along the aisles in my own little organic dream, picking up vegan raw crackers, fresh chilli salsa and ready-to-go papaya pieces. Then I realise I have three more levels to cover and decide to head to the food court for more nourishment. Upstairs, several small restaurants, a bar and an eatery provide numerous organic eating options. I can’t resist Saf (www.safrestaurant.co.uk), a restaurant that specialises in vegan, vegetarian and raw foods, all exquisitely presented (it also has a restaurant in trendy Shoreditch). I highly recommend the asparagus risotto and a super juice.
If on the go, grab a salad from Pod (www.podfood.co.uk), which has locations all over London. Here, you can select wraps, soups, stews, salads and more—all made from seasonal ingredients—to eat in or take away in a compostable container. Planet Organic (www.planetorganic.com) is another delicious option with many vegie hot foods as well as organic ready-made sandwiches, wraps and packaged foods on the shelves.
And don’t think that you have to miss out on afternoon sweets if you’re vegan. Ms. Cupcake (www.mscupcake.co.uk) in Brixton offers a wide range of vegan baked goods, from cupcakes and brownies to cookies and layer cakes, that will satisfy your sweet tooth. For a more high-end vegetarian experience, try Vanilla Black (www.vanillablack.co.uk), which surprises with experimental flavour combinations such as brie ice-cream and rhubarb chutney in an Art Deco setting.
A lunchtime two-course set meal is priced from £18.50.
Getting there: London is a hub for many airlines. From Australia you will need to transit in Asia. Qantas and partners offer daily flights from most capital cities. Visit www.qantas.com.au or call 131 313.
Where to stay: Notorious for small, boxy rooms at a tear-inducing price, it’s great to know there are accommodation options in London that don’t have to vacuum up your whole budget. Try a website such as www.holidaylettings.co.uk to find a self-catering apartment at a cheaper rate. For a simple place to lay your head, the budget easyHotel (www.easyHotel.com) has rooms starting at £34 per night in central London locations. The May Fair (www.themayfairhotel.co.uk) in Mayfair is the perfect place to unwind if you like a touch of glamour. If allergies are an issue, you can book the hypoallergenic room. In-room spa treatments are available as well as spa packages for a tailored experience. Rooms are priced from £250 per night.
Sascha Wyness is a freelance writer and yoga teacher.