On a drizzly wintery Sunday, tempted as I was to sit in bed and catch up on the week’s TV, I’d been convinced to head into Leeds, to the top of a tower block, and take part in the latest initiative from Leve Relations – Yoga & Brunch. It didn’t take much – having practiced yoga for some time, I knew it’d do me some good despite the weather, and with brunch included too what more could a food loving yogi want…

Health and wellbeing is at the forefront of people’s minds these days, with cheap gyms, health foods and veganism all big business. It seems like everyone pumps iron and owns some designer leggings, but there’s more to it than that, and the Skyline Sessions venture is putting a new, non-competitive, relaxation-focused, food-encompassing angle on fitness.

#SSLeeds is an initiative between Leve Relations and Social Independents, supporting a handful of Leeds indies such as Yoga Hero, Café 164, We Are Wellness, Stories café, and other business with a vested interest in the health and wellbeing world. It’s quite easy really – Social, is the hanging out part, Independents is the businesses involved. And the Skyline Sessions take place in peaceful spaces above the city. Simple.

View from City View from City Exchange

After an energising yoga session, lots of selfies and half-cut poses against the backdrop of the city, and a delicious fruity brunch, I spoke to Vanessa Carlsson of Leve Relations, and Holly McFee today’s teacher from Yoga Hero, to get an understanding of what’s different about the Skyline Sessions programme.

Tell me about the purpose behind the Skyline Sessions?

H: We had the opportunity to use this space, so we wanted to use it for health and wellness activities. My background is in that field not just yoga, and it’s where Vanessa’s interests lie too.

V: We wanted to bring all types of health activities out of sweaty gym environments and studios, and into an independent accessible space. I’m moving to New York, so we’re even considering doing some sessions over there. Skyline Sessions is about doing things in beautiful inspiring spaces, where people might feel more comfortable. I always feel that gyms make me feel competitive and that’s not what fitness and health has to be about.

What impact do you think having the sessions in a space like this has on participants, rather than in a purpose built studio?

H: A space like this would probably never be open to the public without an event like this, and as well as getting a superb view of Leeds it’s quite obvious from the sessions programmed that you don’t need a treadmill and weights to keep fit, I mean all we’ve brought up for the session is mats and blocks for people to use, and the other classes won’t need much different either. Hopefully we can encourage people to try new things and learn more about fitness, how to energise, gather techniques and tools to rebalance. People can take these new ideas away with them of course.

So Skyline Sessions are open to anyone then?

H: We’re going to state on the calendar whether classes are for beginners or advanced or if they’re open to all. It’ll be a nice thing to have some fast-paced and more dynamic classes, but ultimately Skyline Sessions are about opening up fitness to people who might not come to my studio at Leeds Dock, or go into a gym, they might just want an accessible and fun fitness session.

V: I used to do PR for a big gym group, and there were so many members who just wanted to do the classes, but they had to still pay for gym access. From that I realised that people do just want classes and not want to be daunted by being part of a weight lifting gym, they want their fitness to be less stressful and something fun to do!


And the social side of Skyline Sessions, how does that work with the classes?

H: Having the fitness and the nice space is one thing, but encouraging people to hang out is very important, you’re already with like-minded people so conversation is easy, and building a community around fitness and wellbeing is easy with this opportunity, rather than a community that’s built around having to go out and drink, which not everyone wants to do these days.

V: We had quite a few people yesterday who came on their own, and then everyone was mingling and chatting afterwards, and making plans to train together again. As much as yoga is a solitary practice, there isn’t the competitive element, and the lack of competition in the classes promotes peer encouragement really. And with Skyline Sessions people attending get to experience some of the great food and drink on offer in Leeds too, which really isn’t what you get at the gym!

What are the key points of practicing yoga?

H: At first you might find the classes challenging, but when you leave you’ll usually have a real sense of calm and space in your head, which will allow you to be more pragmatic and easier on yourself. Once you develop, you’ll become less focussed on the physical practice but the emotional practice too. The two work together, so I feel it creates a continuous cycle for people between physical and emotional, as you relax more you focus on your physical practice developing and as that does you open your mind more, allowing you to become stronger and more aware of your whole body and in your headspace. There are both physical and mental benefits to practicing yoga - it’s about thinking and focussing on what you’re doing with your body, instead of throwing yourself headlong into lifting weights. It’s not all about being an Instagram Yogi – whilst it’s good to know where you can get to with your practice, yoga really goes way deeper than that.

V: I know that if I don’t go to yoga for a week I can tell, my mind is scattered and I don’t feel as balanced as I do usually at all. Even when I’ve had a busy day choosing an open class to relax and take my mind away from my day is really a good thing to do. You realise after a while the different things that yoga does for you, not just high-energy vinyasa classes.

H: Have you seen that meme, “I’ve got 99 problems… And I’m going to go to yoga and solve about 53 of them” – I love that.

Skyline Sessions, City Exchange, 11 Albion Street, LS1 5ES


Upcoming events:

Skyline Sessions: An Evening of Meditation, Thursday 10 November, 7:15pm, £10.00

Skyline Sessions: Sunrise Yoga, Tuesday 15 November. 7:45am, £5.50

Skyline Sessions: HIIT & Yoga, Wednesday 16 November, 6:00pm, £10.00

Skyline Sessions: Yoga & Brunch, Saturday 19 & Sunday 20 November, 10:30am, £20.00

Roga: Beyond running & yoga, Every Monday from 14 November, 5:30pm, From £11.00