Jenessa Williams spends her lunchbreaks balancing on one leg
I don’t know about you but during a busy week at work, getting enough time to grab a dodgy meal-deal five minutes away from my desk often seems like luxury enough. We as a nation are working harder than ever, prioritising work success over personal balance and often totally failing to get any exercise or personal headspace in a working day. We’re all happy to spend time pruning our careers and our social media presences, but what about our mental health?
Part of a sweeping trend to help busy workers get more active, lunchtime fitness classes are popping up all over Leeds as a means to allow people some personal time in the middle of the day. For a gal who’s idea of relaxation normally involves a sofa, Kit-Kat chunky and an episode of Project Runway, I was keen to see how getting physical (ooer) at lunchtime could help boost my energy and stress levels, so decided to put three of Leeds lunchtime yoga spots to the test, all across one week.
...not even a stack of emails and a missed delivery can kill my floaty vibe. Namaste indeed.
Sweaty Betty in-store (Tuesday)
7-11, Cross Arcade, Victoria Quarter, Leeds LS1 6AZ
Tucked away in the Victoria Quarter, Sweaty Betty is a popular gym wear hot-spot amongst the 30-something crowd who seem to have their lives together; they drink chai lattes, make large Ocado shopping orders and enjoy power brunches with other fabulous mummies. Dressed in 80s rave leggings and a saggy jumper, I stepped across its awnings feeling like a bit of an imposter – these guys were definitely going to know that I was a newbie.
Adopting my borrowed mat and taking my restful position, I was pretty sceptical that I’d be able to step out of work mode. Gazing at my toes only made me ponder my chipped nail varnish and downward dogging made me worry whether the lady behind me could see my pants through my leggings. But, once I focused on my breathing and let this self-consciousness slide, my inner Yogi did start to creep out. Led by Claudia, a calming presence with a voice perfectly fit to record soothing audiobooks, we were invited to try out various traditional yoga moves at our own pace, teaming up in pairs to help refine our poses.
My fear of feeling like an unrefined mess amongst a group of yoga queens proved unfounded, the class of seven were all certainly more experienced than me but the calm, quiet environment felt friendly enough for me to wobble about on one leg without feeling like too much of an embarrassment. Designed to ease customers into a more diverse workout regime, Tuesday lunchtime classes are free but extremely limited, so well worth setting up a reminder to regularly check back for places on their site.
Jamyang Buddhist Centre Leeds (Wednesday)
31 St Paul's Street, Leeds LS1 2JG
Running late and feeling somewhat frazzled after following Google Maps in completely the wrong direction, I arrive at the Jamyang Buddist Centre not exactly in my most relaxed state. Rocketing up the stairs, I was relieved to find that I hadn’t missed anything – the few who were already there smile as I enter and I’m greeted warmly by Simranpreet, a KYTA registered Kundalini Yoga teacher who leads today’s class.
She quickly puts us all at ease, reassuring us that the class is all about balance and realigning your positive energies instead of mastering each exact movement. I instantly feel better – this is the kind of mind-over-body meditation I was hoping for. Despite taking place in a Buddhist temple, all religions are welcome and the class practice itself isn’t rooted in Buddhism at all – just a simple ethos of letting go of your worries, if only for a short time.
A much gentler affair than the day prior, the stretches and chants are kinder on stiff bodies, and we were invited to rest any time a stretch feels too hard. As I lie down and breathe deeply, colours erupting behind my eyelids, I feel a level of relaxation I haven't experienced outside of a spa. By the time we reached our last mudra (hand movement), I have forgotten everything including my own name. After making my recommended donation of £3 and enjoying the cosy chat with tea and biscuits that followed the class, I swan back to my desk feeling zen AF - not even a stack of emails and a missed delivery can kill my floaty vibe. Namaste indeed.
Belgrave Music Hall – Yoga Convert (Thursday)
1-1A Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, LS2 8JP
I’ll be honest, trotting off to Belgrave for yoga in the middle of the day feels a little wrong - especially considering that today is my birthday (where's the colossal gin and party playlist at?) Luckily, I am joined at today's class by my best friend who's pretty intrigued by my yoga experiment, so we can at least kid ourselves that we're here on a summer sesh instead of an attempt to align our chakras. When we do head upstairs and get going, it's clear that we're here for a very different kind of knees-up than the one we're used to - fellow class members are limbering up with balls and mats and it's clear that there are a fair few regulars. Hearteningly, there are also a few getting changed out of their office gear at the back and looking altogether more casual about the whole thing, reassuring us that we won't be too out of place.
The class itself is hard-going and sweat-inducing - based on the principles of high-paced ‘flow’ yoga, we're contorting ourselves into positions that our instructor Claudia gleefully describes as 'potentially painful'. Luckily, her dry wit and humour propel us through an abundance of tough moves, and when we merrily achieve our first crow pose (albeit for a couple of seconds), there is a genuine sense of accomplishment. All decamping downstairs for a slice of doughboys pizza (included in the classes £6 admission), us yogis of all shape, size, age and ability are feeling suitably smug at our flowing endorphins. Maybe it's my full belly and dropped shoulders, but I really feel like this is lunchtime well spent – maybe I’ll keep it up until the next birthday?
At the start of this challenge, I was definitely sceptical that true relaxation could be achieved in a lunchtime. I'm pleased to say I've been proven wrong. Stepping away from my desk for some low impact exercise really improved my mood and energy levels - no more reaching for a hobnob high mid afternoon. As a freelancer, I'm already plotting out ways to integrate a daily run or yoga session into my schedule, improving my fitness and more importantly, making sure I'm getting that much needed 'me' time.
For those in the city centre, there really is an abundance of options. Whether you're looking for some quiet contemplation or to improve your flexibility, each of these classes took a maximum of 45 minutes and offered plenty of explanation to those who got there a little late or had to rush off quickly. Best of all, they’re all budget-friendly and require no investment in kit or specific gym wear – it really is just show up and go. So yes, it's a Namas-yey for me.