New Year, new bout of insomnia? Here’s some of the city’s most calming classes (and they're not all yoga)

ONE thing we learned over the Christmas break is that it’s actually really easy to relax when you’ve got fuck-all to do. We reached a zen-like state of calm and equanimity after four days of watching Harry Potter films back-to-back under a weighted blanket. Then normal life returned and so did the 3am insomnia and racing thoughts. Anyone would think the two things were related. 

But short of quitting your job and refusing all responsibilities, how do you get back the perspective and balance you had when life wasn’t so full-on?

“Something as simple as going for a walk and being in nature can really clear the mind and bring more presence."

A snowy walk with Manchester and District Walkers
The Manchester and District Walkers organise group walks every weekend, usually accessible by public transport Image: Manchester and District Walkers

Shellie Cummings is the owner of wellness centre A Place to Pause and the Hyde School of Dance. She’s a reiki and breathwork practitioner, and has suffered from post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome in the past - so she knows more than most about how to find calm when your life is starting to become overwhelming.

Says Shellie, “Something as simple as going for a walk and being in nature can really clear the mind and bring more presence. Alternatively, breathwork is the perfect practice for calming and balancing the mind and body and bringing more clarity. I sadly lost my Dad in January 2021 and I feel that breathwork was a huge factor in my coping with that and the feelings of loss since."

Shellie At A Place To Pause
Shellie Cummings runs A Place to Pause - a wellness centre in Hyde Image: Shellie Cummings

While Shellie is relatively new to breathwork, she has been practising reiki for over 15 years. It's another activity that she recommends to people feeling burnt-out or stressed.

She says, “Back in 2003 I had a breakdown which left me unable to work. After seeing many specialists I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, brought on by a bout of glandular fever. 

“After being prescribed antidepressants and feeling myself sinking deeper, I needed something that would help me find the strength and confidence to move forwards, without the antidepressants. 

"That was when I found a reiki master (the amazing Beryl Vale) and started regular treatments. Honestly, without finding reiki I’m not sure where I would be now.”

So, breathwork, reiki, and getting outdoors are Shellie's recommendations. We’ve added a few more to our list based on what helps us combat stress. Though, of course, if you're worried about your sleep or stress-levels, your first port of call should be your GP. 

Here are six relaxing classes you can try in Manchester to see what works for you.

Six Manchester classes to calm your mind and help you sleep

The therapy room at A Place to Pause at Hyde School of Dance
We're feeling calmer just looking at this Image: A Place to Pause


Some people swear by the energy-unblocking benefits of reiki, while others say it’s nothing more than a pleasant hour of horizontal chill-time. Shellie is obviously one of the former. She describes it as “a Japanese healing technique that works with and supports the body’s own natural healing energy."

Says Shellie, “The reiki practitioner is attuned to be a channel for the ‘life-force energy’. By placing hands just above or on the clothed body or head, they work with the client’s natural energy to allow a healthy flow throughout the body and mind. 

“When we’re feeling an unrest or imbalance in our body or mind, this is often caused by a blockage of the ‘life force energy’ somewhere in the body, which manifests itself as anxiety, illness, depression, pain, or mood swings… the list goes on. A session of reiki treatments will work to open these blockages to allow the body and mind to heal naturally and work in balance with each other.”

Want to give it a go? Reiki at A Place to Pause costs £25 for a one-hour session, or £5 for a 20-minute taster session.

Tai Chi and Qigong teacher Sifu Jamal Alek
Sifu Jamal Alek will teach you to use tai chi and qigong to quieten your mind Image: Thi Chi Kung Fu Centre Manchester


Another activity that focuses on breathwork and unlocking energy blockages is qigong - an ancient form of Chinese exercise. At this class at Wellington Mill in Castlefield, experienced qigong and tai chi teacher Sifu Jamal Alek will take you through a sequence of simple, slow-flowing movements combined with controlled breathing. The aim is to unblock chi meridians (energy pathways) or, put more prosaically, to help your mind and body to relax. 

Converts tells us it makes a noticeable difference to how well you sleep, particularly when you practise it regularly. Classes take place at Wellington Mill on Wednesdays from 6pm-7pm. Book in advance by email. First class is free.   

A barbell weightlifting class at the Olympus Projects in Manchester
Lift weights for better sleep: an Olympic Lifting class at the Olympus Projects Image: Bach Nguyen


Weightlifting and relaxation seem an unlikely pairing but sleep experts say otherwise. They’ve found that lifting weights releases a bigger surge of the molecule adenosine compared to less intense exercise sessions - and adenosine tends to make you drowsy. With this in mind, a strength class (not too close to bedtime) could be a good idea if you’re struggling to get enough shut-eye. 

For a barbell workout, try the Olympus Projects on Corporation Street. They offer Olympic lifting classes which teach you the two Olympic movements: the snatch, and the clean and jerk - with lots of focus on squats, presses and deadlifts. Classes cost £15 and take place on Saturdays at 10am. There’s also an Amazon Olympic Lifting class on Wednesdays at 7pm which is popular with women.

The Manchester and District Walkers photographed at Lyme Park
A wintery weekend walk can help you forget about the stresses of the working week Image: Manchester and District Walkers


A study published in the journal Sleep Health showed the science behind what we instinctively already knew: that the more exposure to natural light you get in the day, the better you sleep at night. Add to this the proven link between being in nature and improved mental health and you see why walking can be a powerful way to calm your mind and boost your mood. 

Manchester and District Walkers (MAD Walkers) is a subgroup of the Ramblers Association aimed at people in their 20s and 30s, while their sister group Manchester Weekend Walkers is aimed at over-40s. They have a busy schedule of walks of various lengths running each week, usually accessible by public transport from Manchester.  

Walks coming up include a 14-miler from Hathersage and a six-mile stroll around Chorlton and Sale Waterparks. You can try a few of their walks out for free to see if it’s your thing before joining the group (£36.60 for a year’s membership).

A yoga class at BLOK Manchester
BLOK's yoga classes include slow and calming Yin Image and headline image: Max Oppenheim


Yin is a slow-moving, meditative form of yoga with poses held for minutes at a time, and an emphasis on relaxing into the stretches. It’s peaceful, uneventful and quiet - a real antidote to a day of rushing around achieving things. The focus on physical sensations gets you grounded in your body, while the snail-like pace gradually slows racing thoughts. It works a treat for chilling you out before bed. 

One of the benefits of doing an online yin class on Zoom is that you can already be in your PJs, ready to crawl under your duvet when it's over. BLOKtv has online evening yin classes, or you can go to a real-life class at the BLOK Manchester studio. It's £15 for a studio class, or £20 for 30 days of online classes on BLOKtv. New customers can get a 14-day free trial of BLOKtv.

Manchester-based yoga teacher Laura Booth at The Life Centre
Yoga teacher Laura Booth leads the ultra-relaxing Warm Flow and Restore class at The Life Centre. Image: Confidentials


We like the kind of yoga class that starts with the teacher saying you’ll need two blankets and bolster. This regular Saturday afternoon session has to be one of the most relaxing yoga classes in Manchester with its mix of easy yin poses, undemanding sun salutes, and yoga nidra (guided meditation). 

The room is pleasantly warm rather than hot. Like the first real day of spring after a long winter, it’s the kind of temperature which makes your forehead and jaw naturally loosen. Teacher Laura Booth describes the class as a mixture of everything she loves about yoga. It’s simple and soothing - another five minutes and we would’ve been asleep.

Read next: Best gyms in Manchester city centre for 2022

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