Abu Dhabi’s Bodytree studio: where power meets philosophy

Kara Martin 27/11/2014
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No mirrors: The studio has no distractions – the mat is the mirror.

The capital’s favourite yoga, dance and Pilates house, Bodytree, are never ones to shy away from new and innovative approaches to teaching, and no two classes we’ve had there – and we’ve had many – have ever been remotely similar.

Looking ahead, their December schedule is packed with interest­ing surprises – from Yoga Body Sculpt, which will throw hand, leg and body weights into the mix, to workshops like Healing through Hypnosis. But this month, we were quite intrigued by yogini Farah Aljundi and her explorative Vinyasa Empowerment Yoga Flow classes, the perfect blend of power poses and beginner’s philosophy to build strength and synergy from the inside out.

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As one expects when the words ‘Vinyasa’ and ‘Flow’ are thrown around, the sequence was initially very rhythmic, seamlessly linking movements, poses and breath, but we also held things a bit longer than in typical classes, built up a nice intense, almost intimidating, heat in the body which, in retrospect got me to really process what it means to ‘journey’ through a class, some­thing Farah likes to talk about.

She wholly welcomes student’s wobbliness and failed attempts on the mat, and encourages them to enjoy getting back into the pos­tures, experiencing and feeling just what it takes to return to centre or balance after a bit of ‘adversity’.

She says: “Since yoga made its way to the West, we know it brought a shift in focus to its more physical elements – just doing a pose, feeling tired and shaky and just stepping away from it and moving on – but it’s really impor­tant to also tune into what your body is trying to tell you on the inside. We’re asking ‘what are the underlying emotions here?’, and this is where the ‘Empowerment’ part of my class comes from.”

Farah, an ex-fashion consultant who decided to pack everything up and move to India to study yoga, says: “I’m attracted to a more dynamic practice, and Vinyasa is simply about aligning one breath with one movement and a focus point, but taking it further, what I found was a little bit lacking [in the market] were classes that also incorporated how we should keep our mindset during a dynamic practice; those focusing on incor­porating a lot more yin elements, and breaking down the poses to what it feels like inside in order to keep your body steady.

“We’re trying to really unite the body and the mind during the practice. The ideal is to achieve tensegrity.”

Accompanied by an eclectic mix of music, from classical to Middle Eastern, it’s a class where you’re encouraged to leave your ego, expertise and expectations at the door. But having said that, Farah has some tips for newcomers: “Expect to sweat, just keep breath­ing and try to focus your attention more on the process of learning rather than on the poses because we’re not looking for any finality to the poses; this is about slowing it down and living the process because that’s how you build strength and awareness.”

“Even after the pose is finished, you’re still peeling away layers on the inside,” she adds, also pointing out that she likes to use the studio at Bodytree that has no mirrors, instead encouraging students to envision the mat as their mirror.

Indeed, there is a lot of nice imagery thrown in with her pas­sionate instruction, and a bit of a challenge to be found for everyone no matter their level or skill and strengths. In my case it was having to unlearn all that I had already learned as a yoga teacher myself, in order to really get back to feeling something and gazing inward, as opposed to switching on autopilot and moving mechanically through the sequence.

The class is most recommended for intermediate yoga students but I like that Farah still makes frequent checks and adjustments, and her hands-on help in loosening up for our final resting pose (Sha­vasana) made it that much more inviting to sink into the floor and succumb to it (and for some of us, to immediately clock out and start snoring after all the previous exer­tions, both physical and mental).

Try to stay awake for the final moments though, as she tends to pluck some nice passages from yo­gic and philosophical texts for you to pocket and put into perspective throughout the rest of your week.

All in all, it was a great opportu­nity, personally, to remember what it was like to be a student, rather than a teacher, and for everyone to let go and practise compassion towards themselves on and off the mat; not just to apply lessons to the mat, but to take them away from the studio too and learn from them. Quite empowering indeed.

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Lifestyler with Josie McKenlay: The Problem with Modern Medicine

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Experience: Amy Myers is a specialist in functional medicine who previously battled Graves Disease.

I was watching an interview with Amy Myers, who specialises in functional medicine and she was talking about the way in which her illness was dealt with by western medicine.

She was brought up in what might be thought of as an alternative home: vegetarian, natural remedies, etc.

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When she left and went to university she wasn’t quite so strict with her choices, perhaps partly to do with living on a student budget.

After a while she started feeling very unwell and was told by her doctor that it was probably stress. She was adamant that it wasn’t and asked for tests. It turned out to be Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid and her three choices of treatment were medication, ablation (a type of radiotherapy) or removal of the thyroid.

She chose medication but her liver didn’t cope with it so she opted for removal. She was given no other options. Years later having trained in functional medicine, she successfully treated a patient with the same condition.

During the consultation, she suggested that they look at his diet and eliminate some food groups to try to find what was causing the autoimmunity. His comment was astonishing: “Isn’t that a little drastic?”

I wanted to share this story to demonstrate how far western/modern medicine has strayed from treating the body as a whole.

That a change in diet can be considered drastic, but lifelong medication, ablation or removal is acceptable is astonishing when you stop to think about it.

Modern medicine treats the symptoms rather than the cause and we are probably all guilty of this.

Changing your diet, resting, exercising, investigating the root cause and using alternative remedies all take time and most of us are busy and want instant relief: yoga and Pilates can be very effective in improving posture, correcting muscle imbalance and thereby curing back pain, but it takes time whereas a pill is an instant cure. The problem is, the pain will return because the root cause has not been addressed.

Most of us are much more aware of treating the cause in the more acute illnesses and understand the need to make sensible lifestyle choices.

Smoking, alcohol abuse, too much sugar, a high fat diet, osteoporosis and a lack of exercise all result in what are often serious diseases, often death.

Many people would still rather take the statins, the pills for hypertension and diabetes, the gastric bypass, the vitamin D shots and the calcium pills than alter their lifestyle.

Apart from the enlightened, pregnancy tends to be the exception as few drugs can be used at this time in case of possibly harming the baby.

At this time, symptoms are seen as red flags to an underlying problem which is then further investigated and hopefully sorted. This is the way all symptoms should be treated.

Continuing next time.

Check out Josie Kenlay's great website; www.josiemckenlay.com or www.yogapilatesabudhabi.com.

You can also follow Josie on twitter @JosieMcKenlay

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Lie back and sweat it out at Dubai’s L’Atelier Fit­ness

Kara Martin 20/11/2014
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Hot stuff: The Iyashi Dome is heated from within and the heat penetrates upto 40mm under the skin

Sleek and stylish ladies-only wellness centre L’Atelier Fit­ness in Jumeirah is the sort of place that likes to take things outside of the box.

Not a treadmill or Pilates class in sight, just tons of foresight, bringing some of the most technologically advanced ideas to its high-end facility.

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-Setting the barre high with new classes in the UAE

They first became famous for introducing the UAE to the Italian-invented, French-obsessed concept of Aquabiking, a futuristic take on the spin class, where the pedal power happens while you’re submerged in water – effectively allowing you to work 12 times harder (without even really feeling it), and burn an impressive 500-700 calories in just a 45-minute session.

With Aquabiking’s ability to divide your body weight in two, easing the load off on joints and allowing you to really work, as well as reduce cellulite while on the bike through the massage-like effect you’re generating in the water, working almost like lymphatic drainage, not to men­tion every session ending with a leisurely laze in the pool, naturally the ladies, young and old, came flocking.

But, while they still pack in the punters on a daily basis, the concept is catching on – Yas Island Rotana recently debuted the individual, pod-like spabike, eliminating the class setting and combining exercise, hydrotherapy and massage.

So what next for L’Atelier?

This time they headed further afield, to Japan, in search of yet another way one can achieve more by doing less – it’s called the Iyashi Dome, and it will make you sweat more than anything while doing just about nothing.

The Iyashi Dome is inspired by the out-there practice of Suna Ry­oho, where several centuries ago the Japanese would make good use of the hot summer months by burying themselves in the sand near the hot springs on the beach to eliminate toxins.

Through the heat from the earth and the sun warming up the sand, which was full of good minerals such as sea salt, it was not only a great way to sweat out all the bad stuff, but penetrate under the skin with all the good stuff, restoring bodily balance.

Any “burial site” originally used for this quirky treatment had to be avoided for several days, however, because of the presence of the rel-eased toxins which somehow had the ability to provoke headaches and uneasiness.

Fast forward to the Iyashi Dome, which eliminates all that ickiness and illness, sand and sunburn, with a half-hour session instead taking place in something more like a futuristic coffin that’s generously heated from within… while you listen to contemporary jazz in an air-conditoned, mood-lit suite.

The Dome works by emitting vibrations of far-infrared rays from inside the unique black carbon dome, in line with the infrared naturally produced in the body. The heat penetrates up to 40mm under the skin, which helps purify, deeply cleanse, reduce cellulite and can assist in holding back some of those signs of ageing – Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore have been known to jump on the band­wagon.

While in your underwear, you “bake” in there for 15 minutes on your stomach, then another 15 on your back, the latter more intense.

You endure, like embarrassingly dripping all over your mat during a hot Bikram Yoga class, but the result is quite significant: a loss of 1200ml of sweat – the same amount one might perspire after a 20km run – equating to 600 calo­ries and upwards.

Of course one would burn a great deal more across 20km but let’s not forget we’re doing absolutely nothing here.

It’s icky indeed (you’re encour­aged to bring extra garments, and there is a shower in the suite), but to see your therapist jot down that you lost roughly half a kilo in that time you were close to snoozing is quite cool – although is that just excess water weight?

What was interesting was that we, and some other clients, were recorded as having gained (slightly) in the ‘Fat Percentage’ category, which therapists could not explain.

But not to worry, these results aren’t lasting and regular sessions are needed to see slimming changes. If there’s a chance you might be overindulging this festive season – or have overstepped your brunch quota – it couldn’t hurt to book in a couple sessions in the Iyashi Dome, perfect for eliminating harmful chemicals and for feeling fresher, lighter and to see your skin glow (it really does).

Check it out and see how you fair with the heat, but we would stress that this can’t be your only means of staying in shape and/or weight loss – it is encouraged to eat well and get some activity in too to keep the body in tune – perhaps an Aquabiking class?

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