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.
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.