Feeling small, run down, off-centre or out of control? Or just a bit creaky and meh? Need a bit more restorative me-time? Here's an alternative fitness option that will have you breathing more deeply, walking taller and beaming beatifically at all whom you meet. And all before breakfast.
WHAT? Kundalini is the hippy relative of the yoga family. The lead figure of the movement in the West was the late Yogi Bhajan, although there is nothing religious about attending a yoga class. The emphasis of the discipline is on breathing, posture and endurance. There is chanting. There is even singing. Sometimes there is lying on your back, waving your legs in the air and laughing hysterically. And there is no embarrassment (although outbreaks of giggling are allowed). Kundalini translates as "coiled like a snake", and this refers to the body's energy, which it is believed is centred on the spine: the idea is to tap into and harness it to improve your health, concentration and well being.
WHERE + WHEN + HOW MUCH? Whilst not quite as widespread as its more energetic cousin, Hatha Yoga, Kundalini classes are still pretty easy to find in London. Most sports centres worth their Sports Council funding offer a range of well-being classes, and if you look carefully on the time-table you will almost certainly find Kundalini in there. Or you can check out this list of registered teachers. The best time to go to a class is undoubtedly early morning, before breakfast (oh, the delicious sense of superiority with which this imbues participants) - but don't let this put you off going to classes at other times as yoga is good for you at any time of the day. Classes should be included in the cost of normal gym membership, and no more than £7-£8 a pop elsewhere.
EQUIPMENT: The good news is that you really don't need anything. Mats will be provided (although it always nice to have your own if you plan to make a habit of it). Wear loose, comfortable clothing, and take a cardi or blanket to keep yourself warm during relaxation periods. Yoga is usually conducted barefoot.
THE RUNDOWN: Classes normally last between one and two hours. The usual format entails an initial period of relaxation (wherein you are meant to empty your mind of all extraneous thoughts, ho ho), followed by a good half hour of warm-up exercises to awaken the body's chakras. A good teacher will make sure that you do not try to exceed your capabilities, and will not only explain each exercise, but also why you are doing it and what it is good for. It is not unusual for a whole class to be dedicated to one part of the body: de-toxing the liver, or aiding the digestive system, or building on core strength. After that there will be a range of stretching and breathing exercises, which often employ meditation and visualisation to improve their effectiveness. Classes always conclude with ten minutes or so of further relaxation; no, it's not unusual to fall asleep. After a class always drink plenty of fluids to enhance the detoxifying effects therein.IS IT THE RIGHT FIT FOR YOU? Kundalini yoga is pretty much suitable for everyone, and there is absolutely no upper age limit. There are even classes designed for children and pregnant ladies. BUT it does help if you go in with an open mind. AND don't be deterred if you don't enjoy your first class: the beneficial effects and one's understanding of it all are cumulative. It is particularly good for asthmatics, the stressed and the depressed.
Why not check out some other Londonist-tested Alternative London Workouts?
Picture by courtneyBolton under the Creative Commons Licence for Commercial Use.