Ever found yourself suffering from the Monday blues, only to discover it’s already Thursday? Of course you have! But it doesn’t have to be like that. For centuries, Millenia even, spiritual leaders have been perfecting the art of controlling the mind by contorting the body. We’re talking about yoga, and now it has a new home in Haggerston.
Trip Space Projects occupies two converted railway arches in Acton Mews, the cobbled alleyway next to where the Regents Canal meets Kingsland Road. It’s the perfect home for this funky and ultra-hip collective whose mission is “to organise progressive activities for contemporary performance and social engagement”. It’s all about the body, the being, and the social.
Besides performances and professional dance classes, Trip Space Projects are yoga specialists, with no fewer than 14 instructors running classes from inside the purpose built studio, with rustic brickwork, a sprung wooden floor and a double glazed glass frontage bathing the entire space in natural light. The Trip Space website describes it as “the perfect place for playfulness and physicality”. It’s hard to disagree.
So when Haggerston Times received an invite to take part in an introductory yoga session we literally jumped at the chance, before literally beating a hasty retreat back to the couch with an ice pack strapped to our lower cortex amid fears we had done ourselves lasting damage. Fitness levels at Haggerston Times ain’t what they used to be!
So could Yoga be the answer? After missing our first session, scheduled for 7am, thanks to the dreaded and possibly alcohol related combination of unhealthy body and mind, things were looking a little bleak; no matter, we were generously offered a chance to redeem ourselves and restore our overall equilibrium during a lunchtime session, with a free lunch thrown in courtesy of the super healthy super-food specialists at the neighbouring Jones at Trip bar / restaurant. Yum!
Despite being rank amateurs and the kind of gym goers who never knew the satisfaction of reaching the top of the rope in gym class or completing a satisfactory, British Gymnastics Association approved forward roll, we’re nothing if not enthusiastic (just don’t expect to see us in leg warmers and a headband pulling moves like this guy anytime soon), and, donning a “borrowed” pair of three quarter length footie shorts we promised to give back to their rightful owner several months ago, one rugby sock and and one ankle length / women’s tennis sock we made our way into the “space”.
First things first; get yourself a yoga mat, or better still, two, because one thing I learned during an epiphany-inducing hour of yoga was that knobbly knees cop an awful lot of flack when transferring the weight between a Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe pose) and a Virabhandrasana I (warrior I pose), and make you feel like are going to slice the wooden floor open with a piece of your splintered patella bone.
Next, let the music take you. What was that playing from the mini ghetto blaster artfully positioned in a naturally occurring wooden ghetto where today’s trainer, Paula, who was classically trained under the tutelage of Ganga Devi at the Himalayan Yoga Institute, and also runs “Theatre of the Oppressed” workshops as well as life-coaching stressed out inner city workers (where do I sign please?) had lit a selection of calming candles? It was either the deepest house music I have ever heard, so many BPM that it was impossible to distinguish between the B’s, or I can confirm what I thought was a scurrilous rumour, that a backdrop of people murmuring “oh-ommmm” is an integral part of the yoga experience.
Either way, the session began comfortably enough. I found Paula’s instructions extremely clear and far easier to follow than I had anticipated. It’s true that when describing my physical shape I am firmly in the “bleak” rather than the “peak” category, but being tall and having blundered my way through several months of intermittent BMF sessions I was able to do a passable impression of someone who looked like they knew what they were doing.
Even so, whenever I was struggling, Paula was on hand to help out. The rest of the group ranged from beginners like me to the really quite good, and everything in between, but what was really more important was that the group were doing something inspiring, together. The closest I had ever got to exhaling as a group before this was doing balloons at a party. This felt a lot more natural, although I didn’t feel quite so much like laughing hysterically, which was probably a good thing ; )
As we made our way through a series of manoeuvres, from Bhujangasana (cobra pose), to Purvottanasana (Upward plank pose) to the more adventurous and, when performed correctly, (reference rest of group) enviably stylish Warrior, I began to realise something that most experienced yoga practitioners already know. Yoga routines are greater than the sum of their parts.
Yoga is not about heaving and panting your way through a series of contortions that makes a game of 6 man twister feel like bathing in asses milk with a particularly gentle harem by compaison, it’s about physical and mental release. Controlled, synchronised breathing; periods of intense stretching followed by the execution of dynamic, controlled, stress-busting transformations. When done correctly it actually looks beautiful. Correction, no matter your level or your physical ability, performing yoga is a beautiful activity; complex and secretive, it’s the code that you can never completely crack, whatever your level of devotion, and that is what makes it so special.
It’s easy to get into the spirit of yoga and my view, having tried it, is that everybody should have a go. Meditation and physical and spiritual harmony are as old as civilisation itself. It’s said that yoga dates back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation, where the two great historical rivers met in Northen India, occupying an area of 300,000 square miles, making it the largest civilization of the early antiquity. These were no tribe of primitives either; they designed world beating sewage systems, multi storey buildings and ran a maritime empire that stretched as far as Mesopotamia and regions of the Middle East and Africa.
Amidst the ruins of the great cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa excavators have uncovered soap stone figurines that closely resemble yogi-like figures, indicating that this finest of civilisations knew all about the regenerative effects an Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Wheel Pose) could bring to an otherwise unfulfilling period of downtime. “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with sixty seconds worth of distance run”… etc. etc.
Or, to put it more bluntly, as Ferris Bueller once said: “life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and take a look around every once in a while, you might miss it”. Haggerston, the oasis of calm between Daring Dalston and Super Shoreditch, is civilising. And it’s mostly thanks to Yoga. Don’t believe me? Get yourself down to Tripspace and do try it for yourself!
Oh and one last thing. I mentioned the super healthy lunch at Trip Kitchen you get if you sign up for a course. Now I’m mentioning it again. Read into that what you will.