Spa Junkie at… Secret Yoga Club

A covert email, a church and a candlelit feast – our undercover columnist heads to an eccentric pop-up Jivamukti yoga class

Image: Jay Yeo

There are three things that a woman should always keep to herself: her weight, age and number of conquests. But some things are too hard not to divulge. One such secret – and no, it’s not my identity – is a yoga-class-cum-supper-club that is so good I can’t resist breaking the code of silence.

An email invitation to the pop-up Secret Yoga Club, which meets once a month in a different location, had slipped stealthily into my inbox announcing an event in Highbury. Intrigued, I decide to head to north London…

After a 10-minute walk in the blistering cold, I arrive at The Nave, which on closer inspection appears to be a church. Entering through a wooden door, I wander into a space illuminated by twinkling candles and see that the class has already gathered. I slip in at the back, find a spot and pick up one of the mats provided. Yoga has always been a kind of religion for me, but this takes it to a new level.

Today’s class is led by cute-as-a-button, pocket-rocket brunette Céline Fraefel – an advanced Jivamukti instructor and founder of Daya Yoga in her hometown of Bern, Switzerland. After a quick introduction by Sienna Miller look-alike and SYC founder Gabrielle Hales, our gathering of almost 60 men and women works through some sun salutations at a dynamic pace to warm up and open out the body.

Created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984, Jivamukti, which means “liberation while living”, is a physically demanding yoga practice combining vigorous hatha and vinyasa-based styles.

We move into several challenging Jivamukti asanas (postures). As I hold the setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge), I am assisted by one of the attendants, who places one hand on my sacrum (the spot on my lower back directly above the tailbone), another on my sternum and lifts me upwards to open my chest and elongate my spine. Because the heart is higher than the head it’s considered an inversion, which is said to help relieve stress, fatigue and anxiety. It is also said to increase lung capacity and I feel my lungs flood with oxygen as the assistant adjusts my body.

We transition into other asanas, such as the ardha purvottanasana (reverse table), vrkshasana (tree pose) and sirsasana (headstand). Each work to challenge and open up my body, while calming my mind and alleviating any feelings of anxiety. Finally, we collect our blankets for the savasana (corpse pose).

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Our meditation stage of the class is accompanied by the gentle beating of a gong, which surrounds us with sounds and vibrations that send me into a state of deep relaxation. I am thankful for my blanket, because as we cool down, the church really starts to feel chilly.

Once the yoga session has drawn to a close, the space is transformed into a candlelit banquet hall that’s fit for a king. There is an array of tasty dishes cooked by a lady called Nina Parker: slow-roasted beetroots with toasted hazelnuts and wild honey, winter ratatouille, green polenta, coconut ice cream and blackberry and amaretto compote.

I sit and natter to my fellow yogis – a PR executive to my left, a Shamanic healer/tattoo artist to my right – before wandering back out into the night.

The bottom line:

Sometimes fate takes the front seat – I neither know how the Secret Yoga Club email wended its way to my inbox (an address unconnected to my Spa Junkie antics), nor why I was serendipitously seated next to a tattooed shaman, but I do know that I came away from SYC feeling more peaceful of mind, reconnected with my body and clearer about the decisions I needed to make.

A yoga class can be as slow or challenging as you want it to be, and as a pretty seasoned yogi I know my strengths and limitations, so I was able to work myself as hard as possible on the mat, and I feel as if I earned my supper. Considering the class was so large, I received more than my fair share of attention and adjustments, which was a plus. One thing to note, however, is that while mats are provided, the classes can get pretty full, so I’d advise calling to book a mat in advance or bring your own.

The tasty food, demanding postures and interesting company made for a rather enlightening evening – one that surely can’t be kept a secret for much longer…

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