Just as the private members’ club has evolved from a rarefied establishment reserved for gentlemen in tweeds into a hip hangout à la Soho House, fitness training has been undergoing an overhaul. Gyms such as KX, Bodyism at The Bulgari, Matt Roberts for Grace Belgravia and now The Library in Notting Hill are all challenging the idea of what it means to work out by injecting it with some serious style.
The Library is a self-proclaimed “intelligent gym”. The founder is dubbed “the author”, the trainers are known as “scholars” and in addition to weights you'll find shelves of novels and billiards tables…
I arrive at 206-208 Kensington Park Road and am met by club manager-cum-yoga teacher Alex Kremer, who leads me on a tour of the facility with bon mots (“look after your body; it's the only place you have to live”), stacks of leather-bound books, billiards tables, vintage photographs and sumptuous Chesterfield-style furnishings. The space was once a synagogue, and there still remains a stained-glass Star of David. As well as the trappings of an old-school gentleman’s club, there are also a vintage pommel horse, weight machines and brown leather punch bag thrown into the mix.
The brainchild of “author” Zana Morris, The Library has grown out of the success of her private studios on Harley Street and in Barnes (these were previously known as Educogym, and have now been rebranded as the Little Library spaces). Membership or “book clubs” are either on a month-by-month basis, a “seasonal” four-month contract, or a year-long one, with each involving access to supervised training sessions, a tailored nutritional programme, yoga, Pilates and boxing classes, plus an assortment of talks and lectures. Alternatively, there is the option of simply signing up for the signature “12-day page-turner”.
Alex explains that this promises a fat loss of up to 7.5lbs and a muscle gain of 3lbs (to better burn fat), with only 15 minutes a day training (a circuit-style workout with no respite between the exercises – including lunges, thigh curls and “gorilla lifts” with strength weights) combined with a tailored nutritional programme consisting of a strict protein-rich, sugar-free, high-fat (think cheese, avocados), zero-carb diet, plus supplements. It’s £595 a pop, so before I sign up, I opt to try an introductory yoga class to see how I like the place.
Instructor Tahiche is a fairy-like blonde with a killer six-pack, who I'm told was born in an ashram in India. As I look at her sitting on her mat, framed by candles and a statue of Shiva, I wonder if even a glimmer of anxiety has ever penetrated her calm aura. Our class of six fills one of the upstairs corridor spaces (it’s informal and relaxed and feels like I’m at a friend’s), and we begin with some sun salutations at a speedy pace, before transitioning into a slow hatha-style routine where we hold each asana with controlled purpose to flood the organs with oxygen and release energy blockages in the seven vital chakras.
For the fiery third chakra located in the solar plexus – where blockages can cause inactivity and skirking of responsibility, plus a lack of willpower or assertiveness – we assume the navasana (boat pose), pulling our bodies into a V-shape, balancing entirely on our buttocks. I can feel my abs going into overdrive.
From here we transition into ardha navasana (half-boat pose) with hands interlaced behind the neck, both back and shoulders closer to the ground. I can almost feel my stomach pulsing as we hold the pose. I am thankful for the next position, bow, where I put my stomach to the floor, bend my legs round so my feet are near my buttocks, and hold my ankles while pressing my pubic bone downwards and “massaging” my stomach on the mat.
For the visuddha (throat chakra) we hold the bridge and shoulder stand, place an index finger on our third eyes and balance in the tree pose, before moving on to some pranayama – taking in deep breaths through alternating nostrils.
I depart feeling deeply calm – an insight into Tahiche’s dreamy existence.
The bottom line:
The Library has only been open since May 3013 and still feels pretty new – while clients are downstairs training, the members’ lounge areas lack atmosphere. That said, I did visit during off-peak hours, and I am sure that over time, as more people sign up, it will develop a buzzy vibe.
I was impressed by the yoga class, which was a change from my usual dynamic, sweat-inducing style, and helped me to focus more on listening to energy blockages in my body. I was nervous that the pumping music going on downstairs would interfere with our class, but it stopped as soon as our class began. I liked the energy of the place and would definitely recommend Tahiche's class, but may still need more convincing to sign up for the “12-day page-turner”.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, therapies and accommodation.