Stretch Yoga, Meditation

THE BASICS: An early, quiet 45 minute meditation class on Columbia Road. Stretch Yoga has two studios; one here and one off Broadway Market. Meditation is available, as are different forms of Yoga. £10 for a meditation class.

THE (peaceful) BITCHES: Carly

THE CLASS: Saturday mornings tend to be about throwing myself out the door and round the park, or else into some fast paced, loud, energetic class to get the weekend started. I am sure you all know this due to the early, smug instagram and twitter posts you poor souls have to endure on a weekly basis. I apologise.

Well, a few weeks ago, I decided to see whether my weekend would take a different tone if I started it with an early meditation class instead of an aerobic thrash-about. I was feeling pretty burned out from a couple of weeks of a new role in the Day Job, so this suited my needs well.

My destination was the new Stretch Yoga studio on Columbia Road. Meditation is best done on an empty (or at least not full stomach) so I made a little breakfast smoothie for when I arrived back (banana, drinking oats from Rude Health, blueberries, coconut water, avocado), and had a shot of it to keep me going through the class but not impact my digestive system.

The walk from Shoreditch High Street to Columbia Road was pretty funny, just because I was able to see such a stark contrast between myself- well rested and ambling my way to to meditation- and those who were running on the dregs of an epic night out- bleary eyed, dressed inappropriately and in search of caffeine. I truly love where I live (Although it explains why life is on the go 24 hours a day!)

A small group of us had assembled for the class, and this week was founder of Stretch Carl, standing in for the usual Saturday morning teacher.

I’d last been to this place when it was art-yoga studio Go Go Yoga, so it was interesting to see the same space taken over by a different company. The cosy, eclectic room definitely kept the same serenity and peacefulness it had in its previous life.

We had the choice of mats and blocks (free to use) and were encouraged to get comfortable in a seated position. We’d be holding this position for 45 minutes, and so it was important to get as comfortable as possible before starting. You’re obviously allowed to move during meditation, but you don’t want to be fidgeting through your practice, so we had a good few minutes of fidget time while Carl introduced his teaching style to us, before we came to rest in a variety of cross-legged positions on the floor

I’d taken a course at the London Meditation Centre way back in 2008, and learned a particular (Vedic) way of practicing. Although this was a different way of reaching a still mind to the one we practiced at the Stretch Yoga class, the guidance was similar- we were told that, every time we experienced a thought, we should not to get frustrated with our minds, but instead just gently bring our minds back to a stillness. To reach this state, Carl talked us through a relaxation, focusing on and relaxing each part of our bodies, helping us feel present and grounded.

The studio must be next to some residential flats, because half way through the practice my thoughts were interrupted by quite a bit of chatter and general family-on-a-saturday-morning movement outside. This crept into the stillness in my mind I had so carefully been cultivating, and I was on the verge of getting irritated by it. But then I remembered that I shouldn’t let this noise distract me. Instead, I should acknowledge it was going on, but not make it my focus. Kind of- accept it and relax through it.

Pretty soon on, it simply became a background noise I was aware of but not necessarily distracted by- I was as aware of it as I was my belly gurgling. When we were eventually gently brought out of our meditation (we had a period of quiet time between introduction and guidance into our meditative state), I felt really pleased to have been able to regain a peaceful and accepting mind despite outside noise.

THE VERDICT: So, how did meditation rather than aerobics compare as a start to my Saturday? Rather well, actually! I left the class, wandered home slowly and took in everything around me- weather, breeze, people, buildings…. I even walked the long way through the park just to enjoy the morning a little bit more. I like the variety a Saturday morning meditation brought to my usual routine, and have definitely started to think about different ways to wake up on a Saturday that aren’t in a sweaty room to some pounding house music.

THE EXTRAS: for those of you who haven’t quite gotten your heads around meditation- I totally understand. I was pretty skeptical before I read a bit about it and eventually took a course, and I am certainly not someone who maintains a constant state of peaceful OM. I lose my sh*t on a packed tube at least once a week!

Instead (and this is what made me initially accept meditation as something I could do without sounding like too much of a middle class knob) I’d encourage you to try to think of meditation as the gateway into getting your mind out of what you did last week, what you are worrying about next week, and just focusing on the fact that you are alive TODAY, breathing in the air and with a thousand million possibilities ahead of you. That’s a pretty cool thing. And that was a good mindset with which to start my weekend!