When Nicola Harpin opened her studio, Yoga at the Reach, off Ecclesall Road a year ago, she set herself a mission to make the practice ‘all-inclusive’.
And now she’s found a new way of extolling the virtues of yoga to a fresh audience – by running classes exclusively for men.
Two weeks in, the sessions are proving popular, and Nicola harbours hopes that her new students will quickly learn the benefits of relaxing through movement and meditation, rather than resorting to time-honoured male methods of stress relief such as downing pints in the pub.
The instructor said she has tried to persuade men to attend her mainstream classes for several years, but that this has only been ‘mildly successful’.
“Many of my classes just had women in them so I decided to ask the women to tell their men folk,” she said.
“This worked to a degree but I have still only ever taught a handful of classes where the men outnumbered the women! I was handing out flyers at the Endcliffe Park Parkrun, which I do weekly, and one chap said ‘Can I have a space at the back for inflexible blokes?’
“A light bulb went on in my mind and it dawned on me that perhaps men didn’t want to practise in a room full of bendy women!”
She added: “Of course they may have other reasons for not wanting to practise, but I thought it was worth seeing if men would attend a class just for blokes – and the more inflexible the better.”
Nicola asked around and managed to rustle up a group of 12 men willing to give yoga a go.
“Men recognise changes to their bodies just as much as women. Their backs hurt, their knees ache, they feel inflexible and stressed as much as everyone, so we are aiming, using hatha yoga exercises, to help them out with these things to improve their everyday quality of life.
“The yoga will be gentle and progressive, and hopefully our blokes will go out feeling better than when they came in.” However, Nicola believes men are still more prone than women to ‘bottling up’ tension and stress.
“Just as women get stressed by work, men do too, but they often don’t get the opportunity to release the tension. Women are a lot more open to relaxation, or having a massage. Men don’t really do that. They’ll go for a beer and think everything’s all right, rather than thinking of it from a physical and mental health perspective. Women are usually more able to express things and ‘get it out’, so to speak.”
Nicola, of Hunters Bar, is familiar with the pressures of the rat race, having worked in London as a sales director before moving to Sheffield eight years ago to be with her husband Richard, a university lecturer, who she met on a yoga teaching course.
The men’s classes, led by teacher Anne Leadbetter, provide techniques in breathing, relaxation and meditation – a ‘really well-rounded’ grounding in yoga, according to Nicola.
“You don’t know first of all how inflexible these men are going to be. Anne’s planned stuff for backs, stiff shoulders, and basic inflexibility, then she’ll build it up from there.
“Generally if people stick at it they will start to progress fairly quickly.”
Aches and pains triggered by driving, gardening and vigorous sports can all be eased with yoga, but the ancient practice ‘needs to be more on the radar of medical professionals’, she continued.
“There’s a lot of work going on now into how yoga can help people on a therapeutic level, it’s being pushed to the forefront much more.
“We have a policy about it being all-inclusive.
“Whatever people’s problem, we’ll be able to find a style of yoga that works for them.
“It’s something than can help everyone. My studio’s busy and it’s in a really good location. There are lots of studios now in Sheffield. Yoga is having a really good resurgence. Until recently it was seen as something that was in the background as something from the 1960s, but now it’s got a much higher profile.”
n The men’s classes run every Monday from 6pm in the studio at Blenheim Reach, off Ecclesall Road. Visit Yoga at the Reach for more information.