How gentle exercise will support mind and body

Sheffield Yoga Centre open day: teacher Frances Homewood
Sheffield Yoga Centre open day: teacher Frances Homewood

WHEN Frances Homewood started teaching yoga nearly 30 years ago, there were about four of five classes in the city a week.

“But now there’s almost a class in every neighbourhood,” she said. “That’s great. I’m delighted yoga has become more mainstream.”

There are several reasons for the wider modern acceptance of the 3,000 year old discipline of mind, body and spirit, she thinks.

“There’s stress and lifestyle, especially to do with work, and there’s now quite a few high profile celebrities who say they do yoga, like Ryan Giggs and Bradley Wiggins, for example.”

Athletes take up yoga because stretching exercises can reduce the chances of injury. “But they find that the improvements in flexibility, balance, coordination and general body awareness also makes them better at their sport.”

Frances is director of the Shefield Yoga Centre in Walkley, which opened in 2005. The centre has grown from 100 to nearly 250 participants a week, taking part in 19 different classes ranging from beginners and ‘older and stiffer’ sessions to therapeutic yoga and specialist classes for runners, climbers and cyclists.

“People often come from word of mouth,” said fellow teacher Emma Rattenbury. “It’s seen as much more normal now. Yoga is not something that only weirdos do.”

Last week the centre held the first in a series of special classes for 16-19 year old footballers from Sheffield United’s academy. Premiership football teams like Manchester United and Everton have been running yoga classes for players for some time, and so there’s wider acceptance from coaches and players, who are keen to reduce the likelihood of injuries and perhaps aim for a playing career as long as the now 39-year-old Ryan Giggs.

“They really enjoyed the session,” said Frances. “I think they were surprised how hard they found some of the exercises, but the feedback was that they found it helpful and said they very keen to continue the exercises for their hamstrings and balance.”

The converted Walkley chapel was the original yoga centre in Sheffield and is now the only one dedicated just to yoga, although as Frances says there are classes in church halls, gyms and community centres all over the city. The centre trains new teachers and acts as a meeting point for those interested in the specialised discipline of Iyengar yoga.

“I think the centre is a kind of centre of excellence, and supports yoga in other parts of Sheffield,” said Emma Rattenbury. “It enriches our community.”

The centre’s open day last Sunday aimed to let people find out about the centre and the various classes on offer.

“We’re tucked away in a quiet corner of Walkley and a lot of people don’t know we exist,” said Frances Homewood.

The opportunity to use an ancient technique like yoga to relax mind and body after a stressful day at work is an understandable draw for many modern yogis.

But the number of people taking part to help with frozen shoulders, neck, lower back and finger pain is often a result of modern life and work, said Frances.

Emma added: “So many more people are getting shoulder and back problems because of computers and driving, and one of the key things about yoga is how you lift and open your chest, and you see that really lifts people.”

Frances reflected how the practices of ancient India are now being used to address some of the pressing problems of modern life in the UK.

“It’s extraordinary how yoga has stood the test of time,” she said.

Yoga had fallen out of favour a little in India, she noted. “But as India has become more westernised and they also spend hours hunched over computers and driving cars all the time, and living in stressful cities, they are turning back to their origins in yoga, and I’ve found myself teaching yoga to my friends in India.”