Behind the scenes at YogaLife in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 May 2019
Copyright Andbro 2016. All rights reserved
YogaLife has been a catalyst for change in the lives of its founders, teachers and clients
'Yoga has been a huge part of my life for a long time,' says Stuart Pilkington, who co-founded YogaLife with friend Gareth Caple. 'All my life I had suffered with terrible insomnia, I had tried everything and eventually decided to give yoga a go. At that time it was all seen very much as a 'hippy dippy' activity and I was incredibly embarrassed and didn't tell anyone I was going. I actually got asked to leave the first class I attended, as I couldn't stop laughing. I stuck with it though, and it really started to help.
'Fast forward a few years and I decided to train to be a yoga teacher. I was already a qualified sports therapist and personal trainer and I went to London to train in yoga. What I learned didn't really satisfy me though, so I did lots more study with private teachers to get a real grasp of what the discipline could offer.
'I was doing classes all around Cheshire, which is how I met Gareth.'
'Stuart was running a class at a gym where I managed the personal trainers,' Gareth explains. 'He started doing some PT work too, so we met for coffee a few times and just really got on well. One day he said he really wanted to open his own hot yoga studio, so I said let's do it. Eight weeks later, we had.'
I am absolutely gender stereotyping here, but yoga doesn't seem a typical path for two super-fit and healthy blokes to pursue.
'It is unusual,' Gareth laughs, 'but we're both trained in sports therapy and both very scientifically minded, we understand how what we do affects the mind and the body.
'Both of us came to it in different ways and it's made a huge difference to our lives, so maybe the fact that we are male will help people appreciate that it's not a hippy dippy thing at all, but something that genuinely adds value to people's lives.'
Gareth discovered yoga through a very different path – Thai kickboxing. No, I wouldn't have put those two together either.
'I was doing a lot of kickboxing and needed to find a class that helped develop strength and flexibility. Thai kickboxing is also all about control, so there is a natural cross-over there too. I was already doing meditation as a separate thing. One of my first girlfriends, when I was only 20, was really into self-help, NLP and using positive thinking and visualisation to create success. She was an art teacher and would have her students all visualise their success before each class – every one of them went on to achieve A or A* results, which was incredible. I didn't make the connection immediately, but I came to realise that all the self-help and mindfulness books I had read were churning over stuff that's been taught in yoga for thousands of years: physical and mental strength, flexibility, focus and resilience - that's all in one package in yoga.'
The proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the tasting and I am becoming increasingly keen to experience one of their classes – but there are still vestiges of 'will I feel silly?' in my mind.
'It might help to know that most of our teachers were once our students,' says Stuart. 'They started as novices with YogaLife and now lead classes themselves. Without exception, they tell us that yoga has made a huge difference to their lives. Most tell us that they used to suffer major anxiety and stress, or had real self-confidence issues. Now they can lead a class of 30 people with confidence and authority.'
How? How does stretching and meditation do this?
'There is a science behind it all,' says Gareth. 'I see yoga as where physics and spirituality coincide. Physics teaches us that we are all of us made up of the same physical components – the same elements – and our energy exchanges happen in the same way for each of us. This is really all that yoga has taught forever. The history of yoga is full of sense; you can think of it as spiritual or not, but it has the same end results.
'We practise degrees of hot yoga, on the whole, though we offer cool yoga too. It's all about putting the body and mind under stress and then providing ways to cope with that. Heat puts your body under stress, stretching into and holding poses does the same, and also puts the mind under stress, as you listen to the teacher and focus on what's being said. As we work, we teach the mind to find a focus, to lift away from the stress. This form of meditation stays with you, you learn to cope when faced with stresses in your outside life too – to breathe, to find your focus and stay calm.
'We are all responsive, physical beings and in the studio we take advantage of everything we know about how external influences affect us. We use light therapy – red light to energise in the morning sessions, blue lights in the evenings to soothe. We play music – at a very specific megahertz and pitch, varied again depending on whether it's a class for energising or relaxing. We scent the room with appropriate aromatherapy oils, and work on body and mind holistically.'
YogaLife launched in Wilmslow and now has studios in Altrincham, Poynton and Alderley Edge, with plans to open more in the area.
'We see every type of person come to YogaLife,' says Gareth. 'The yoga mat is a great leveller; it's a common ground for everybody there. Most come to us as complete beginners and because all bar one of our teachers started with us in that way, they know exactly how that feels and look after every class member individually.'
'When we set up,' adds Stuart, 'I remembered that feeling of making myself go to my yoga class each week and the key for us, with Yogalife is that we want everybody who joins us to want to go into that room every week – it has to be a want-to-do, not a must-do.'
I know exactly what he means. I go to the gym every time because I have to, not ever because I really want to.
YogaLife… I think they may have something good going on there, and I want some of it too.