Elizabeth Gowing discovers why fitness and mindfulness is thriving in our city - and why yoga is truly an activity for everyone.

Have you noticed people walking around the city centre with an air of mindfulness and balance?

Can you feel the calm in Derby’s streets? Do you have particularly flexible neighbours? Did you know that earlier this year Derby was ranked the number one city in Britain for the number of yoga classes per head of population?

The finding, by OsenaLondon, comes as no surprise to some of the many teachers and practitioners in the city who’ve made yoga a part of their lives.

‘I took my first yoga class in the city over 30 years ago,’ says Bel Harvey, who is Derby-born and now runs The Breathing Space there.

‘I did yoga as a teenager with my mum at St Helen’s House adult education centre; I know that the foundations of yoga here are very strong.’

Her clients point out some of the reasons why Derby is well-placed to offer so many classes.

Mel, who’s been practising yoga for 15 years, says ‘as quite a small city, Derby is easy to get in and out of, so classes are accessible for those living in the city centre and those further out.’

Mary, a teacher, adds ‘with inner city studios it’s easy to pop into town and do a class before or after work. Derby also has lots of gorgeous outdoor spaces and public parks which can be useful for yoga and meditation.’

Great British Life: The Breathing Space, DerbyThe Breathing Space, Derby (Image: The Breathing Space)

Ashtanga yoga teacher, Clare Brooksbank, also explains the city has good social networks, so that when something starts up it can spread quickly, and there’s a welcoming business environment – ‘it’s easy and inexpensive to set up.’

There’s also an undeniably rich range of classes here, offering something for everyone. As Steve, who laughingly refers to himself as a ‘yoga addict’ puts it, ‘Derby has so many offerings right now that you are sure to find your groove.’

At Ashtanga Yoga Derby, Clare offers the dynamic form of yoga which, as she describes it, ‘makes you feel alive and cleansed and like every part of your body is working again’.

If you want to get really sweaty, there’s HotPod Yoga where you practise in a special ‘pod’ where the temperature is taken up to 37 degrees and you’re offered breaks for ‘water and a wipe down’.

If that’s not for you, there are more restorative yoga sessions available, and the soothing voice of Charlotte at The Breathing Space leading a ‘Sunset Yin’ session where you hold poses for around three minutes.

Or you can get airbound in aerial yoga at CALM in Trinity Walk where you work with (and sometimes against) gravity to get into modified versions of yoga poses.

So why would people take to their mats in such numbers? Ask the question, and the passion with which yoga practitioners talk about what the discipline does for them might make you want to rush to join them.

‘It’s for sports people who need to stretch, but it’s also for people who get to 40 or 50 and think they want to do something for themselves, having sacrificed their whole lives for their family or jobs,’ says Clare.

‘It’s for people who are stagnant and need a buzz in their lives – a healthy buzz that will go forward even into old age’.

Great British Life: Revitalising body and mind at The Breathing SpaceRevitalising body and mind at The Breathing Space (Image: The Breathing Space)

One woman who’s been practising in Derby for the past two years says simply ‘yoga is helping me to love my body again.’

Derby yogis and yoginis also talk about the importance of the community they’ve found here. One Derby mum describes it as ‘people to learn from, share experiences with and giggle with… being able to socialise and share a drink before or after the class with other yogis and the teachers is brilliant -it’s more than just attending a class, it’s a social experience.

‘The network of friends I have made through yoga classes has led to all sorts of adventures, within and outside of yoga.’

Abbie Berry-Hopkins, from MindFit Yoga in the city, says ‘a lot of my students are nurses, teachers and parents. They come to get away from stresses of everyday life.

‘Sixty minutes can make such a difference to their week and their mental and physical health.’ She herself came to yoga because of an injury but, as she says, ‘you go for one thing and you can get it all – stillness, breathwork, and something spiritual.’

And yoga is not just a fair-weather friend – there has been a rise across the country, and beyond, in people using it to help them during the pandemic.

During lockdown people experimented with trying out new things online and, as Bel says, ‘taking yoga back to its true meaning – ‘connection’. Yoga was the thing that kept me sane through the various lockdowns.’

One of her students adds, ‘It taught me techniques to help with the anxieties I was feeling around the pandemic.’

Great British Life: Yoga is thriving in DerbyYoga is thriving in Derby (Image: Ashley Franklin Photography)

Alison, a Derby small business owner, says ‘I suffered with my mental health during the first lockdown and yoga helped me to stay calm and in tune with myself.’

If that sounds like something you want a part of, you’re in the right city! Derby’s yoga classes offer a great welcome and it seems there’s something in the air here to inspire you.

Want to make yoga part of your life? Eight tips to make it work

In the Ashtanga yoga tradition, there are eight ‘limbs’ of yoga, not only limited to the physical poses or asanas but including breathing, meditation and ways to live your life off the mat as well.

Here are eight suggestions sourced from practitioners in Derby for successfully making yoga part of your life:

  • Start with a teacher, not a YouTube video. ‘Teachers on video can’t see what you’re doing and, especially if you have injuries, you need to be sure you’re not hurting yourself,’ says Clare of Ashtanga Yoga Derby

  • Try different teachers until you find the right one for you, says Bel from the Breathing Space

  • Practise what you’ve learned in class at home, even if it’s just one sun salutation a week (you’ll probably decide to do more). Clare adds, ‘Don’t look at a video – you need to be looking inward’

  • Set a time and day that works for you. Abbie from MindFit yoga says, ‘if I don’t do it in the morning, it’s not going to happen.’ Then commit to the routine

Great British Life: A yoga session in full swing at Breathing SpaceA yoga session in full swing at Breathing Space (Image: The Breathing Space)

  • Find accountability – for many people this means having a yoga buddy. Steve says ‘there is nothing like practising in a studio. I find that I push myself and achieve more when surrounded by the energy of other yogis’

  • Listen to your body. Blair from CALM says, ‘Your body will give you all the information you need, don’t fight it. If you are tired, practise compassion by moving gently and slowly’

  • Switch off – not just mentally, but actually turning off your devices. As Vejay, who started his yoga journey 20 years ago, says ‘in this busy world with lots of distractions from smartphones, emails etc I believe there's a need to be present.’

  • Take yoga off the mat – it’s a discipline for living your life in the right way. For example, Grace and Balance yoga, off Mill Street, gives five per cent of class fees to The Padley Group to support the work they do in Derby on homelessness, and drug, alcohol and mental health support