I tried a calming mindful yoga practice, and the results were surprising

Man practicing yoga in a studio
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yoga really clicked for me when I first tried it seven years ago. I didn’t know what I was doing in that first class, but I enjoyed connecting with my body, focusing on the present moment, and doing something a bit different from my usual workouts at the gym.

It quickly became part of my routine and I’d dutifully walk down the street to my local studio three times a week. But then the pandemic happened, I got a set of adjustable dumbbells for home strength training, and the studio (sadly) closed down for good.

As it stands, my last in-person class was over four years ago. So when I was offered the chance to try one of the new Sleep Sessions at Hotpod Yoga in London, I figured it might be an accessible way back into the practice.

The company describes the class as a “soft, flowing routine comprising gentle stretching, release and mindfulness techniques,” which sounded ideal, as I was a bit worried that I would have forgotten how to do many of the poses. So, I headed up to the studio to give it a go.

I’d missed in-person classes

Hotpod Yoga London studio

(Image credit: James Frew / Tom's Guide)

I quite like training at home. I can quickly get changed into my gym clothes, load up a session on a workout app, and get to exercise. This is the main reason I ditched the gym for home workouts, but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect setup.

It was only when I visited the Peloton Studio in London to take a spin class a few weeks ago, that I remembered how good it felt to be part of a community all pushing towards the same goal. In that case, it was the high-intensity indoor bike ride, but it reminded me of how I felt about yoga.

Joining the Hotpod Yoga Sleep Session was a more intimate affair — there were four of us in the class — but it had a similar effect. It was good to be around others and share an experience together. Plus, the studio is inside what is essentially a big, warm tent, which was a novelty too.

I was more present

The other benefit of leaving the house to take the class was that I had the chance to really connect with what I was doing. I’ll admit, I often multi-task during home workouts and prepare food during my rest periods or check emails and messages.

I couldn’t do that here — not least of all because my phone was stored away in my bag in a locker — but I was also in a space that I can’t replicate at home. There was calming music, ambient lighting, and a teacher guiding us through the class.

And when adjusting our position, adopting a new pose, or noticing the sensations in our bodies, I could just focus on the experience. It meant that I could feel which areas of my body were comfortable, and which weren’t, and be totally in the present moment without my mind wondering.

It was also a good reminder that mindfulness — the act of being present in the moment — is a practice. I meditate every day, and yet I can still get lost in my thoughts. Without distractions, the class helped me train this mental muscle while also connecting with my body.

Sometimes it's okay to slow down

Inside the Hotpod Yoga London studio

(Image credit: James Frew / Tom's Guide)

Generally, I like my exercise to be quick, efficient, and effective. That’s why I do high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) workouts, which are challenging, but work muscles all over your body, raise your heart rate, and are often over in less than half an hour.

This Sleep Session class was the complete opposite of that. It began with alternate nostril breathing, some reflective meditation, and a few slow poses that we held for minutes at a time, before ending with an extended relaxation with our backs on the mat and a bolster under our knees.

I don’t think that I’d ever choose to dedicate an hour to gentle movement and relaxation at home, but I came away from the class with a surprising amount of energy, especially considering that I’d nearly fallen asleep several times in the studio.

It’s a rare occasion when I leave my workout headphones in my pocket and walk in relative silence, but I did as I left the studio. I felt more connected to the environment and people around me in a way that I wouldn’t if I was gasping for breath after intense exercise.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing.

His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym.

Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones.

He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.