Mellow out and reap the benefits of new yoga trend
Stretching by candlelight is a fresh way to beat stress and reach inner calm. Liz Connor puts it to the test
Yoga is already famed for its ability to help calm and restore - but the new wave of candlelit yoga classes is taking things to a whole new, softly-lit level.
Sometimes, the last thing you need after a long, busy day is to throw yourself into a high-intensity cardio session (while there's no denying all those potent endorphins are great if it's a natural high you're after, pushing your body to its limit doesn't exactly help in the winding-down stakes).
So, after spending my nights naturally trying to switch off after working up a sweat at the gym, I decided to try out my first candlelit yoga class - keen to see if it really could help me to get a more peaceful night's rest. Here's what happened.
What's the deal?
Candlelit yoga is exactly what you might imagine: It usually takes place in the evening, and involves your instructor placing gently flickering candles around the perimeter of a dimly-lit studio to create a warm and relaxing atmosphere.
Unlike Bikram or Ashtanga yoga, you won't be drilling through vinyasas at high speed. In candlelit yoga, the movements are deliciously soft and the focus is on relaxation and stretching out all of the day's worries.
It utilises a combination of yin yoga, where positions are held for up to five minutes, and restorative yoga, which uses blocks to support healing poses.
While it still has a toning effect, it's more of a workout for the mind rather than the body.
Expect to concentrate on the breath, holding twists and stretches while attempting to take the mind out of 'hurry mode'.
Candlelit yoga is a particularly great bedtime ritual for insomniacs and troubled sleepers, because it reduces your exposure to artificial blue light that can prohibit your brain from producing melatonin - the all-important hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Meditative breaths and relaxing stretches can also help to wind down the body and mind after a long day.
Tucked away in Hackney, The Refinery is just one of the many yoga studios across the UK that now offers a take on the trend.
Their Candlelit Hip & Hamstring Heaven class is specifically designed for those who've spent a long week cycling, running or walking to work, and are suffering from tight hamstrings, hips and calves - as well as frazzled urbanites who are looking 60 minutes of peace and quiet.
Instructor Ahmed Zambarakji immediately makes everybody feel at ease by welcoming us into the candlelit studio at the door, while a soft soundtrack of gently tinkling music helps set the relaxing mood.
The class starts with some gentle stretches and ujjayi breathing - the act of exhaling loudly to let out the day's stresses - before moving into some more difficult poses.
As an intermediate yoga student, I was worried that some of the positions would be far too advanced for me (despite my best efforts, I am nowhere near able to perform a crow pose without falling flat on my face), but Ahmed tailors each movement with optional modifications so you can pick an intensity that suits you.
Some of the stretches are gentle and restorative, like the welcoming child's pose that soothingly pulls at the spine and shoulders, but there are also deeper (and more difficult) stretches that last for three minutes, like the pigeon pose that works on relaxing your hips.
Listening to Ahmed's deep and calming voice, it's easy to forget about the million racing thoughts that usually run through my head, and focus simply on moving through the sequence of deep stretches.
Throughout the class, he reminds us to keep the focus on our breathing, rather than attempting to push the body too hard.
Amazingly, it works. I spend most of the class with my eyes closed, concentrating on my breath flowing in and out of my body, rather than worrying about what's going on around me.
By the time we'd moved into shavasana (aka lying spread eagle on the floor), I was ready to curl up into a ball and fall soundly asleep on my mat.
As someone who likes the idea of meditation but can't seem to calm my thoughts for long enough to really get into the zone, candlelit yoga felt like a great way to keep my mind focused on just being present.
If you're the type of person that struggles with stress, anxiety or disrupted sleep, this is a brilliant way to practice some much-needed self-care, while also giving your body a gentle workout.
After just one 60-minute class, I slept sound as a baby, convinced the next morning that candlelit yoga is a much better tonic for sleepless nights than any kind of over-the-counter sleeping aid.
Even if there isn't a class near you, you can easily recreate the magic at home: Simply light a few candles, play some relaxing music, roll out your mat and give candlelit yoga a go in your own living room.