The lights are off, the music is pumping, and the temperature is through the roof… you might be forgiven for thinking you have stumbled into a local disco but it is in fact Northern Ireland’s hottest new yoga studio. One of our most successful top models Kellyanne McKendry is bringing a touch of LA glamour to Downpatrick with the launch of hot yoga classes — popular with celebrities and known for its endless health benefits. A form of yoga unlike any other, hot yoga — or Bikrim — is carried out in a completely darkened room with upbeat music and a carefully controlled temperature of 42 degrees Celsius and 40-degree humidity. It involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises which are performed in the same order in every 60- or 90-minute class.
Kellyanne (43), who has enjoyed a successful career as an international model based for some years in London, trained as a yoga teacher after her own instructor shut her studio down a couple of years ago.
One of the tougher forms of the discipline, she reveals how after trying hot yoga herself for the first time 15 years ago, she was hooked despite feeling like she wanted to die.
She recalls: “It wasn’t like the yoga I had in my mind which was all gentle movements and calming music.
“That first session was so hard I actually was just trying to stay alive at one point.
“I felt faint, my heart was pumping out of my chest, and it was so warm.
“I wasn’t able to come outside until an hour after the class finished and I was still feeling that I was going to vomit or faint.
“Then the euphoria kicks in and it’s hard to describe, it’s like a high and it’s such a wonderful sense of achievement. You really have to come to a class to experience it.”
Kellyanne first took up hot yoga to try and combat chronic insomnia, not helped by the fact she was commuting between her home in Crossgar and London for her modelling work.
Terrified of flying she would spend a full day travelling via coach to the capital and home again.
Prior to that she lived and modelled in London for seven years, but decided to come back home for the sake of her two girls, Tiegan (23) and Felicity (15).
Today she still works part-time for Maureen Martin Models in Belfast, as well as doing floristry twice a week and launching her own yoga studio.
During lockdown she trained in meditation, Tai Chi and pilates and is also planning to open a martial arts school and a Reformer Pilates studio in Market Lane in Downpatrick.
On top of all that she is also studying for a university degree in sports science and is putting the finishing touches to three novels she has written.
Life is as busy as ever for the girl who says she has always lived it at “100mph” and has no intentions of slowing down, despite revealing that she suffered a terrifying stroke last December.
A rare and reversible form of stroke, it was the fourth time she had been hospitalised with it and the first time that doctors worked out what was wrong.
She explains: “It was really scary because I didn’t know what was happening. The first time I had it five years ago I was in hospital for a week and went through all sorts of scans but they didn’t know what was wrong.
“December was the fourth time it had happened, and it scared the life out of me.
“I thought I was dying and my wee girls were not going to have their mum and that petrified me.
“This time they diagnosed me with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome which is when the blood vessels constrict, stopping normal function of the brain, like a computer shutting down. You can’t talk or move and it’s terrifying. Thankfully because it is reversible there is no lasting brain damage.
“You do have a fear of it happening again and there’s nothing they can give you to stop it. But it has also taught me that life is short, and you shouldn’t put off doing things that you want to do and there is so much that I still want to do.”
Not only has she big plans for her future but Kellyanne — whose grandmother was disappeared victim Jean McConville — has already achieved so much in her life.
In her early 20s she won the Sunday Life Covergirl contest which helped launch her modelling career.
She worked for a top agency in London and, as she reflects on what was a glamorous time for her, she reveals how her boobs not only got her one of her biggest jobs but also led to her losing out on a photoshoot for Vogue magazine.
In fact, the mannequins in Calvin Klein boutiques across the world are a cast of the local girl’s body.
Kellyanne recalls: “There were always so many girls turning up for castings that I always went really early to get at the front of the queue so that I wasn’t sitting around waiting.
“Calvin Klein was looking for a model to cast its dummy for its shops and I was first through the door.
“I went into the room and was asked straightaway to take my top off which I wasn’t expecting. Coming from the countryside to London I really wasn’t the most confident, but I did it and they hired me on the spot and didn’t even see any of the other girls.
“I then had to go into a room with three big men who do the waxworks for Madame Tussauds and strip naked so that they could cover me in a cast and then stand still until it dried. It was a bit mad but amazing too.” A less pleasant experience — which helped make up her mind to quit full-time modelling and return to Northern Ireland — happened when she turned up for an editorial shoot for Vogue.
Already booked for the job, she was excited to be appearing in the world’s most iconic fashion magazine, but it didn’t quite go according to plan.
Kellyanne explains: “I was on set with my make-up done and my hair and all ready to go when the photographer came in.
“He had a word with someone and the next thing I was being sent home because apparently my boobs were too big. It was a bit heartbreaking. I was only a young girl and that was tough.”
While she still enjoys modelling, yoga has taken centre stage and she is excited to be reopening her studio which first launched last February just a couple of weeks before lockdown.
Unusually Kellyanne’s classes are a 50/50 mix of men and women and she says hot yoga is suitable for people of all ages and abilities.
She enthuses: “The beauty of it is that being in a darkened room with mirrors you don’t worry about what anyone else is doing as you are so focused on working on yourself.
“It’s all about progression. We do the same techniques in every class and people who start and can’t do some of the poses are amazed that after just a couple of weeks they are able to master it.
“The benefits are amazing. The sweating helps you to cleanse the body and get rid of all your toxins, it increases flexibility, is good for bone density, it reduces stress and eases depression. It also helps with weight loss as you burn around 450 calories a session. You come out looking like a tomato, but it is amazing for the skin too.”
Eager to get back into the studio she adds: “I’m so excited to be relaunching and can’t wait to welcome my regular clientele as well as new people.”
Hot Yoga Downpatrick is located in the town’s cricket club on the Strangford Road. For more information on classes, go to www.hotyogadownpatrick.co.uk