About a year ago, gentle reader, Mrs Chrisparkle and I dipped our tentative toes into the world of yoga, when we had an hour’s session during the Edinburgh Fringe with part time yoga teacher and full-time funny lady Abigoliah Schamaun. We enjoyed it and promised ourselves that we would take it up on our return. Then we went home and forgot all about it.
Then in January this year, I answered a local advert for a ten-week yoga course here in Northampton. The timing and the price were right, and, as a big bonus, the sessions would be led by none other than Strictly Come Dancing alumna Kristina Rihanoff. We took the plunge. It was in a cold little dance studio in a town centre back street. And, although we were absolutely awful at it, we still enjoyed it.
Fast forward to June, and the opening of the new Soo Yoga suite on the first floor of the Sol Centre in Northampton. Kristina, and partner and local rugby hero Ben Cohen, have realised their dream of creating a first-class, swish, state-of-the-art wellbeing centre – and Mrs C and I are completely hooked. First things first; it’s not a gym. If it was, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. If you know either of us IRL (as the young people of today say) you’ll know that we’re adamantly NOT gym bunnies. When it comes to pumping iron, I have all the skills of King Henry VIII’s marriage guidance counsellor.
So, not a gym but a wellbeing and family fitness centre. As a result, it’s a welcoming place, where you are met with friendly smiles and personal greetings on arrival. This is not the kind of place where someone is going to laugh at your puny abs and condemn you to a hundred press-ups on the spot like at school. I can’t speak for the ladies’ changing room, obviously, but the guys’ room isn’t full of muscly men dripping testosterone, making you feel inadequate in every aspect. We’re much more likely to be saying to each other “God I’m unfit, that was knackering!” – creating a nicely informal self-help group.
The activity spaces are smart, new, clean and bright. The highlight room is the Hot Yoga studio, which is heated to 38° Celsius and with 50% humidity, to recreate the atmosphere in India where yoga originated. We go for a weekly session there on Monday nights, led by Kristina, but they have many other classes all through the week, for all abilities in many different yoga styles. We’ve also taken up the spin classes on Friday lunchtimes, in a terrific cycling room with about fifteen exercise bikes in it. Once you’ve warmed up a little, you pedal your heart out to a cracking, motivational musical soundtrack and expert guidance from the inspirational Megan Hosken. No point hiding it; the first time I tried it, it killed me. The second time – I loved it! We also do a 25-minute exercise session with Megan on Wednesday mornings – Soo Fit HIIT – which is fifteen minutes of interval training followed by ten minutes of resistance training. Listen to me, all technical. What have I become?!
There’s a meditation suite too, where we go for two classes on a Wednesday – Soo Zen and Chakra Yoga – hosted by Chinmayi Dore, who’s incredibly enthusiastic in giving people some “me time” where they can relax, renew and reinvigorate themselves. After my first session, I was so relaxed I could – literally – barely walk. It was an amazing feeling. The other regular class we attend is Kristina Rihanoff’s Strictly Dancing in the dance studio, where you can learn the basic steps of salsa, jive, cha-cha-cha, lindy hop and so on, which actually turns out to be a good exercise workout too. We’re thoroughly useless but it’s enormous fun. The new Anton and Erin we are not.
But there are so many other classes on offer that we haven’t tried yet; Pilates, TRX, Box-fit, Barre… you name it, they got it. I am tempted to try Ben Cohen’s Soo Strong Beginners’ Class because I really ought to convert some fat to muscle… ok, a lot of fat to muscle… and I can’t think of a safer opportunity to get introduced to that kind of activity by a true expert without intimidation. You may have guessed that me and exercise had a very poor relationship when I was young; when I left school at 17 I was only too happy to end that relationship, and it’s taken over 40 years for us to get on good terms again! If you’re like me, then I really recommend Soo Yoga for providing a welcoming, non-judgmental route to regaining fitness.
There are often a variety of offers on; next week, for example, from 6th – 8th September, they are holding a Free Taster Weekend where you can try lots of classes for free to see how you get on with them. There’s really nothing to lose. In any case, you can buy an introductory month’s pass for £39 which gives you unlimited access to all the classes, and if you like it, you can progress to an annual membership; or continue to attend classes on a pay-as-you-go basis. We’ve bought an annual membership as a couple. It’s £1835 for the pair of us, which may seem a little steep at first but think; we attend on average five classes a week – sometimes more – and when you divide that over the year it’s the equivalent of about £3.50 per person per class. That’s a steal. And the more classes you do, the better value it becomes!
I haven’t even mentioned the café, or the crèche, or the physio/massages, or a wealth of other options they can offer. They have a whole range of kids’ classes too, and I think are introducing some junior drama lessons as well. They have a very useful app for your phone, but the website tells you everything you need to know. It’s certainly changed the way Mrs C and I keep fit, because it’s fun, fascinating, and friendly, and you can’t beat that! Give them a try – contact them using the app or the website or just drop in at the Sol Centre. You won’t regret it!