Every week, a group of people congregate at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, by the pool behind Sontaya, to practise yoga together. Mats are quietly unfurled, candles are lit and soft music that is barely audible is played in the background. The instructor, Jen Stuart, a pretty, young and very friendly American from Tennessee, takes her place in front of the group. After greeting everyone and exchanging pleasantries, we are launched into an hour and 15 minutes of intense, body-contorting, muscle-defining yoga. All our preconceptions that yoga is just a stretching class are thrown out the window within the first five minutes.
The entire session takes you through a series of fluid movements, making up the Vinyasa Flow yoga. Each movement is timed with your breath, with Jen’s soft voice guiding you along the journey. The intensity of the work out is immediately apparent, as muscles begin to twitch in reaction to strength building poses. Yet despite the intensity, Jen keeps her troops going by injecting humour every now and then, and keeping the entire experience positive and light. One of our favourite jokes of the evening was, ‘remember: no one forced you to come here.’
Vinyasa Flow yoga is usually centred on movements repeated using the downward dog and sun salutation poses. Each class can be taught at the speed and intensity of the instructor’s choosing. However, Jen is very accommodating and offers up plenty of variations for the more experienced, as well as the novices. Looking around, it is also apparent that people of all levels are here.
For the attendees who arrive without their own mats, the hotel provides you with a standard mat, as well as a towel and bottle of water. There are also small blue Styrofoam blocks available, which can be placed under limbs or muscles to lessen the intensity of the stretch or pose.
As most of the movements require holding the pose for several breaths, having a beautiful surrounding to look at definitely enhanced the experience. Whether glancing up at the starry night, or gazing across at the lit pools and palm trees, you are immediately able to revel in the sheer serenity of the moment, despite what your muscles are telling you. Even the simple act of focusing on your breathing helps your mind to ignore the accumulated stress of the day and rejoice in having a quiet moment.
At the end of the challenging class, each member stretches back on the mat for the final corpse pose. Closing your eyes, the satisfaction of having survived helps you sink into the mat with a deep sense of fulfilment and joy. Jen walks up to each participant and gently realigns their limbs and body. She also has a kind of coconut oil on her hands, so the area immediately smells great, giving each bodily sense a truly pleasurable experience.
Once she is done attending to each member of the class, we are nudged from the outskirts of falling into a deep sleep by her gentle voice.
The experience is not only physically rewarding, but seems to instantly make us stand taller, as well as breathe easier. We waited for the class to say their goodbyes before asking Jen a few questions.
How did you get into yoga?
I used to work in Los Angeles as a post producer for the show Fashion Police. Needless to say, the job was very stressful. One day, a friend of mine took me near our studios for a yoga class. The instructor,
Andrea Marcum, had me hooked immediately. She taught me the method for Vinyasa Flow yoga and now I’m proud to teach it.
How do you prepare for each class beforehand?
Well, I always have a plan for the movement flow before I start the class. But I also always assess the students, I look at their body poses, I read their body language and I adjust the movements and sequences according to their receptivity. It’s very important to feel in tune with everyone.
What advice do you have for beginners who want to try your class?
Definitely be open-minded! And don’t be intimidated by anything, try everything. If you know you have a weakness, such as bad balance, then set up next to a tree and use it to help you balance. But always keepan open mind! And most importantly: enjoy the moment.
What pose do you find the most difficult?
The crow pose (where your whole body weight is placed behind the elbows). It’s definitely one I am still working on.
Classes at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort are held every Tuesday evening at 7.15pm and a class costs Dhs50 for non-members and Dhs35 for members of the St Regis Athletics Club. Jen is also available for personal yoga lessons (050 826 7934).