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Mind, body, soul: The Bulletin's guide to practising yoga in Belgium
It’s time to roll out your mats: yoga is now a pastime for the masses. While 10 years ago, yoga fans might have struggled to find a class beyond classic hatha, there is now an explosion of opportunities around Belgium, and many of them cater to English-speakers. Offering everything from fast-paced ashtanga and sweaty bikram to aerial and outdoor, studios are sprouting in the capital. And other than a mat and some loose clothing, you don’t need much to get you started.
The absorption of the ancient practice into popular culture has been credited for its broader appeal. Originally a meditation practice, it aids mental wellbeing as well as physical strength. In an age of increasing anxiety, adopting the calming principles of yoga can help you both on and off the mat. Young and old, fit and unfit, can all reap the benefits of regular yoga practice.
Sampoorna Yoga Studio is one of many promoting a community spirit. A more dynamic form of traditional hatha, the name sampoorna means a full and complete practice, explains co-founder Hanna Summanen, who comes from Finland. “We do breathing, stretching, relaxation and postures, and also meditation and karma yoga, which is about helping others,” she says. The studio near Place Sainte-Catherine was one of the first in the city centre, opening in 2010. “Up until then, it was living room-style yoga; we thought it would be good to have a dedicated space, so we found a former art gallery which was spacious and had good lighting.” The studio has just been refreshed and the lounge area has been extended for post-yoga chats and tea.
'Don't do too much shopping around'
An online survey in June highlighted three aspects of the studio that practitioners most appreciated: “the accessible and friendly atmosphere, caring teachers, and the fullness of the practice that occupied the mind and spirit”. Summanen points out that you don’t have to be young and fit to do yoga. “There’s no place you can’t start from,” she says. “Find a studio or teacher that suits you and then stick to it. If you do too much shopping around, you won’t be able to get deeply into your practice.”
For Belgian teacher Willy Bok, there was never any doubt about his preferred style. After meeting legendary guru BKS Iyengar in the US in the 1980s, he knew he had found his yoga home. “I was impressed by both his physical and mental charisma,” says Bok of the larger-than-life character whose clients included Yehudi Menuhin and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Bok founded the BKS Iyengar Yoga Association of Belgium with fellow practitioner Rita Poelvoorde, who credits the alignment practice with saving her from hip replacement and enabling her to continue her dance career.
Bok outlines the characteristics that differentiate Iyengar from other kinds of yoga. “There’s the technical aspect, the precision of the asanas, the duration, the art of sequencing... How do you help someone do a posture when they don’t have the physical ability to do it? By giving them a prop they will be able to do it.” While yoga was once considered ‘soft’ exercise, the updating of its image has led to an increase in the number of men practising the sport. “They now realise how demanding and exerting it is,” says Bok.
One of the latest trends is pop-up yoga. Pop Up Yoga Concepts, the first of its kind in Brussels, was set up by Michel Van Cauter, who benefitted from swapping a stressful job for teaching yoga. By providing classes in unlikely spots such as rooftops, art galleries, cafes and parks around the city, Van Cauter hopes to bring the rewards of yoga to an even wider audience. “I love teaching yoga because I strongly believe in it,” he says. “It has huge benefits that can seem subtle at first, and I enjoy bringing this knowledge to people.”
The sound of two giant gongs reverberates around the room. It’s an all-encompassing sound that fills the space and enters your mind and body, and I understand now why the session about to begin is called a gong bath. This is my first experience of both the resonance and kundalini yoga, a chant and meditation form, which focuses on breath and sound.
It’s the start of a two-hour Friday evening session near Montgomery; a plunge into deep relaxation that’s a perfect end to the working week. There are newbies like me as well as habitués in the class, all welcomed by teacher Fiona Crossley, a Canadian with British parents who grew up in Northern Ireland (email@example.com). For the first hour of the session we perform gentle yoga stretches including sun salutations, plus a more strenuous abdominal workout, interspersed by kundalini breathing and some chants.
Then, thoroughly warmed up, we lie on our mats under a blanket or two to counteract falling body temperatures, wearing eye masks, ready for our gong bath. Our instructions include snoring etiquette, so we know we’re in for a relaxing time. Crossley places a cushion under my knees to ensure back comfort before she takes her place behind the gongs in the centre of the room. She beats out a series of rhythms as we slip into varying states of unconsciousness.
Sometime later, an alteration in the sound gently brings me around. Still drifting, I’m enjoying the primeval vibrations and incapable of judging how long we were out for. Reluctantly, we ease ourselves up from the floor. There’s a perceptible change in the atmosphere as everyone prepares to return home, a little groggily. I’m feeling lighter, finely tuned to both my relaxed limbs and calmer mind; the calmness, I’m happy to report, continued all weekend.
Gong bathing is a very individual experience, says Crossley, who teaches at Aspria gym as well as her own group classes. “A gong creates a magical journey for the body, mind and soul,” she says. “Both rejuvenating and cleansing, the gong will allow your body to naturally tune in and create a resonance with the sound. Energetically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, it will penetrate every cell and fibre of your body.”
Do you speak yoga?
Asana - Physical posture and sequences
Sun salutation - Warm-up sequence
Hatha - Classical yoga
Ashtanga - Series of more physical sequences
Iyengar - Precision and alignment-based
Bikram - Sequence of 26 poses in a heated room
Kundalini - Spiritual, based on raising energy
Sivananda - Classical practice based on 12 basic poses
Vinyasa flow - Flow from one pose to the next
Yin - Slow, long-held poses
Useful addresses: Yoga in Brussels
Ambika is a Sivananda hatha yoga teacher who practises at Sampoorna yoga studio.
40 Rue du Houblon, 1000 Brussels
ASHTANGA YOGA INSTITUTE BRUSSELS
Shala dedicated to the more energetic method of yoga.
610 Chaussée d’Alsemberg, 1180 Uccle
Be HappiZ offers yoga, relaxation and sophrologie.
60 Rue des Ailes, 1030 Schaerbeek
BIKRAM HOT YOGA BRUSSELS
7 Avenue Louise, 1050 Ixelles
8 Avenue de Tervuren, 1040 Etterbeek
Berlaymont Building, 200 Rue de la Loi, 1040 Etterbeek
BKS IYENGAR YOGA CENTRE OF BRUSSELS
Alignment and posture are developed with Iyengar yoga. The centre provides materials such as blocks, cushions and belts.
26 Rue de la Cuve, 1050 Ixelles
bYoga proposes Iyengar yoga classes, a practice devoted to alignment and posture.
30 Place de la Vieille Halle aux Blès 1000 Brussels
Yoga (different types), meditation and pilates with bilingual teachers (French & Dutch). Plus weekend workshops.
38 Rue Fossé au Loup, 1000 Brussels
EUROPEAN YOGA INSTITUTE
Hot yoga, mindfulness and wellbeing.
8 Avenue de Tervuren, 1040 Etterbeek
FIONA CROSSLEY (KUNDALINI)
Fiona teaches kundalini yoga and meditation classes at Aspria Arts-Loi, group classes near Montgomery and Flagey, as well as twice monthly gong bath sessions. Individual lessons also possible. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
POP UP YOGA CONCEPTS
Yoga classes for all levels in urban spaces, including rooftops, museums, art galleries and parks. Plus retreats and private events.
RADIANT LIGHT YOGA
Yoga and meditation practices in two studios: European quarter and Antwerp
36 Rue Saint-Quentin, 1000 Brussels
13A Pierebeekstraat, 2610 Wilrijk
SAMPOORNA YOGA STUDIO
One of the first yoga studios in Brussels, teaching Sampoorna yoga, a mix of gentle hatha and more vigourous sivanda.
40 Rue du Houblon, 1000 Brussels
SANTIDAS YOGA CENTER
Yoga practice teaching all aspects of yoga with the aim of creating peace and harmony among its students and a larger community. Hatha, vinyasa, Iyengar and aerial yoga classes.
28 Rue de la Loi (10th floor), 1040 Etterbeek
Yoga studio next to spa. Wide range of classes, including hatha, vinyasa, Iyengar and kids.
16 Place Stéphanie, 1050 Ixelles
Yoga, relaxation and meditation, following various traditions, including yoga for pregnant women, kids, teenagers and seniors.
8 Rue Darwin, 1190 Forest
THE CENTER SAGESSE INTERIEURE
Development courses, workshops and holistic therapies.
32 Général Leman, 1040 Brussels
Two studios offering large choice of classes in different types of yoga as well as workshops. Plus lounge area, changing rooms and showers.
Studio 1: 80 Rue Defacqz, 1160 Saint-Gilles
Studio 2: 1487 Chaussée de Waterloo, 1180 Uccle
Traditional and contemporary yoga, plus workshops and teacher training.
39 Quai au Bois à Bruler, 1000 Brussels
TREE OF LIFE YOGA
Range of classes including gentle, kundalini, flow, endoyoga, dance, restorative, kids, plus workshops and events for community of yoga students. Studio in centre of Tervuren overlooks a walled garden.
7 Nieuwstraat, 3080 Tervuren
JAY YOGA STUDIO
Variety of classes in environmentally sensitive setting: hot 60, flow, yin, prenatal and nidra. Classes in English/French.
78b Chaussée de Bruxelles, 1410 Waterloo
YOGA & CO
Hatha, vinyasa, yin, yin & yang yoga plus classes for kids and teenagers.
1 Kruisbaan, 2800 Mechelen
Full programme of yoga classes with dynamic yoga styles for mind and body.
107 Frankrijklei, 2000 Antwerp
Surya, hatha, vinyasa, kids and other styles of yoga. Plus other locations in Flanders.
4 Maarschalk Gerardstraat, 2000 Antwerp
SARAT’S PARIPOORNA YOGA HOUSE
Classes for all levels of experience.
11a Molendries, 9300 Aalst
ELE YOGA LEUVEN
Yin, yin & yang and children’s yoga.
17 Pater Lievenslaan, 3010 Kessel-Lo
Studio with strong sense of community.
70 Luxembourgstraat, 9000 Ghent
HOT YOGA LIEGE
Hot Bikram yoga.
7 Rue Sur les Foulons, 4000 Liège
This article first appeared in The Bulletin autumn 2017