Health: Yoga debut proves exercise at lunch can give you boost

Health reporter Jonathan Brown takes part in a lunchtime yoga class at the Belgrave Music Hall. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Health reporter Jonathan Brown takes part in a lunchtime yoga class at the Belgrave Music Hall. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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As an inflexible 13st man, the prospect of lunchtime yoga has never really appealed to me.

Nevertheless working up a sweat on your lunch break is proving popular in Leeds and the wider UK – you can take on commando-style British Military Fitness sessions, yoga or simply nip to the gym.

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But with thousands of city centre workers struggling to escape the shackles of their desks at lunch, going out of your way to increase your heart rate, especially in gloomy mid winter, can seem a big ask.

Fighting off the so-called ‘January blues’ and picking up your lunchtime pace can go hand-in-hand though, and there’s science to prove it.

A study led by Professor Jim McKenna, from Leeds Beckett University, surveyed 210 office workers to find that lunchtime exercise increased staff productivity, and even helped them work better with others.

It revealed workers reported their performance improved by 17 per cent – the equivalent of an hour of a working day – on a day they exercised at lunch compared to a day they did not.

Prof McKenna said: “Exercise acts like Miracle Grow for brain cells and you grow new synapses, if you are producing more brain cells you are producing more brain capacity.”

Not only that, but exercise is a proven stress reliever.

With all that in mind, I borrowed a yoga mat, grabbed a shirt and shorts, and set off to Belgrave Music Hall’s Yoga Convert session for beginners run by Helena Rix on Thursday.

Tackling pretty fast-paced Ashtanga yoga with a room full of women who clearly were not newcomers to it like me, and weren’t as red faced or unbalanced, was a bit over facing but I gave it a go.

Once the tough first 20 minutes was out of the way, we were eventually tasked with relaxing to the sounds of panpipes and smells of lavender while lying on mats, which was surprisingly easy.

Fellow city centre worker Miz Deshammon, 37, is a regular yoga-goer. She believes it helps both her posture, strengthens her core muscles and soothes her back pain.

“It does relax you as well. This class is a nice release and break from the office – you feel like a kind of weight’s been lifted,” she said.

She wasn’t on her own. Myka Ransom, from Armley, works as an analyst. She added: “I feel more relaxed and more productive when I go back.”

And as much as I might not be as flexible as a gymnast, I can vouch for the benefits. Getting active on your break, or even on your way to work, has proven plus points.

With more energetic yoga in particular you can walk back into work re-energised, although you might have to explain the whiff of lavender.

YOGA IS NOT A FEMALE-ONLY PASTIME

- Changing attitudes to yoga have meant that it has become more common for men to take part. Footballers have found the exercise can help to prolong careers, with the likes of Ryan Giggs, who famously played until age 40, releasing his own yoga DVD.

- Former Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins is among top cyclists known to be a fans of yoga.

- Yoga Convert’s sessions have even taught climbers and ex-marines. Visit www.belgravemusichall.com/yoga-convert for information.

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