Chair yoga, making exercise easy for the office-obsessed City

Meet the entrepreneur loved by the NHS and the Square Mile bringing in-house yoga to offices and direct to your chair

I’m going to be frank. I’m actually in a world of pain right now.

Sadly, no, I am not hungover – not that a drinking habit is anything to be happy about – but I have turned into a human chair. I’ve basically morphed into a stool-like-sub-species of human that can no longer sit up straight and has been reduced to enduring chronic shoulder pain – the left one in particular likes to give me an ol’ kicking from about lunchtime.

The really messed up thing is that I’m not even 30, which means that in all likelihood I have another 40 years of this nagging shoulder mischief to endure. Rats.

But as Britain has basically become a country of sitters, at least I am not alone and can see that the market for curing chair-induced ailments is booming.

For over two years, London entrepreneur Sally Lovett has been busy carving out a niche in this ever busying industry with her company Stretch the City.

No, it is not a mystical new massage parlour or a service promoting a functioning addiction to Boot’s new codeine-infused paracetamol tabs. Instead, Stretch the City is a yoga company obsessed with making yoga easy, accessible, and affordable.

Stretch the City Yoga III

Having worked in high-paced advertising and marketing agencies, for years Lovett toiled side-by-side with some of the world’s biggest brands and crucially the people who work there. She saw how busy and stressed everyone was a thought she could help, while also helping herself. This is England after all…

Within a few months of setting up, Lovett has already signed up her first big name client – the mighty NHS. If anyone should care about their employees’ well-being surely it is them, but other major clients including Standard Bank and Thomas Miller soon followed. 

“People can be put off by yoga,” says Lovett, a longtime yoga fan who for years combined her marketing career with her love of the ancient Indian physical and spiritual art.

“It can find it intimidating – not just because of the physical poses and the flexibility - but in particular because of the mystical elements that can sometimes be associated with yoga.

“But this is a shame and yoga can be very accessible. That is why we work to make it less intimidating, to break it down for people and to make it attractive for them to go to a class – that suits them.”

Yes… But I’m not just busy, I’m suuuper busy

This is all well and good, but friendlier yoga is still not friendly exercise if you have deadlines, a boss, kids, shopping – you know the list. The thought of it makes my shoulder ache even more.

But that is why, in addition to coming to your office and having normal classes if you choose, Stretch the City’s team of yoga coaches will come literally to your desk to teach you some simple exercises that can still help with basics from breathing to managing pain and injury.

(Sadly, it is your job to remember to repeat what they teach you… Something I have quite clearly forgotten to do in the last two days.)

Stretch the City Yoga II

“We have people sit around the boardroom table doing exercises,” says Lovett. “And people really seem to enjoy doing yoga in that environment.

“We see quite a lot of stress and tension in the shoulders that leads to headaches and stress. People walk in and don’t realise shoulders are around their ears so we will always incorporate neck rolls to release the tension.”

Nor is it just the shoulders. A few simple exercises can help a range of issues – physical and otherwise. (Upon being shamed by this article into standing up and doing mine, I’m feeling better and even the dreaded shoulder is starting to yield.)

“Lower back pain from sitting down a lot is very common and the lifestyles that we lead – not moving around enough – can cause things like tight hamstrings, that can in turn cause other problems,” says Lovett.

It can make you more creative, efficient, in addition to healthier and hopefully pain-free, she says.

“When we sit, we tend to only use the top 30% of our lungs. This means we are depriving ourselves of all this energy and oxygen so we teach people how to breathe longer and better and have more natural breaths,” says Lovett. “It can change your mood in moments.”

The trick it seems is getting people to try, but once they do they keep coming back. Lovett has lots of repeat customers “from 25-year-old graphic designers to 55-year-old personal assistants” that try it in an office environment but then book into the personal classes, held in the City and in East London. Things are moving quickly. This year, Lovett plans to almost double the number of coaches and do many more of her drop in classes worth just £7.50. Nothing painful about that.

 

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