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Six Of The Best Yoga and Pilates Teachers in London

After ten years of taking Yoga classes around London (every conceivable style, with hundreds of teachers, in many centres and spaces), it feels like I've got a good perspective to throw down a list of Yoga teachers who, in my humble opinion, teach some of the best Yoga classes you can take in London. And in the past year, I've tried out some Pilates classes too and so I'm adding a couple of Pilates teachers to that list, too. 
There are a few things to mention: I don't follow any one style of Yoga. When I took a random Iyengar class last Summer at the newly opened Indaba Yoga centre in London's Marylebone, the teacher said to me, I don't understand how you can have been practising Yoga for ten years and you don't have a teacher you follow, a style of Yoga you are committed to. 
Her saying this surprised me, because I believe that life is constantly changing and with it, so is what we need. I have had eras in my life when I only studied Sivananda Yoga, eras when I only studied Kundalini Yoga, eras when I only studied at the Jivamukti Yoga centre in Kensal Rise (when the centre opened, I took some incredible classes with centre co-founder Manizeh Rimer: in fact, some of the best classes I ever took were with Manizeh), eras when I was only into Vinyasa/ Flow/ Dynamic yoga, eras when I only wanted gentle hatha yoga classes. And eras, like now, when Pilates is important to me. In short, what I need from Yoga and Pilates rotates, shifts: I go where the calling is. The last disclaimer is this: I don't like Yoga or Pilates classes with male teachers: it doesn't work for me: it's like being back at school and getting harangued by the balding, hairy P.E teacher. So I'm not recommending any male teachers, here. Those, you'll have to discover yourself. 
All that out the way, right now, if you're new to London, visiting London or new to Yoga and Pilates and looking for a way-in Yoga or Pilates class in London, I'd point you towards these six outstanding teachers, who are all in their own unique ways, quite luminous. 

1. Leila Sadeghee (Yoga)


Leila teaches Anusara Inspired yoga at the Life Centre, Indaba Yoga, Triyoga, Yoga Place as well as offering private small group and one to one classes. I was introduced to Leila's classes in a roundabout way: I really wanted (needed) to go to a Yoga class one Sunday morning and the only class on at the Life Centre in Notting Hill at a time that suited me was an Anusara Yoga inspired class with Lisa Sanfilippo: I had no idea what Anusara Yoga was, but went anyway and really liked the style of Yoga. At that class, Lisa said she was handing this regular class over to a fellow Anusara Yoga inspired teacher called Leila: next week, I took the class with Leila and loved it. Her classes are highly inspiring and entertaining. Leila talks a lot. During an asana, she might tell a story about a boyfriend, assume a Muppet voice, regale anecdotes about her love of cop shows on TV or change tone and tell a serious story about an inner struggle. For a while she ran an incredible private group class on Wimpole street in Marylebone: a kooky, shambolic class in a creaky old flat. The classes ran on for anywhere up to two and a half hours. The eleven or twelve students who took the class were all amazing people and the ambience and spirit was great. I used to call those classes the Yoga equivalent of a Bruce Springsteen concert. They came to an end because Leila had the space on a short let. These days, she teaches an especially upbeat, inspiring class at the Life Centre (Notting Hill) on a Sunday morning. She absolutely lives for teaching Yoga and her students and once you know her, she has a funny habit of popping up in your everyday life, suddenly calling out, Hi Nick, when you're in the supermarket or walking down the street: always a nice surprise. If I want a Yoga class that turns the inspiration up, turns the energy up, empowers me in a sort of Deepak Chopra meets intense workout way, I go to a class with Leila Sadeghee. More on her work here: www.leilasadeghee.com

2. Sarah Scharf (Yoga)


Sarah teaches at the Life Centre, Yoga Place, Holistic Health and also privately. I was introduced to Sarah Scharf's classes in Summer 2011 in much the same way I was introduced to Leila's classes. I spontaneously went down to the Life Centre Notting Hill and there was a class on with a cover teacher called Sarah Scharf. The class was hugely grounding and relaxing. Sarah was very calm, very West Coast U.S, very experienced and had a fantastic command of pacing. I can't stand Yoga classes that have a jumpy rhythm; that leave you feeling out of breath rather than in control of your breath. Sarah Scharf runs a smooth class and you leave feeling like you took a really good daytime nap: that great  brakes on feeling after a Yoga class where a few hours later you have a split second of thinking, Wait what did I do earlier? I took all of Sarah's cover classes last Summer and then recently made the hectic rush hour journey across London just to take her now regular Thursday morning class at The Life Centre Islington. If I want a Yoga class to calm me down, ground, my choice of class would be any with Sarah Scharf. More here: www.yoginisarah.org

3. Zephyr Wildman (Yoga)


Zephyr teaches at the Life Centre Notting Hill and privately. She teaches few classes and the timings haven't worked for me for ages. But there was a lovely period in my life when my schedule allowed me to only take classes with Zephyr and every single class was incredibly inspiring. Zephyr teaches dynamic Yoga and if you want to get in shape and get a spiritual buzz at the same time, Zephyr can't be topped. Part of her area of expertise is Yoga as a support for depression and addiction/ dependency issues, which is why I gravitated to her classes in the first place. If you want to blow the roof off your Yoga practice, this is the teacher. Scheduling permitting, I'm hoping to get to a class with Zephyr this Summer. 

4. Sam Cunningham (Yoga)


Sam teaches at the Life Centre Notting Hill and Islington and other places. I first came across her classes after looking for a class to go to at the Life Centre Notting Hill and stumbling across her teacher bio. Once I saw where she was coming from (much the same place I came to Yoga from), the click was instant: "I did my first shoulder stand from a book my mother kept, Wake Up To Yoga, when I was seven. I bunked off school to read books on Zen in Swiss Cottage library when I was 14. At the age of 21 I chose the route of drugs. At 28 I got clean from drugs and pursued yoga seriously. I've trained in Sivananda and Ashtanga methods. I come to class with no plan, I teach drawing on sequencing techniques taught by Krishnamacharya, concentrating on breath and drishti to intensify the practice." I take irregular classes with Sam and one of the things I love most about her classes is that she makes every single student in the room feel noticed: no mean feat, when you have a packed class. She is also one of those rare teachers who can implement a lot of corrections without making you feel criticised or like you're doing the class 'wrong'. If you want to bunker down and get some space in your life to think, then Sam's class is the place to go. 

5. Antonia Ptohides (Pilates)


Antonia teaches Pilates at Indaba Yoga. I recently discovered her Pilates class quite by chance and it's now my go to Pilates class. She's got great energy, a very natural sense of pacing and good attention to detail.

6. Beata Ghavimi (Pilates)

My wife on the other hand reckons the best Pilates class in London is at the Life Centre Notting Hill with Beata Ghavimi. She has taken a class with Beata every Wednesday morning for a long time now and swears by it.


Veja - The Most Ethically Produced Trainers You Can Wear?

Almost three years ago, I decided to drop by Aime, a boutique on Ledbury Road, in West London's Notting Hill, to pick up a replacement A.P.C orange blossom candle.




As I was leaving the store, I noticed they had these very cool trainers in the window with the letter V emblazoned on the side. I double-checked to be sure they weren't New Balance trainers laid at a funny angle, so the N appeared as a V, but no, it was definitely a V and the tongues of the trainers had the word 'Veja' on them




Knowing full well that sisters, Vanda and Val, who own and run Aime (and now Petit Aime) have impeccable taste and set trends light years before anyone else (they were stocking Isabel Marant long before anyone else in London woke up to Marant's talents), I went home and googled Veja and discovered that Veja (aside from meaning "See" or "Look" in Portuguese) was a Paris, France based company, producing a small range of ethically produced trainers. Founded by S├ębastien Kopp and Francois-Ghislain Morillion in 2004, Veja launched in 2006, their brand built on impeccable environmentally savvy credentials. 


Veja's founders

Fed up with wearing through a pair of Converse every six months, I tracked Veja trainers down to Poste for men on South Molton Street and bought my first pair: grey canvas Taua. 


The shoe itself was made from organic cotton. According to Veja's website, this is sourced from Ceara, a state in North East Brazil. Veja buy cotton from a network of 320 families, who work in organic farming. They are paid a fair price. The cotton is spun then weaved into canvas. The rubber soles are made to the same high ethical standards. Veja source rubber from rubber tappers who work in the Chico Mendes Reserve in the Amazon. A radical method is used which allows the tappers to create sheets of rubber, ready for the factory, without any industrial process. 




The trainers only cost £59 and were incredibly comfortable so I went for a second pair not long after:  a pair of brown Taua leather from Selfridge's, which were more expensive (£79 if I remember correctly) but just as comfortable. Overnight, I only owned two pairs of shoes: both made by Veja.  

Again, with the leather Taua, there was a production story: Veja only use "eco-tanned" leather from Porto Alegre, created with a vegetable extract. This method causes less pollution than traditional tanning.
Like all Veja products, the trainers were manufactured at a factory in Vale Dos Sinos, in South Brazil. There, Veja ensure workers' rights are respected, fair wages are paid and overtime is paid accordingly. An estimated 80% of the factory's worked are union represented.  
For transportation, Veja do not freight their products by air. They instead ship their products from Porto Alegre at the very South of Brazil to Le Havre in France. Quite brilliantly, the trainers are then moved from Le Havre to the Veja warehouse on the outskirts of Paris, by canal boat. There, in an office powered by green electricity, trainers are packed in beautiful recycled boxes, which can also be recycled by consumers. 
In short, when you buy a pair of Veja, there is complete  production transparency, allowing the consumer to witness the journey from design to rubber being tapped out of a tree in the Amazonian rainforest right through to a pair of trainers ending up on your feet. 
This production model, though, as Veja, admits, is tough for a business. Their "fabrication costs" are three to four times higher than other footwear producers, because of the way they source the materials that become their trainers, bags and wallets. They deal with this in their business model by having like early mentor Agnes b, a 'no advertising policy': what they save on this, they can put back into financing those eye watering production costs. 
The only thing that didn't work well for me early on with Veja were the laces, which snapped really easily. I sent Veja an email telling them and asked if they had plans to sell replacement laces on their website. A customer services rep emailed back saying things like this were teething issues for a new company and that they'd look into the matter. I was wowed when she had a courier (bicycle naturally) express two new pairs of laces to me. Talk about impeccable customer service. The laces on subsequent pairs of Vejas that I've bought, are comparatively toughened. 
Veja has been operating for six years now and today also manufactures very cute trainers for children. Among their high profile fans, they count Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard. 
Last week, I bought my sixth pair of Vejas (a second pair of grey canvas Taua), from Diverse Clothing on Upper Street. I do not own a car. I do not own a bicycle. I prefer to walk whenever possible and consequently give any shoes I wear an absolute pavement pounding, so in the end, yes, Vejas do wear through too. But in my opinion, there is no better trainer you can buy. They are affordable, comfortable, very cool (thanks for yet another tip off, Vanda and Val) and when you buy them, you know that you are supporting a company who are in turn supporting their suppliers who in turn are supporting communities in Brazil who need that help. When you consider all of that, it's hard not to see Veja as creators of the most ethically produced trainers you can wear. 
For more info visit http://www.veja.fr

Toulouse: Now The Victims' Families Try To Carry On

So the killer in Toulouse is dead, ending what was, in my opinion, an excessively long and unnecessarily drawn out siege. With his death, the news moves on, as it does. But for the families and friends and communities of the seven victims - the three soldiers who were murdered: Sgt. Imad Ibn-Ziaten, Corporal Abel Chennouf and Private Mohamed Legouad; the rabbi and three children who were murdered - this is just the beginning of a lifetime of absence.
Eva Sandler, the widow of murdered Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, is quoted by Ynet as saying on the day of her husband and two sons' funeral in Jerusalem (translated from Ynet and quoted here via by JewishMom.com), "I hope to wake up from this nightmare. I feel like I am in a horror movie, it’s hard for me to even talk, it’s so hard, I don’t know how I will go on from here.”


This woman has a third child - a baby - and according to reports in the Israeli media, is also pregnant. Her life has gone from normal to completely unthinkable in a matter of days.



Also left with their lives in pieces, are the family of eight year old Miriam Monsonego, who was also murdered at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school shootings.


Miriam was apparently the youngest child of the school principal. Ynet quoted the girl's uncle as saying, "She was an intelligent girl, full of life, gifted and beautiful. A flower was uprooted. Truly an angel. I cannot fathom that something like this has happened.” (also via JewishMom.com). Photographs of her mother at the funeral in Jerusalem are wrenching.



Another solemn and unforgettable image was from the funeral of paratrooper Abel Chennouf, murdered in Montauban. His pregnant fiancee, Caroline, pictured being consoled, is left widowed, with a baby on the way.   





Pukka Herbs, A Love Story

Like most people, my introduction to Pukka Herbs, a Bristol based company specialising in Ayurvedic products, founded in 2002 by Ayurvedic practitioner Sebastian Pole and business partner, Tim Westwell, was via their stunning teas.

Sebastian Pole, left; Tim Westwell, right

Before them, of course, other companies had released teas inspired by the ancient Indian science of health, Ayurveda. I tried most of them after being introduced to Ayurveda while staying in the holy town Rishikesh, in India in 2003. But none of those teas (to me anyway) tasted any good. For instance I never liked any of the Yogi teas.

Rishikesh, India

Then along came Pukka Herbs with their first range of teas, each gently aimed at balancing the Ayurvedic doshas: Pitta, Vata, Kapha. I found myself really loving their Refresh Tea because it settled the digestion (goodbye heartburn, acidity), cooled me down internally (a Chinese doctor had told me once that I generate too much internal heat) and calmed me mentally (good for someone like me whose brain has only one natural gear since birth: 110%). 
It also tasted great: instantly lifting Pukka far and away from the cliche of herbal teas tasting muddy or grassy. The flavours of peppermint, coriander, fennel and rose work well together: on Summer afternoons, it reminds me of rose petal scented teas I've had at the many Lebanese restaurants/ take out places on Edgware Road and also at Comptoir Libanais on Wigmore street.

Great on a Summer afternoon

Of the other two launch teas, Revitalise and Relax, my favourite was Relax. Yes Revitalise was comforting on a cold January morning, but Relax seemed to be an 'anytime tea', which worked any season, any time of day. 

Great when it's cold
Comforting

As I remember it, I next got into their Detox tea. The combination of cardamom, liquorice, fennel and aniseed is really invigorating. I started introducing anybody who came over to this tea and everyone ended up a convert. There's something about this tea which just lifts your spirits up and leaves you feeling physically good in yourself. 

All my friends love this too


Then Pukka began to release Ayurvedic herbs and I experimented with herbs to help with stress, herbs for digestion, herbs for insomnia. The herbs are made as ethically as possible as Pukka explain on their website, "We respect our relationship with the land by using herbs from organic and sustainable sources, enjoying long-term and fair-trade bonds with our suppliers. We are proud to say that all our herbs and products are certified organic by the Soil Association and the USDA and can all be traced back to the field in which they were grown.  We make regular visits to the farmers we work with to learn from as well as educate them. Like all relationships, it’s a two-way thing." 
The herbs are not only immaculately sourced and prepared - crucially, they also work.
Since then, varying Pukka herbs are a staple of my everyday vitamin and supplement intake. My version of trying to be as healthy as possible is unthinkable without Pukka herbs and teas. 
As the range of Pukka teas has dramatically expanded, I've tried all of them (I think) and introduced so many people to Pukka teas, that I'm now in the fortunate position that if I go to a friend's home, they open their cupboards and say, So do you want Three Ginger, Three Mint or Detox? 
My seven year old daughter loves Pukka teas too: she likes it when I collect her from school and take her to a health foods shop to browse the range. She has chosen the following teas herself


Soothing
Bit too sweet

She ended up not liking either - which suited me, as I've become a big fan of Vanilla Chai: it's perfect late afternoon, when it's too late for an actual Pukka Chai (which I love: it beats every other Chai on the market, hands down)


The best chai tea you can buy

I find Chamomile and Vanilla, a little too sweet. My daughter's favourite Pukka tea these days is Three Mint, which she enjoys most evenings after dinner


My seven year daughter's favourite Pukka tea

I love this tea too: it takes me back to the many freshly made mint teas I've enjoyed in Israel and Morocco.
My daughter and I also share a love for Pukka's Chywanaprash. It's a tonic, renowned for supporting your health, in a general way. My daughter has half a tea spoon with breakfast every morning and calls it "lovely Indian jam". In my opinion, it works rather like Echinacea: and the truth is my daughter and I have had far fewer colds this past winter than usual.


A great health tonic to keep your defences up

This is good news especially for me, as I have a lifetime's struggle with sinus inflamation, something I now tackle over the cold season, with Pukka's Nasya oil: nose drops which appear to a great job at stopping even a hint of a cold from turning into full blown sinus inflamation.

A gem for sinus sufferers

Other Pukka teas I've been checking out include Cleanse (I find when I drink this tea, it makes me feel cold and damp on the inside), Three Tulsi (this Holy Basil tea is really good for grounding: I drink it after a hectic day, it really steadies the mind) and Three Fennel (which is perhaps the only Pukka tea that doesn't taste great: though a friend of mine disagrees strongly: it's one of her favourite Pukka teas: so there's a hung jury for you). 
Lately, I've also been following a Pukka combination, after a really helpful and frankly amazing encounter with an Ayurvedic practitioner who works for Pukka Herbs. 
This came about quite randomly after I saw a poster at the Nutricentre shop on Park Crescent, London, advertising what was then a forthcoming Pukka Herbs event at which an Ayurvedic practitioner called Yaeli Stern would be in-store giving Pukka driven Ayurvedic advice.
The poster said you could book ahead for free consultations. I asked Nutricentre staff how to book and whether the consultation would include dosha analysis and they said they didn't know the answer to either question. Someone was going to ring me back but didn't, so I did what any journalist would do and googled first the event (nothing about it on the Nutricentre Facebook page or website) and then Yaeli Stern, who I quickly learned, practises at the Chelsea Therapy Room in London, as well as working for Pukka Herbs. 

Ayurvedic Practitioner Yaeli Stern of Pukka Herbs

I sent her an email asking about the Nutricentre event and she wrote back saying that there would be no consultations and no dosha analysis, just very general advice. This didn't sound like the forum to get into a personal-ish conversation about which Pukka herbs I should be taking and in which combination, so I left it and carried on with my usual Pukka herbs regimen.
But then soon after, I dropped into Revital on Wigmore street to stock up on a Minami fish oil supplement and quite by chance, Yaeli Stern, was there doing a laidback, informal Pukka event. For the good of my health and wellbeing, you can only really view this as a lovely intervention by destiny. I introduced myself and explained that I'd emailed her about the Nutricentre event and was still unsure if the combination of Pukka herbs I was taking, was appropriate/ working. (It wasn't). 
In the space of ten minutes, she grasped not only a pretty full picture of my present state of health, but also how to best go about balancing aspects of my health (mood, insomnia, stress, digestion, weight, energy). Yaeli seems to be one of those intuitive healers: those kinds of people who are born with an extra layer of insight. She is also a picture of radiant health: a walking advertisement for Pukka's wellness through Ayurveda manifesto. Extremely knowledgeable, she advised a combination of herbs, which I ended up going away and starting straightaway 

This balances you out like a good yoga class does
Adios Insomnia

Yaeli said that I should be eating lots of warming foods like lentil dal and soups and cooking with Sesame oil and spices like turmeric, cardamom, ginger. This was so useful as I had been wrongly under the impression from some Ayurveda books I'd taken out of Marylebone library (the amateur way is always just that: amateurish) that I needed to cool myself down as much as possible and had been eating a lot of cooling foods. Yaeli also recommended that I try meditation more seriously and suggested that at bedtime every night I massage my feet with a Pukka Relax Oil

Works well used as a nightly foot massage oil

I've since switched to drinking mostly Three Ginger Tea and every time I drink it, I feel really good inside. She was absolutely right too, about the herb combination, the warming foods and the bedtime foot massage - all of it has made a big difference to my all round sense of wellbeing.

Warming and balancing. Makes me feel great.

Okay, it's time to put the kettle on for a lovely mug of Pukka Three Ginger tea. Oh and before I sign off, let me say thank you to Yaeli Stern and congratulations to Pukka Herbs on ten years in business. 

Six lovely Picardie glasses from the Conran Shop, Marylebone High street

I love these classic French glasses. Got them in smaller sizes. But now in the large size too from the Conran shop on Marylebone High Street

Acroyoga at Indaba Yoga

Gotta try this sometime

Bon Appetit magazine: Cooking with A.P.C's Jean Touitou

Bon Appetit magazine has a feature online this month about Jean Touitou. It's a story about the A.P.C founder cooking and relaxing with family and A.P.C insiders at his massive 17th century chateau near Paris


Touitou, now 60, lets Bon Appetit into his family life. His 18 year old son, Pierre, is mentioned as studying to be a chef. And other photographs show Touitou with his wife, Judith and their younger children, including their daughter, Lily




Touitou, ever the provocateur, tells Bon Appetit, "If you have one good chicken, one good cheese, one good fruit, you're good." The feature has a particularly nice pic of Touitou and his daughter Lily cooking together - guess behind all of A.P.C's  CBGB's rock 'n' roll cool, Touitou's a big softie of a Dad, just like we all are



Eight year old Miriam Monsonego murdered at the Ozar Hatorah school shootings


It is shocking enough to learn of the murders of children at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, but accounts are now emerging of how the killer quite literally executed an eight year old girl called Miriam Monsonego.



Here is an account from Ynet"According to descriptions of those who witnessed the killer, who is still being hunted down by French police, he chased after Miriam Monsonego, who had yet to celebrate her eighth birthday, and shot her repeatedly in order to confirm the kill. According to initial details, a man riding on a scooter opened fire on the school at around 7:46 am, as the students were arriving for the school day, and then fled the scene. A local police official said the shooter fired 15 shots at the school and its students. Monday's shooting attack on the Ozar Hatorah school claimed the lives of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 29, his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons Gabriel and Arieh and 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, daughter of school headmaster Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego. Jonathan Sandler was the first one to be shot at short range by the killer. He was holding his son Gabriel in his arms. Gabriel was hit and fell to the ground and then Arieh followed. According to eye-witnesses, the gun then jammed, temporarily putting a halt to the rampage but the killer swiftly changed weapons and headed into the school. He grabbed Miriam as she tried to escape, grasped her hair and shot her. Then, as she bled to death on the floor, he lifted up her head and fired two additional bullets." 

Unthinkable: Ozar Hatorah school murders, Toulouse, 19.04.12


Rabbi Jonathan Sandler

Miriam Monsonego

 Aryeh Sandler

Gavriel Sandler


According to a community official who saw video footage of the killings: "He (the killer) shot at everything that he had in front of him, children and adults. The children were chased inside the school. You see a man park his motorcycle, start to shoot, enter the school grounds and chase children to catch one and shoot a bullet into her head. It's unbearable to watch."


A candle being lit at a memorial in Paris for the victims, 19.04.12