Not everyone has time for week-long yoga retreats so Emmerdale actress and yogi Roxy Shahidi and her friend Jasmin Bahia have come together to launch 24-hour yoga retreats to fit even the busiest of schedules
Wonderful as a week-long yoga retreat may be, you can also blitz stress and unknot tense muscles in just 24 hours, believes yoga teacher and actress Roxy Shahidi, also known as Leyla Harding from Emmerdale. Along with her best buddy and fellow yoga teacher Jasmin Bahia, she recently launched Strength and Grace, one-night yoga retreats for busy people. Arriving on Saturday morning and leaving late Sunday afternoon, you can expect a minimum of five yoga sessions, plus time for individual advice over delicious, healthy meals.
‘One of the reasons yoga has been good for me is that it stops me wanting to be better at everything I do.’
In the morning, the yoga is based on an energising vinyasa-style, but Saturday’s after-lunch sessions have a more restorative focus, including a blissful yoga nidra sequence. Throughout, the emphasis is on individual attention – ‘with two of us, it means one can give individual guidance while the other is teaching,’ says Roxy – and working to your own level. ‘One of the reasons yoga has been good for me is that it stops me wanting to be better at everything I do,’ she says. ‘It’s your practise, what your body needs on any day. We need reminding all the time that it’s not about being better than the person on the mat next to you.’
Roxy’s retreat partner Jasmin is a wonderfully calm, wise presence, who trained with Swami Govindananda in the Himalayas. ‘Yoga should never feel competitive – it’s not about who’s the most flexible, it’s about what you need from the practise on that day,’ she says. The pair met when Roxy came to one of Jasmin’s classes at her yoga studio, Bahia Yoga in Nottingham. ‘We just clicked as soon as we met,’ says Jasmin. ‘We’re very different personalities and I think that’s why we work so well together.’
A recent retreat included a 50-something training to be a yoga teacher, and a 23-year-old who’d never even done a downward dog before.
Suitable for all levels, a recent retreat included a 50-something training to be a yoga teacher, and a 23-year-old who’d never even done a downward dog before. Both came away happy. ‘What we hope people take home from the weekend is the knowledge and confidence to practise yoga at home, whether they’re a complete beginner or experienced,’ says Roxy. ‘When I’ve got a busy day of filming ahead I take my yoga mat and find a quiet corner in the studio. I know that just three rounds of sun salutations can energise the whole body and set me up for the day.’
Although she lives in Nottingham, Roxy travels to Harrogate in North Yorkshire to film Emmerdale. Despite a full-on schedule, she regularly teaches at Bahia Yoga, including leading a workshop one Sunday a month for charity. ‘The last one was to support elephants.com, an elephant sanctuary I found out about from a Jodi Picoult novel, Leaving Time’ she says.
At home, she does an hour of yoga most days, based on the Ashtanga Primary Series. ‘Most of the time I like a dynamic practise but you have to listen to your body and sometimes I need something more soothing,’ she says. She is also fan of online classes. ‘I love Esther Ekhart and Shiva Rea. I think it’s important to keep watching different teachers. As an actor, you wouldn’t only watch yourself. Every yoga teacher has a different take on classic poses,’ she says.
It’s not just exercise, it calms the mind and brings the body and breath together and that leaves me with a feeling I’ve never got from any other exercise. It transforms you physically and mentally.
Since discovering yoga at age 15 courtesy of her grandma’s Barbara Currie DVD, Roxy developed her practise and trained as a teacher during quiet periods in her career. She’s now produced her own yoga DVDs, with the third, Yoga for Weight Loss, released earlier this year. ‘It’s not just exercise, it calms the mind and brings the body and breath together and that leaves me with a feeling I’ve never got from any other exercise. It transforms you physically and mentally,’ she says.
At 32, but with the flawless, unlined skin of someone a decade younger, Roxy believes the energy that makes her lifestyle possible comes from her vegan diet. Vegetarian since the age of eight (‘when I made the connection between the animals in the field and the meat on my plate’), she gave up dairy at age 21. ‘I had very bad acne at the time and thought it might help my skin, which it did,’ she says. But she admits that at first, her vegan diet was far from balanced. ‘I now know it’s not enough just to cut something out. You have to rethink your whole diet. I lived on refined carbs like white toast with margarine or a processed vegan spread, white pasta with a tomato-based sauce or processed vegan sausages,’ she says. ‘No greens or healthy oils. I’d cut out the saturated fats from meat but I wasn’t getting a lot of nutrients. But like most 21-year-olds I was more interested in going out and socialising than my health.’
Now refined carbs are an occasional treat, and Roxy loves to cook. ‘Last night I made a stir-fry with organic carrots, courgettes, yellow pepper, kale and garlic with a delicious sauce made from peanut oil, peanut butter and coconut cream,’ she says. ‘I did some udon noodles for my husband [actor Arsher Ali], but I prefer to limit how much wheat I eat, so I had spiralised courgettes. I had a huge bowl full and it was really tasty.’
She also a big Nutribullet fan. ‘It takes a minute to throw in half an avocado, spinach and apple juice, put the lid on the cup and drink it on the way to work,’ she says. ‘It means if I’ve got a busy day’s filming and end up having a plate of chips and a glass of wine for dinner, I know I’ve already had my greens.’
Passionate as she is about being vegan (she’s an ambassador for the Vegan Society), she also knows it’s not for everyone, so it’s optional at Strength and Grace retreats. Lunch is a buffet-style array of delicious salads, and the dinner menu includes dishes such as grilled fillet of sea bass on sautéed potatoes, and roast marinated leg of lamb on Moroccan spiced aubergine and tomato.
The retreats are held once a month throughout the year at Henlow, Champneys’ beautifully restored riverside retreat in Bedfordshire with the next dates August 29-30 and September 12-13. From £299 per person, including one night’s accommodation, all meals, and full use of the spa facilities. See champneys.com for more details.
Roxy’s 2-Minute Tip for Beating Stress
Try this simple alternate-nostril breathing technique to instantly calm and re-energise:
Sitting comfortably, use the thumb of your left hand to close your left nostril, then take a deep inhale through the right nostril. Then release your thumb and close the right nostril with your forefinger, exhaling through the left nostril. Take a deep inhale through the left nostril before closing it with your thumb, releasing your forefinger and exhaling through the right nostril. Then inhale through the right and repeat the pattern for two minutes.
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