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One yoga practice has added a simple twist that changes the experience entirely

FOR a fitness activity that’s been paired with every imaginable gimmick, from scorching hot studios to forced laughter and even to speed-dating (because everyone looks great in downward dog), it’s easy to forget that yoga originated as a practice to connect mind and body. But the addition of a little black blindfold is taking even the most seasoned enthusiasts back to yoga’s purest form. At least that’s the aim behind a series of Yoga In The Dark sessions by the charity Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and hosted by studios around the UK.

I went to one at The Private Yogi in west London. Founder Charlotte Artiguas jumped on the idea. ‘I often practice with my eyes closed. It’s a good way to connect to myself, to see where I am mentally that day,’ she says. ‘I find that when I’m feeling mentally ungrounded, my balance goes. Taking away sight challenges your balance further and strips it right back. You become a beginner again, which forces you to do more to address your mental state.

‘In today’s world of social media, there is an element of yoga going more gymnastic because people want to show off what they can do. We do the polar opposite.’

Feeling into the move: The blindfolded class take on the warrior two pose

When I arrived at the candlelit studios, the aura of calm instantly brought me down from my stressful day. Black silky blindfolds awaited us on our mats but we didn’t have to put them on until we’d stretched and mapped our surroundings.

I was relieved to be told we could move the blindfold to our forehead if we needed to watch the instructor demo. This is also useful to regain your co-ordination if needed.

The urge to push the blindfold away to peek was persistent for the first 30 minutes. According to our instructor, that’s natural because most of us rely on our sight so much it causes anxiety when its taken away.

There were no acrobatic moves but even the basic one-legged downward dog or standing warrior required the utmost concentration — I couldn’t tell if I was leaning forwards or sideways.

The mental effects were more marked than the physical ones, not only because of the concentration on balance but because of the forced introspection that occurs when there are no clocks to watch or other people’s yoga outfits to envy.

The class was a mix of regular yoga-goers trying something new and visually impaired students supported by the charity. ‘We are always saying that yoga is accessible to anyone,’ says Charlotte. ‘By connecting to the charity we truly are making it accessible to all. In these classes it’s not about your yoga ability, but your ability to connect with your body.’

Be prepared for a few arm and leg clashes with your neighbour. It’s usually a bit awks when that happens in a normal class but with a blindfold, these accidental invasions of space elicited a chuckle and were rather reassuring. When it comes to yoga, I’ve definitely joined the dark side.

Sessions at The Private Yogi, London, are £17, theprivateyogi.com or visit rnib.org.uk/yoga-dark for UK classes

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