Hotpod Yoga, occupying part of the ground floor of Tower House off Nelson Street, is a beacon on a blustery November evening, the windows glowing with warm light. Inside, franchise owners Frances Good and George Mitchell are greeting wannabe yogis who change into shorts and leggings at the back of the room. Frances, who will be taking tonight’s class, ensures everyone has a bottle of water for the class, and then encourages everyone to enter the huge inflatable pod on the other side of the space.
Stepping inside, the heat is all-encompassing. A steady temperature change envelops you pleasantly, rather than inflicting a sauna-like blast, but it’s still intense from the heaters at the front, turned to 37 degrees. The lighting is a soft glowing purple. Tranquil music plays and diffusers make the air smell of bergamot. The space is ribbed like a whale’s ribcage and the whole effect is womb-like and safe.
Hotpod Yoga is Europe’s largest yoga company, with more than 30 locations around the UK and a presence in eight countries. This is their first venture into Bristol, and yoga teachers Frances and George, who moved to Bedminster six months ago, were keen to be involved. “Having both practiced and taught with Hotpod Yoga since its launch in London, we just had to bring it with us when we moved to Bristol,” Frances explains. “Hotpod Yoga has a wonderfully unique way of bringing yoga to people who otherwise might feel too nervous to try it, or might think yoga just isn’t for them.
“Being part of Hotpod Yoga has brought us fun, given us friends, and always made us feel welcome, whilst continuously challenging ourselves to move further physically and mentally in our lives. We wanted to give Bristol the truly unique experience Hotpod has to offer and secretly are just pleased to have our very own purple pod to give us somewhere to escape city life and sweat it all out!”
With a dozen of us inside on yoga mats that are covered in a towel, Frances zips the door up behind her and the class begins. The soundtrack veers away from the usual whalesong you’d expect from a yoga class and into trip-hop and soft dub that feels fitting for Bristol.
Frances is keen to reiterate that there are options for each move to make the class more or less challenging, and is very hands-on, spending little time leading from the front in favour of moving around the space and spending time with each participant, helping to stretch in this way or that, perfecting their lines and making them work. She encourages everyone to drink little and often and to focus on breathing if we are feeling too hot. It feels we’re barely working at times but the sweat begins to pour, turning our limbs slick and glistening in the light.
The padded floor of the pod, and the additional support of a towel on top of the mat, create a surface that is much more forgiving on wrists and knees than a cold hard church hall, though when it comes to balancing postures it is more difficult. The pod’s heat makes muscles more supple but also make it more effort to hold positions. The whole experience ramps up the challenge of yoga, and offers something new to those perhaps feeling they aren’t getting much from a once-a-week session.
The class wraps up with a few minutes of meditation – made easier by the semi-darkness and the throb of the music – and then Frances encourages us to roll up the towels on our mats, wipe them down and leave the pod, which comes with an invigorating rush of cool air.
At the back of the space are three squeaky-clean showers, with towels, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and hairdryers all provided for use. There is even a box of tampons in the loo for anyone who needs one: small details that add up to feeling well looked after.
“We couldn’t be happier with the way the studio turned out,” Frances says. “It’s been a long process of big decisions and processes, such as planning permissions, architect designs and building works, and lots of little decisions, such as how to hang the hairdryers and what shampoo to buy. But it was an incredible process that I’d do all over again – after some yoga, that is.
“Bristol has an amazing array of yoga studios, all offering their own unique take on yoga. That’s what’s so great about yoga – if one style doesn’t suit you there are always lots of other options to try. The yoga community in Bristol has been so welcoming to us and we’re thrilled to be part of it.”
Find Hotpod Yoga Bristol at Unit 2, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN. Free classes take place over the weekend of Nov 10-11, and regular classes start from Monday, November 12 2018, from £10 per session or £80 for a block of ten. Find out more and book classes at www.hotpodyoga.com