Feeling suitably limber after my first lunchtime yoga class at Harpa, I get up off the mat and wander over to thank instructor Ingibjörg for the class.
“This was a simple smooth Hatha yoga class to suit everyone, so beginners could come,” she says. “It’s all about yoga flow, the soft yoga flowing.”
She turns and looks me directly in the eyes and asks sincerely, “Did you feel like it was a little flowing?”
Unsure of how to respond, I laugh nervously. “Ah absolutely, I flowed!”
She looks at me for a moment, as if doubting my commitment to the flow, before breaking into one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. “Yeah, you did! Woo-hooooo.”
Yoga with a side of happiness
The thirty or so attendees of this first lunchtime yoga class ranged from mothers, to students, to kids, to people who actually looked like they were on their lunch break, one sporting jeans and another in a formal looking work dress.
“We just want to do something during these dark winter months to kind of brighten up your spirit and make you feel good about yourself,” says Anna Margrét Björnsson, who has, along with Ingibjörg, been the driving force behind the lunchtime classes.
Given that the class was in Icelandic, I confess to them I spent most of the time craning my neck around to watch the girl next to me and mimicking her position.
“Oh I wish I would have known. I’m so used to teaching in English,” Ingibjörg says. “Next time we’ll ask people to raise their hands if they’re English speakers,” Anna adds.
From what I did understand, though, I mention I hadn’t expected there to be such an emphasis on breathing. “Yoga is not just an exercise, it’s so much more,” Ingibjörg tells me. “It’s really good for your mind too. That’s the beauty of it.”
“That’s why after yoga, people usually feel so happy, because they’ve been breathing so deeply,” she continues, matter-of-factly.
At this point Ingibjörg lowers her tone, almost as though she’s confiding a secret to me. “And you know, people have this kind of glow to them after class. I’ve always wanted to take a before and after picture, because you can really tell the difference. It’s really beautiful.”
I look around the room, and it’s true. Most of the participants are chatting jovially with one another. I’m not sure whether they know each other either. They just seem to have been in a damn good mood. I turn to admire the gorgeous view across the turbulent water towards Esja’s snow-covered peaks and realise I’m feeling pretty chipper myself.
Don’t even think about thinking!
I tell Ingibjörg I found the final five minutes of the class particularly calming when participants were instructed to lay on their backs, very still, to some pretty ambient music. “It’s really important to let the body just relax after all the exercises. And it really makes a difference. Just five minutes of relaxation, it can really do wonders for you, if you do it with awareness,” she says.
‘Awareness. So you’re meant to be thinking?’ I ask.
“Don’t even think about that,” she replies with the air of a kung fu master. “If you think about thinking, you are just all over the place. Our mind is so powerful, there’s so much going on, many TV channels. If you get thoughts, you shouldn’t need to battle to let them go. You should embrace them, welcome them, all the thoughts, and then let them go.”
While admission to the classes is free, there are donation tins from Unicef, which is putting the proceeds towards helping the children of Syria.
Both Anna and Ingibjörg are delighted with the day’s turnout. “We’re thinking of doing it every week now,” Anna says. “If it goes as well as this, I think it’s perfect. We’ll see how it goes.”
“I guess we’ll just go with the flow,” Ingibjörg adds.