Londoner Jess on keeping fit in her small flat

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Never let it be said that small spaces prevent you from pursuing your hobbies. Even in the world of exercise, where sometimes it seems you need heaps of kit before you can even contemplate raising your heartrate, this isn’t so. Jess Parkinson discovered yoga through a class, but – as her lively Instagram account shows – she’s not constricted by gym opening times, and even in her small flat she’s able to find the space to devote to her yoga practice. We caught up with her to find out more about better fitness in small spaces. 

Tell us about your fitness journey, what first got you hooked?

I’ve been a dancer since I was young so have always been into keeping fit through dancing and performing. When I moved to London, dancing and fitness became one and the same – I had to keep fit as a performer. During drama school I got into high-intensity workouts and found that not exercising made me less happy mentally. At some point my singing teacher and best friend asked why I wasn’t a personal trainer and I had no clue – I guess I thought it would be too much work, but it was part time and I fell into it easily. Soon I had 12 spin classes a week and my fitness was rocketing, but without stretching properly I ended up aggravating an existing injury. I actually can’t remember why, but one day I took a yoga course. I loved it, and it has become my passion! It’s great for maintaining and looking after your body, plus the breathing and meditating have made me much calmer all around – my friends say I’m a different person.

What sort of exercising space do you have at home and what obstacles are in your way?

I share a flat with my boyfriend and it is very small. Before I practice I have to move all the furniture in my living room out of the way. I’d love a flat wall and a hallway to use, but unfortunately I don’t have either of those.

What’s the best part of doing yoga at home?

Let me just start by saying you can absolutely make exercising work anywhere. I feel much more comfortable in my own space and love that I can make it suit my needs. I’m a big fan of incense, so I usually have some of that lit while I’m practicing. You can wear whatever you want, even practicing in your pants if you like! It’s free of judgement – you can use walls and hallways, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

How do you usually warmup before your practice?

It’s really important to mobilize the body and warmup the joints gradually. You can’t just go into an intense exercise straight away. I like to start with shoulder rolls and hip circles – table top position is great for this. I also do a lot of inversion practice so always make sure I get into the wrists.

What are your all time favourite go-to poses?

Deep lunges for the hips, hip flexor stretches, pyramid, downward dog, cat/cows, deep forward fold and shoulder stretch, deep thigh stretches, handstands and inversions, and shivasana.

What are your thoughts on yoga and meditation?

I think the word meditation scares people but, really, all it is is breathing – literally focusing on inhales and exhales. Most people first start meditating in shivasana (the relaxing pose usually done at the end of a class). A shivasana can only be five minutes but if you’re doing it properly it will feel like you’ve been in it for hours. Don’t put pressure on yourself to relax, accept and observe any wandering thoughts then let them pass and take your focus back to breathing.

What makes the biggest difference in your practice?

I’ve noticed that what I eat has the biggest impact. My yoga practice only really changes if I haven’t eaten the right thing. While some people like to practice and then eat, a lot of yoga is best practiced on an empty stomach, but I like to have something before. If my snacks are right, I will be right! I like to have a banana and an oat cake or an apple with cheese, some fruit, plus a protein or complex carb usually keeps me going.

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What would you recommend to someone just beginning yoga?

Start with hatha or yin. Try a slower flow before diving in, and avoid hot yoga as it can be a shock to the system especially when you aren’t used to it. Try more than one type of class and instructor – don’t just go to one and get put off. Read about the different yoga types to figure out which is best for you. There are plenty of studios and websites that offer free trial classes. I teach a class on Move GB which offer a seven-day free trial and is very affordable. Remember above all that you know your body better than anyone else. You can put your trust in the instructor, absolutely, but if something doesn’t feel right either ask about it or don’t do it. Some poses can be uncomfortable but if you’re really in pain you should just stop.

What are your favourite props and tools?

I love my yoga props! People tend to see them as a weakness but they are so helpful to get you further. I like to use blocks, straps and a yoga wheel regularly. Dharma Bums are great for leggings and ship from the UK so you don’t get stung on shipping or customs like with other companies. Also, my Lifeform mat – it’s my baby! They’re quite an investment, but if you’re going to be practicing regularly you’ll want a good mat that doesn’t leave you slipping around. There are a fair few great mat companies out there for any price so I’d definitely recommend doing some research.

You can follow Jess on Instagram, and she teaches at Bamboo Fitness, Gymbox and Crystal Palace Yoga

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