Jasmine Gardner, Evening Standard
There is something in the air at the DeRose Method school in SW7. When I first arrive for my initiation everybody is uncommonly happy and friendly for a weekday in London. I'm about to embark on a trial week learning a health, fitness and wellbeing technique called the DeRose Method - a discipline that claims to bring you improved stress management and concentration and better sleep, as well as helping you overcome cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and getting you toned and fit.
This mammoth task is to be tackled using a programme of breathing techniques, physical postures, meditation and relaxation developed in the Sixties by Brazil-born Luiz DeRose - known as Master DeRose. It is based on ancient techniques, but the method itself has arrived for the first time in Britain and set up home in Old Brompton Road.
Something about it must do the job because before each class a group of the lithe-bodied sit outside the practice room happily chatting and drinking spiced chai.
Practitioners and instructors greet each other warmly. It feels like a home rather than a fitness centre. By day two I'm welcomed like an old friend. The only slightly intimidating factor is the screen showing rolling images of the school's instructors. Their rippling limbs contorted and balanced in improbable positions suggest that achieving the DeRose ideal could take some time.
My first step is to join a beginners' class, which focuses on breathing, postures and relaxation. Every morning when we enter the practice room everybody heads to the boxes of tissues lining it and blows their noses vigorously. It seems bizarre, but I soon learn that the first exercises in our daily practice involve rapid breathing through the nose. Not pretty if you haven't cleared the airways in advance.
We puff in and out to mobilise our diaphragms before moving on to longer breaths in which we expel all the air from our lungs, then contract and release our stomach muscles repeatedly. It's surprisingly tough to master and my
progress is slow, but by the end of the week I'm managing six to eight stomach clenches before having to breathe in again, instead of my initial four or five.
A demonstration of the advanced technique from our instructor, Suzana, shows how a DeRose stomach can look. She ripples her washboard tummy from left to right and then right to left - a movement you wouldn't imagine possible until you see it.
The next stage of the classes involves sequences of postures that challenge and improve your balance and flexibility. Those who do regular yoga will recognise some of the poses, as the method incorporates a non-spiritual yoga practice called SwáSthya. But, keen to avoid preconceptions, the DeRose school wants to disassociate itself from yoga, and the classes certainly feel very different.
Rather than calling out positions by name, the instructor guides us from move to move by telling us to place a foot here and a hand there until we form the next shape - so you never fear falling behind or not being sure what to do.
With toes and fingers always pointed the flow is like a dance, and the aim is to eventually be able to perform the movements in a choreographed sequence. Although the movement is unhurried the positions require energy and focus. On my first day I feel stiff and off-balance, but on my second Suzana's instruction gets me into a bridge position for the first time in my life.
Apparently all I needed was a class that worked to stretch and open up my tight shoulders.
It's hard work for beginners, so during my trial week I'm advised not to insist on coming every day but to listen to my (aching) body. I happily take Friday off, feeling virtuous enough after four days. But although I was a little sore, I didn't feel tired. In fact, after every class my energy levels increased and at work I felt light and invigorated. Guided relaxation at the end of the classes helps you wind down, but instead of falling asleep, day by day I felt more focused - and was certainly encouraged to keep coming back.
When one of my fellow participants tells me she is a psychotherapist and has recommended the DeRose Method to clients, I'm not surprised.
The atmosphere is relaxed enough that you feel you can take or leave bits of the teaching as you please. But if you're keen, the Method is designed to be more than just a class. Once used to the basics, members can attend meditation training once a week, advanced courses on postures, and choreography sessions that focus on linking the movements. Add social events and workshops and this could become a lifestyle regime if you let it. One look at the bodies and demeanour of the instructors and that won't seem a bad thing.
For membership from £151 to £240 a month, or to book a £30 trial week, call 020 7373 7070 or visit derosemethod.eu