A yoga studio in London’s Shoreditch plays with light and colour to help reset stress levels among its clients, with benefits including elevated mood and better-quality sleep.
At ChromaYoga in Shoreditch, you don’t pick your class by style, but rather by colour: red, pink, blue, orange or yellow. The all-white, ergonomically designed room is then bathed in the glow of your chosen colour and the yoga corresponds to the health benefits of that hue. A red class, for example, is fast-paced and dynamic, with a focus on strength and flexibility, while pink classes are restorative and rebalancing. Each class has its own bespoke soundscapes and scents that are diffused into the room for the duration of the class to aid breath work, enhance mood and balance energy. All of this reaps huge benefits both mentally and physically – classes are said to reset the body’s natural circadian rhythm for better sleep, as well as increase metabolism and alertness, accelerate weight loss, correct any hormonal imbalances and promote a calmer sense of wellbeing.
Founder Nina Ryner launched the studio in 2017, after being disillusioned with the yoga scene in London. “The studios I was going to were either too new age, too cheesy and commercial or felt stuck in the 1990s,” she says. “I saw a huge gap in the market for something new. I started to think about what the perfect environment would be and that’s when I came up with the idea.”
Ryner, who previously ran a fashion label, took inspiration from the interactive art installations of James Turrell, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Ann Veronica Janssens, Liz West, Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson. She says she first got the idea after seeing a number of light exhibitions and observing how people were affected when they walked into differently coloured rooms. “Originally I came to the idea from a colour therapy perspective,” she explains. “I started researching the subject and found it fascinating. It’s part of all of our lives and we’re so oblivious to it. Surely someone had thought about combining yoga and light before? But they hadn’t.”
Working closely with a select group of leading yoga instructors, as well as the scent designer Asakala and sound designer Tim Goalen, ChromaYoga was born. “We use light, sound and scent to enhance the yoga experience,” Ryner explains. “I’ve done a lot of research into light therapy and how light can be healing. There is lots of scientific research into the ways light can affect our lives. For example, red light can be really beneficial physically and yellow light instantly improves mood. Blue suppresses melatonin in the brain and makes us more awake: the sky is blue, it’s energetic. The problem is that now we’re always on our laptops and phones, we’re exposed to cold light throughout the day and evening with no time off to create melatonin, which is causing sleep disorders. To combat this you can use red, yellow and orange light to help rebalance you.”
At ChromaYoga, being exposed to amber light during the day or in an early evening class means your body can start producing melatonin for a few hours before bed, according to Ryner. “Our aim is reset the stressed out and sleep deprived,” she says. “We each have to find ways to counteract the issues we face in our busy lives in London – a city that for most of the year doesn’t have much light.” It’s this element of the classes that taps into our need to reset our circadian rhythms, which are thrown off kilter by modern living. While most organisms follow this rhythm, we are the only species that actively chooses to live in a way that disturbs our natural balance with the world around us.
A circadian rhythm is defined as a repeating pattern based on the natural progression of night and day; it’s the reason why we’re active during daylight hours and sleep when it’s dark. While this is in part due to practicality, it is also connected to a chemical response. During the day the eye gathers light information, most of which we translate into images, but the eye also takes in information about light values, in particular the amount of energising blue light that is present in the environment. Once the pineal gland in our brain and our retinal cells detect that it has fallen below a certain level, the pineal gland starts to secrete melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The ideal environment for producing melatonin is total darkness, but as we no longer live by the rise and fall of the sun, that has become unrealistic in the modern era. That coupled with the fact that our phone and computer screens emit blue light all day long explains why sleep disorders are so prevalent. Amber and red light have been proven to block blue light frequencies, which is why taking a ChromaYoga class using these lights in the early evening can lead to a better night’s sleep.
Sound therapy is also a big part of each ChromaYoga class. Taking inspiration from binaural and isochronic tones, each colour is accompanied by a specifically composed soundtrack that emulates the frequencies our brains emit in different states of consciousness. The sounds are said to promote a calmer, more focused and relaxed state of mind, which means concentration is made much easier for people who often struggle with distraction and “monkey mind” in yoga classes.
The space, with its wavy ceiling, certainly feels more like an art installation than a yoga studio. The combination of bathing in all-enveloping colour, the scent and the sound frequencies makes for an immersive experience. The end result is an energising natural high or a peaceful, trance-like state, depending on the class you choose. Ryner is clearly on to something. To get more out of yoga, you just need to see the light.
ChromaYoga classes by colour
Red light increases energy, metabolism and circulation on a cellular level. Classes provide a powerful workout with a focus on core work, building strength and flexibility.
Blue light is the mighty controller of our sleep cycles and can help with boosting productivity and reducing tiredness. A dynamic, flowing class sees breath linked with movement and used to wake up the body and increase energy.
Orange light is similar to red so can also help with disjointed sleep. These workshop-style classes focus on correct alignment and mastering the foundations of yoga poses and balances.
The deep, rich tone stimulates an emotional response by emulating the effect of sunset and sunrise, so is the strongest colour psychologically. Yellow light is used in conjunction with twists and opening postures to aid digestion and alleviate mood swings.
Pink is a colour associated with love, affection and nurturing. Classes are designed to rejuvenate and balance both body and mind. Deep stretches, breath work and acupressure release tension and toxins.
The light in chromatic classes moves through all of the spectral colours of sunrise and sunset, replicating the light that our body builds its natural circadian rhythms upon. Expect to finish each class on a burst of uplifting blue light in the morning and melatonin-inducing red light in the evening.
Designed as a modern way to meditate, these classes combine colour gradients and soundscapes to induce a deep state of relaxation. Playing with the concepts of colour perception, lucid dreaming and synaesthesia, the classes aim to stimulate internal focus, creative thinking and visualisation.
Classes from £13, membership packages from £65.
45 Charlotte Road, Hackney, EC2, chromayoga.co.uk
A version of this feature was published in the Summer 2017 issue of The Glossary.