From Hatha to hot ashtanga to kundalini, yoga has had the British aristocracy in a bind for longer than you might think. It’s hard to imagine Queen Victoria attempting a downward dog in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, yet 130 years before whispers that Meghan would install a yoga studio at Frogmore Cottage, the monarch entertained yoga master Shivapuri Baba at the palace. Said to be the first yogi to bring the practice to the West, Baba had Queen Victoria enthralled as he explained the ancient Eastern beliefs over 18 audiences with Her Majesty.
Today’s royals are just as keen: ‘It makes you much more supple,’ said the Duchess of Cornwall, who likes to visit the Soukya holistic health retreat in India before international tours. Meanwhile, Kensington Palace Gardens have proved the perfect spot for the Duchess of Cambridge to roll out her yoga mat. And Lady Amelia Windsor – Mel to her yoga teachers – salutes the sun at retreats such as Jnane Tamsna in Marrakesh. ‘I particularly like yoga because I get to put my phone away for an hour, breathe and listen to an instructor,’ she says.
The all-American queen of the scene is Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, whose hot yoga class at Triyoga Chelsea was a hot ticket before the Covid-19 lockdown. She trains new yoginis, too, such as Countess Anna de Pahlen, who now teaches at The Power Yoga Company in Parsons Green (her online classes recently featured her young niece and nephew learning the moves).
The American influence on high society’s yogic zest is hard to ignore. The US-trained Marchioness of Northampton (pictured above) has created a schedule of wellness retreats at Castle Ashby, while the Californian Countess of Devon hosts yoga classes at Powderham Castle. Speaking of Californians, the Duchess of Sussex’s commitment to the practice is to be commended – but for the energetic young aristocrats who’ve been executing asanas on their estates for ages, the only way to the top is to teach.
Lady Sophie Nevill
The daughter of the Marquess of Abergavenny – and heir to the family seat at Eridge Park, in Kent – emanates an air of serenity. She trained as a meditation teacher between lectures at Edinburgh University, but it was during a retreat when she was 22 that she found herself truly ‘awakened’ by Scaravelli yoga – a practice based on gravity. ‘Meditation was always my thing,’ says the softly spoken wellness guru. ‘But when I tried Scaravelli for the first time, it expanded my heart wide open.’ Now she teaches at retreats all over the UK and offers guided meditations online. ‘In the next couple of years, I would love to have my own wellness retreat, like my friends Paris Ackrill and Roger Tempest at Avalon Wellbeing in Skipton,’ she says. ‘We all need more nurturing and gentleness right now.’
Lady Bella Somerset
Bella, daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, experienced such a mental transformation after her first yoga session at The Life Centre in Notting Hill that she now shares the healing powers of asanas on retreats high up in the Himalayas. ‘The backdrop of the Annapurna peaks is magical,’ she says. ‘Yoga grounds and centres me. The secondary benefit is the toning effect on my body. As someone who has had an unhealthy relationship with food and body image, this has helped me feel more calm in my mind and more comfortable in a healthy, slim frame, rather than pushing my body to be skinny.’ Bella’s Magic Mountains retreats take place closer to home, in the Lake District and at Daylesford in Gloucestershire. During lockdown, she began leading online classes from Badminton, the family seat. In the future, expect to see her back in London, perfecting her pranayama (breathing) techniques with her Triyoga tribe.
Lady Eliza Pelham
The Earl of Chichester’s daughter says she ‘stumbled upon’ the healing power of yoga following a painful pelvic operation that resulted in her having to learn to walk again. She went on to train as a yoga teacher and graduated in 2014 – a year after divorcing Dr Douglas de Jager, whom she had married at Salisbury Cathedral in 2011, with the family camel, Therese, as maid of honour. She’s since remarried, and her yoga devotees include Viscountess Glenapp.
Lady Candida Balfour
Candida – or Xochi, as she became known after a spiritual retreat in Costa Rica – runs The Naturalista, an online holistic guide to living. At her Women’s Temple in Frome, she begins the day with a morning stretch and meditation. ‘It has had a profound effect on my life,’ says Xochi, who trains with yoga guru Zephyr Wildman and whose favourite asana is ‘the pigeon – the release I feel is always so welcome’. With her restorative retreats, sister circles and lessons in womb wisdom, Xochi is lauded by Goop as the ‘face of millennial healing in London’.
Lady Pollyanna FitzGerald
When she’s not in a field tending to the wellness needs of her horses, the sporty daughter of the Duke of Leinster can be found extolling the virtues of a good yoga stretch. She has dabbled in ice hockey, Goju Ryu karate, mountain biking and weightlifting, and is a fan of Halo Yoga in Oxford, where she lives. The former Millfield student is also a qualified Pilates instructor and has founded her own company, Lightspeed Sports Recovery – possibly the only place in the world where the horses receive as much coaching and therapeutic care as their owners.
Lady Zoe Warren