Meet SOMA Coach - Dr. Vanessa Michielon

Curious what yoga poses even your yoga teacher has difficulty with? Read on.

Many of you love Vanessa’s classes and her precise attention to detail as well as her always impressive postures which make even the hardest ones look easy. You may not know that she also holds a PhD where she defined a new paradigm called “performative museum”, looking at how adopting Natural User Interfaces in Museum exhibitions is shaping the way we learn as physically engaged visitors.

We took some time out and sat down with her to learn more about how she got into yoga, her pet peeves when it comes to teaching and what postures even she needs to overcome.

How did you start yoga?

I came to Yoga through Contemporary Dance and Somatic Practices, as 10 years ago I was lucky enough to train with teachers, who would naturally integrate Asanas and Mindfulness in their classes and workshops. Still today, I experience Yoga and Dance as deeply connected, and the mat often feels like a restriction to me.

What does yoga mean to you?

Yoga is for me a practice to achieve enhanced physical and mental clarity, and a body of knowledge to understand myself on many different levels. What probably attracts me the most, is that really there is so much to learn and to relate to.

What is your favourite Element to teach and why?

Fire, I love moving around in space and practice partner work.

What is your most challenging yoga pose and why?

I am personally focusing on winning my fear of inversions at the moment, so I am enjoying practicing Pincha Mayurasana and transitioning smoothly in other poses.

Teacher pet peeve?

I tend to be very understanding in general, but I can’t tolerate if someone is rude to other students.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Coffee, no matter what science says about it, I will not give up my Espresso.

If you could only give yoga students one tip, what would it be?

If I have to choose one, I would borrow Bernie Clark’s words: don’t use your body to get into the pose, but use the pose to get into your body. So, look at poses as tools, not end goals, and you will let go of a good amount of useless self-judgment and pressure, and discover something much more precious.

What is your dance background?

I started dancing at the age of 4 and never stopped, shifting more and more from Ballet to Contemporary Dance and Somatic Practices about 8 years ago. In 2014 I moved to UK to attend a Master in Dance Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, where I toured with Transitions Dance Company, and later I started freelancing, especially in durational performances in museums and galleries, and creating works with smaller independent companies. As a natural consequence of my studies, in the past 10 years I have been focusing a lot on the integration of Digital Technologies and Dance, both as a performer and as a researcher.

What were you doing before becoming a teacher?

Before moving to UK, I used to work in University on various projects, and thanks to this very flexible job, I would have enough time to dance and teach as well on the side. Commuting time was not as in London: I would move from the barre to my desk in 10 minutes!

New to Hot Yoga? Everything you need to know before your first Hot Yoga class.

Jennifer Hersch tells you everything you need to know before your first Hot Yoga class.

Over the years, I learned some useful tips both as a teacher and student. I’ve been in the hottest studios, I’ve practiced with few people up to 500 people in class, experienced every kind of heat, worked through injuries and different practices in the heat.

Let’s face it. Your first hot yoga class can feel intimidating. Even every hot yoga teacher remembers his or her first experience. I remember mine in a small Bikram studio in SoHo, New York City. I climbed the winding stairs to find a small, carpeted room with no windows and intense heat. My only memory of the whole class is seeing black in camel. And then that amazing feeling after class where I couldn’t wait to try it again.

Twenty years later, and I’m still at it.

However, I know the first class can feel intimidating and we all worry about what others will think. The beauty of hot yoga is that no one cares. It’s like giving birth. Everyone is just focused on getting through the class that they don’t care what they look like or those around them.

Below I answered the typical questions we get from new students. Take a read, relax and don’t worry. It will all be fine.

How do I know which class to take?

Hot Detox 26 (Bikram): This is recommended for students with little yoga experience who prefer moving slowly through poses without a lot of continual movement. It’s for beginner to advanced students (I’ve done it for 20 years), but since it is a more static practice it makes it easier for newbies to catch on to postures while getting used to the heat.

It’s also great for students with upper body or wrist injuries since we don’t do postures on the arms. Likewise, the series can help students with knee injuries.

Done by many athletes for cross-training.

Elementals Earth: Great first hot flow to try if new to Elementals or flow in general. It’s a  slow hot flow class designed for students who need activation of muscles, release of neck tension and core strength. Of our flows, it is the best to start with if you are new to hot flow as it moves slower than Fire or Water. Set sequence changes every term. All levels.

Elementals Water: This is for students who love to flow as we work in circular movements to heal the body through more spiral moves. We have many signature yoga moves we do in this series which you can pick-up over time. A definite try for hot flow lovers. If you are new to hot yoga, start with Earth and Hot Detox then give this a go.

Elementals Fire: An intense hot flow that incorporates Pilates core strengthening. It moves quicker so may feel slightly tricky if new to hot yoga. We also work with the barre as a yoga prop to go deeper into backbends and flexibility training. All levels, but newbies may want to do the other classes first then move on to this one. Great for those who need core strength and want to work on inversions and backhanding.

Elementals Space (Yin)This class is more about meditation and finding relaxation as we work deep into more yin-like poses. The room is warm, but not hot and you use yoga bolsters on the floor the whole time. It’s for days when you just want to tune-out and relax.

How do I prepare for class and what should I bring?

Hydrate. Make sure you drink enough water throughout the day including electrolytes. This means you come to class prepared to sweat.

Avoid eating 2-3 hours before class. Make sure you eat earlier in the day, but you don’t want a full stomach for class as this can make you feel sick during the class. Clean foods and liquids.

Electrolyte tablets in water. Newbies can put electrolyte tablets in their water for class as this helps with hydration. If you find you get headaches or dizzy in class, often it’s because your electrolytes are low due to sweat. This is often true with strong guys who sweat a lot. Nuun tablets are good as they are all natural.

Water. Bring large chilled water bottle/s. You will want enough to drink in class and possible splash over your face during class.

What should I wear?

You will sweat like never before, so think swimsuit material. Men typical wear shorts or bathing suit. Newbies often come with a shirt but then realise you want to take it off during class. If you really want a top then make sure it’s breathable.

Women often wear lightweight leggings or shorts, a sports bra or light tank.

Which class is best for shoulder, wrist, arm injuries?

Hot Detox 26 is the best for anyone who cannot bear weight on their arms or wrists given we don’t do typical yoga poses like downward dog, chattarunga, vinyasas or arm balances.

Which class is best for knee injuries?

The Hot Detox is probably the best for most knee injuries. The series was originally put together by a yoga guru to heal his students knees. Always tell your teacher if you have issues and they can give you modifications.

You can take the Elementals Flow classes too, but may need to pad your mat for knee lunges and tell your teacher for other modification.

Which class is best for complete beginners?

It depends on whether you like to flow or prefer a more static practice where we move slowly from one pose to another. Hot Detox 26 is usually the best for complete beginners as we hold each posture for a period of time and then slowly transition into the next one. You don’t need to worry about a fast moving class where you have to catch continual movement.

Elementals Earth is also good for beginners as it’s a slow hot flow. We do flow between movements but it’s not a faster tempo like Elementals Water or Fire.

If you are looking for more of a yin-type class that is more meditation and relaxation based, try Elementals Space.

The idea is to begin with a practice like Hot Detox and then slowly move into the Elementals Flow classes given they are designed to complement each other.

How many classes should I take a week?

This depends on your goals. The more classes you do in the beginning, the quicker your body gets used to the heat and you see faster progress. This means at least 3x a week.

If you are doing other classes at SOMA and integrating hot yoga intro your training plan, aim for 2-3 classes a week.

And to really dedicate yourself to what transformation hot yoga can give you physically and mentally, try 4-6x a week.

I get headaches after class. What is this from?

It usually means you have not hydrated well enough. This means water and replaced electrolytes. Make sure to drink during the day before class and after class. Newbies often need water during class too.

Sometimes it also comes from your initial detoxification. When the body starts to detox through intense sweat and yoga poses meant to purify the systems of the body, you can get headaches in the first month or so.


Introducing Aromatherapy to your SOMA experience: this week Rose and Neroli for Valentine's

This week we launch our aromatherapy in hot yoga classes. Enjoy carefully blended essential oils in your cool face cloth that change each week based on our Elementals Space theme.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, and other aroma compounds for improving psychological and physical well-being.

We believe that when paired with hot yoga where you are working through the mind and the body, it brings that extra element of healing benefits and completes the whole experience.

How do you choose the week’s essential oil?

Every Sunday we have our Elementals Space class which is our yin-inspired class working on the meridians and soft tissues of the body to create space, relaxation and healing especially on the overworked body and stressed mind.

As part of this class, we use a blended essential oil that works on the same part of the body as the poses. For example, one of our classes focussed on the spleen and stomach meridians so we used Cardamom and Ginger which are also known to help with health in these areas.

Based on the theme of the Sunday class, we then use the same essential oil blend for the whole week so members in all hot yoga and cycling classes will get a chance to experience it on their hard-earned cool face cloths.

Which classes use it?

You will experience the week’s chosen blend in all hot yoga classes and cycling classes.

What is the blend for Valentine’s Week?

For Valentine’s, we chose Rose Neroli oil known to balance hormones, help acne and depression as well as a known aphrodisiac.

Sounds good!