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!

St Paddy's Day Smoothie - Filling like Guiness only it's good for you.

It’s St. Paddy’s Day 🍀

Trade in the post-workout beer for our Muscle Power Superfoods Shake. The super strong protein shake to recover from a hard workout (or late night!).

There’s nothing better after a hard workout then a creamy smoothie full of nutrients and muscle-building power.

Our nutritionists designed our Muscle Power shake to give you that recovery edge to stay strong. Students have rated it as the best protein shake in London.

It includes two high quality vegan proteins, three energising superfoods and peanut butter. And unlike most other places, we use high quality unprocessed raw peanut butter.

It has no added sweetners or sugars so just raw goodness!

What classes is this smoothie best for?

Great after double classes, cycling or TRX. Your SOMA Coaches Theo, Asaf, Rory and Marianna regularly have this for lunch or post-class.

Can I use it as a meal replacer?

Yes, as it has essential nutrients for days when you are on the go or prefer to have a lighter meal that is easy to digest.

Barre Leg Workout: The Ballet Jump vs. Fitness Jump

Barre Leg Workout: The Ballet Jump vs. Fitness Jump

Students often ask how to get dancer legs: those long, lean defined muscles that allow for power, speed and grace.

The key is to learn how a dancer’s leg workout differs from your typical gym leg workout. I am passionate about educating people that a dancer’s workout  provides an alternative to regular HIIT.

The fitness industry convinces people that the only way to get a “good workout” is to lift weights and do bootcamp classes with such equipment as kettle bells. They are based on a military style so build the body in that way.

For women who want a more feminine body or men who need to cross-train and balance leg muscles, they need barre. I created barre classes that give you a killer workout without bulking muscles.

Here are barre tips to use in your normal fitness regime. It is used by our members who are weight lifters, do CrossFit, runners, cyclists, hot yogis and dancers as well.

Tip 1: Plié rather than Squat – Protect and strengthen lower back while working gluts and inner thighs

A typical gym squat is done in parallel position and the bum sticks out to the back. In a plié, the body is kept upright, with the core engaged. You work all back muscles to elongate the spine. The legs are turned out which means instead of primarily working the quads, you work the adductors and external rotators under your bum as well as open hips. A plié is a whole body sculpting exercise – legs, back, core – for lengthening muscles rather than bulking.

Tip 2: Straighten Your Legs in Jumps – Prevents bulky legs

Think of your typical gym box jump or Cross-Fit type jumps where knees are kept bent. Or a jumping jack with knees bent. The legs never have to straighten which means the muscles are not elongated.

In ballet and our barre classes, we demand strength in the legs through muscle elongation. This means that students power through the legs to achieve a moment when both legs are straight in the air. This constant repetition of power from plie into straight leg jumps in the air shapes leg muscles like in the video.

 The key is to learn how a dancer's leg workout differs from your typical gym leg workout. I am passionate about educating people that a dancer's workout  provides an alternative to regular HIIT.

Jennifer, SOMA Founder & Coach

Tip 3: Roll through the Feet in Jumps – Protects joints and tones legs

Fitness jumps are done with trainers on and people land on the whole foot. You’re doing this if you hear yourself land. In ballet, no shoes are worn and students must learn to roll through the feet. When you push off the floor for a jump, use the ball of the foot against the floor to power your body in the air.

When you land, think “toe, ball, heel” catching yourself like a car spring. This is like a BMW spring rather than a Ford Escort shock absorber for your joints.

Notice on the video, the soft landing each time.

Tip 4: Point the toes – Works the whole body and strengthens ankles for athletes

In a ballet jump, point the toes in the air. It looks it’s only the foot, but it involves the entire leg and body. To properly point the foot, the dancer extends the whole body towards the ceiling and points the foot in the opposite direction so the body is like a stretched rubber band.

You then work the back, the core and legs. Don’t simply curl the toes under.

In summary, 1) plié with bum underneath you engaging core muscles and lengthening spine, 2) jump in the air and make sure the legs are straight and feet pointed, 3) land softly “toe, ball, heel” to protect the joints.

SOMA expert: Dr. Siru Virtanen

This month we sat down with our very own Dr. Siru Virtanen for an exclusive interview about life, fitness and candies (!)

How did you get into yoga?

Whenever anyone asks me this question it makes me giggle, because funnily enough before my first ever yoga class I strongly believed I wasn’t a yoga-kind-of –a –girl and thought yoga was boring, slow and not a proper workout. I preferred high-energy sports and spent all my free time doing bodypump, bodycombat and salsa dancing.
A friend of mine attended a bikram hot yoga class and I remember her saying that she never had sweated as much in her life and felt so amazing after. This stayed in my mind for one year and then one random day I decided I want to try this hot yoga stuff too and marched to Jen&Theo’s studio in Cambridge. The feeling of being completely cleansed by the effort and the sweat got me hooked straight away after my very first class. With my intro offer I went to as many classes as possible and then signed up for membership. I started attending classes 6 times a week and went to as many workshops and retreats I possibly could and was lucky enough to learn with some really great, inspirational teachers. Since then then I have practiced several styles of yoga, but bikram yoga/detox26 is always my first and strongest love. My passion for this yoga is based on the results I see in myself and in my students physically, mentally and emotionally. In addition to the occasional TRX, yoga is my only form of exercise and I never in my life felt better not only in my fitness but sharpness and focused mind.

Most challenging pose for you and why?

This changes from time to time, but currently it is (bikram/detox26) Triangle. I have flexible hips, but I need more strength on my thighs to build a stable, strong posture. This is the beauty of yoga –building the perfect balance of strength and flexibility in the whole body, and there is always something new to work on and to discover.

Top yoga tip?

The posture you hate is the posture you need the most. Never skip it –instead try even harder. Remember to always try 100% the right way, even if that means you are doing only 1% of the posture, it still means you are doing it and this is how you get the best benefits. Most importantly remember every day is different, keep an open mind. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey.

Favourite SOMA class?

It has to be Hot Detox 26 –but that’s what I love about SOMA, there is so much to choose depending what your body or mind needs on a specific day. I also really love Elementals FIRE yoga and recommend everyone to try TRX Yoga Core – it’s great support for your yoga practice.

My masters in medical sciences and PhD in oncology has given me in depth knowledge of human body, anatomy and physiology.

Dr. Siru Virtanen

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Sweets –I used to have a real addiction to all sort of candies, but weirdly enough hot yoga helped with this too, my body (or mind) doesn’t crave them anymore. But during Christmas breaks –hello sweets! Horrible, I know.

How does your science background inform your yoga practice?

My masters in medical sciences and PhD in oncology (cancer research) has given me in depth knowledge of human body –anatomy and physiology and I apply this knowledge in several different ways in my own practice. I had a thyroid cancer scare myself 2 years ago and it was interesting to see how yoga practice helped my recovery from the surgery and kept my mind calm. I think my years of working in the lab as a meticulous cancer scientist probably makes me to think about the postures in very analytical way and I bring this precious to my practice and it also helps me in guiding my students.

Reveal your top yoga teacher pet peeve

hmmmm….do I have one? Ok, perhaps being late. Funnily this is something I also sometimes struggle with as I am often late with everything (except teaching)! And I guess we get annoyed with things that we find annoying in ourselves, but mostly this is my pet peeve because I feel bad that the student won’t have a good class if they are late and have to rush in. The class is not for me, the class is for the students, and I hope they can have the best possible class every time. Coming late can be distracting to yourself, to others, and also lead to injury if you miss some important warm up postures. Peek in before you come in and find yourself a spot quickly, but even better: leave few minutes earlier (*working on this too!)

I look forward to seeing you in classes and practicing with you at SOMA!