“Come to practice and then stay to eat, chat and socialise” – Meet Yoga Brunch Club

It’s not often that you get to combine two of your greatest passions and make a living out of it – let alone collaborate with the likes of Liberty London and Deliciously Ella – but that’s exactly what’s happened for Clem Balfour.

Her business, Yoga Brunch Club, is a monthly event combining a genuinely transformative morning yoga practise with a sit down meal made by a collaborating chef, in some of the most beautiful locations across Bristol and London. Though no one event is the same – one week it’ll be in Shoreditch, the next in The Forge, Bristol – each time with a different menu or guest yogi taking the practise, every event has the same feel and focus of bringing people together.

We popped down to their last event at Brixton East to meet with Clem to talk all things yoga, what keeps her motivated and most importantly, her best choices for brunch and once we’d talked, stretched and eaten our way through the morning, left feeling more relaxed and energised than we had in a long time.

Here’s what she had to say…

Tell us a bit about yourself and Yoga Brunch Club?
“I’m yoga instructor, home cook and founder of the Yoga Brunch Club. These run as monthly events, currently take place around London and Bristol in beautiful spaces. The day typically starts with a 75 minute flow class and is followed by a 3 course sit down brunch. The yoga and the food are a key part of the experience, I have collaborated with a great selection of guest yoga teachers, chefs and cooks, varying from seasonal British chefs to Sri Lankan, Indian, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern themed brunches, so the menu varies from month to month.”

“There is something pretty special about practicing yoga in a large group and beautiful space, there is an incredible energy that is created in the room. The food is then all dished up in large platters, served family style down long trestle tables, it’s the weekend so no one has to rush off to work or needs to be anywhere else, people leave feeling relaxed and ready for the week.”

How did you get the idea for YBC?
“I realised early on that Yoga can be intimidating to people who have never tried it or feel they aren’t ‘flexible’ enough. When I first started teaching I wanted to encourage friends to try yoga. I ran classes at a local space around the corner from my house, where I would cook up different themed meals at home and serve them up post yoga in the cafe next door to the venue. It was such a lovely way to spend an evening, doing yoga and then sitting around a table chatting over some delicious wholesome food, from here I went on to build on the idea of the Yoga Brunch Club.

“I have a background in events management and as a food obsessed yogi I decided to combine two of my passions: food and yoga. I realised that there was a gap in the yoga world, runners and cyclists often have their social clubs and meets post training sessions. However often after a yoga class you roll up your mat and head home, I wanted to create a space where yoga could be fun and social and make it more accessible, where people come to practice and then stay to eat, chat and socialise.”

What or who are the people you’re inspired by?
“I have an incredibly supportive family and partner who thrash out ideas and inspire me every day. I have always loved Frida Kahlo, her independence, drive and creativity as a female is awe inspiring, the film Frida is a favourite of mine. I’m inspired by ideas, by people taking action to try out a new business idea or model and enjoying the flow of it, allowing them to learn as they go along rather than having every detail mapped out.

“Life is too short, if you wait too long someone else will probably have already gone right ahead and done exactly what you set out to do. I’ve started to listen to a number of podcasts when I’m walking into town or to a meeting, at the moment I’m loving Me & Orla’s #hashtagauthentic and The Work We Do by Victoria Stoyanova.”

What does a normal day in the life of Clem look like?
“I start the day with a home yoga practice, I normally try to get up a little earlier so I can have at least an hour on the mat. Depending on my mood and energy levels this might be a slower practice to wake up my body or a more dynamic, flowing and energising session. Post yoga I’ll make time to eat a good breakfast, maybe porridge or soft boiled eggs on toast, I’m a firm believer in having a good breakfast to start the day. I’ll check through emails and monthly sales, flick through Instagram and plan a post.

“I have a close relationship with a lot of the chefs and cooks I work with, so often will be in close contact with them about what’s going to be on the menu and have a wonderful designer called Rebecca Bright who hand draws these up each month for the brunch table. I’ll research new spaces, chefs, photographers, venues and spend a chunk of my day planning, meeting and prepping for what’s coming up over the next few months. Lunch will be a packed lunch or a salad/sandwich on the go but I do try and eat away from the computer and take a break even if it’s just 20mins. I’ll try and get to a yoga class once or twice a week, as find it a great source of inspiration for my own teaching. Evening’s will spent having a meal out or cooking dinner at home, I enjoy cooking and find it very relaxing.”

What do you love about your job?
“I love that I get to teach yoga, that I get to teach and share something I’m so passionate about. At 21 (10 years ago) I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an auto immune disease that can cause serious joint pain, stiffness and damage. I’m happy to say I’m in remission from this now, but yoga was and is still such a help and guide for me with my body, it reminds me to check in each day with how I’m feeling. Our bodies are the best barometer’s, they give us regular feedback we just have to make the time to listen to it, and not just force and push ourselves to our complete limits and highest stress levels. I love that I get to teach what I have learnt and am still learning. I get to see that change in someone’s facial expressions when they walk into my class and walk out of it, yoga teaches you to soften shoulders to not hold your breath to release tension and be a little more present.”

Tell us about some really stand-out collaborations?
“I founded the Yoga Brunch Club in 2014 and since then have had some great collaborations with venues and chefs so it’s difficult to pick one. For the last three summer’s YBC has had a pop up at Wilderness festival, running these events in the middle of a field is a totally different experience. This summer we were blessed with beautiful sunshine for most of the weekend, we ran morning classes throughout the whole weekend for 55 people, with brunch served up by the wonderful Deliciously Ella team.

“At the start of the year I had an incredible collaboration with Liberty London as part of their reset space for January, running three yoga brunch clubs and a yoga supper club. The mornings started with yoga on the fourth floor the store was closed to the public so we had the place to ourselves. Post an energising yoga class , brunch was served up in the stunning heritage suite which was decorated from floor to ceiling with Liberty flowers.”

Your go-to tips for organising a pop-up event?

“Start small, try out ideas and host a dinner or brunch with 8-10 friends, do it at home or in an environment your familiar with, get feedback and then after that you can start to scale up. Have a format to follow that each time, try and not overcomplicate things and leave it to the last minute, having a good list is key.

“If it’s your first event get friends involved to help set-up, try and not do everything yourself. See what skills people around you have, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by wonderfully arty, creative friends who are chefs, photographers, designers and have used their expertise and skills to added flavour and passion to each event. Flowers, candles and an excellent photographer to record the day/event as you won’t have time to.”

Where’s the best brunch you’ve ever had?
“The best brunch I’ve ever had, wow that’s a tough one. Can I pick a few? I love the Towpath café in Haggerston, it’s right on the canal and only opens for half the year. There’s a couple of tables, or you can sit out alongside the canal, the menu changes but there’s always a beautiful selection of seasonal fruits compotes with homemade granola and the best cheese toasties in London. You can make a day of it and cycle up the canal. Other favourites would be 26 Grains for all the porridge choices you could ever want and Salon in Brixton puts on an incredible brunch every weekend but you need to book.”

How do you keep motivated?

“The community and feedback I receive from all of the brunch club’s keep me motivated. I have a lot of regulars, and people often come on their own which I think is great as this really encourages new connections and friendships, it’s wonderful to see it all unfolding in front of you. Yoga helps to keep me mindful and present as I am prone to over thinking things at times.”

What do you khoollect?
“Recipe books, recipe magazines, cut outs from recipe articles on the plane, I have an ever-growing stack of them in the kitchen. I love the stories and energy and passion that goes into each of the pages, you can really get a sense of the personality of the cook/s who have written them.”

The favourite item in your collection?
“I find Ottlenghi’s recipes so colourful and if I have the time to cook from them they always taste amazing. Kitchen & Co by Rosie French and Ellie Grace is a firm favourite, with easy recipes and beautiful photography. Rosie is also going to be cooking for the 19 November brunch club at Brixton East, which I’m so excited about as her food is excellent.”

Where do you call home?
“I spend a lot of time travelling between London and Bristol, London was my home for a long time but I recently made the move to Bristol which was a big decision but I love it here.”

Favourite place for coffee there?
“Bristol’s food and coffee seen is very good. Small Street in town does the perfect Americano and they have another branch called Little Victories by the harbour side. Also Emmeline’s on Gloucester road does a great take away. In London I would have to say Federation in Brixton, it’s been there for so long now and still serves incredible coffee.”

Favourite spots for eating out there?
“Bristol is overflowing with great restaurant’s and places to eat out. Jamaica Street Stores on Jamaica street has just opened, serving up delicious small plates and a buzzing atmosphere. In Cotham there is the best pasta in Bristol at Pasta Loco, and for something more local the wraps at St Nick’s Market are famous, they make home- made flat breads and have queues around the block at lunch time. For breakfast, it would be Katie & Kim’s, everything is served up on mismatched plates on a giant wooden table that fills the whole café. London at the moment would have to be Hopper’s.”

Where do you pick up a bargain?
“I’m always on the lookout for serving plates or bowls or vases to add to the yoga brunch club table. Brixton village is full of some brilliant shops where you can find every kitchen utensil you could ever need.”

Best green space in the city?
“I live very near St Andrew’s Park in Bristol which turns into a mini-festival space over the summer months, you have everything from trapeze to live music. In Brixton I always spent a lot of time at Brockwell park, the lido and café there does a great coffee and breakfast muffin.”

How do you spend a lazy Sunday?
“I suppose my Sunday’s aren’t always so lazy as I often have a Yoga Brunch Club running ☺ But when I do have a Sunday off, I’d have a lie in, take some time to spend in the kitchen cooking up a tasty breakfast with my boyfriend (he makes the best toasted egg sandwiches) and enjoy a slower morning. As it’s turning to Autumn now which is my favourite time of year, I’d get out for a cold crisp walk and head to the local pub for a late Sunday lunch. Sunday evening would be spent at home, a hot bath and curling up on the sofa with a film.”

If not in Bristol where would you be?
“Somewhere with a little more sun or by the beach. I spent some time out in Australia a few years ago and love their lifestyle, the weather in Sydney and Melbourne has some of the best brunches I’ve ever eaten.”

What’s one piece of advice you’d tell your younger self?
“It’s ok not to always have a plan. Allow yourself to create more space to create room for what might come next. Nicky Clinch had a wonderful quote on her Instagram the other day which I really resonated with : ‘sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together’ – Marilyn Munroe'”

One piece of advice for someone wanting a career change or to go out on their own?
“Don’t be in such a rush to have everything figured out at the start, know that you will make mistakes along the way and learn from them, allow things to grow organically. Go with your gut, a lot of people will give you advice but if your true to your own voice that will come through in every part of your business.”

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Maria Bell

Maria Bell is a photographer and editor from the Isle of Wight. Talk to her about food and/or photog...

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Portrait of Clem by Phillip Suddick. All other images by Maria Bell.