If the paint-splattered walls of Hibernian House could talk they would tell a great many tales (rumour has it Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue once had a rooftop tryst here). The Elizabeth Street building’s century-old history as an arts hub is apparent in its many layers of graffiti, labyrinthine corridors and walkways, and narrow staircases. It’s here – close to tattoo artists, a hairdresser, musicians’ studios and the few scallywags that call Hibernian House their home – that Liza Proiaeva and Michael Barnes have opened the second outpost of their yoga studio, The Yoga Factory (the other is in Annandale).
Stepping out of the grunge and into the serene, light-filled space – with its breezy white curtains, light-grey walls, polished hardwood floors and house plants – feels like walking into a sanctuary. The Yoga Factory’s (TYF) mascot is Barnes’s dog, Frank. Not only is the ageing pup present for every class (usually asleep in his bed), there are also murals of him in various yoga poses painted on the walls (downward dog is one, of course).
There’s a reason why TYF’s tagline is “not another fucking yoga school”. If you come expecting green-juice-drinking yogis in designer activewear, you’ll be disappointed. With his tattoos and piercings Barnes doesn’t look like your average yogi. He speaks frankly about the experiences that led him to yoga – from his traumatic childhood to his descent into heroin addiction, a life of crime and several stints in jail.
“I was recovering from a boxing injury when I met a masseuse who offered to help me,” Barnes tells Broadsheet. “The deal was that I also had to do yoga three times a week. At first I hated it. And then after six months something changed and I fell in love with it. Once I had done my teacher training I found an old biscuit factory out the back of Deus [Ex Machina] in Camperdown and opened my first studio.”
Barnes has spent the past 20 years teaching and has travelled the world leading workshops and doing his best to avoid becoming a “guru”. With his refreshing mode of straight-talking, open-hearted teaching, it’s not hard to imagine that he could attract a following of people wanting to subscribe to his particular style of yoga.
“I teach inclusively – I want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to do the practice,” he says. “We don’t ascribe to guru-worshipping [or] to any particular god, we don’t enforce dogmatism. We don’t care what you eat or what you wear. I swear in my classes. We have a painting of Frank [the dog] at our altar. The whole idea of having him as our emblem is to break down the misconception of giving your power away.”
TYF offers a range of classes – everything from beginners to breath control to restorative yoga. All the instructors ask is that students practice regularly. They’re hoping to reach those who have hitherto been wary of trying the ancient practice.
“I suppose what we do is a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the mainstream yoga establishment,” says Barnes. “We want those that are marginalised, on the outer, rebellious, damaged, angry, sad, cool, uncool, hip, tragic, whatever. We want all the people who hated yoga before to come and try the practice with us. We feel very chuffed to say to people, ‘Hey, you fit right in here, exactly as you are’.”
The Yoga Factory
203/342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills