She’s the woman who cured the iconic footballer of his aches and pains. Now yoga instructor Shona Vertue has devised a 28-day wellness plan to create the perfect body and healthy life – if you’re prepared to work hard. Nick Harding talks to her
In the world of yoga, Shona Vertue is a megastar. Young, vibrant and stupendously positive, she is the fitness guru who taught David Beckham to bend.
‘Shona changed my perspective on yoga,’ he says on the front cover of her new book, The Vertue Method. ‘Working with her made my aches and pains after playing disappear. She is the best.’
Little wonder that her once-a-week fitness sessions in London’s Oxford Street sell out within 45 seconds, and the 30-year-old who lives in the English capital, but grew up in Australia, has a legion of followers on social media – 109,000 on Instagram alone and growing by the day.
Shona is a brand ambassador for fitness shoes and sportswear brand New Balance and while she’s too discreet to name her other high net worth clients, she does mention that she works out nutrition plans with many of their personal chefs, which gives an indication of the calibre.
Bendy Like Beckham
On Beckham she’s always been the epitome of discretion. ‘He’s an athlete so he’s very aware of his body,’ she told the Daily Mail. ‘He’s super-focused, like all athletes, so he gets in and gets it done.’
But for a woman who trains for a living she doesn’t believe that true fitness is about pumping weights at the gym or pounding the treadmill. In fact, too much exertion can have negative effects on you and your body, she insists.
‘Stressing yourself out doing lots of high-intensity workouts is not always the best thing, particularly for losing weight,’ Shona says. ‘When people who do a lot of exercise, then cut back on High Intensity Interval Training and replace one of those with a yoga session, they all see a reduction in body fat because suddenly the body it not fighting for survival.
‘The nervous system plays a huge part in our shape and it’s the one part we tend to forget about because we just assume we need to burn calories, but it is more complex than that. I really believe we need to consider a more holistic approach.’
She should know. At the age of four Shona’s parents enrolled her in a gymnastic class. Within a few years she was training 20 hours a week and became a promising athlete. By nine she was identified as a future Australian Olympic medal prospect. By 12 she was given the choice of being a full-time gymnast in a national training programme, or going to regular high school. She chose school but continued her interest in sports, fitness and ballet.
A stint as an office worker after she finished her education awakened her interest in yoga, which helped her deal with the pain from her sports-related injuries.
In The Vertue Method she writes: ‘Sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day just wasn’t for me and it generally made me feel pretty depressed. I didn’t appreciate just how sad I was – or how I was using food, especially sugar, as a means to distract myself from the discomfort and self-perpetuating vexation with my situation.’
She says that the sedentary lifestyle she lived affected her skin, her energy levels and led to several bouts of sickness. It was during this time that she began yoga.
‘In many Eastern philosophies, they say that suffering is our greatest teacher, and in my case, it was this time of illness in both body and mind that brought me to one of the greatest pleasures in my life: yoga,’ she explains.
She became an expert and eventually started teaching yoga. A friend of Beckham’s became one of her clients and recommended that the footballer take a session with her. The rest is… well, the reason she is famous enough to have written her book, which has recipes and exercises and is a mixture of yoga, meditation, and weight and resistance training. This woman is strong.
She lifts weights four times a week, does high intensity cardio twice a week, along with teaching clients and her yoga classes, and never, repeat never misses doing a short sequence of yoga or gymnastics mobility every night ‘to prepare myself for bed.’
The Vertue Method ties together all her beliefs on how to get the healthiest body and life. The 28-day workout plan is based around her love of fitness and belief that exercise ‘shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment.’ Instead she says her fitness plan is a ‘celebration of the things your body can do.’
Beckham follows her plan. ‘He does the Vertue Method,’ she’s confirmed. ‘It is a mix of strengthening areas that are weak and then mobilising areas that are tight. Tailored to his body.’
Yoga moves are an integral part of the overall programme because yoga improves mobility and subsequently makes exercise more effective – for men as much as women.
‘I love breaking down the stigma that yoga is just for women,’ laughs Shona. ‘Yes, it is quite female dominated but the balance is changing in the health industry.’
So how do we go about obtaining this bendy like Beckham body?
Exercise every day
‘The key to a healthy body is three-fold,’ she explains. ‘It is about lifting, lengthening and nourishing. Lifting weights and working with body weight is imperative because we need strength, lengthening is about flexibility, mobility, posture and stature, and nourishment is about the right food and nourishing the mind with meditation and yoga.’
She accepts that for many people working in service industries, sedentary lifestyles are a huge problem and that to combat the health problems associated with long hours in the office, commitment is key.
‘You can combat a sedentary lifestyle by introducing activity every day,’ she says. ‘Get up and go for a long walk when you can. Some people say you only need to train three times a week but in truth, if you are spending nine hours every day sitting completely still, 45 minutes of training three times a week is really not going to do it.
‘In Australia, the government recommends 30 mins of rigorous activity every day just to maintain your current level of fitness. If you are trying to see a transformation, you need to do more than that, but everyone wants a quick fix. You don’t need a gym membership but you do need to commit some time.
‘You can burn calories doing yoga. However, in terms of yoga helping you get the body you want, it helps you move more efficiently and it is that efficient movement which helps you work harder in the gym or at your sport. Yoga is a form of self-preservation, which is imperative because if you injure yourself you can’t train or exercise and are more likely to put on weight.
‘Moving in a more biomechanically efficient way; going deep into your squats, lunges and push-ups, allows you to lift more and lift better. Yoga also has mental and psychological aspects because it calms the nervous system and reduces cortisol levels and we know that high cortisol levels can cause your body to store fat.’
Shona is a big supporter of animal and environmental welfare and encourages her clients, social media followers and readers of her book to make efforts to reduce animal product intake.
‘The nature of life on this planet is that we will never be completely cruelty-free,’ she says. ‘But we can all take a more loving approach to our life practices. In fact, for the sake of our children and the future of this planet, reducing your meat and dairy intake may not just be a compassionate choice, but a necessity.’
Shona’s daily diet:
* 2-3 litres of water.
* Three meals consisting of vegetables and protein (usually eggs)
* One protein smoothie
* Creme brûlée