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Viscountess Hinchingbrooke is Britain’s bendiest aristocrat (who says yoga saved her sanity)

Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, is standing at the grand entrance to her home — a glorious Jacobean pile in Dorset — balanced on one leg. 

The other is outstretched skyward at a perfect 180-degree angle.

In its history, dating back to the Domesday Book, Mapperton House has never had a more flexible chatelaine. 

Julie is a lady who lunges; a magnificently mobile mistress of the manor.

It’s no surprise that she’s a yoga teacher; or that she’s been named one of the world’s top holistic health icons.

But can we sluggards and sloths emulate her suppleness? ‘Yes!’ she insists.  

Just by setting aside 15 minutes a day, we too can slough off stiffness, improve our muscle mass and enhance our emotional wellbeing.

And today, as we present Julie’s 15-minute daily fix, she issues a rallying cry: ‘Come on couch potatoes! 

Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, is standing at the grand entrance to her home — a glorious Jacobean pile in Dorset — balanced on one leg

‘The hardest thing is rolling off your sofa and onto that yoga mat. We need to take time for us and by doing something good for our bodies our emotional, mental and physical well-being improves.’

American-born Julie, who was raised in Illinois, never stops. She’s mother to four children: Emma, 22, and Jack, 20, from her first marriage; and William, 17, and Nestor, 15, from her second, to Luke Montagu, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, the elder son of the Earl of Sandwich.

She and Luke run Mapperton — one of the country’s finest manor houses — and she presents a TV show, An American Aristocrat’s Guide To The Great Estates. At 48 she looks stupendous.

American-born Julie, who was raised in Illinois, never stops. She’s mother to four children: Emma, 22, and Jack, 20, from her first marriage; and William, 17, and Nestor, 15, from her second, to Luke Montagu (pictured right), Viscount Hinchingbrooke, the elder son of the Earl of Sandwich

American-born Julie, who was raised in Illinois, never stops. She’s mother to four children: Emma, 22, and Jack, 20, from her first marriage; and William, 17, and Nestor, 15, from her second, to Luke Montagu (pictured right), Viscount Hinchingbrooke, the elder son of the Earl of Sandwich

‘People might think I live this Downton Abbey life, but I don’t,’ she says. ‘We work 13-hour days — preserving a piece of English heritage is quite a task.’

She describes how yoga came to her rescue at a time when she was ‘overwhelmed’. 

Shortly after her fourth child was born, she found herself supporting Luke — emotionally, physically and, to a degree, financially — through his recovery from prescription medicine dependency.

He had been misprescribed antidepressants, and then strong sleeping tablets, following a bad reaction to a routine sinus operation aged 19. 

He was left on them until 2008, when he decided to try to come off.

However, a psychiatrist advised him to stop the medication too quickly, which led to debilitating long-term withdrawal symptoms.

 As a result, he co-founded the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry to help others and raise awareness of prescription drug dependence.

In its history, dating back to the Domesday Book, Mapperton House has never had a more flexible chatelaine

In its history, dating back to the Domesday Book, Mapperton House has never had a more flexible chatelaine

Julie, meanwhile, was working herself into the ground. After her fourth child was born, she realised she had to slow down. 

‘He was born at midnight and I had a meeting scheduled for 9am the next day. (She worked for a film company at the time.)

‘I was determined to go into work. I said, “Don’t cancel that meeting!” But Luke stepped in and said, “You’ve just had a baby. You have to reschedule.”’ 

At that point, she realised how badly she craved peace and silence: ‘I was exhausted. I used to go outside, sit in my car and cry. I needed time to switch off completely.’

Yoga proved to be her salvation. Then, as the family bread-winner, she trained to teach it.

She and Luke run Mapperton — one of the country’s finest manor houses — and she presents a TV show, An American Aristocrat’s Guide To The Great Estates

She and Luke run Mapperton — one of the country’s finest manor houses — and she presents a TV show, An American Aristocrat’s Guide To The Great Estates

She rented a church hall near their terraced second home in South-West London for £20 a session. 

From such small beginnings her empire grew, and soon she was teaching 24 classes a week. 

And during lockdown she branched out into online classes. ‘It was a silver lining of the pandemic. Three hundred people joined my first live online class.’

Today, she is chatting to me from one of Mapperton House’s historic bedrooms, with its four-poster bed and 18th century watercolours. 

‘Sometimes I might go into a room to set the fire or close the curtains and I’ll go into a yoga pose,’ she says.

And this is what she is inviting us all to do with her 15 minute yoga workout; just set aside those few minutes every day.

‘People are surprised at how quickly your body opens up,’ she says. ‘As children, we’re incredibly flexible but stress and inflammation of the body cause it to close down. But you can start to break down the tightness in your body. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.’

Here, Julie shares her ten yoga moves, which together form a 15-minute daily workout that will help you to become as flexible as the ultimate lady who lunges . . .

Forget her eye-watering vertical splits. Here’s her 15-minute routine the rest of us can try… 

PUPPY DOG

Kneel down while keeping your thighs at a 90 degree angle to your calves (rather than sitting back on them). 

Walk your hands out in front of you, pushing your hips halfway back towards your heels, then continue to slide your palms forward as you drop your forehead onto the mat. 

Reach through your fingertips while curling your toes underneath you. Feel the stretch under your armpits as your tailbone lifts. 

This is wonderful for releasing tension in your upper arms, shoulders and neck. 

You’ll feel the front of your chest expanding and your abdominal muscles stretch. 

At the same time, your back is gently stimulated and your hips open up while your hamstrings stretch.

Stay in this pose — and all the other poses — for five breaths, each time inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for six.

SPHINX

Lying on your stomach, place your elbows directly underneath your shoulder blades.

Push your forearms down with hands flat on the floor, and slide the thighs back, pressing your chest forward to slowly raise your upper body and then you’ll feel a nice backbend in your lumbar.

Those of us who spend a long time sitting will sense the stretching and lengthening of the spine.

It will also stretch the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen — while firming the buttocks and helping to relieve stress.

DOWNWARD FACING DOG

This is a wonderful way of getting blood flow to the head in the morning.

Starting in a crouching position, push yourself up onto flat hands and feet with all limbs stretched straight in one movement. 

Make sure your knees are slightly behind your hips, hands shoulder-width apart and fingers spread wide. 

Don’t forget to inhale and exhale for five breaths while straightening your legs as much as you can.

As well as stretching your hamstrings and calves, this strengthens your arms, shoulders and back, improves your digestive system mobility and relieves back pain. It can also help with headaches, insomnia and fatigue.

REVOLVED HIGH LUNGE POSE

Step your right foot back into a lunge so your left shin is vertical and your whole body is angled at a slant. 

Reach out your arms and stretch your upper body as you rotate it towards your left leg, while keeping your arms in place. 

We’re looking for a nice twist in your spine which helps with balance and strengthens the shoulders, legs, feet and glutes. Repeat on the other side.

This opens up the hips and hip flexors, relieves sciatic pain and challenges your concentration.

REVERSE WARRIOR

This pose is a side bend, done in a lunge position. It’s a great one for boosting self-esteem and perseverance. 

It also strengthens the quads, arms and neck, stretches the groin and opens the chest and shoulders.

In a lunge position with left leg forward, lean your torso to the front and circle your left hand up towards the ceiling for a lovely stretch along your left side, while resting your right hand on the back of your right thigh. 

After your five breaths, repeat on the other side.

TRIANGLE

With legs three feet apart, turn right toes to the right and left toes slightly inwards. 

As you inhale, extend your right arm forward, causing your torso to lean as you stretch your arms wide. 

Your left arm should be stretched up in the air, while your right should be resting against the front of your right leg. Repeat on the other side.

If you’re hunched over a computer all day, this is a wonderful pose for increasing neck mobility.

HALF SPLITS

I know that not everyone can do the splits overnight, so this is a good way to start! 

From a kneeling position, move your right leg forward, with back knee and fingertips on the floor. 

Then move your hands back as you extend your right leg forward. Rest the right heel on the floor and flex the foot. Repeat on the other side.

Do this exercise regularly and your pelvic floor muscles will strengthen — and there’s that all-important stretch to the hamstrings, groin and hip-flexors. 

It will also help to strengthen the abdominal muscles to give you a washboard stomach.

WARRIOR II

Stretch your arms out to the side with your feet parallel in a wide stance. Turn your right foot and knee to face the front of the mat. 

Bend your right knee while pressing your left thigh back. Keep your tailbone down. 

Reach through both arms towards the front and back, turning to look past your right fingertips. Remember to breathe — and repeat on the other side.

This pose strengthens your shoulders, arms and legs while stretching your groin, thighs and ankles. 

It expands your chest, lungs and shoulders, stimulates abdominal organs and digestion and increases stamina.

It’s also an aid to balance and concentration — and if you’re in the second trimester of pregnancy it helps relieve backache, too.

EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE

Go into a deep lunge position with your left leg forward. Now bring your left elbow down to the left knee and raise your right arm up and extend at an angle towards your ear. 

Keep the left knee bent over the ankle, reaching the right fingers away from the right foot.

Repeat on the other side.

This pose strengthens your thighs, hips, knees and ankles — and it stretches your groin, back, lungs and shoulders.

WIDE LEG FORWARD BEND

To finish off your workout, this pose helps to relieve tiredness, as well as stretching the groin, hamstrings and hips.

Step the legs apart and with a flat back, lean forward to bring your palms to the floor under the shoulders. 

Use your arms to pull your forehead down towards the floor, bending your elbows to the back wall.

It’s fine to keep your hands by your head, or — if you want an extra challenge — after trying this move a few times, you can stretch them out to place them either side of your ankles.

Press into the feet, lengthening the legs to press the hips up towards the ceiling — and you’re ready to face the day with a calm mind.

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