This is my interview with Hilaria Thomas Baldwin – back when she was Hilaria Thomas and a teacher at Yoga Vida in Union Square in NYC. That’s when I lived in New York and took classes everywhere. I would interview the teachers who intrigued me. Hilaria definitely intrigued me.
We were friends-ish but in that way teachers and students are friends. The teacher is patient, kind and generous after class answering questions, taking feedback and making suggestions… and the student (still in awe from an amazing class!) is nervous, sheepishly aware time and not wanting to take up too much of it, particularly when a line of other students starts to form behind you.
Pre-Alec, we bonded when her class was the first that I took after the birth of my son, Jasper. This was post c-section and I was suffering from postnatal depression, trying so forcefully to take a yoga class like nothing in my world had changed. Except everything had changed and Hilaria knew that – even when I didn’t.
In a class of 30 people, Hilaria focused on me and my movement. Somehow she identified the person in the room who needed compassion, kindness and a gentle nudge. She unlocked my pain that day, and stood by to witness and guide me through exactly what I needed. It’s a pretty brilliant teacher who can get into your body, your mind and your heart all through a slight adjustment and the use of language.
That is a gift that only a few possess and while it’s easy to see this person through the filter of celebrity, there is a raw, genuine grit coupled with compassion that makes her simply a really knowledgable and advanced teacher.
It’s funny when I see her now with her family because when I think of Hilaria – maternal is one of the first attributes that comes to mind. She definitely nurtured me that day, and for that I’m truly thankful.
Read below, my interview with Hilaria Baldwin from back in the day… circa 2012?
Ever since I was a little girl, my mother taught me how to listen to my body. I was a very active child who would prefer to climb on top of the swing set rather than use it for its intended purpose. Other parents would complain to my mother that my daredevil acrobatics set a bad example for their children – who soon became bored by swinging back and forth in one straight line and attempted to accompany me in my balancing act high above. My mother fended off these fearful and close-minded accusations of her parenting style and instead let me explore my limits. She was not reckless in the least as she would occasionally stop my game and call me over and say, Are you listening to your body? Do you trust your body with what you are doing? At the time, I found this to be incredibly annoying and a complete waste of my playtime; looking back now, I see that she was an absolute genius. She instilled listening to my body so deep inside my core, at such a young age, that conducting myself in any other way seemed completely foreign. It is this body awareness that guides me every day and is the inspiration that fuels my teaching.
I ask my students to set an intention at the beginning of their practice. However, I encourage them not to focus on other individuals but to be selfish and dedicate their yoga wholeheartedly to themselves. Devote each and every breath, asana and transition to the cause of filling, recharging, acquainting and connecting to themselves and to their very essences. I invite them throughout the practice to feel more and calculate less – let their sensory experience guide their thinking rather than falling into judgments. By means of listening, discovering and hopefully encountering their true natures, they build the strength, confidence, self-knowledge and comfort within their own skin required to enhance the ability to be more present for themselves, for their loved ones and, eventually, for leading a happier life. In my classes we go deep into the physical practice as we sweat, we balance, we stretch, we strengthen, and for sure we fall – however, all of this is simply a means to develop greater self-understanding. I hope my students leave my class closer to their bodies, theirs souls, and with a firmer grasp as to what truly makes them tick.
Every week I invent a new body-part themed routine for us to practice in class. This enables the students to hone their attention not only on specific structures in their bodies, but it also allows them to tangibly and intelligently explore asanas in a more focused and productive manner. Rhythm and fluidity, stemming from my dance and gymnastics background, characterize the ambience of my classes, regardless of our anatomical concentration. Through linking breath and dance-like accentuation, our movements provide cardio, build lean muscles and, because we are rhythmic beings, are ultimately enjoyable.
I incorporate a difficult abs sequence into every class that I teach. This has become controversial, as some yogis pigeonhole and cast aside my routine, labeling it as a movement form, far more appropriate for pilates than yoga. I believe that yoga is about connecting to our very essence, which ultimately resides in our center or our core – therefore, an abdominal concentration is extremely logical. The abs sequence provides for a good workout, teaches one to efficiently and effectively move from the center, and also, educates as to how to activate and deactivate muscles, leading to greater body awareness. At the end of my abdominal routine, with one hand on the heart and one on the belly, the students connect to their pulse and their breath. I ask them to notice which muscles are in use and then invite them to make the choice to consciously let go. With three breaths, we accomplish something seemingly so simple, yet incredibly empowering: the ability to calm ourselves down. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson that we can ever learn.