Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Hillary Helmling’s classes are a beautiful combination of creative sequencing and her vibrancy. Her smile and encouragement will keep you flowing strong as you work your way through a challenging series of poses – you may not even realize how hard she got you to practice until it’s all over! Hillary is wonderful at bringing something new to each one of her classes. She also encourages her students to lose themselves (or really to find themselves) in the flow.

Check out Hillary’s 9:05pm Candlelight Vinyasa on Tuesdays or her 5:50pm Vinyasa All Levels on Sundays. She will quickly become one of your New York Yoga favorites. 

When did you first discover yoga?
I discovered it before I even realized I was doing yoga – I had a dance professor in college who used a lot of yoga poses in her warm ups. I was really drawn to those movements.

But I truly discovered yoga after I moved to New York. I came to the city to perform and was feeling overwhelmed by the auditions, rejections and just the competitive nature of the business. At the time I was living near Union Square and stumbled upon a studio down there – I instantly fell in love with it. Yoga brought me back to my center.

How long have you been teaching?
About three and a half years.

What makes your classes unique?
My classes have a good balance of breath, alignment and flow – I believe that breath is the most important component of any yoga practice. I want my students to find their own journey in the practice and try to give them lots of options so they can each find their flow. 

My classes are pretty challenging; I’m big on core work and strength training and I like to find interesting flows to keep the students present.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
It varies from class to class. I usually have one rock star pose that is challenge, one that a student wouldn’t normally do in their regular practice, maybe an inversion or arm balance but definitely a pose that is a little more in depth.

What is you favorite pose to practice?
If my body is craving something more restorative and calming then forward folds or supported bridge. Otherwise maybe arm balances or headstand – I love head stand.

Best advice for beginners?
Don’t come in with an idea of what you think yoga is. Be open-minded to experiencing the practice of the class. New students should also keep it simple – don’t try to over work. And breathe.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
Breathe. Don’t be afraid to step back from your practice and approach it as if you were a new student.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
When people judge yoga before they’ve even tried it. When I tell people I’m a yoga teacher, I often get the response, “I can never do yoga because I’m not flexible.” I tell them it’s not about having a flexible body it’s about having a flexible mind.

Reader questions…

Your bio says you came to New York to perform – are you still pounding the pavement?
Yes. Yes I am. But I have a much more grounded approach thanks to my yoga practice.
One of the great things about New York is that you can have lots of interests and pursuits – you just need to keep a good balance.

Favorite thing to do besides yoga?
I really like to read. I’m in a very serious book club.  I also like to run and bike in Central Park – anything that gets me outside.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading: The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton, and Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer – I like to have one fiction and one non-fiction book going at a time.

Flip Your Perspective in Salamba Sirasana

January Pose of the Month - Supported Headstand

There is no better time to take on a new view than the new year. While you are thinking up and sticking to those resolutions this year, include headstand in your practice to help stimulate your mind and relieve stress.
By reversing the normal effects of gravity, salamba sirsasana rests the heart, deepens breathing and aids circulation. It also improves memory and concentration – who couldn’t use more of that this year?

Benefits of this pose include but are not limited to:

  • Calms the mind
  • Strengthens the arms, legs and spine
  • Improves balance
  • Feeds a supply of fresh oxygen-rich blood to the brain cells
  • Creates a sense of physical and emotional well-being
  • Rests the heart and other organs with change of blood flow
  • Relieves pressure on the lower back
  • Helps relive varicosities 
  • Improves digestion 
How to:
If you are new to the pose, use a folded blanket on your mat for more head support and position yourself near the wall. This way, when you kick up you have the wall for security to start.
1. Come to your hands and knees. Lower to forearms and clasp your hands - they should make a triangle shape.  
2. Place the crown of your head on the floor, with the back of your head cupped by your interlaced fingers
3. Raise the hips in the air coming into a modified downward facing dog-pose. The weight should be placed on the flat spot at the top of your head. Make sure that the elbows are shoulder width apart and the head equidistant from each elbow.  
4. Walk the feet in towards your head until your hips are over your shoulders – keeping the legs as straight as possible. 
5. Kick up one leg and then the other. Or, you can get into the pose by, pulling your knees up to your chest and your heels close to your buttocks. Bring the bent legs up - be sure to keep the legs together as you raise the knees. To assume the final position, unfold the legs so that they point straight upwards. 
6. Press down strongly into your forearms to keep all your weight from coming into your neck and head.  Your body and spine should be aligned just as they are in tadasana, the simple standing "mountain" pose.
7. Reach up through the balls of your feet and rotate the thigh bones inward slightly. Hold for at least 10 breaths.