Hilaria Baldwin Balances It All with Yoga

Just as her busy life has become topsy-turvy, this rising star has learned how to slow down and stay grounded.

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Yoga Journal: You have been practicing yoga for about 10 years. How did you discover your passion for the practice?

Hilaria Baldwin: I started dancing when I was two years old, and gymnastics at age seven. Eventually, I took up Latin ballroom dancing and started competing and teaching. I went to college at NYU [for dance]. But being in the dance world didn’t teach me very good values for taking care of my body. I was beaten up emotionally and physically, so I decided to try yoga, which seemed synonymous with health. The studio where I practiced (Yoga to the People) developed a very fast interest in me, and asked if they could apprentice me to be a yoga instructor. I did the traditional 200-hour vinyasa teacher training and started teaching. Then, in the summer of 2009, one of my yoga students, Michael Patton, asked if I wanted to open up a yoga studio together. I immediately said yes.

YJ: Are you still actively involved in ownership and management of the studio?

HB: I have stepped away little by little. I’m no longer an owner of Yoga Vida, just a cofounder. I love the idea, but realized my passion is teaching, not managing people. I basically lived in that studio at first. I would go home for a few hours to sleep at night and then come back very early in the morning. I am quite proud to have been a part of it. They are in the process of settling on the location of a third studio.

YJ: Right before you opened the first studio, you broke a hip. How did that happen?

HB: I didn’t just break it all of a sudden; it was a stress fracture. I was 25 years old, and the last thing I thought was that my bone was breaking. I went to acupuncture, I did massage, I lay in Epsom salts baths, I rubbed essential oils into it. But the pain was getting worse. Eventually, I went to the doctors’, and they sent me away with painkillers. I walked out of the house one morning on crutches, with a purse on my shoulder. The purse started sliding off, and when I tried to catch it, I stepped on my hurt leg and it just snapped. I’ve done a lot of damage to my hips—ballroom dancing and not eating in a way that gave my body enough nutrition. When the studio opened three weeks later, on January 14, 2010, I taught from a wheelchair.

YJ: How have your injuries informed your yoga?

HB: I think the moment my hip broke was the moment I said, “Oh my god, I really need to slow down!” I thought I could be a better person if I could put one leg behind my head and stand up, but as I’ve gotten older and as I’ve had injuries, I don’t try anymore to contort myself into crazy asana. I have found that not all of it is right for my body.

YJ: When you teach, how do you try to imprint this on students, the need to listen to their bodies?

HB: I’m careful to use words like “feel,” “notice the sensation,” and “sense.” We move quickly at some points to flow and get the heart rate up, but we also slow it down and focus on the experience of the body at that precise moment.

YJ: You’ve pledged to post a new yoga pose for your roughly 45,000 Instagram followers every day in 2014. What do you hope to achieve with this social-media campaign?

HB: I started doing this because I love to teach. Every single day I was going to post, for example, Warrior I with how you do it. People write to me all the time, saying, “I started yoga because of you,” “I lost six pounds,” “I started to eat better.” When I started getting those comments I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me—I’m doing a headstand on top of an SUV; that’s not very inspiring!” But I got more and more comments, and said alright, if it’s inspiring then let’s do it. I started making it a little bit funny. We definitely have a comedic household. Now I’ve set the bar high, and feel like every day I have to come up with a masterpiece.

YJ: The New York Times described your #yogapostureoftheday campaign as “fun, athletic and unapologetically sexual.” Do you agree?

HB: Am I unapologetically sexy? I don’t know. It depends on how you look at it. I do not think of these poses as sexual. There is one where I’m wearing leggings and I have my legs behind my head. I was online trying to get inspired, and there was this runway model who had long legs. She was wearing these red, red tights and doing a very similar pose. To me, it looked really cool, but I guess some people are going to take it as sexual.

YJ: I’m sure you saw the recent New York Post article that criticized the yoga selfie movement. How do you respond to people who say this type of social-media campaign is not in the true spirit of yoga?

HB: Sometimes you find that people are very judgmental within the yoga community. I hope those people realize that they’ve broken one of the most fundamental lessons of yoga—to be accepting. It’s not hurting anybody. And lastly, it’s not a selfie. I have not taken a picture of myself.

YJ: With so many styles of practice out there, how do you define yoga?

HB: Some people say it’s about detachment, but for me it’s about becoming more attached to your physical being. If I’m stressed out and my body is wound up, I’m more likely to snap at people, to judge somebody, to treat somebody in a way that they don’t deserve. When I’m relaxed, I am capable of thinking better. So I feel that by taking time every day to do my yoga, relax my body, and learn to treat myself well, I am starting to treat other people in my life better. Happiness and generosity are infectious.

YJ: Beyond your pose of the day, do you have a yoga or meditation routine that you rely on, to help you deal with stress and all the things you’re juggling right now?

HB: I have to be honest: Before having a kid it was much easier. Now I have and want very little time away from Carmen. But I make sure I do about an hour of yoga every day. And every night before I go to bed, I think about how I treated people that day and how I could do it better the next day. It’s something that I have been doing as far back as I can remember.

YJ: Has celebrity changed your yoga practice or your teaching?

HB: It has. I don’t teach as much as I used to. When we first started dating, Alec said, “Wait a minute, let me get this straight: You start teaching at 5 in the morning and finish around 10 p.m., and you swim in between classes, and you go to yoga class, and you teach 365 days a year? You are the most non-yogic yoga teacher in terms of relaxing.” After a few months of dating, he said, “Take just one day off.” So I took one day off, and then two days, and then an entire weekend. I realized that I was becoming happier.

YJ: Alec has said that you might be the next Jane Fonda.

HB: Did he say that? He knows that I love Jane Fonda. I looove Jane Fonda. When I was little, I would do Jane Fonda workouts. I got to interview her for Extra, and told her that I was a yoga instructor because of her.

YJ: Does this mean you’re going to have your own fitness show someday?

HB: Maybe. If I can make yoga and fitness and feeling good and being healthy more accessible to a bigger group of people, I will be the happiest camper. I never expected be on TV; I don’t even watch TV. But I love meeting and interviewing people, and the team at Extra is so kind. I just take opportunities as they come. And I’m looking forward to working on a second DVD.

YJ: Another opportunity you had recently was helping to design a casual summer-clothing line with Lexington Co. Is that something you’ll do more of?

HB: I had a really wonderful time with them. They are donating the proceeds to Guild Hall, which is a community center that we support in East Hampton. I would love to do more. When I was a dancer, I designed my own dance outfits.

YJ: How do you express your great sense of style on the mat?

HB: It is all about the yoga pants. Once I find a pair I fall in love with, I buy like 10 pairs. Whatever I am wearing on the yoga mat, I want to be able to wear on the street. We had dinner the other night with another couple, and beforehand Alec asked me, “Please do me a favor and not wear
yoga clothes.” At dinner I was talking with the other woman, and she said that her husband had asked her to do the same. So she and I agreed next time to wear yoga clothes to dinner.

YJ: What advice do you have to help balance life’s competing demands?

HB: Even if you are not in the weird life that I’ve found myself in, but you’re juggling many things—your boss is making you feel terrible or you’re working too many hours—pull back and ask, “Is it worth it?” Perspective is one of the most important things. I had a dance teacher who taught me that in order to be successful, you have to be inside a situation and outside a situation at the same time—the person inside with passion and the person outside with the ability to see if it’s worth it. When you are overwhelmed, lie in Savasana, scan yourself from the tip of your head to the tips of your toes, and out to your fingertips, and let go, asking, “Do I feel grounded? Do I feel centered? Do I feel balanced?” You can do that for five minutes every day, or you can spend days or weeks being really stressed out.

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