BUT HALLE BECKER IS NOT ONE OF THEM
I probably shouldn’t admit this, as the editor of a website about sports and fitness, but I don’t like yoga. I really don’t like it at all. I don’t like the music, how long the classes last, the seriousness of the teachers and the lack of personal space. But I do yoga like other people do workouts they don’t enjoy, because I know it’s good for me. I try to go with some disciplined regularity, once a week if I can bear it, because with all the running and spinning I do, I know how critical it is to balance out the intensity of those workouts with something stretchy. Whereas those workouts fly by as I dance my way through a SoulCycle class and endorphine out during a run, I find myself counting the minutes in yoga.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think yoga is an incredible workout, depending on the style. I think the toned yoga body, with its strong shoulders, high glutes and athletic quads, is one of the best you can have. I find myself awestruck as I look around the studio at regular people like me doing handstands and balancing on their arms with their legs tied in pretzel positions that I could never imagine getting into.
I joined Pure Yoga in NYC a few months ago assuming if I was paying monthly for classes I would force myself to go. That has kind of worked; I have a six class per month membership but only go about two to three times a month, so it has become very expensive, too.
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a Hot Power Yoga class taught by Halle Becker, aka “Halle Homegirl,” that I daresay I enjoy. I must confess she had an advantage going in: Halle is also an instructor at SoulCycle, of which I am a devotee, and a family favorite teacher. I was greeted with hugs and high fives upon arriving at my first class, and received shout outs for my down dogs. Who has ever heard of shout outs in yoga??
Halle is not your typical yoga instructor, at least not in my experience. She plays rock & roll during class, albeit mellow, and carries on a hysterical comic monologue. In other words, she doesn’t take yoga so annoyingly serious as most teachers. As Halle says, “If you want enlightenment, you have to lighten up.”
Halle is 52 and has clearly had a lot of life experience—the good, the bad and the still figuring it out. She is a self-described “extroverted introvert,” a kind of a hyper hippie, former drug addict and, until recently, a smoker. You get the feeling she still maintains some other bad habits just to keep it real. While completely entertaining, the humorous riffs are not meant just to amuse, but to deliver some words of wisdom in a believable package.
A favorite line of Halle’s is, “Let’s get real.” As she has become a good friend, I decided it was time to do just that—to share the things I don’t like about yoga, the things that irritate the crap out of me, and get her take in a “She said, She said” for Style of Sport.
CL: So how did your fitness career get started?
HB: I began teaching aerobics out of Jane Fonda’s book when I was a student at American University. I had a fabulous market with all these JAPs. So I started an aerobics program, taught three times a week, and charged each student $30 bucks a semester. I almost got kicked out of school though, because technically you’re not supposed to take money from students. So I had to start a “Club” and the school took all my money and I was totally pissed.
CL: How did you get started with yoga?
HB: After college I kept teaching aerobics in DC. A friend taught yoga and I thought, “Ugh… I’m not doing that yoga shit.” But I would go on yoga retreats and try to enjoy it.
CL: My sentiments exactly. No wonder I like your class! Why didn’t you enjoy it?
HB: It wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready to settle into yet. I did one yoga teacher training session but it was too technical and I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to surrender. I dropped out but ultimately I finally found my teacher. What you found in me is what I found in my first teacher. It was the realization you could hear cool music, be athletic, laugh and take yoga and I said, “Yeah. I’m in.”
1.WHY SOOO SERIOUS?
CL: Well that leads to my first point: Why do we have to be so serious during yoga? Why can’t we have a laugh?
HB: Like in any sport, you have to find the teacher. People say to me I went to a spinning class and the teacher was so bad. I’m never going back again. For me I just needed to find the teacher that spoke the language of yoga, sweat and rock & roll, and that’s what I made my mantra.
CL: Well it seems like rock & roll teachers are a needle in a haystack, but I’m glad we both found our spiritual entertainers… or as you like to call yourself, “A Spiritual Gangster.”
HB: I am an entertainer by trade. I don’t like doing privates. I like yoga extravaganzas… festivals… retreats… big full classes. I like when people laugh at what I say.
CL: And I love laughing at what you say! I love cracking up because the yoga teacher just said something hysterical while rad music was playing. I’m like, “This yoga rocks!”
HB: You know I’m a SoulCycle teacher and the biggest compliment I got was “You took a spiritual SoulCycle class and put it on a yoga mat.” And that made me feel really good ‘cause that’s what I do. Rock & roll, yoga and sweat.
2. NEW AGE MUSIC… MUST WE?
CL: Which leads me to my second point: Why must we listen to new age music? Why can’t we listen to normal music? It can still be chill. What I love about your class is I’m kind of groovin’. I mean for me it’s kind of a distraction, but so what.
HB: I have a different way I teach yoga than most people. I’m not for everybody. I really teach from the kind of life I’ve lived. I play the kind of music that I would want to hear because I think that’s authentic. I’m not a person who likes rules or discipline and I really celebrate that in my class.
CL: You do seem to break a lot of yoga rules which is what I like about it.
HB: Like some of the teachers at SoulCycle, I’ve had a colorful past.
CL: Those are my favorites!
HB: I’m an older teacher. I’m 52. And hopefully the students find that my stories are legit and worthy. What I’m trying to do is teach what I’ve learned about life through my yoga class… about showing up, about breathing, about surrendering, about getting honest, about living and practicing the truth. You gotta get the info out there. Why not do it while you’re laughing and listening to Guns N’ Roses.
3. A LITTLE BREATHING ROOM, PLEASE.
CL: I have to tell you about a class I took the other day from a teacher who embodies everything that bugs me about yoga: New age music, a packed room with mats just inches apart, walking around chanting “right arm, this, left leg that” while refusing to simply demonstrate.
It was a 5pm class on a Sunday which I hoped would be a nice way to relax and chill at the end of the weekend. I arrived a little early and put my mat down in a spot with enough buffer room so as not to feel totally space invaded. Another one of my yoga peeves is there is no concept of personal space. It gets particularly irritating when people start coming in right as class is starting, and we all have to get up and start shifting our mats to accommodate. And yoga is not an activity that is contained to the mat. Feet, legs, arms are continually entering the little bit of space you’d like to call your own.
This Sunday it started to get particularly crowded to the point of ridiculousness and I lost it. I stood up and declared, “It’s too crowded in here and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way!” I was relieved to hear some murmurs of agreement although I also felt the eyes of shock upon me. I stormed out to the front desk and made my opinion known, the reply to which was, “Well, we’re not at capacity.” This did not do much to pacify me.
HB: I think this episode should have been on Comedy Central. I think there should be a bit we where we go into the yoga studio to relieve our stress and we get totally pissed off and stressed out. I once ran into a friend of mine in the parking lot of a yoga studio. She was flipping out and said “Jesus Christ I’m so stressed I can’t find a parking space and I need to get to fucking yoga!”
CL: So how you would have handled this situation?
HB: People are coming in late, the mats are too close, there is no personal space and that boundary is being taken away so you don’t feel comfortable or relaxed in an environment where you are supposed to.
You’re not gonna like my answer but yoga is about yoking and binding back to the self and when we go back to the self, then we have to look at all our stuff. The yoga room is like a sweat lodge. It’s like a shrink’s couch. It’s an incubator to the self. It’s a room of discovery. And that’s the beauty of it.
For me… I would have probably asked people to take in the noise of the room that was going on and let it go.
CL: And you would have given no acknowledgment of, “You’re right, this is fucked up.”
HB: “….and I want to thank you guys for not shackling Claudia and mosh pitting her out of the room.”
CL: And I would have laughed, instead of being pissed for the rest of class!
HB: No… I think it’s different in every situation, but the bottom line is we’re doing yoga in NYC and let’s get real this isn’t Oklahoma. You have trains that are late. Cabs that are late. Meetings run late. You have people that are crazy anyway and you try to put them all in a yoga space? Really, it is a hilarious exercise to begin with, but what I say is, “Thank you for your patience,” because you don’t want to be the person who says to somebody you can’t practice. “So thank you all for moving over, for being chill and for those of you that are walking in… hurry up and don’t bother the person next to you!”
CL: So it’s sort of this myth I’ve created for myself that yoga is going to be a particular experience and it’s not?
HB: That’s why you practice every day, because every time you hit the mat you’re bringing the experience from that day.
4. WE “PRACTICE” YOGA.
CL: This leads perfectly to my next question. We “practice” yoga. Why “practice”?
HB: Please note Claudia is making air quotation marks like Austin Powers going “Alan Parsons Project.”
CL: (laughing) Yeah, “practice” yoga. Why are we not just taking a yoga class. I mean, I get it, but it’s funny and it’s easy to parody. What are we “practicing”?
HB: We are practicing whatever is up that day. Because every single pose—and this is what’s kind of cool about it—every single pose has a different energetic sort of buzz hit. As you go through the class you really start to drop in to what’s going on for you, and to me we all practice that every day.
I do yoga so there’s one less asshole on the train. It’s not for everybody, but I think the exploration of why is it for you or why isn’t it for you is part of the fun and the challenge of it. Like you knew you didn’t want to go to that class, but there was some other piece inside of you that said, “Guess what… you need this. Your body needs it, your soul needs it.”
Yoga is just a different kind of workout. It’s sort of a work in. They call it a practice ‘cause you’re never getting it right. You’re always practicing. You’re not perfecting. They don’t call it a yoga perfect they call it a yoga practice. In yoga you’re always growing. There is always more. They call it a practice because you never really get there, but that’s the journey. And that’s cool… to me.
5. YOGA IS NOT COMPETITIVE. YOU ARE.
CL: People like to say it’s not competitive, but I suck at yoga. I’m looking over at somebody who’s got one hand on the ground and two feet in the air, doing some crazy move, and I’m just trying to get my downward dog lined up. I’m competitive, so yoga is competitive for me. I know this is my issue but I’d love for you to address it.
HB: Well yes… is it not better to walk the earth without this huge friggin’ competitive crazy mind ego? Not just on a yoga mat, but in anything you do? Because when you are looking around going, “Look at that, wow. I can’t do that,” you’re not in the moment at all.
CL: I’m looking around I’m going, “Whoa that’s amazing … I will never be able to do that.”
HB: Right… but you’re out of your own practice. You’re out of your work, your mat, and that’s not why you’re there. That’s what I mean by getting out of the ego. You can acknowledge that you’d like to look like that, but check, and now I’m back to me. I do it all the time, but you have to take care of yourself and that to me, being in the ego, being in the competition, that simply is not taking care of yourself. That’s allowing the crazy busy mind to just run wild.
6. WHY NO DEMO?
CL: This is another one of my issues: I’ve never met a teacher who demonstrated what to do. Why do I always have to be peeking under my arm at the person next to me?
HB: It depends on the class. At my Homegirl studio I will stop and break down headstand. I will stop and break down side crow because I have a lot of new people. Let’s talk about the class you take of mine at Pure. That is not a teaching class. That is a doing class. It says right there in the description “Hot Power Level 2-3.” It’s for people that have strong practice and want that to be their workout of the day. You go in there technically you should know what a crow is. You should know warrior 1, 2, 3. You should know side plank and trikonasana, ‘cause I’m not stopping. That’s not what people are paying for. They are paying for a sweaty deep hard workout.
CL: That’s not what I’m saying. I don’t need you to stop. I just would like to be able to see someone doing the poses that I can follow and see the correct way to do it. At a SoulCycle class maybe the teacher isn’t riding the instructor bike, but they have someone up there for the class to follow.
HB: Sometimes a teacher will have someone on the mat. Sometime teachers will do the class with you. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t do a lot of demoing because I want to be out and about.
CL: I’ve never had a teacher do the moves in a yoga class.
HB: You might want to take a private or two.
CL: Still not my point.
HB: I do hear what you’re saying and it is a good point.
CL: Also, I have a problem with my left and right. I mean obviously I know my left and right, but it takes me a minute to visualize the movements when the teacher starts quickly firing “left this, right that” instructions.
HB: But as you keep coming back what starts to happen?
CL: No, you’re right. It gets easier.
HB: And what happened when you first started riding Soul?
CL: I was inherently good at that.
HB: What about left and right in there?
CL: There is no left and right. You just ride the rhythm.
HB: Here’s what I think is great. Yoga isn’t natural for you and you’re doing it anyway and that’s the bomb.
CL: I’m doing it though because I know that I must to do something to counterbalance the cardio and the intensity and the pounding of everything else I do. People say, “Oh, you don’t like yoga because it’s not athletic enough.” I do athletic stuff. I don’t need yoga to be athletic. I want the opposite. I like your class but it’s almost too hard for me.
HB: You need to start taking restorative classes.
CL: I do! That’s why I went to that “Slow Flow” class that day I got so tweaked.
HB: So you came back in the room and what?
CL: She was basically addressing the crazy chick who just left the room and then the crazy chick came back into the room.
HB: I would have come over and given you a big hug.
CL: And I would have smiled and laughed and realized this is stupid.
HB: You had nobody there who was on your team.
CL: And that awful new age music was playing.
HB: And you needed to hear some “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith.
To get real and “practice” yoga with Halle, click HERE for more info.