Yoga retreats are typically quiet events, full of meditation and clean eatings. While Yoga For Bad People's retreats include both, they are also anything but traditional; as the name suggests, they come with alcohol, coffee, plenty of dancing, and pretty much whatever you want. "We pretty much allow anything as long as you show up for class, even if that means that you just lie on the floor and sleep," says Heather Lilleston, the co-founder of Yoga For Bad People. Her no-pressure approach has proved effective, and popular; this summer alone, Yoga for Bad People has held retreats around the world, from Portugal to Montauk. Here, Lilleston sounds off on why being open minded is so important, why yoga teachers shouldn't be put on a pedestal and more.
How did you come up with the name Yoga For Bad People? What constitutes being bad?
Having the courage to rebel against your habitual patterns of acting and being, and questioning what you think is true, just to make sure you aren't fooling yourself. Being spontaneous, balanced, confident and sincere. Being willing to see the humor in life. Being willing to shake things up a bit (mainly yourself) in order to make sure you are not getting too rigid in your beliefs or routines. Being audacious in your actions and having the courage to take responsibility for your own happiness instead of depend on someone else to fulfill you. Being willing to color outside the lines when necessary and also having the humility to follow the rules. Holding yourself to a high standard while at the same time being forgiving with your own humanity and with other’s humanity.
What can someone expect to experience on a Yoga For Bad People retreat?
Lot’s of yoga and meditation. Real talk. Sunshine (weather permitting, of course, but this is one of our standard requirements). Dancing. Good music. Usually time at the beach. Playfulness. Deep sleep. Focus on specific aspects of the practice. Personal time with the teachers, often getting a chance to discuss personal matters. Facing inner stuff that arises when you relax and do a lot of spiritual practice, and time and space to work through it. Beautiful places one hasn't been before that aren’t usually the norm in the retreat circuit (we like to go “off the beaten path” and host retreats where no one else is as much as we can). Some spiritual philosophy. Down time. Dirty jokes. And hopefully more dancing than one is used to in their regular daily life.
What makes your retreats unique?
We aren’t restrictive! My co-founder Kaitlin and I originally came together because we both had a really strong yoga/meditation practice, but we also realized that we socialized in the same New York City, downtown circles. It seemed so logical that we would merge the two worlds – there’s no better way to practice the principles of yoga than in the rat race that is New York City. We bring the same ethos to our retreats. As an example, we recently did a yoga class and brunch with Grey Goose Vodka out at Surf Lodge in Montauk. Now I know that you might be thinking how does that go with yoga, but we think it’s important that you give yourself the space to indulge, while making sure you’re putting the best things in your body.
Has alcohol always been a part of your retreats? How about coffee?
Coffee is definitely a part of our retreats – we actually serve coffee before our morning yoga class. And we usually offer students a welcome cocktail to set the mood for the retreat. And, of course, we’ll often go out at night depending on where we are. Personally, we do advise moderation, its difficult to do a downward facing dog at 9 a.m. on three hours of sleep!
If moderation doesn't work, what's your go-to hangover cure?
Advil. Coconut water. Cold ocean plunge. Dancing to good loud music until you feel better. Sleep.
What other things are permitted at one of your retreats?
We like the policy that everyone is invited! We pretty much allow anything as long as you show up for class, even if that means that you just lie on the floor and sleep. The key isn’t to try and subdue or push down aspects of our humanity, the key it to look at those things honestly. We also make sure not to hold anyone to standards that aren’t flexible and realistic, and we make room for people to be on retreat as they need to be: some structure and some spontaneity. We also make it clear that our teachers are human beings, not “holier than though” gurus with all the answers to your problems. This is a common issue in spiritual communities and it really disempowers the people making up the community and delivers too much “power” to one human being, who is still a human being with tons of downfalls and neurotic tendencies. So we make sure that we share our own humanity with students so this misperception doesn’t arise. We may have something to offer in terms of alignment and various forms of good advice, but in the end, we want our guests to feel responsible for their own happiness, and that the tools we offer give them that independence and confidence.
How important is diet in the practice of yoga?
Super important. Yoga is about returning to a harmony with all things on this planet. The food we eat is not only going to affect how you feel inside your body, but it will also effect the other beings we share this planet with. Especially considering how food is grown, manufactured, processed and engaged with nowadays. This is not to say that I am going to tell anyone how they should eat, but it’s very important to be informed about your food choices, as well as let your inner awareness of your own bodies needs and responses to certain diets, which develops more quickly through a daily meditation and asana practice because those are the times when you are paying attention to the more subtle signs the body is giving off. Once you have that awareness of your own inner compass, its easier to know what to eat and when.
Do you have any go-to beauty foods that you wish would before more mainstream?
Spirulina. Nettle tea. Chlorella Manna. Fresh ginger.
Mediation is so buzzy right now. Have you always incorporated it as a daily element in your retreats?
Yes. Always. Retreats are traditionally more about meditation than asana. And it’s our chance as teachers to develop a daily practice in our students who didn't once think they had time to meditate. You have time on retreat, and most people are surprised that they were able to do it and improve in that amount of time. Meditation takes time to develop an ease with, so we really encourage it whenever we can find the time.
What tips do you give people who can't quiet their minds?
Stop trying to be something you aren’t. The mind is supposed to be busy. Learn to be with your humanity. The more honest you are, the less you have to think about things. The more willing you are to forgive, let go, be kind, and truly watch yourself do your best to be loving and helpful and to take others needs into your consideration, the less you will be wallowing over situations in your mind and worried about the outcomes.
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