heather lilleston

Yoga For Bad People’s Founder Just Unlocked the Secret to True Wellness

Heather Lilleston’s approach to self-care is actually attainable. In collaboration with Forevermark Diamonds.

By: Noah Lehava
Styling: Daniella Deutsch, Stephanie Mark
Photography: Jake Rosenberg
Designer: Ashley Combs

Almost everyone has spiraled into a black hole of wellness-this, meditation-that, self-care-always in pursuit of ultimate contentment and internal equilibrium. We definitely have! And, dare we say it, sometimes it does more harm than good. But fear not, Heather Lilleston knows (and, honestly, has known long before *we* did) that this whole self-care thing shouldn’t be as restrictive and stressful as we make it out to be—it should make you feel good. It’s exactly that modus operandi that was the crux of her yoga practice and why she co-founded Yoga For Bad People, which puts on far-flung yoga retreats for ~real~ people.

Picture this: You’re pretzeling into your most zen pigeon pose for your first yoga flow of the day. In front of you are the so-turquoise-it-hurts waters of Zanzibar, the flour-fine white sand sticks to your sunscreened skin (but you don’t care!), and you know that at the end of it, there’s an ice-cold frozen cocktail waiting for you. Lilleston will tell you straight-up: Life is about treating yourself and not playing by the rules.

Especially on big, momentous occasions in life. For Lilleston, it was her move from New York to L.A., which she marked with a dainty gold ring she calls her “wedding ring to New York. As we dripped her in delicate, Forevermark diamond rings and blow-in-the-wind diamond necklaces, we talked shop on the challenges she had to overcome in building her career, why honesty is the quality that’s gotten her the furthest, and what luxury means to her.

 

How she starts off every day:

“I open my phone. I sit and meditate, and then I make coffee. Either Nespresso with some almond milk heated up in the little frother, or I often grind beans and use the Chemex with coconut milk.”

Yes, “wellness” can be convoluted:

“The word wellness is confusing. But I would say that true wellness has to do with being completely honest with yourself, both about your physical habits—how you eat, how you sleep, how you walk, how you move, how you breathe, your postural things—and also [emotionally]. Do you gossip? Are you being generous? Are you practicing patience? Are you taking responsibility for your emotional life, your psychological life? The first foundation has to be that total willingness and complete ability to be absolutely transparent and honest with yourself about yourself. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of bravery. If we really want to be ‘well,’ we have to look at all aspects of who we are, not just diet and not just the food that we’re eating, not about the exercises that we’re doing. It’s also got to be on an emotional, psychological level and really taking into account the practice of balance. So of course, not overdoing anything, including ‘wellness practices.’”

 

Her definition of balance is very relatable:

“There’s something funny with balance. My first yoga teacher always used to say, ‘You can’t hold your balance. You have to reach for your balance.’ It’s an excellent instruction on a physical level, because if you hold your balance in a pose while balancing on one foot, you’ll probably fall out. But if you’re constantly reaching into it without getting the sense of I have achieved it, you will find some sense of balance. Balance is like truth. If you think you have found it, you are far away. You cannot hold on to it. It’s got to be one of those things where you’re constantly striving for it, but you might never find it. And that is what allows you to find it. It’s almost an oxymoron. But I do think that the effort towards balance is so much of what the spiritual path is about. That center point within everything—you’re not trying to push away chaos and grasp onto calm. Find the space in between the two, because chaos exists and calm exists and quiet exists and noise exists—reality is somewhere in between it all. It’s a place where you can have understanding for everyone, yourself and someone else. That’s liberation. And yes, I think you need balance in life to be happy. You need to go out and dance all night and then be like, ‘Oh, I need to get healthy.’ And then you get healthy and be like, ‘You know what? I’m bored, and I feel like I’ve been too regimented or too routine, and now I need to live a little and be spontaneous.’”

What she believes are her best virtues:

“I think that most people love my ability to be honest about my humanity and to be direct. My friends know that I’m not going to BS, which I think is a really good quality and something that I really look for in my friends, too—that people are going to be straight-up with me and not play around. I really strive to have that loving honesty and directness. I’m super loyal. I’m an open book.

“I like to have fun, I like to be mischievous a little bit and a little bit wild, and I have a lot of energy.”

 

What she had to learn about herself through her career growth:

“For the first couple years of teaching yoga, I actually tried to be spiritual. I started teaching when I was 20 years old, and most of the students were older than me at that point, people who could afford to go to yoga. I was so young. I was giving spiritual advice, and I felt really insecure, like who am I to tell people anything? I tried to overcompensate by acting really spiritual, and that [ultimately] didn’t work for me. What I found was when I really started sharing the truth, saying [things like] ‘I’m tired. When I really started sharing my own thought process during the yoga practice, that’s when students really started paying attention to what I was saying, and coming to my classes for what I taught. It was refreshing for me to realize that I didn’t have to put on this mask.”

On the early day struggles of her career:

“My hurdle was that I was young when I started teaching. When I had ten years under my belt, I was hired to run a lot of programs but I still had this mentality and identity of being young. I made this mistake where, even though I have the skill set and experience to lead the way, I became friends with everybody. That screwed me over a little bit, because in some ways people needed a little bit more of a boundary, and they needed me as the director of the yoga program to uphold it. I saw that when there’s a gap between teacher and student, sometimes students give their power away to the teacher and that becomes dangerous. There is an art to it.”

The woman that inspires her:

“Sharon Gannon is an incredible yoga teacher who has always held the bar so high. I am so grateful to her for that. She has been misunderstood sometimes for that, but that never made her change her story or teachings. I respect her so much for year after year of sticking to what she knew to be true in her heart. I love her immensely for that because even though I don’t hold the bar on myself as high as she does, she reminds me that maybe one day I can and that it is possible to strive for the highest virtue even in our modern world, and to keep taking one step at a time, the best I know how.”

 

The ring that almost got away:

“There’s one piece [of jewelry] that really represents a lot to me. I lived in New York for 15 years, and when I moved to California, it was really hard to give up New York City. I bought myself a little gold ring for my pinky finger. I consider it my wedding ring with New York. Once I lost it at this restaurant in South America, and it fell through the floorboards into the sand, and the whole restaurant for three days was looking for it. I think they thought it was some family heirloom, or it was a huge sapphire with diamonds all over it. So when they found it, and it was just this gold band [laughs]... I was so grateful, because it meant a lot to me, even though it wasn’t some big thing.”

How she stays on track:

“Life will mess with you enough and humble you enough that it keeps you striving, you know? That sort of sense where you think you’re fine and you think you’ve got it, and then you don’t. But I would say that what I really try to do is remember. If I feel lazy to go to a yoga class or go for a run or meditate or just get up and do anything, just remember what you feel like when you’re doing it. You learn that the consistency is really important. I always felt this way with meditation, because there are so many ways to excuse yourself from meditation, and it’s a hard skill to develop and be consistent with. But once you cross that border with it, you will always know that there’s this sweetness to having a consistent meditation practice. And if you can keep that feeling close to your mind space, it’s easier to come back to it.”

 

Her greatest highlights thus far:

“For me it would be the first time somebody asked me to mentor them. I remember very vividly being like, ‘I don’t know what this person is thinking, I have nothing to teach you.’ When I started doing the mentorship program, I realized, oh my god, I actually have a method. I didn’t even know I had one, and I just needed someone to ask me to teach them to recognize it. That was a real step for me.

“On a mundane level, I was on the cover of Yoga Journal. That was cool, because it came at a time when I was kind of ready to walk away from everything. In a lot of ways I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me. I tried walking away again and again, but when I’m feeling like, What the fuck am I doing? someone will write me a letter and be like, ‘I took your class...’ It just keeps bringing me back. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in the world, you don’t always get the reiteration, but in the right moment you will, and it will keep you there.”

On her love of jewelry:

“I’m wearing these really beautiful rings right now, and necklaces. I didn’t grow up in a household with a lot of diamonds and jewelry. I grew up in a very hippie, northern California household.

“I love little dotted diamonds. Really, really, really, really tiny. I love that look much more than a big rock. But that’s just me; I like it really understated.”

What luxury means to her:

“I know this is Condé Nast Traveler’s line, but it’s one of my favorite ones and I think it relates to yoga. Luxury means being able to be at home in the world. To feel like you’re living in the lap of luxury is being able to be anywhere in the world, any season, circumstance, emotional moment, and somehow still find the beauty in the world. Maybe it’s not contentment, but it’s some kind of gratefulness, some kind of beauty, some kind of faith. If you have the ability to not be dependent on external validation or circumstance, that is the true lap of luxury.”

 

Fashion Credit: Top, Frame

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