“Joy and pain / are like sunshine and rain…”
The Maze lyrics float in the air as Heather Lilleston grooves to the smooth jazzy beat, pouring up her morning ritual of apple cider vinegar and water.
“I do this every morning,” she says as she raises the glass to her lips and we follow her to the bathroom as her hair air dries and she applies the makeup basics—a stroke of blush along the cheeks, Moroccan oil through her damp hair and a swipe of Bogavia Valencia Vanilla on her lips. “You caught me in the middle of a cleanse, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in 30 days,” she explains. “It’s very un-Heather of me, but I feel fantastic.”
The outgoing Leo founded Yoga For Bad People with Katelin Sisson; a retreat yoga company steeped in a lifestyle of wellness, yet balanced out with the behavior that society tends to deem as “bad.” “I stay out late and go dancing and enjoy wine and other adult beverages,” says Lilleston, with the free spirit also explaining “bad” essentially refers to “good, but with a little spice and an element of being unconventional and eccentric.”
While the retreats allow a comfortable environment for all levels of yoga-goers to enjoy with a side of adventure, dancing and nightlife, the retreats are still grounded in the authentic intentions of the yoga practice. Lilleston demonstrates a taste of a typical morning on these retreats as she settles into a meditation pose and we feel a calm wash over her. She then discusses the significance of starting the day with these quiet moments and reflections; a way to maintain the synchronization of body and mind.
It is this syncing of the body and mind that Lilleston was first drawn to yoga and ultimately became the motivation behind YFBP. “Yoga was political, philosophical, psychological, and so much more,” she says on realizing yoga was more than a physical practice.
After a few solo retreats and studying for her yoga teacher certificate, Lilleston realized travel plays an immensely important role in aiding this sort of philosophical, psychological mindfulness. Therefore, she realized it only made sense to combine the two–travel and yoga–for the most effective and mindful getaway.
Now, from Uruguay to Portugal, Zanzibar to Bali, Lilleston leads worldwide retreats for modern and poised yogis to reconnect with themselves, while simultaneously connecting with the world. “The main things is that you take yourself out of context of your regular life, so that you can “delete your old identity” and transform into an enlightened being–or at least a kinder, more peaceful being, to start.”
We caught up with Lilleston post-upstate retreat ahead of our upcoming retreat in Bali for a morning of meditation, afternoon yoga practice and some silly street strolls—embodying the entirety of her company’s philosophy—to get an insight of what a typical day in the (city) life is like for this traveling yogi.
You’ve been teaching yoga since 2003, studying thousands of hours of yoga since then. Do you remember the first yoga class you took or the first moment you knew you wanted to become a teacher?
The first yoga class I took was in high school and I hated it. I laughed through the “OM” uncomfortably and I was so unhappy holding any poses (specifically I remember holding Warrior 2 and thinking, ‘I will never do yoga again, this is horrid’).
I never consciously decided to be a teacher necessarily, but I did decide to go to the teacher training. It was a winter Saturday afternoon, I was on my way to yoga in NYC…I had since re-found yoga in NYC and fallen in love with it. Mostly because I was a California girl lost in a big, cold, city–far away from sunsets and hiking trails and the beaches I had taken solace in growing up in California–and yoga gave me the feeling I had when I was in nature, but within the big city.
Jivamukti Yoga was where it all started for me and they taught you how yoga was about so much more than just the physical practice: yoga was political, philosophical, psychological, and so much more. That is really what helped me commit to the physical practices.
What about travel–what was one of the first impactful trips that sparked wanderlust in you?
I traveled to Africa and Europe the summer after my freshman year in college. I went to maybe seven or eight countries in five weeks; that opened the door for me. I also think New York City is so diverse and intertwined, that spending my early adult life there prepared me to be on the road. On a deeper level, my parents divorced when I was two-years-old and I went back and forth half the week, and so I have been used to packing and unpacking and making anywhere my home, essentially.
How did you realize you could combine yoga and travel to create your company YFBP?
People have been doing retreats since the early stages of yoga practice. It’s actually way more traditional than a group class (which is a newer concept). Of course, retreats used to be solo, which I have done a few of, and one of the main things is that you take yourself out of context of your regular life (aka not your own home) so that you can “delete your old identity” and transform into an enlightened being, or at least a kinder, more peaceful being, to start. So, travel is a natural extension of that. And practice in NYC is generally crammed into the rest of one’s busy schedule, so getting away, and far away, and probably somewhere sunny and hot, allows someone to not only deepen their practice, but feel they have had a vacation as well. People are super busy, so we combined the “deepen your practice” with vacation so that furthering your practice was accessible. We also feel that deepening your practice actually enhances your ability to be on vacation.
How does YFBP reflect the ways in which you live your life?
I am a big supporter of balance. Not doing any one thing too much. Allowing yourself to color outside the lines, break a few rules, be spontaneous, while not negating the importance of discipline, organization and dedicated, effortful study and work. I like to play and I love to work. I only feel my best when I combine both. YFBP is all about balance. Not being too rigid, not being too soft.
With the YFBP motto rooted in balance, how do you create a life of balance for yourself?
I discipline myself but not too much. I meditate almost every day, but not every day. I probably exercise six times a week. I do a cleanse twice a year, but then I also stay out late and go dancing and enjoy wine and other adult beverages. I let myself act like a grown up and sometimes like a teenager. I wake up early. I stay up late. I go to bed early. If I need to sleep in, and if I can, I will. I hold the line of structure, but I wiggle out of it every now and then, and I don’t let myself feel guilty about it. And if I do feel guilty, I make sure not to feel guilty about feeling guilty.
What do you find is one of the most challenging aspects of sticking to a routine? And how do you overcome this?
I think if you are too strict and rigid with yourself if doesnt work. Start a cleanse and be VERY reasonable with how long you will commit to it. Prepare yourself slowly and gradually. Don’t overdo anything, it’s just not worth it. Be honest with yourself about what you can commit to while not underestimating your ability to push through old habits and laziness. I think once you have shown yourself you can discipline yourself a few times, you remember the rewards of it and that it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and you can do it again, under another context.
What is the first thing you pack for any trip? What about the last thing?
The first thing I pack is usually the books I am teaching from and my bikinis. Honestly, I always travel with a bathing suit, even to the snow. Need to be ready for hot tubs, ocean dips, the spa, all of it. And the last thing would be my toiletries.
What are your top three tips for staying healthy on the road?
Chorella Manna tablets are great for super green nutrients, the immune system, weight management, and removing heavy metals, radiation and toxins from the body. Calms Forte, a homeopathic stress reliever that helps me sleep on planes, overcome jet lag and beat general anxiety. Sleep is key to health. Lastly, water – you just have to push yourself to drink water all the time. That’s it. It’s simple but does the trick.
When planning a new retreat, what do you get most excited about? How do you go about planning the itineraries to ensure that perfect balance of fun and relaxation?
I get most excited about what we are teaching in the classes and the place itself. Honestly, we don’t do much planning of itineraries. We make sure the locations we choose make excursions and other activities besides yoga accessible, but we oddly aren’t fans of group travel per se (even though this has become our line of business) so we like to give structure with the classes, accommodations and meals, and then help people fill in the blanks where they want to. Some people like to do and see everything, some people like to chill.
We want you to do whatever you want. We will help with the excursions but we don’t make them a required part of the trip. There is enough yoga there. I also love organizing the meals and thinking about the general theme of the classes – what will we be teaching, the playlists that go along with that, the sequences, the meditations, what do we want everyone to get out of the yoga part of the retreat. Once the place is chosen, and fits our requirements, we can be excited about the precious hours in retreat style classes, where people actually have time to absorb information and learn things. It’s so rewarding to teach the same people day after day and see them improve.
Having led retreats all over the world–how do you feel about your first retreat to Bali next spring–as one of the most stereotypically spiritual destinations in the world?
I am super excited about Bali. I have been wanting to go to Bali since I was 10 years old. Many people from my hometown spent a lot of time there, studying dance and art, and I was exposed to what they brought back. I haven’t planned a retreat there yet because everyone does it, and to be honest, when everyone does it, YFBP does the opposite. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go, so collaborating with Electrify is the perfect plan to get me to Bali. I am thrilled and beside myself and feel like I have waited a long time, so there is going to be a lot of magic there. Also, teaching a retreat where all I have to focus on is the teaching, is going to really be a treat!