Rhode Island native Katelin Sisson and Northern California native Heather Lilleston, now both New Yorkers, came together over their passion for yoga and producing retreats for “normal people who want to have fun.” In describing Yoga for Bad People, they mean “bad” in the best possible way. They explain, “In a classic text on yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it is stated that one of the obstacles to yoga is ‘adhering too strictly to rules’, hence the slang term “bad”. BAD, essentially meaning good, but with a little spice and an element of being unconventional and eccentric.” Below, SERENE gets to know the women behind the badness.
What were you up to in life when you decided to become yoga teachers?
Heather: I began teaching yoga during my college years at NYU; I was a small town California girl lost in New York, who found a sense of community at Jivamukti Yoga on Lafayette Street. I wasn’t really planning on it as a career when I started. I was so inspired by the teachers at Jivamukti and wanted to immerse myself in my new found obsession. I did the Teacher Training, whose natural progression was a mentorship program, and found myself teaching after that. About 5 years into teaching, I took a good look at myself and asked, “How did this happen? When did I become a yoga teacher? Is this really what I want?” I quit teaching and took a job in fashion. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to go back to teaching, and after 8 months in fashion, I made the transition, and haven’t looked back since.
Katelin: When I started teaching yoga I had been in NYC for about 6 years. Always a long time runner and gym-goer I had continued my training in my time in the city. About three years in I was seriously overtraining for the NYC marathon and some concerned (smart) friends recognized my crippled 24-year-old body and encouraged me into my first yoga class. I went kicking and screaming, but saw quickly the value and kept at it. Somewhere in that time I was introduced to the Jivamukti Yoga School and was very inspired by this new approach to wellness. Certainly unwilling to let go of my prior training I decided to focus my efforts on how to make the two practices work together. In 2008 I did the Jivamukti Teacher Training program and followed up with an additional 500 hours in the mentorship program at the NYC school. Combining yoga and other training efforts continues to be a passion of mine and I do my best to incorporate that into each of my classes. Always searching for the perfect middle point between strength and flexibility. I am forever grateful to have found an outlet for a lifelong passion.
How did you come to form Yoga for Bad People?
Katelin: We first became friends, both an active part of a lively NYC yoga community, but also saw in each other a similarity of character. As serious as we both were about our practice and our teaching we were both hungry to let loose a little bit. Having both taught yoga retreats individually we decided to combine our efforts and plan two retreats together. We had similar ideas about what the classic yoga retreat formula was missing. We saw the people that were signing up to participate and recognized that there was a huge gap. A huge population of people that could benefit but weren’t being targeted, as they weren’t already part of an active yoga community. We wanted our friends to want to come on a retreat. We wanted a beginner to want to come on a retreat. And we wanted all of those people without loosing those that were already interested. Basically we wanted it to be all-inclusive. Something for everyone. No one left behind. A yoga retreat that could combine strong consistent practice and a good time. We planned two retreats together. One in Panama and one in Brazil. We saw Brazil as having a wild and exotic vibe to it and so we named the retreat “Yoga For Bad People”. It lived up to our every expectation and somewhere in that week as we were walking down the beach together we decided, “Everything we do together will be Yoga For Bad People”. It was “us”. It was the way we knew how to teach. It was the way we knew how to have fun.
Sounds like a blast! What else happens during your retreats?
The goal on every YFBP retreat is to create an environment that fulfills everyone’s individual needs. Part of that is taken care of by the beauty of the chosen surroundings. Part of that is facilitated by the structured twice-daily yoga classes and the morning meditation. We allow for ample free time between classes. We will always lay out options for activities and excursions and make those arrangements for those that want to participate, but likewise that space of time is “free” so if you prefer to spend your time lounging on the beach, writing in a journal, going for a run, we encourage that too. Each trip is very much designed to be “your trip” not something that we are making you do. Yoga class is held twice per day. The morning class follows a 30 minute guided meditation. The yoga class itself is about an hour and a half long and set to the tone of our current favorite jams. Class is active and challenging, but not hard for the sake of being hard. There is a strong purpose to each class that is emphasized so each person has a sense of “where we are going”. The evening class is designed to be more restorative and informative. Generally the purpose is to “breakdown” what we worked on in the morning. Music is softer. Generally candle lit. But who’s kidding, an impromptu dance party is always possible.
Can you tell us some of your favorite retreat destinations or stories?
We have traveled quite a few places at this point, with many more on our list of “we must go there”. Since we stepped off the plane in Brazil for the first time nearly three years ago, we knew we were in our home away from home. We weren’t taking our group to Rio or Bahia. We were taking them to the south. To a small beach town, tucked away just south of Florianopolis.
As we drove from the airport to our destination, we weren’t 100% sure of what we had gotten ourselves into but we knew it was going to be great. One and a half hours later we arrived to our perfect little pousada (hotel) in the sky - the Casa do Ceo. The beach, Praia do Rosa, is just a short walk away. It was instant love. Instant reassurance that we had followed the right instinct. We have now hosted four retreats in Praia do Rosa, Brazil and in March 2015 we will make it six with two back-to-back weeks of Yoga For Bad People. Always ready to go back.
A lot of women in our community now are going through some sort of major life transformation. Yoga teachers always seem to give some good grounding wisdom. Any advice you can share on dealing with shifts and changes?
Just the other day a dear friend of mine wrote me about a shift in his life. He said to me, “The universe has a sense of humor. The more time goes by the more I see it. I bet it was there before-I was just too f*cked up and self-centered to see it.”
My response to him, “You weren’t too f*cked up and you are not self-centered. Everyone goes through time of transformation. A transition that leaves them feeling totally rejuvenated and alive, even though sometimes the journey through it can be rough. It doesn’t mean that you were dead before. It doesn’t mean that you were doing anything wrong. It only means that you had something to learn. That moment when you feel like your head just lifted out of the water is the moment you realize you learned what you needed to. And now you can move forward.”
So I suppose the advice is, trust you’re own journey. Do your best not to compare yourself to what you have seen others go through. And take the self-deprecation out of the equation.
Click to learn more about Yoga for Bad People, their classes and retreats. Upcoming adventures include: