Q & A with Ally Hamilton of Yogis Anonymous: On Balance, Favorite Books + More!
In addition to teaching an incredible class, the mark of a great yoga teacher is the ability to lead and attract incredible talent to his or her studio. Ally Hamilton does both at Yogis Anonymous in Santa Monica -- she lines 'em up for her classes, and her posse of teachers could very well be one of the best in the biz, with MBG-friends Ashley Turner, Krista and Brock Cahill, Felicia Tomasko, Charlie Samos among many other all-stars.
Ally talks to us about how she got started with her practice and what inspired her along the way.
MBG: You began your practice at Columbia -- can you tell us more about what brought you to yoga?
AH: I was looking for something to replace the experience of ballet, which I walked away from when I was 16 after 12 years of dancing. I had tried other forms of dance, and pretty much every class at the gym, but nothing was really doing it for me. My best friend (Tracy Bleier, who owns Saraswati's Yoga Joint in Connecticut) had gotten into yoga and kept telling me to try it, but I thought it was just sitting and stretching on the floor, and that it would not be "hard enough" for me. Hilarious.
How would you describe your style of teaching?
I teach a sweaty, mixed levels vinyasa flow class with plenty of room to play with arm balances and inversions. I do my best to convey the idea that we are using the body as a tool to explore the relationship we're having with ourselves, and to examine our state of mind and our tendencies. Most people would agree the world could be a more peaceful place, but it's pretty unlikely if we are all at war within ourselves. I love the quote "Wherever you go, there you are", and think at the core of any spiritual practice is one idea, "know yourself". I think self-reflection is imperative, so that we can all be accountable for the energy we're spreading. I also believe there is enormous potential for healing through a consistent yoga practice, and that's what I'm most interested in...creating an environment where healing is likely to occur. I think it's a very powerful thing that we spend time on the mat, and that it's an internal experience, but that it ultimately leads to a deep connection with everyone and everything, and a deep desire to spread more love. I also encourage people who practice with me for any length of time to explore the other seven limbs of the practice.
Who has inspired your practice?
I've been really fortunate to study and train with some amazing teachers. Dharma Mittra, Baron Baptiste, Bryan Kest, Shiva Rea, Saul David Raye, Max Strom and Jorgen Christiansson have all had a huge impact on me, and many of them remain sources of inspiration. I'm also inspired by the people I teach with at our studio. Everyone has special gifts and insights, and I love being a student even though I've been teaching for 16 years.
What about books?
I've always been an avid reader (although I have less time in my life for reading these days), and some of the yoga-related books that have most impacted me are Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope, Courage by Osho, Autobiography of a Yogi and The Divine Romance by Paramahansa Yogananda, Comfortable with Uncertainty and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein, Meditation Now by S.N. Goenka, The Shambala Guide to Yoga by Georg Feuerstein, and Devotion by my good friend and amazing human, Dani Shapiro. I'm leaving out many, but those are definitely in my top 10.
How do you balance being a mom/wife/teacher/studio owner? What do you do relax and unplug?
I'm still learning how to balance being a mom with two little kids, and a full-time teacher/studio owner. It's gotten a little easier as my youngest has gotten a bit older, and as the studio has grown. I've been very good about making sure I prioritize my own practice, which I didn't do after I had my son. I just sort of practiced on the fly at home while he napped for the first 18 months. With my daughter, as soon as I was ready, I hit the mat at the studio and gave myself that time, and I think it has kept me sane. It's definitely a work in progress :)
Men and yoga... are you seeing more men in your classes?
I teach a pretty athletic class, so I've always had a fair amount of men in class, which I love. I think it's great that more guys feel inspired to come and check it out, and I hope that trend continues to grow. I think a lot of men (and women) have a concept about what yoga is, and are frequently surprised when they come to class.
Any beginner tips for someone just starting a practice?
For anyone who's never tried yoga, I would say the most important thing is to focus on the breath. It's important to go to a beginner's class and set up a strong foundation, and to find a teacher whose vibe resonates with you.
Biggest challenge for you in your own personal practice?
I'm so grateful to have 90 minutes to practice, that really the whole experience is a gift. I'm at the point in my practice where I truly don't care if I do a million handstands or take a very foundational class. I love letting someone else "drive", and I love the experience of being a student. So I don't really associate my personal practice with "challenges" at this point, although I always love to explore more deeply. I would love to have more time to meditate, but I do the best I can. I really wouldn't trade any of the chaos of having two amazing, healthy kids and a growing business, though.
Favorite healthy places to eat in LA?
I don't go out to eat much these days -- we mostly eat at home. We get most of our food from the Farmers' Market, and I'm lucky because my husband is a good cook. Having said that, Tender Greens and Fig would be two of my faves around town.
What are you working on next?
Right now we're planning our second retreat since we opened the studio, and will be heading to Maui early this summer. We are also about to announce our first Yogis Anonymous 200-hour yoga immersion/teacher training, which will include many of our teachers. We are expanding our streaming website, and at the same time creating a more cohesive vibe on the local level. My son is starting kindergarten next year, so I'm touring schools, and I'll be taking my daughter to a toddler group. It's a full plate ;-)