Whether or not you are a yogi, have ever set foot in a yoga studio or have even made a purchase at Lululemon, Vyda is here to break it all down! A few weeks ago, Cameron, Suzanne and I attended a class at Health Yoga Life (HYL) on Beacon Hill after work one night. After 1.5 hours of a sensational stretch 'n' sweat session, we sat down with Vyda to hear how HYL, a true family effort, came to fruition. Be ready to put your other yoga membership on hold...
A champion of self-transformation and an accomplished businesswoman, Vyda works on projects that bridge the gap between business and wellness. In 2011, she founded Health Yoga Life, an award-winning Boston yoga studio and coaching business, with her three sisters. In addition to teaching regular yoga classes and frequent workshops and retreats, Vyda leads “Train the Trainer” programs. The cornerstone of her work is The Emotional Responsibility Method™ a change management coaching technique she co-created.
She is a passionate spokesperson for the emerging market of self-care as a better business practice. Her singular goal is to help people transform themselves to transform their world through practices such as yoga, meditation, coaching, and right action. To give clients around the world virtual access to unique yoga, wellness and personal development tools she is launching a series of online products and tools.
Vyda’s general philosophy:
My passion is empowering the lives of young women and to encourage them to follow their dreams and do what they really want to do in their lives.
JUGs: Tell us about your background and how you got into yoga!
Vyda: I graduated college and worked for a startup called River Delta Networks. It was awesome, well, it was a start-up! We started with seven people (I was the 7th employee) and we grew it to over 500 people. We were bought by Motorola right before the crash in the late 90s. I had worked really closely with the founders who taught me so much about business and how to manage people, but mostly that you need to be self-motivating in order to be an entrepreneur. Then came this decision making point in my career. I was getting stressed, having a “quarter-life crisis,” like John Mayer was saying, right? I was questioning, “is this really what I want to do?” Motorola was offering me a job, and I knew “I would die a little bit every day, dressing up in a suit. Working in a corporate America, I may end up being an unhealthy person.” I decided to attend a yoga retreat, came back, quit my job (!), volunteered at a yoga studio and my mom was like “are you crazy?,” and I answered “no, I don’t think so,” and my mom was “OK, go for it!” My mom raised my sisters and me, in a new-age way. She was way ahead of her time. She was meditating when no one was meditating yet. She got into life coaching before life coaches were that prominent, so [my sisters and I] had known a lot about this lifestyle. I think she secretly wanted us to go down this path, but I had always been a type-A personality with a 5-year plan, so she knew it was unusual for me to make this new choice.
One thing led to another at the yoga studio, and I became COO in a growing yoga organization. The industry was starting to grow like crazy, and because I was in a leadership position, I learned a lot. About 5 years ago I decided I was done helping people do their thing. It was time for me to do my own thing, so my sisters and I opened our studio doors on 11/11/11! It was funny because my sisters and I were all in a state of transition; I was coming from a very intense role at a yoga company, and had a personal blowup in my life, wondering “what can I do so I can follow my passion and make money?” My sisters were looking for something new, in one of the worst economies ever, so we’re like, “let’s bet on ourselves!” Let’s start a company! Who does that in the worst economy? The Bielkus Sisters! Without any funding or loans one thing just led to another and we got the doors open. I always tell people to follow where the doors are opening in life.
We have this perceived idea especially, the way we as women are marketed to, in having this “picture perfect” life. And so, we try to bang down doors to get the right guy (who isn’t the right guy) and the right job (that isn’t the right job). Conversely, the more that you’re able to apply practices like yoga, meditation or coaching, you can see where your mind, creativity, and interests really lie in order to follow what truly makes you happy. I think a lot of people don’t realize that we have choices about how we work and spend our time, not to say that it’s easy to make the choice that ultimately makes us happiest, but you can start making those changes slowly. There’s just nothing to lose. If you’re not at a job where you’re doing something for yourself, where yoy feel respected, it can spur you to create deep motivation to change.
I think a lot of people don’t take risks and truly follow their hearts, because they are sort of comfortable. Life is comfortable, like “I can afford to go buy a pair of shoes, every once in a while”, “I can do certain things like go out with friends to restaurants”, “I can go on vacation once in a while since I have 2 weeks off”. If you’re willing to sacrifice comfort maybe for a little while, you can leap and bound forward. That’s really what entrepreneurs have to do. In the practices of yoga and meditation, that quiet the mind, you can have real desires and interests emerge louder than your fears and that sparks change!
So you mentioned you graduated from Wellesley College… are you originally from Massachusetts?
Yeah! We’re from here. We’re really very local, when we were little we were on Cape Cod in Hyannis, then grew up in Brookline. Our nationality is Lithuanian, so we were raised with the traditions and spoke it at home. The oldest Indo-European living language so it relates to Sanskrit, which IS the language of yoga, so that’s kind of cool!
So all four of you (you and your sisters) run the studio?
Yes, Aida is the oldest who has two kids, and lives on the Cape. They are totally involved with the studio, it’s so cute, they do “Mindful Monkeys” (HYL’s kid yoga program) with her, and practice yoga as much as they can and just have a ball! Aida teaches and is one of the primary coaches, and co-directs the Coach Training. Zara lives in London with her husband, and she does a lot of writing and program development and is faculty in the training programs. We do a lot of other things besides yoga classes. She writes our web copy and blog, we have it all! And Siga, who you just met, teaches, is the General Manager, making sure things are running well and is on top of design elements. This leaves me, the CEO, working in concert with my sisters, directing the yoga teacher training and extending our reach and networks both in Boston and virtually, worldwide. We all have our parts, and we complement each other so well that the dynamic works.
How did you decide on BH as a location?
Well, I was walking by and saw a sign in the window, and the sign spoke to me. I thought, “you know, this is it!” I just thought it was an underserved for yoga area, it was accessible by every T line, near Government Center, near Suffolk, North Station. I love that it’s so “old school” Boston.
What is the best thing about being a yoga instructor?
Sharing what I love to do and hopefully inspiring people to find their way toward greater happiness in life. We all have a teacher within us, and my goal is to let people find that. The more you listen to the “teacher within”, the more it will change your life. My sisters and I have gotten so much from yoga, coaching, and, meditation; we use it in our daily lives, in our relationships. And we’ve had such challenges that could have made us crumble, we could have looked to all of these external ways to deal with it and feel better in the moment, but instead, we took advantage of these other more holistic strategies that helped us rise to where we are today. It’s really about how much happiness we have in our lives. I can say that each of us have a significant amount. This can be an available thing for everybody. It’s about how you can work with what is present. It’s about going from reaction to action, and going from stuck to unstuck.
What kind of training do yoga teachers go through?
Yoga has become an industry, where people go through trainings, and they teach based on the fact that they’ve completed a teacher training. So we offer a 200-hour yoga teacher training, which is the standard. Then there’s a 500-hour course that we will start in 2014. Then you go out there and work. I always say, this is like any other job, you need skills and you need a network. Go to the studio you might want to teach at, meet the owners, meet who you can, volunteer at a studio to see if it’s what you really want. Practicing yoga and teaching yoga are two completely different things. Teaching yoga and owning a studio, also are two very different things.
Once you come out of a training, it’s about teaching. Often times those who complete a teacher training might not be hired to teach right away, so it’s about finding opportunities to do so. You can teach at your office, once you have built some of that skill, there will be ways for teaching opportunities to open up, like subbing for a class. Of course, as a new teacher one typically cannot walk into a studio saying “I want the prime time class,” so it’s about building up your experience. I will say that the critical things that have set people apart from others is to constantly be in front of the teachers/managers/owners, just like if you were applying for another job. You would do your research. Then, it’s about networking, being out there and practice teaching as much as possible.
When you’re not doing yoga or at the studio, what are you doing around Boston?
I love to have fun, I do! I love going out to eat, going out with my friends, I like to walk along the Charles. One of my favorite things to do is to see the flowers change in Boston Garden. I love rooting for our local teams! Aside from yoga, I have a long-term meditation practice. I tell my students all of the time that I would give up my physical yoga practice, but I would never give up my meditation practice. It was only in my very major personal/work transition where my meditation practice saved me. Sometimes we’re pushed to our edge and we fall, but we can’t be afraid to be pushed there. People often get discouraged and think “Ugh, I’m never going to stop crying, I’m so anxious, I have to do something about this anxiety. Success is about how you learn to manage those feelings.
Do you offer meditation classes at the studio?
We do, we have a series. We also offer coaching which is a great complement to one’s [yoga] practice. If someone is trying to make a change, or going through a change, or in a relationship transition, wants a new job, or are stressed all of the time, or have an addiction to something, or are looking to transition off of anxiety medication but don’t know how, coaching can be really complementary process to someone’s growth.
...And this is individual?
Yes, Health Yoga Life Coaching is one-on-one coaching over the phone. We believe that people know, they have the information, they just don’t know how to act on it. We’re bombarded with news of what to change, what we should eat, how we should stay healthy, and we don’t necessarily do those things. HYL coaching is great during a change process. We offer training for learning coaching skills as well, which is great for professionals who want to add to their skill set, like yoga teachers, people who work in human resources, nurses or massage therapists, and others in order to work with folks in a deeper way.
In speaking to the evolution of your practice, do you have a favorite/hardest pose?
My favorite pose is camel, ustrasana. It’s a very deep back bend, the heart and throat are opening, the back is lengthening and chest is lifted. The abdominal wall contracts a lot as we sit, it pulls the whole body down and the energy channels get blocked. Camel is the complete opposite of that, and is one of the most intense poses. I think that pose changed my body the most within my practice. Although you can’t really isolate a pose because poses work together, I would have never gotten camel without having done warriors, for example.
Aside from yoga, what other exercise do you enjoy?
I love my cardio. I also love working out with a personal trainer, his name is Steven Allison. He’s one of our teachers. We’re doing a “Balance Bootcamp,” at the studio which is two days of bootcamp style workouts, two days of yoga. I actually have Type I Diabetes, so yoga and cardio help control my blood sugars.
We learned that September is National Yoga Month! What does HYL do to honor it?
We have really active Facebook and twitter pages. We have fun things called “Tuesday Treats.” For example, one treat was to bring a male friend for free for the whole week, another was bring a relative for two weeks for free. We’ll be featured on GiltCity’s “Best Of” in the beginning of October, so let your readers know to look out for those deals! Our deals for memberships are very reasonable in general, too. We offer student and neighborhood business discounts as well.
How do you think Bostonians can benefit by becoming regular yoga practitioners?
I think we can be a much more friendly city! That has always been my goal! I grew up here, I love Boston but I feel we’re the most closed city, ever. So it’s my goal for people to smile at each other once in a while! We’re so type-A, very well educated, all out there to make it, and sometimes that can take away from the warm and fuzzy. My goal is to have us “Namaste” each other a little more!
We touched on this a bit earlier, but aside from yoga, what are some things gals can do to live a more purposeful life?
I’d say learning meditation, even baby steps in that. I’d also say reading books related to personal growth that helps you be open. I’ll send you a list! If you only sit in front of the TV, there’s just one view point. Read something that opens you up to something new and beneficial to your own journey.
What are your words of advice for beginner yogis?
Seek out beginner classes, and we have a video “Tips to know before you go” on our website. Don’t expect you’ll be good at it. This is what stops a lot people from continuing yoga. You just have to get over that, like riding a bike! Also, give it a chance, at least 10-15 classes. You may not like a certain teacher or studio, so try them all!
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Learn more at www.healthyogalife.com and follow Vyda on Twitter @vydabielkus @HYLTweets and connect on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/HealthYogaLife!