I applaud all of these teachers. You know the more people we can enlighten and help find a more peaceful way to walk on the earth. I say power to you. There’s just something really gorgeous to all this.
Halle (Homegirl) Becker does not pull punches. She wants the truth to “lead the way”, and has absolutely no qualms about passionately spreading that dharma. She’s 54, lives “loudly and proudly” neither denying the process of aging nor necessarily embracing it but rather extracting its very essence and bringing that ripening forward into the light. A bright light she has emitted for nearly twenty years holding court as one of New York City’s most beloved yoga and spin instructors. Known for her Sweat and Surrender signature classes, don’t expect to sit quietly for her sermons. Halle Becker teaches in layers – seamless layers of music, grit, kicks and perhaps most thundering… heart. Never, ever scripted, either on mat or bike. The only thing you can expect in a Halle class is to be swept up on a fantastic voyage over which the mind has only a remote chance of getting in the way. When it’s all said and done, you are left stretched. Stretched in ways that you never saw coming. A common refrain from her band of followers, “I don’t do spinning. I do Halle.”
So just what is it about this gal? A sort of grounding agent is she. A little bit Maria (Von Trapp). A little bit Keith (Richards). Then toss in a hint of Patti (Smith). In the Pali Canon, Adhitthana (one of the ten perfections) is loosely defined as determination or resolution. Author and Co-founding Teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center James Baraz translates the term as “an unwavering persistence”, or “summoning our courage to meet anything”. It’s a concept at the root of every overture Halle Becker serves up. Be it on a yoga mat, spin bike or on retreat, nothing less than completely showing up will suffice. Her demand comes not from a place of grandstanding or any desired guru status, but rather it bleeds from the tracks of her own personal sweat (and tears). “She’s just an amazing woman filled with so much love. She just has this instinct to kind of know and then she zooms in on it. I am just amazed at how much better my emotional state feels after her classes. I just think of her as this motherland of love.” This from Debbie a longtime spin and yoga student.
Becker senses that along with her parents humor genes, she arrived on this planet armed with an innate sensibility for calling the shots. Born in Cleveland in 1962 the daughter of an actress/costume designer and a high-powered attorney, Halle is pretty certain that her first words (at about two weeks) were, “This place is not hip enough, we need to move.” Move she did to the storybook suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts where she and her younger sister Barrie enjoyed all of the trappings of the bucolic suburb just west of Boston. With a roof over her head, fine clothes and a pony outwardly she appeared to want for nothing. Despite the privileged childhood, she confesses to always feeling as though something was missing. Consumed by their careers, Halle is very candid about the parental detachment she experienced while sharing a roof with her mother and father. She also refers to her parents’ animated personas as possessing the air of the sad/happy clown. A Leave it to Beaver type home Becker’s was not.
With her parents divorcing in her pre-teen years she found herself grappling with mounting feelings of inadequacy… Are You There God? It’s me Margaret, by Judy Blume serving as an early Halle bible. Her big personality and natural gift as a storyteller enabled her to mask these inner doubts and kept her sallying forth in her signature pluck. She jokes that public speaking may have been in fact the only subject to which she excelled in high school. That verve propelled her onwards through what she refers to as a “really long run including drug addiction”, “feelings of not being in the right body”, and eventually “a marriage in shambles”. Her only real solace during these years came through her deep spiritual connection to animals (horses in particular). She attributes the sudden (fatal) heart attack of her father (in her sophomore year at American University in Washington DC) as the curve which sent her swiftly tumbling along an arduous slope – a battle with which she would wrestle into her late thirties and early forties. Throughout this extended period of numbing out she continued to fall back on her winning personality seeking out the comfort zone of what she refers to as “the big stage”. This secret weapon fueled her as she somehow managed a successful stint in the corporate world as the CEO of Halle’s Comet a production company she founded which staged large scale events for the corporate world. Riding high in a huge industry with clients such as Oprah Winfrey, Becker found herself featured in the Washington Business Journal and indulging in the many spoils of success yet still plagued with that looming shadow side. Luckily for her during this chapter the practice of yoga was quietly rearing its head.
In a roundabout fashion, Halle’s passion for yoga was sparked by discovering Jane Fonda’s Workout video and book late in high school. While she had always been physically active, something in the sequencing and teachings of these media pieces found her curiosities heightened. With little rehearsal the early 1980s found Becker sporting leg warmers and teaching aerobics out of the back of a hair salon on Newbury Street in Boston with nothing more than these materials as her guide. She swiftly parlayed that gig into a stint during her college years spreading the gospel of aerobics at a DC area fitness center. All the while she could not even touch her toes. A fellow yoga instructor at the fitness center, Jane Fryer, happened to notice, and began gently pitching her on the eight-limbed practice’s many merits. Halle would have none of it. “I hated it. It was so boring. Fast forward a couple of years and I’m in New York City where I take my very athletic yoga class at Equinox with no rigid rules and cool music taught by Michael Leconsczak. I was like WOW!” From there she never looked back eventually completing her 200 RYT training with Sondra Loring (of Sadhana Yoga in New York’s Hudson Valley) and leaving the corporate world to teach yoga full time.
Along with life in New York City came the truth. The truth Becker finally needed to tackle. Adopting a baby and on the verge of parenthood at 42, that ray of new life forced her to confront her demons and do the work to combat her addictions for good. In doing so, she said farewell to an unhealthy marriage – a decision she and her ex-husband made together for the sake of the “beautiful being” (a daughter Maya) who had come into their lives. With great conviction she credits yoga for the clarity it brought to her and the subsequent transformation to get clean once and for all. “I had to find that quiet mind in order to get it done. I had to dig deep, battle some serious shit. Just take it on. Yoga helped me with this and gave me the confidence to start to tell my story through teaching. Let me be clear that I am extremely lucky to be here today, because the way I was going with my lifestyle, it was anybody’s guess whether or not I was going to make it.” And with ongoing resolve, make it she has.
With her own battle scars ever present she arrived as an instructor on the New York yoga scene with a burst, boldly charging her students with “showing up” and trying to find the highest versions of themselves. Speaking a language all her own and spouting pet names like “unicorn” and “sis” from her perch, folks quickly began responding to her no nonsense neighborhood banter. From the get go her approach has always been to simply deliver to students a dose of humor, some rock and roll and that sacred space in which everyone moves on a level playing field. For Halle, It was never about being someone’s guru. “Think of my classes as the Cheers Bar of yoga. I want to welcome people to come in and find their seat. Yoga will always have something to teach us.”
Despite no formal religious background, there is an undeniable preacher coursing through her veins. She credits the likes of MC Yogi, Shiva Rhea, Raghunath and her longtime teacher Sondra Loring for keeping he inspired. It’s a brand undeniably all her own and one that continues to engage the willing. Beyond her longstanding tribes at New York City’s Earth Yoga and Pure Yoga East and her very own Home Girl studio, recent years have found Becker headlining at events like Wanderlust in Stratton, Vermont and also presenting at the 2013 Lulu Lemon World Conference in Vancouver. The larger scale the setting, the better for her to connect in widening circles and share her own personal story.
It’s that Halle vibe that prompted Soul Cycle founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler to come calling in 2013 and take a chance on a female yoga instructor in her 50s. Rallying the troops at that 83rd street location with its particular clientele is no small challenge to be tasked with, and she bears tremendous respect for the owners’ gamble in passing her the baton. Even though she claims it took her six months to figure out how to clip into her pedals, this latest gig has for Becker proven to be a perfect extension of her yoga teaching. In the saddle with the house lights dimmed and the music loud she again assumes the mantle of storyteller. Those versed in both yoga and spinning can attest to the shared subtractive qualities. On the bike, on the mat… you are tasked with removing your “self” and diving deep inward to the present. Adhitthana. In salute of that inner work and as with her yoga teachings, Becker builds her message from her all important playlists. A great deal of intention goes into crafting soundtracks which both sonically and lyrically reflect her expected audience – clans for which she she is eternally rocking gratitude.
I could write a chapter book of Halle escapades and antics, but your really must experience her in person to get the big picture. When I signed on to meet Ms. Becker for my inaugural Soul Cycle class I relinquished all expectations and resigned myself to simply dive in to the mystery. Well in advance of her arrival, the bikes have all been spoken for and street shoes have been swapped out for the ones that clip. Devices are being stowed and other necessary adjustments made before the doors to studio B swing open. And then Halle marches in with abandon and at once all is rendered electric. Vivid and vibrant and sporting a hint of swagger. The seas part as she begins her lobby greetings. “Who is setting me up this morning?” she wants to know. To that proposition a team of bright eyed crew members fall in swift synch and a Macbook is produced – a conduit for the almighty play list which will dictate the current. Lights are dimmed just so and off to see the wizard we pedal… “Inhale, let’s. Exhale, GO!” Blasting off on a 45 minute odyssey – that signature mashup of drive, dharma, team and of course sweat.
From her in your face opening straight on through to the big exhale finish, among the rush and the push there’s an undeniable comfort of being held. Over Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia, to PitBull, then Guns and Roses Sweet Child of Mine downshifting to Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown (yes, My Hometown), we have collectively in under an hour broken on through to some other side. Everyone pedaling, well-versed in some foreign vocabulary, launching themselves on the wave that is Halle. Strangers for an instant all one, digging deep for some greater good. As the climb progresses, Halle speaks of setting the tone for the rest of one’s week. She speaks of the class, the 45 minute “rocket to the wilderness”, as representing opportunity – an exceptional opportunity to “show up”. Our Monday, perhaps our week, has been forever altered with Halle’s imprint. A continuous stretch of “ah-ha” teachings. The gospel according to Halle. As the class wraps I’m curious to see how quickly she’s engulfed in a swarm of pumped up disciples soaked and jockeying about for just another spot of “Halle” time… She leaves me with one for the road trumpeting over the fray… “Susan, hey we were always friends, we just hadn’t met yet.”
My retreat is not about acrobatics. And I’m not going to shove spirituality down your throat. But you are going to leave a different person. We’re going to sweat, lie in clay, play some volleyball, maybe have a glass of wine if that’s your thing.
One of her favorite places to meet new friends these days is in beautiful Tulum Mexico where each February she leads a band of pilgrims in her annual Soar and Restore retreat at the famed Amansala resort. It’s a retreat she has been leading for years with Loren Bassett and this season Dana Slamp and an experience of which she is particularly proud. Here among the Riviera Maya she and her teaching crew turn strangers into friends. “My retreat is not about acrobatics. And I’m not going to shove spirituality down your throat. But you are going to leave a different person. We’re going to sweat, lie in clay, play some volleyball, maybe have a glass of wine if that’s your thing. It’s for people who want to step out and step back in (to their lives) a little differently.” 2017 marked the retreat’s sixth year – all of which have sold out.
And, from where does the “Homegirl” handle originate? Again, it all comes back to telling stories. In 2008 she created the brand as a moniker for the weekly drop-in yoga classes she teaches out of her home on the upper east side. On any given Tuesday or Thursday morning her kitchen is pulsing with a blend of “super high rollers”, upper east side moms fresh from dropping their kids at school and a handful of students from Hunter College. Before any mats have been unrolled, there is venting, sipping of fruit infused water, yakking about menopause and more. Nothing is off limits. And, that’s precisely why she built Homegirl, a kula of sorts. In opening up her home she wanted to again create that colloquial experience around a common passion… yoga. Sacred space where things are kept real and stories can be swapped, safely. Now in its eighth year, she remains very intentional in setting the tone for Homegirl. Despite the swanky zip code, as common in all of her classes, status is of little interest.
As she saunters leisurely through her fifth decade it’s her thirteen year old daughter Maya, who she refers to as “a magical unicorn”, to whom she gives top billing. Together they share a love of dogs and horses, and by her daughter’s side she is tutored daily in patience, kindness and whimsy. As Becker says, “She shows me everything about myself that I need to work on.” She is filled with gratitude for this second chance she has been given, and she and her ex-husband (with whom she is peacefully raising her daughter) make certain to tailor their professional commitments around her evolving needs. The 50s in many ways find Halle “returning” as she likes to say. Returning to the sorted life experiences which have ripened her and also tapping into a building level of confidence that she earned in the school of hard knocks. In the truth that is her legend she now finds an overflowing natural resource. And to her contemporaries still at it sharing their good words on the mat she sports nothing but respect. “We may not be able to still do the advanced poses that the younger ‘kids’ can do, but we’ve got the stories and the truth and the years and the wise tales we’re willing so share.” But in true Halle fashion, she continues to cheer for everyone. “I applaud all of these teachers. You know the more people we can enlighten and help find a more peaceful way to walk on the earth. I say power to you. There’s just something really gorgeous to all this.” She leaves me with a favorite line from Ram Dass which rather perfectly embodies (Homegirl) Halle, “Sis. We’re all just walking each other home…”
Don’t miss Halle at (MIND, BODY) & SOUL CAMP this September in Stowe, VT. A weekend exhale, with benefits.
Halle Becker: http://www.homegirlyoga.com
Spirit Rock Meditation Center: http://www.spiritrock.org
Jane Fryer: http://www.janefryer.com
Sadhana Center for Yoga and Meditation: http://sadhanayogahudson.com
Soul Cycle: https://www.soul-cycle.com
Earth Yoga: http://earthyoganyc.com
Pure Yoga: http://pureyoga.com
Michael Leconsczak: http://www.intelligentyoga.com
Loren Bassett: http://lorenbassett.com
Dana Slamp: http://danaslamp.com
Susan Currie is a Boston-based photographer, writer, yoga instructor and Associate Editor at LA YOGA. She teaches a host of creative workshops throughout the country. Susan’s new collection of poetic verse and images, GRACENOTES (Shanti Arts), will be published in November. See more of her work at www.susancurriecreative.com.