Everyone has favorite brands. Maybe you love vanilla ice cream, but you don’t like Dryers, you like the Rite Aid brand vanilla or maybe Ben and Jerry’s is your thing. These preferences play into our lives all day. I love yoga, all kinds. I think “variety is the spice of life,” but I have favorites too. Helen Cloots is my ice cream brand go-to. I have only a few favorite yoga instructors, whose classes I try to make as much as I can. Partly because I know these instructors will challenge me, partly because I am continuing to learn and be inspired by them for my own teaching, and partly because I like their personalities and feel I get them just from being in their class. Every instructor brings their own style to class; when you take a yoga class from someone it is a kind of intimate experience, in a way. They are helping you achieve something personal: spiritual, physical and mental…on your mat.
I wanted to interview Helen Cloots for a few reasons. She draws people to her; she’s a friendly smile that you can count on whenever you see her. Her classes feel like sunshine. Being a yoga instructor changes the way you take yoga classes, yet taking Helen’s class helps me remember that being present and just appreciating time spent on my mat in a class feels like basking in the sun. I also admire that Helen has a unique style and she’s not afraid to let go, be herself and bring love to any open space. You can see her passion for yoga and life: she wears it on her lululemon sleeve.
Helen attended Rice University for undergraduate studies in Sociology. She then went on to live in New York where she met her husband OJ while pursuing a graduate degree from Columbia University. After New York, Helen and OJ moved out west to San Diego. After their move, Helen poured her time and energy into building a career as a Yoga Instructor. Currently she works as the assistant manager of the La Jolla Yoga Center, but also teaches a few classes a week there. Helen is a lululemon Ambassador, helping to promote the brand and their message. Somehow Helen also finds time to help out in the community with free or donation-based yoga programs, and teaches yoga in a drug rehabilitation facility.
1. How did you get started in yoga/ what drew you to keep practicing?
“College was the first time I tried yoga for P.E. credit. I didn’t really like yoga at first. I was always a dancer and it wasn’t until I visited San Diego and took class with Carolina Vivas that I felt like yoga was so much like dance. When I went back to New York I looked to find a studio just like the one in San Diego. It changed my perspective on Yoga.”
2. When did you know you wanted to be a yoga instructor?
“It was pretty early on in my yoga journey. I found myself wanting to share and promote yoga to everyone like, ‘hey you need to try this!’ I also thought I could maybe even lead a better class than the ones I was taking. It was finally like, ‘man, I should really teach.’”
3. How did you start the process?
“Before I actually quit working to start teaching, I started during my teacher training process, teaching co-workers in Downtown San Diego after work. We would go to a little park. My boss always tried to pay me and I was like, ‘…no, but I’m not real yoga teacher yet.’” (Laughs)
4. What kind of obstacles did you face/ what did your family and friends think about your decision to pursue yoga as a career?
“My sister said, ‘But you’re so smart though. People don’t know how smart you are.’ That’s not what I wanted my students to take me for though. I wanted them to take me for who I am when I walk in the room.
I left behind what could have been a really successful career and my parents were like, ‘Yoga isn’t a career for forever. How are you going to take care of a family someday? We spent all this money on your college education…’ But college made me who I am today. All of those experiences in life come into play. I followed my heart and quit my fulltime job to pursue life as a yoga instructor because this is what makes me happy. And even though at first my parents wondered if I was doing the right thing, they soon realized I was on my right path when my sister attempted suicide. Their perspective changed, and they saw just how important it was for me to do something that really made me happy. The security of the career I could have had wasn’t worth the way I would be spending my days. Yoga is something that I will do forever.”
5. How has yoga changed you?
“How has it not changed me? (Laughs). I’m more confident, comfortable in my own skin, happy. It’s made me become who I actually am in my true nature. I’m more aware of where my mind is going and can stop it from taking me to any negative place. If you were to ask my parents about me as a little kid, they would tell you that I was always so happy-go-lucky, but then when I got to college, it was like I had strayed from my true self a bit, struggled with some eating disorders and shifted away from the positive person I am now and I was as a kid. Yoga has helped me overcome those things that I dealt with early on and kept me true to myself. It changed my relationship with myself.”
6. What is your favorite thing about having yoga in the community?
“I love that yoga can be a person’s own thing. The idea that it’s a personal experience: ‘this is how I take yoga and this is what it means to me,’ is so beautiful to me. I love when I see different types of yoga and different types of people taking it. It means something different to each person and that’s what yoga really should be, a personal relationship.”
7. What is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you in class?
“Ah, this is so embarrassing. I was giving savasana adjustments at the end of class and I queefed as I was squatting down one time. It was like, ‘I can’t believe that just happened.’ I’m sure my face got so red.” (Laughs)
8. What is a stereotype you face as an instructor?
“That anyone who instructs is this super-skinny, eco-friendly, vegan and much more. I eat meat. I like meat. I try to live as yogic as possible, but we are all human.”
9. What is the hardest part about your job?
“Being present for your students is both the hardest part, but the best part. Letting go of the outside world when you walk into the studio might be challenging if you have stuff going on outside that room, but that’s like the best part because it really allows you to connect with those in the room, which is really beautiful. It’s also challenging to have a ton of students in one class because you can’t adjust them all.”
10. How do you deal with the pressure of all that your job entails?
“I definitely am a should-‘er.’ Like, I should have done this. I should do that. But, yoga kinda changed that. This is where I am today. This is what I have to give today. Is it me putting pressure on myself or is it someone else putting pressure on me? If it’s me, stop.”
11. What does success mean to you?
“Success is finding contentment, balance and happiness on the day to day. It’s not about getting so many people in my class. If I can come to yoga and not have to think about all of the shit I have to get done, then that is success. If I can create goals and not bring myself down, then that is success.”
Favorite pose: Forearm stand/Scorpion
Least favorite pose: Camel, Warrior I
Favorite type of yoga to practice: Vinyasa
Favorite time of day to practice: Middle of the day