WeTravel Interview: Travel Influencers

"Which is Better: Yoga or Pilates? Lila Heller Combines Both!"

By Eva Casey

Which came first, pilates or yoga? For Lila Heller, the philosophy of yoga was her birthright, being raised part Hindu. In fact, her name, Lila, means ‘the play of life,’ a practice she brings to all of her offerings: yoga, pilates, and otherwise. The spirituality of yoga: meditation, mantras, and the values of ‘love all, serve all’ were instilled at a young age. As far as a regular practice, though, it was dance that started it all.

Lila Heller went to school for anthropology, sociology, and dance. A guest teacher from Brazil at the Oakland Dance Company in which she was performing invited her to go to Brazil to study. So she went, falling in love with Salvador, Brazil in the process. This was 12 years ago when pilates was gaining rapid popularity, especially amongst dancers. Lila began a year-long certification program in pilates so that she was able to stay in Brazil.

The idea to lead retreats came to her on a vacation to Sayulita, Mexico. A woman came to the house she was staying at to teach yoga. She informed Lila of her yoga studio in Mexico where she loved to bring people to do retreats. Lila agreed to bring a group of people back the next year for a retreat, having no structure around how to lead a retreat. But the next year, as promised, she returned to Mexico with a group of students in tow. That first retreat was mostly pilates focused with a bit of qi gong. Some of those people on her first retreat still go on retreats led by Lila today. That was seven years ago.

But why Pilates AND Yoga? Certainly practicing one or the other will offer enormous benefits, but what’s to be gained by combining the two disciplines?

Yoga has a spiritual component that Lila loves. The actual physical practice of Yoga (also known as ‘asana’) is only a small part of the practice of Yoga. The awareness that you cultivate doing Yoga can be brought to Pilates. The energetic breath work also feeds the Pilates practice.

And as for what Pilates can bring to your yoga practice? Pilates offers a different way of experiencing your body. By strengthening certain muscles and gaining an awareness of what’s actually going on in your body, your Yoga practice will be undoubtedly improved.

Combining Yoga and Pilates on a retreat then seems a natural choice. In Lila’s words, “when you do something for a week, two times a day, you feel like a different person.” Her retreats teach you how to move WELL in your body, not just achieve something. You will cultivate an ease of movement.

Lila says that often on her retreats, people come who never thought they’d able to practice Yoga again. They feel intimidated, but by the end of the retreat, they feel empowered and at home in their bodies. Or the opposite: Yoga practitioners will come to the retreat with a bias towards Yoga. Then after seeing how their bodies respond to practicing Pilates in combination with Yoga, they are floored.

On an upcoming Lila Heller retreat, at Monte Velho Eco Retreat Center in Portugal, she is teaming up with Lea Udry who owns a Pilates studio in Switzerland. Lea will be teaching Yoga classes, and Lila pilates. In between classes (there is one in the morning and one in the evening), you will explore the natural beauty of Portugal. The retreat center is located in the hilly mountainside, but near the beautiful beaches. You’ll have the option to ride bikes, learn to surf or simply relax in the healing atmosphere. This retreat is 7 days and 6 nights, a bit shorter than her usual retreats. But she wanted to allow retreat-goers the option to extend their trip on either side to experience more of Portugal’s culture.

From now until December 31st, Lila Heller is offering an Early Bird Special on the Portugal Retreat. Claim your discount by clicking this link!