Q&A: Hip Hop Yoga Instructor Cara Gilman

The yogi behind this summer's popular themed hip-hop yoga classes tells us how she came up with the idea.

Gilman attempts to make time for her own yoga practices at least twice a week. All photos provided.

Gilman attempts to make time for her own yoga practices at least twice a week. Photo by Kadri Kurgun.

In Boston, you can practice virtually any type of yoga that you can dream up: black light yoga, therapy yoga, paddleboard yoga, and even yoga with a live band. Who thinks of this stuff? That would be yogis like Cara Gilman, a former 9-to-5er turned yoga instructor.

Gilman is a bit of a newbie— she has only been working full time as a yoga instructor since December. But, she recently made a big splash with her Thursday night themed hip hop yoga classes at Sweat and Soul Yoga. (Try a Jay Z class called “H to the Asana”, or the East Coast vs. West Coast hip hop class tagged, “A lady on the street, but a freak on the mat.”) Her classes have become so popular that she often has to turn aspiring yogis away, urging them to come back next Thursday night instead. How did she come up with the idea to teach themed classes? Gilman tells us about her creative influences, the coolest classes she’s ever taught, and why hip hop yoga can be life changing.

Why did you decide to quit your job and become a full-time yoga instructor?

I worked at a health services company for six years, and I finally realized that the job just wasn’t aligned with my passions. I ran my first full marathon in Philadelphia in 2005, and that was when running and health became a huge part of my life. I was also really into yoga and was practicing 4 to 5 times each week when I started doubting my job. One of my teachers invited me to join a yoga teacher’s training program, so even though I didn’t think that I wanted to teach, I gave it a try. Within four months, I was teaching a yoga class at FitCorp. Eventually, I was teaching eight classes per week, and I couldn’t do that if I had a full time job. So I left my job and decided to make a career out of yoga this past December.

What has it been like to transition from the working world to the yoga world?

I love the life I’m living right now. I became a certified spinning instructor, too, and I’ve picked up yoga classes at Back Bay Yoga, at Sweat and Soul Yoga, and in a few other places. I also recently became an ambassador for Lululemon, and I’m already planning classes for the fall, like yoga for runners and a hip hop glow stick class for Friday nights. I’m busy, but I have never felt so good about what I’m doing with my life.

What’s the coolest type of yoga you’ve ever taught?

Lululemon opened a store last March, and in mid-April, we ran an event with the store in the Alden Castle in Longwood. It was a masquerade yoga event, so everyone wore black and white and masks. For the first 30 minutes, I taught along with the music of a string quartet. Then for the last 30 minutes, we did hip hop yoga with DJ playing and everyone took off their masks. It was such great energy!

You teach hip hop yoga a couple times each week, right? How is it different from vinyasa yoga?

I teach hip hop yoga at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays at Sweat and Soul Yoga (SASY), and at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays at Back Bay Yoga (BBY). Lynne Begier, the owner and founder of BBY and SASY, brought hip hop yoga to Boston, and the concept has really taken off. It’s just vinyasa yoga, but with more powerful music so that creates a more upbeat energy. Someone who doesn’t normally take yoga classes will come to hip hop yoga because it’s a different feel, so I love that it breaks up the misconceptions of yoga.

Tell us about your new themed hip hop classes at Sweat and Soul Yoga. How did you come up with the idea?

I realized that on Thursday nights, people are getting ready for the weekend, and they want to do something high energy. Everyone has really responded to it— the classes are packed! I’ve done a “Battle of Boybands” class, a Britney Spears themed class, and even an East Coast vs. West Coast class. My theory is that on Thursday nights, people want an outlet. They want to go out and relax, but in a healthy way. After I taught the Britney Spears class, which was my first themed yoga class, the theme thing exploded. I had people submit requests and two days later, one of my students came to me with a list. He suggested a Jay Z themed class called “H to the Asana”, and I went with it.

What’s the best part of working as a yoga instructor?

I love that I’m able to create a community for people that helps them feel safe and connected. The connection with the students is awesome. I’ve met so many inspiring people from different parts of Boston, and from different walks of life. I also like to see people grow in their practices. It’s cool to see that the work you’re doing is having an impact— its gets me out of bed every day. I have honestly never been so energized by something that I love so much.