Hilary Lindsay: Yogini Extraordinaire 

A Nashvillian’s life in body and mind

A Nashvillian’s life in body and mind

“A guru is not one who has a following, a guru is one who encourages and shows the way.”

—T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga

At 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, people are gathering at the Global Education Center on Nashville’s west side. They’re mostly women, but there are a few men, ages ranging from late 20s to early 50s. Participants are clad in jogging clothes for the most part, and as they stare at themselves in the large wall-length mirror, they limber up easily, stretching legs and arms, jogging in place a bit, breathing in, breathing out.

When Hilary Lindsay enters the side door on 49th Street, just off Charlotte Avenue, a distinctive energy fills the dance studio space—smiles all around. A definite camaraderie has been reestablished, and a kind of communal bond settles into the air.

This is no surprise, though. Hilary Lindsay is energy-plus. She is one of Nashville’s premier yoginis—by definition, a woman who practices yoga. On the other hand, Lindsay is so much more.

At 4 feet, 11 inches, Lindsay is as slender as she is diminutive. Her hair is brown, with a hint of auburn. To the casual observer, her age might be elusive, though Lindsay will admit that she is “closer to 50 than I am to 40.”

This kind of candor seems typical. Lindsay will also tell you that she hails from New Jersey, and that her rather peripatetic existence has taken her to Upstate New York, through Aspen, Colo., back to New York, on to L.A., and finally to Nashville, where she has lived for seven years. She’s married to cinematographer Rob Lindsay, and they have two sons, Jack, 11, and Forrest, 8.

Furthermore, the journey to Nashville—and to prominence and a kind of guru status in the local yoga community—has encompassed career endeavors of a most varied kind. Lindsay has worked as a newspaper reporter, political operative, belly dancer, waitress, and as a bookkeeper and executive for a film production company. Finally, while teaching dance in California, Lindsay discovered yoga. She studied it. Excelled at it. She also extended its parameters to create the BodyMind Workout, her own personal blend of dance, exercise, and yoga. It’s not a stretch to say that the practice of yoga has become a binding, central force in her life and the lives of those she teaches. She is the perfect example of a person who has fashioned a lifestyle with the goal of harmonizing body and mind.

“Hilary is one of the few persons I know who is truly doing what they are meant to do,” says husband Rob.

Probably so. And Lindsay does it in a big way. She flits about town, five days a week—from the Nashville Ballet’s West Campus, to 12 South Yoga, to a space on Belmont Boulevard, then out to the Global Education Center—conducting classes ranging from her beginning Active Yoga to the BodyMind Rhythm & Yoga. The latter is really the pièce de résistance of workout experiences, replete with live drummers playing African percussion instruments. The pace here is furious, with Lindsay leading her charges in a never-ending hour of strenuous and quite dramatic movement.

Lindsay’s magic has brought her an interesting array of students. Included among them are Magdalene Project director Becca Stevens, Raul Malo of pop-country group The Mavericks, and, not least of all, Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, whom she has trained privately for the past three years.

“I met Hilary through Titans strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson,” George says. “I’d wanted to give it a try because I’d heard how successful she was.

“Hilary is demanding, and yoga is more demanding physically than you know. It requires more patience. Rather than the ‘three quick bursts’ style that is typical of the football regimen, with yoga there’s no time for recovery. It’s intensive.”

George knows of no other football player who is using yoga as an adjunct to standard training. “Any kind of cross-training is good for an athlete,” he says. “Yoga involves stretching the muscles and pushing the body to achieve awkward positions. But also, I like to think that the way yoga relieves stress and tension is something that can be useful on the football field.”

Learning to be flexible

But what exactly is yoga? Many people identify it with the hippy-dippy ’60s, which is indeed when this ancient practice rose in popularity stateside. Yet unlike other faddish exercise schemes, yoga has endured, a testimony to its wide-ranging benefits. It was developed more than 5,000 years ago in India to energize and strengthen mind-body awareness, to balance physical health with psychological well-being. Conceived as the perfect method for self-integration, yoga is used widely in the West in a variety of applications. It keeps the body fit and flexible. It asks the mind to be focused and quiet.

Yoga is used by its devotees—more than 6 million in the U.S., according to Yoga Journal—to reduce stress, to enhance mental acuity, and even to relieve chronic pain. Nowadays, there are even subspecialties: yoga for expectant mothers, yoga for children, yoga for the over-50 set, yoga for the handicapped.

All of these derive from the six branches of yoga:

1. raja (physical and mental control)

2. karma (action)

3. jana (knowledge or wisdom)

4. bhakti (love and devotion)

5. tantra (ritual awakening of energy in the body)

6. hatha (physical)

Hatha yoga is by far the most popular—it’s the one most people associate with bending, stretching, twisting, and even standing on your head. In truth, hatha yoga involves a series of poses or postures (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and concentration to unite breath, body, and mind.

Hatha yoga is Hilary Lindsay’s stock-in-trade. Her practice draws most prominently on two of the currently nine schools of hatha yoga: Ashtanga (with its strong emphasis on the physical) and Iyengar (with its emphasis on symmetry and alignment).

But it’s clear that Lindsay, like a lot of other yoga instructors, has found the freedom to incorporate her own personal ideas about the practice. “Yoga is a system of energy management,” she begins. “It’s a way of figuring out how to live in the world by living inside your body. You take energy in, you let energy go. And while you’re doing that, you’re energizing the body in ways that engage your mind.

“When we discuss yoga in this country, we usually mean hatha yoga. But when people talk about yoga in India, it’s more a spiritual process. It asks questions like, How are you living in the world? How are you taking care of others? How are you cleansing the mind and body? But the first step toward yoga really involves the body, because the body is the first way that you understand anything. When you can understand how you live inside your body, then you’re able to go into the world and do wild things, or do things for others, or just make the world a better place.”

On the other hand, Lindsay will admit that while the trappings of yoga appear to be meditative, that isn’t always the case. “Hey, it might induce peace,” she says passionately. “But it might induce anger too. I’ve had people come to class and have all kinds of emotional stuff come up. There’s a belief that emotions are stored in the muscles. People will tell you if you work deep tissue in the physical body, memories will come through. Because yoga believes that the body and mind are all one thing.”

Lindsay is careful, however, to eschew the role of yogini/therapist. “People come to see me out of curiosity. Because they heard it was really good for them. Or they’re really uptight, and their doctor said they should. You might relax, meditate, or relieve your stress, but it’s not a place to forget your troubles, necessarily.”

Yoga purists abound, and they often hew to strict definitions of the practice. Lindsay, true to form, rejects them all, preferring to focus on a broader human perspective. “Yoga is supposed to be whatever you want, in my opinion. Some people say it should be a life practice. But otherwise, you might simply end up practicing kindness. On the other hand, if you just had a bad day, you can go to a yoga studio to exercise and stretch. Some people just think of it as stretching. And they use it to look better. The thing I’ve heard most is that it just makes them feel good. And if you feel good, then you’ll be decent to others.”

Jim Hartline is the guidance counselor at Granbery Elementary School in Brentwood. He has worked with Hilary Lindsay for four years. He tries to attend classes two or three times a week in addition to Lindsay’s Saturday-morning special at Global Education Center. “I’m committed because it’s a great workout,” he says. “But also because Hilary and the folks in the class are like a big extended family.”

“I try to allow time at the beginning of classes for people to get to know each other,” Lindsay says, “to share their quirks and foibles, and to tease them and to bring them out. And in that way, yoga is really spiritual. It’s allowing you to know yourself and to be yourself. And to be happy.”

Happiness: Now there’s an elusive goal. Yet we all seek it, one way or the other. Through our bodies.

Through our minds. Yoga, in its holistic way, offers—if not actual happiness—the chance to pursue some semblance of personal satisfaction. It is a process that encourages integration—of mind with body. It also opens a door, whereby all who enter may encourage and be encouraged, may show the way, and be shown the way. It is a communal experience, and it strives to create—at the very least—the glow of happiness. The kind that brings out the guru in us all.

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