Insight: Hannah Shelly
Yoga Instructor | Teacher at The Class | Reiki Practitioner
Per the magic of the internet, I stumbled upon Hannah completely by chance, a story that has become very familiar to me over the past couple of years. I’d become increasingly interested in The Class by Taryn Toomey, and I realized that Hannah was bouncing between Philadelphia and NYC weekly, making my chances of seeing what the hype was all about a little more realistic. Amidst a hectic yoga training and unpredictable work schedule, I knew making it to a session at the time was going to be difficult to line up with her schedule, so Hannah came to my house a while back to guide me through one-on-one.
I don’t think my home studio has ever been more energized. As we moved through the intense and releasing sequences, I was experiencing a feeling unlike any I had gotten during a “work out”. I wanted to bottle it up. I’ve felt a similar sort of release during my yoga practice, but this was different. More energetic, maybe a bit more concentrated. My body felt wild after we finished, and I knew I was hooked.
I’ve since taken Hannah’s class in NYC at the Class Studio in Tribeca. I brought my friend Alex along the last time I went, I had been telling her nonstop since my experience with Hannah that she needed to take it, and knew it would be much easier to experience for the first time with a buddy. She was hesitant but excited for what was ahead of us. She’s decidedly not a “work out class” kind of person, which I get, as I feel similarly. I dislike most gyms and gym culture, and have only ever felt comfortable publicly sweating it out through an intense Vinyasa practice. As we got off the subway, I had been trying the entire ride to properly explain the experience. I think I said the word “cathartic” a dozen times. A little over an hour later, with her first experience behind us, we walked that same route back to the subway entrance. Still blissed out and sweaty from the entire experience, she looked at me and said “I get it now.” She signed up for her next Class within the week.
the Insight Series
featuring Hannah Shelly
the Insight Series is an ongoing series of interviews,
featuring some lovely ladies that I’ve photographed,
who took the time to chat & share some insight.
As a teacher I do my best to sequence intelligently, to take the utmost care of the bodies of my students, to weave in teachings from the ancient texts of yoga as well as my own learnings in a down to earth, but sacred way.
JG: You’re part of Taryn Toomey’s dynamic group of women currently teaching “the Class”
How did you first become interested in it? Were you attending regularly before you felt called to teach? Was it more random?
I don’t believe anything is random.
I was first introduced to the Class by Courtney Deri, a friend (and incredible Class teacher) I met on a teacher’s yoga retreat in Montana. She was just going through her own training to teach the Class and invited me to one of her practice Classes. It was held in an old dance studio in Union Square- no crystals, no mauve colored mats, no frills. It was 75 minutes of intense, powerful, raw, cathartic movement. It was different from anything I’d ever done before and I was so drawn to the teachings. I remember thinking to myself, “Holy Shit, I want to do this.”
I started taking Class around New York City when I could. Over a year after that, combined with an engagement, leaving a job in the corporate retail world, and a move OUT of NYC, I saw a posting for The Class Teacher Training and decided I had to audition. I knew the odds and logistics were against me, but I did it anyway.
I saw a posting for The Class Teacher Training and decided I had to audition.
I knew the odds and logistics were against me, but I did it anyway.
JG: Apart from teaching “the Class”, you’re also a yoga teacher, as well as a reiki practitioner. Was there a linear path for you arriving at these different practices?
Hannah: I don’t know if I would say it was linear. What I have found through each of my trainings is that the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I want to learn.
The physicality of yoga is what drew me in at first. In college I bought a Gaim yoga DVD. There were two 20 minutes power yoga sequences. It was Rodney Yee on a mountain top in very little clothing guiding us through. I think I did those two sequences a thousand time (I later had the privilege of learning from him at Yoga Shanti’s Advanced Teacher Training). I felt the effects in my body first. I moved to Columbus, Ohio after college and started practicing power yoga religiously. I feel sorry for my shoulder girdle when I think about many chaturangas I did throughout the four years I lived there.
When I moved to New York my ‘yoga preferences’ and practice started to shift. There were so many studios, types of yoga, brilliant (and not so brilliant) teachers. I enrolled in my first teacher training through Yogaworks. I had the honor of studying under Heather Seagraves- who taught me so much. I still carry a lot of her teachings with me now. She inspired me in many ways. I don’t practice power yoga anymore but it was a gateway for me. I don’t even know what type of yoga I practice or teach. I really don’t know the answer- it’s just ‘yoga’! For me yoga is about feeling embodied. To connect to my breath, to move or to be still with intention. To find effort and ease.
As a teacher I do my best to sequence intelligently, to take the utmost care of the bodies of my students, to weave in teachings from the ancient texts of yoga as well as my own learnings in a down to earth, but sacred way. Six years into teaching I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of it all, understanding anatomy, the wisdom of our bodies, the depths of human resilience, our capacity to heal, love and evolve.
I completed my first reiki training this past Winter. It was curiosity that drew me in. Reiki is a spiritual healing modality, which can be practiced either by yourself, or a practitioner placing their hands lightly on, or just above (proximally) the body. Reiki treats the whole person- including the mind, physical, spiritual and emotional body. Through the power of touch, Reiki can create a deeply grounding quality in the body. Similar to Acupuncture, Reiki can also help improve energy flow in the body and break up stagnant or stuck energy. I personally find Reiki to be extremely relaxing and calming. While it is not meditation, the practice allows you to drop into a meditative state. Other benefits include stress reduction, pain management/alleviation, and help with sleep issues. Reiki is simple, natural and safe and there are no contraindications for practicing.
JG: You live and work between Philadelphia and NYC. Has that fluctuation been challenging, or do you enjoy the change of pace?
Hannah: Philly & NYC do have such different energies! Sometimes I feel like I can take a deep breath when I’m in Philly. I’m also always itching to get back to “the city”.
I grew up in Connecticut outside of NYC, and it just feels right for me. The fitness scene also couldn’t be more different for two cities that are less than 100 miles apart. It’s interesting to practice and teach in both places.
To be honest, living and working in both cities is challenging! The situation is complicated and multi-layered, but my husband Adam and I (and our sweet pup Finley) do it together. We are super supportive of one another.
JG: We’ve talked about how it’s hard to fully understand the energy of the Class without attending, but one word I’ve consistently used is “cathartic”. Similarly for me, while certainly not as physically intense at this time, I find that my yoga practice seeks that same cathartic, releasing element. I’m curious, as a teacher of both, have you found any relation of the energy between the two?
Hannah: The best way to truly understand The Class is to experience it for yourself. The part of it that is difficult to put into words is what makes it so special. Everything about The Class is intentional- the movements, the sequencing, the music, the speak. It balances intensity and fire with introspection and softness. It is designed in a way to get you out of your head and back into your body, which for many people is extremely cathartic.
For me, the relationship between The Class and Yoga is in the mind-body connection. Moving in a way that reconnects you to your breath and body. As far as catharsis goes, for me personally I have only found that release and freedom through The Class.
It balances intensity and fire with introspection and softness.
It is designed in a way to get you out of your head and back into your body, which for many people is extremely cathartic.
I don’t even know what type of yoga I practice or teach. I really don’t know the answer- it’s just ‘yoga’! For me yoga is about feeling embodied. To connect to my breath, to move or to be still with intention. To find effort and ease.
JG: So much of what you do involves movement. Do you feel a need to balance that with stillness, or meditation?
Hannah: Yes! It’s a lot physically and otherwise. I teach anywhere from 8-15 sessions (between private sessions, yoga, yoga sculpt & The Class) a week.
Keeping myself healthy is still a work in progress. I try to take a restorative or yin yoga class when I can. I also try to take classes outside of my comfort zone- most recently I’ve been taking an Intro to House Dance Class at Urban Movement Arts in Philly. If you live in the area get yourself to one of Vince’s classes.
Eating well, getting enough sleep, and alone time to recharge keeps me going. Meditation is an important practice for me. I use the app Insight. Sometimes I listen to a guided meditation, sometimes I just set a timer. At the very least I close my eyes and follow my breath for a few minutes each day.
JG: I so love the playlists you put together. Any songs or artists that have been inspiring you lately?
Hannah: Thank you ! Creating playlists for The Class is not something I take lightly !! It’s an art. Weaving together different sounds, voices, textures, tempos, genres to create an experience for people. For anyone that hasn’t taken the Class yet, it is a musically driven practice.Taryn always talks about how the artists are our co-teachers and I truly believe that.
Sometimes my playlists come together quickly, but other times I spend countless hours working on them. I actually have to set boundaries for myself around it or I can fall into the black hole that is Spotify (and Soundcloud!). There is just so much content! Lately I have been hooked on James Blake and Hozier.. Their new albums are incredible, there is so much soul behind their voices. I was also late to the electronic scene so I’m just discovering now the genius that was Avicii. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Maggie Rogers, Tracy Chapman, Alison Wonderand, and The Rolling Stones- so I’m kind of all over the place.
having FUN can be medicinal. Adulthood is hard! There is so much to worry about, people to consider, things to do… making time for play is so important to recharge.
JG: We spoke a bit about how it takes a lot of time, money, even energy to properly take care of yourself.
I imagine that your body and energy can be quite drained due to the intensity of your day-to-day. Has that in turn made your self-care more necessary?
Do you have a self-care routine, or body work that you’ve found really allows you to hit reset?
Hannah: Self-care is so important. However I do feel now more than ever we have to keep ourselves in check for what that really means for us individually. Every day there is something new that comes out about what you should eat, not eat, what you should buy, stop buying etc. Self-care doesn’t have to mean drinking celery juice, or whatever is the latest fad. I try to stick to the basics- getting enough sleep and eating nourishing, real food. I like to cook and I feel the best when I’m making my own food. My relationship with food and my body is an ongoing conversation, and sometimes a battle. Even though intellectually I WANT to feel one way about it, I often feel another. I’m so much harder on myself than I am to anyone else….Still unpacking that one!
I do primarily eat a vegan diet. Sometimes I eat eggs though, or fish, or cheese, or ice cream, and it’s so good. I do care a lot about animals. I’m still working it out for myself on the issue. Besides that I see a chiropractor regularly. More sporadically I will get massages, infrared sauna, cryotherapy. I also take a lot of baths! Also- having FUN can be medicinal. Adulthood is hard! There is so much to worry about, people to consider, things to do… making time for play is so important to recharge. Whether that be spending time with girlfriends, a weekend away with Adam or just drinking wine and laughing a lot. One of my good friends and next door neighbor is a comedian-I'm lucky to be never short of laughs.
My relationship with food and my body is an ongoing conversation, and sometimes a battle. Even though intellectually I WANT to feel one way about it, I often feel another.
JG: Do you have any daily rituals, or spiritual practices alongside your physical practice?
Hannah: My morning ritual involves cuddling my dog Finley in bed and telling him repeatedly what a good boy he is ! hehe. I make a big pot of coffee every morning and try to take some time for myself, which I use to meditate, read, journal, watch a bad tv show, something like that. I also make time to take both the Class and yoga. It’s so incredibly important to continue to be a student first and foremost. The other Class teachers are some of the most inspiring women I have ever met. I love being in their Classes and learning from them.
JG: Any travel or projects coming up you’re excited about? I know you’ll be attending one of the Class’s retreatments soon!
Hannah: Yes- I’ll be attending my first Retreatment in Martha’s Vineyard this Summer- I’m so excited to be immersed in the Class Community and learn in this intensive setting. This Spring I'll begin offering private reiki sessions. Lookout for details! Lastly, I have a prenatal yoga training on the mind…I’m not sure when it will happen, but it will.
It’s so incredibly important to continue to be a student first and foremost. The other Class teachers are some of the most inspiring women I have ever met. I love being in their Classes and learning from them.