Whether you are a student, a doctor or an actress, keeping fit and staying healthy is very important. We got to do a exclusive Q&A with Hollywood, California veterinarian-turned-actress Hillary Hickam about her career and keys to staying fit through yoga (and opinion on the Downward Dog).
1. How were you first introduced to yoga?
The first time I ever saw someone doing yoga was in my best friend’s house about 25 years ago. I accidentally walked in on her mom doing something really strange in her bedroom… I was bewildered and thought it was some strange ritual or something! Little did I know she was just way ahead of her time. The first time I ever actually tried yoga was about 15 years ago here in California in a beautiful outdoor setting in the Santa Barbara area. I was hooked.
2. What types of yoga do you practice occasionally…. what attracted you to these styles most?
My favorite is Vinyasa flow yoga for the focus and relaxation it provides while still being a work out. More often I practice power yoga though, largely due to the wide availability of the classes and the more cardio it provides. There is a candlelight Hatha yoga class that I have been to a few times that I really love, too because I find it so relaxing and spiritual.
3. Can you tell us about how practicing yoga helps you as an actress?
First and foremost it keeps the body in shape and limber and of course as an actress your instrument is your body so it better be fine-tuned all the time. But beyond that I find that practicing yoga builds confidence and self-esteem. When I practice a focused, solid hour of yoga, I feel so accomplished and powerful and grateful. Walking on set or on stage in that frame of mind gives me the energy and the focus to be the best I can be and it creates a generosity and rapport with fellow actors that creates the best possible work environment.
It certainly gave me the stamina to endure 12-15 hour work days on my feet getting up and down off the floor. And again, it gives you a self-possession that creates a space for you to love and be a calming presence to other people. Clients certainly need to feel that composure and confidence from their veterinarian.
5. As a veterinarian, what are your views towards the “downward dog”?
I think it is fantastic that some brilliant person (or people) adapted a true atavism seen in our canine friends! Dogs naturally stretch in the “downward dog” position repeatedly throughout the day. It wakes up their entire body and prepares them for activity. They also will use the “downward dog” position (we also refer to this as the puppy bow!) as a friendly greeting or a sign of submission. How cool is it then that this is the central stretch in our yoga practice? We are stretching our bodies AND ALSO greeting everyone around us with friendship and submission.
6. Do you have any tips on how people can help keep their pets healthy fitness wise?
Walking your dog every day, twice a day is the best exercise for both of you! Dogs that fetch will get terrific natural exercise every time you throw the ball for them. I truly believe that the body is a temple and everything you put in it affects what happens inside it. Therefore feeding your dog healthy food, that has gone through AAFCO feeding trials, is the best thing you can do for your friend. I also think a good puppy massage and stretch is great for your pet. Gently massaging their neck and shoulders will make your dog incredibly happy. I also stretch my dogs’ legs just a bit every day (ask your veterinarian how to do this safely before you try it at home.)
7. Have you ever taken your pets to yoga classes or elsewhere with you?
I have a 4 pound maltese who does go virtually everywhere with me, but no, I have never taken her to a workout or a yoga class. She would probably be incredibly quiet and well-behaved, but she is so adorable that she would probably distract the other yoga practitioners. She does shop and travel with me and often sits backstage when I am on stage.
8. How does having pets help you with your day to day life in keeping healthy?
First thing in the morning, our pets make us get up and start the day because we have to take them outside. That’s the first success of the day: getting up! Taking them on walks encourages exercise for both you and your pet. Playtime keeps the mind and body active. But perhaps most importantly, they provide unconditional love all day every day which keeps us emotionally grounded and deeply satisfied and happy.
9. What has been your greatest challenge when it comes to your practice of yoga?
Time and scheduling. The only drawback of yoga practice for me is that I have to adhere to someone else’s class schedule. I am not skilled enough to practice on my own yet, so I need to get in class and as we all know, our schedules can be so unpredictable!
10. What advice would you like to share with other practitioners based on your personal experience?
Focus on the breath. Everything else will come.
My favorite place I ever practiced yoga was outside at sunset in the bush in Botswana. During savasana we would lie and literally listen to hyenas laughing, bushbabys crying, frogs croaking, and the whole bush waking up around us. It was truly spiritual just lying there, listening to all of God’s creations.
12. Besides yoga, do you take care of your health through other activities?
I was not naturally blessed with a lot of athletic prowess, but I love to run and to play tennis and racquetball. I practice a few martial arts and I adore tai chi. I also study Alexander technique which is a wondrous way to use your body properly and it helps me relax and prepare for a role. I think the healthiest part of my life is my diet. I was a vegetarian for 17 years but I have now added some meat back into my diet. I try not to eat any processed foods, no sugars, no corn, no peanuts, and absolutely no artificial sweeteners. Finally, prayer keeps my mind and body healthy and focused and ready for anything!
13. What are your future dreams and goals both professionally and personally?
I would like to blend my two passions, acting and animals. My dream? My perfect world is one in which I have my own television show about veterinarians that is not only entertaining but also provides bits of wisdom to the public on the care of animals and conservation. With the success of the show, I will open my sanctuary which will take in abandoned or surrendered geriatric dogs and retired horses and nurse them in their later years.
14. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
I would make sure that every pet had a home, and for any that didn’t, they would wait in no-kill shelters and sanctuaries.
To read the full article please download our Asana Journal App or purchase Issue 159 March 2016.