Working Out With Heather McGinley

March 31, 2015

McGinley, here in American Dreamer, does a series of 40 yoga poses before every class. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTDC.

When Heather McGinley strikes “dancer’s pose” in Paul Taylor’s elegant Byzantium or his mysterious Private Domain, she is thankful for all the hours spent doing yoga. Although she occasionally does Pilates and Gyrotonic, McGinley, now in her fourth season, says vinyasa yoga is her go-to cross-training tool.


She has been studying for two and a half years, and even spent four weeks training to be a yoga teacher. “I didn’t want to teach, but I did want to know more about what I was doing,” she says. She takes an hour-and-a-half class three times a week, less if she’s in heavy rehearsals. “I like vinyasa because the postures are all linked and there’s so much flow.” McGinley also finds it complements the rigors of doing complicated choreography. “It’s a great opportunity to find symmetry in your body,” she says. “If one side is too tight, overstretched or overused, yoga can address those imbalances.”


Yoga has helped strengthen her shoulders to handle the upper-body demands of Taylor’s work. “Doing a plank, for example, really helps me understand how my arms are connected to my upper back. That transfers onstage to the kind of full-body way that Taylor dancers use their upper body.”


Before daily class, McGinley does a sequence of 40 poses that she has adapted to become an ideal joint lubricator. “If I’m in a hurry I can get through it in 10 minutes, but if I have the time, I can take 45 minutes,” she explains. “I can also make small variations that tailor it to what I need that day.”


The versatility and portability appeal to her touring schedule, as well. “There’s a pose for everything,” she says. “I can work on opening a joint, control, core strength, then link all the poses, making it more interesting than just doing exercises. Yoga can go anywhere with me. I don’t even need a mat.”


Try This: Galavasana  

1. Stand with your feet together, with energy rooting the feet into the ground and radiating out the crown of the head. Shift your weight into the left foot and take a deep inhalation as the arms sweep overhead to press the palms together.

2. With a flexed right foot, cross the right ankle over the left thigh just above the knee.

3. Exhale and draw pressed palms to the center of the chest as the left knee bends deeply and the hips reach back for an imaginary chair. Stay for 5 to 7 full, easy breaths. Exit the pose by retracing the movement path and repeat on the other side.

Add an Arm Balance

From Galavasana, fold the torso forward to place both hands on the ground, shoulders’ width apart. Nestle the right upper arm under the right knee and hook the flexed right foot snugly around the left upper arm. Gently lift the hips to shift the weight into the hands. Float the left foot off the ground and extend the left leg back.