Helen Phelan is a renowned Pilates instructor and the creator of Pilates Rebels at Project by Equinox. Known for teaching some of the most popular fitness classes in the city, Phelan started dancing at age 3 before pursuing dance professionally. After working through personal body image issues and becoming a teacher, Phelan had a shift in her mindset and became extremely passionate about teaching, feeling lucky to be creating the thing that becomes the best part of someone's day.
Phelan focuses on making her classes as educational as possible and veers away from using triggering language about one body part or another. With her deep knowledge of the human body and upbeat positivity, it is no wonder Phelan is one of the most sought after instructors in New York City.
What was your inspiration for becoming a health and wellness professional?
HELEN PHELAN: To be perfectly honest, I got into fitness initially just as a day gig while I was auditioning and performing as a dancer and needed a more flexible schedule than working in retail and a healthier schedule than hospitality. It surprised no one more than me when I felt my passion shifting from performance and concert dance to teaching and biomechanics.
What's the best part of working with clients?
HP: Definitely seeing how fitness can change someone's attitude, day and even life! In New York City women are running around so much, balancing careers, families, social lives and side hustles, that the hour they spend on a boutique fitness class is often the only hour they have for themselves all day. It is incredibly rewarding for me to see someone come in stressed out, exhausted, maybe a little grumpy, leave with a smile on their face (and better posture too!)
What are some of your favorite healthy food spots in the city?
HP: Well, my local coffee shop in Williamsburg, Hardwater Coffee, has the best matcha and avocado toast. Modern Love is my go-to date night spot-the menu is pretty decadent. Everything there is vegan and so unbelievably yummy that even my carnivore boyfriend likes eating there. For quick lunches when I'm working, I do my best to pack my own, or the obvious Sweetgreen or Dig Inn.
What's the best wellness advice you've ever received?
HP: Oh, I have so many answers to this question! The concept of bio-individuality, which I learned about as a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, is what works for one person is not guaranteed to work for you. Trial and error your own way until you find what type of workout, eating habits, sleep schedule, self-care practice, etc. works for you, rather than feeling defeated if Whole30 didn't accomplish the magic trick you thought it would. Lastly, and this one may be controversial as a trainer, but that quote that talks about those last 5 lbs. that you can't seem to shake? That's your life—red wine with dinner, enjoying an amazing meal, sleeping in, following your body's innate intuition. If you're not training for the Olympics, definitely strive for being healthy, but part of being healthy is enjoying yourself and eating the cake sometimes.
What's your best advice for people who are having a dip in self-confidence?
HP: Get off Instagram! I love using it as a tool to connect with my clients, but when I spend too long on the app I definitely feel myself falling into the comparison game, which never feels good. A daily gratitude practice has been literal magic for my mood. When you're constantly reminding yourself of how great your life actually is, it's harder to get dragged down. If you're someone who is constantly putting yourself down—practice talking to yourself like you would a loved one, and if you would never call your best friend overweight, lazy or unqualified, don't say it to yourself.
What is your favorite thing about living in New York City?
HP: How international it is. One thing I never anticipated about becoming a teacher was how often I'd be teaching a movement class to someone who doesn't speak English, or English is a second, third or fourth language. In addition to just getting so much first-hand exposure to other cultures, the added challenge to me as an instructor to still effectively communicate is really fascinating. I also feel like everyone I know is up to big things, starting their own companies, brands, shops, etc. The nonstop drive you find in any given New Yorker is more intense than anywhere else in the world. I'm proud to be among them!
Photography by: Photography Courtesy of Helen Phelan by Hayley Hill