On a Tuesday afternoon at Yoga Vida, an elegant yoga studio in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Hilaria Thomas, a petite instructor resembling a younger Catherine Zeta-Jones, wove between rows of yoga mats to adjust a student’s Warrior Two pose.
“Warrior Three,” Thomas said, snapping her fingers and rolling her r’s, her faint Spanish accent softening an otherwise authoritative voice. Students moaned and grunted as they contorted their bodies into a succession of poses.
“Aren’t you glad I’m going away for six weeks?” she chirped. Her engagement ring sparkled as she tied back her shoulder-length dark hair.
It was no ordinary vacation: Thomas, 28, was being whisked away to the Cannes Film Festival by Alec Baldwin, who proposed to her in March after the couple had been dating for about a year.
Since the news of her engagement to the enigmatic 30 Rock star, Thomas has been thrust into the spotlight. The paparazzi have swarmed her yoga studio, reporters have sneaked into her classes—and subsequently been publicly shamed by Baldwin on Twitter—and PlumTV, a lifestyle channel televised in wealthy vacation communities, asked her to star in their popular morning show Yoga With a View.
A few days after class—on a cold, rainy morning in early May—Thomas arrived at the idyllic Caramoor estate in Westchester County, just north of New York City, to shoot the first of six 30-minute segments that will air on Memorial Day. Dressed in black yoga pants, a purple sweatshirt with thumbholes and a puffy black vest, Thomas straddled a folding chair and idly played with her square-cut diamond engagement ring. Behind her a film crew set up beneath an open-air Venetian pavilion.
“He just kept looking at me and I finally walked over to his table. He took my hand and said, ‘I must know you. I must know you.’”
Thomas recalled her first meeting with Baldwin, at an upscale raw-food restaurant in Manhattan. “The moment before I saw him, I said to my girlfriends, ‘Universe, I have an announcement to make. I’m ready to meet someone and fall in love,’” she said.
“My girlfriend whacked me and said, ‘Hilaria, shut up—Alec Baldwin is looking at you.’” She playfully mimicked looking over her shoulder, then crinkled her nose and laughed. “At the time I didn’t actually think anything of it, but looking back it’s kind of funny. He just kept looking at me and I finally walked over to his table. He took my hand and said, ‘I must know you. I must know you.’”
The pick-up line—straight from the mouth of Jack Donaghy— sparked an instant connection. The two talked for 10 minutes before exchanging numbers. “It was very slow, but right from the start, he treated me in a way I’d never been treated before.”
Baldwin, 54, had endured a years-long custody battle following his bitter and highly publicized divorce from Kim Basinger in 2002, which included the infamous voicemail to his daughter, Ireland, in which he called her a “thoughtless, rude little pig.” Despite 30 Rock’s continuing success (six Emmys in a row), Baldwin was taking a beating in the tabloids, and he was getting heavier and greyer. But since meeting Thomas, friends say, the actor looks trimmer and more youthful. Though his doctor put him on a no-sugar diet last summer, he told Newsweek in September that Thomas had been a “good influence,” adding that their relationship was “the most serious thing I guess I’ve had in a really, really long time.” He said he loved the fact that she “couldn’t give a damn about show business or the television business.”
“We don’t have a TV in the house,” Thomas said on the set of Yoga With a View. But they do, apparently, have an active and open Twitter relationship. Baldwin tweets about naming their children after yoga poses; Thomas tweets that her fiancé is a very good kisser.
Still, when she was asked to elaborate on her relationship in more than 140 characters, Thomas clammed up and looked at her publicist, who was hovering nearby.
“I’m just so careful about my personal life because of how invasive it can feel,” she said, admitting that the paparazzi are “annoying” and that she called out two staffers from the New York Daily News when one of them started snapping pictures of her engagement ring during yoga class.
At the film festival’s opening night at Cannes, Thomas wore a flowing black gown with her hair tucked back in a tidy bun. After a volley of camera flashes, a tuxedo-clad Baldwin turned, grinned, and scooped her up in his arms, carrying his yogi up the stairs of the Palais. Minutes later, she tweeted a photo of the fairy-tale moment: “Cannes…@alecbaldwin is my hero.”
Thomas was raised between Mallorca and Boston, and studied flamenco dancing, ballet, and gymnastics as a young girl before she began competing seriously in Latin ballroom dancing at age 13. After moving to New York City to study art history and dance at New York University, she took her first yoga class in 2005. At the end of that class, the instructor asked if she would like to apprentice under him. “Two weeks later, I started teaching yoga,” she said. In January 2010, she opened Yoga Vida with Michael Patton, a former Bear Stearns broker.
“The dance world is wonderful, but it doesn’t give you a very healthy outlook on life,” she said, explaining that she was 15 pounds thinner when she was dancing.
Yoga Vida’s 65-minute, Vinyasa-style classes offer an invigorating workout, with an emphasis on mind-body awareness. “Yoga is ultimately about being present, and I don’t believe being present is clearing your mind and thinking about rainbows and sunflowers,” Thomas said, adding that she doesn’t chant or om like more traditional yogis. Thomas attributed her knowledge of the body to years of dancing and studying somatic experience, or trauma healing. “I broke my hip because of dancing and too much exercise,” she said.
Thomas’s attractiveness and her charisma make her a natural fit for television, but students say she is also a nurturing mentor.
“She is a truly skilled yoga teacher, but Hilaria’s real talent is that you would never know how sophisticated she is. Her classes are easy to understand and very clearly structured,” Virginia Patton, 58, told The Daily Beast.
Back at Caramoor, the cameras were about to start rolling when Hilaria shuffled onto the set, shivering in tight black yoga capris and a turquoise sports bra. Her bare midriff revealed a belly-button ring.
“Good thing I got a tan in Palm Beach last week!” she squealed. Thomas and Baldwin have not yet announced a wedding date, but no one’s taking any chances. When a representative for PlumTV wanted to settle on a title for the new show, she whispered to Thomas’s publicist to ask whether her last name would be different by the time the segment airs in a few weeks. They settled on “Hilaria.”
When asked about what her future holds, Thomas said, “I have no idea where I’ll be five years from now. That’s not how my mind works.”