Orange is the New Black star Alysia Reiner talks about why mindfulness, meditation and yes, organic bedding and reclaimed furniture, are important to her
Alysia Reiner is nothing like Fig. Where assistant warden Natalie “Fig” Figueroa is reviled for her evil machinations on Orange is the New Black, Reiner is a yogi and environmentalist more interested in philanthropy than power. She serves as a spokesperson for the breastfeeding advocacy organization Best for Babes, works with the Cancer Support Community and Actors for Autism, and is part of a clean water initiative called “Flash Flood for Good.”
As an actress, Reiner is known as a team player: She was a key member of the SAG award-winning Sideways cast, was called “priceless” for her off-Broadway theater work by The New York Times, and currently also appears on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder.
We caught up with Reiner at her sustainable home in Harlem, NY, which she shares with her husband, actor David Alan Basche, and their daughter, Liv.
Right now, you’re probably best known on the small screen. But last year you appeared in three movies and filmed two more. Do you ever slow down?
I don’t sleep much. [laughs] One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to try to get six hours a night. But I’m a go-big or go-home kind of girl. And it’s been so much fun! The work has been amazing, and I’m also producing now. My partner and I started Broad Street Pictures with the mission of bringing more women in front of and behind the camera. We’re producing our first feature, Equity, right now. It’s a Wall Street picture—there have been so many outrageously successful Wall Street movies and not one of them has ever focused on a woman. And of course, I’m always a mom first. So it’s a really exciting time. But there’s not a lot of time for sleep!
“Check in with your heart and see if your heart needs anything today”
So you’re going back and forth between New York and L.A. Besides not sleeping, what do you do to stay grounded?
I use a lot of mindfulness techniques. I meditate daily and believe in fueling your body in healthy and loving ways. For me that means less sugar and processed foods in general—it’s really about the least amount of chemicals in my body and on my body as possible. I think this really helps your energy. I believe in supplements—and caffeine, in moderation.
And joy! Joy, joy, joy! Take the laugh. If a laugh is ever offered to you, go for it. That’s one of the most awesome things about having small humans in the house.
So the things you just described would never in a million years be associated with Fig. That character could not be more opposite to your real personality! How weird is it to play her?
I have no idea how I got cast as that character. But that’s what the universe does sometimes! I love it, because she’s taught me so much. She’s such a b, as they say. And she really has grown [on] me. She’s taught me how to stand up for myself in a way that I didn’t before. And it’s been incredibly painful sometimes, because she is so not me. I’ve never fought with a director, but I’ve definitely had directors say to me, “You need to be meaner.”
What’s your favorite place to practice yoga?
I love going to different places, but I have a special place in my heart for Golden Bridge and Kundalini yoga. But I’ll go to Moda, I’ll go to Gurmukh, I’ll take it at the gym. Earth’s Power. You name it, I’ll go. And I love going to yoga studios when I’m on location, too. I just love yoga.
I have a morning set that I do pretty much every morning, it’s really good for stretching out your back. It’s the Kundalini Wake Up Set, which includes a shoulder stand and camel pose using breath of fire. I do it in the middle of the day sometimes. And then I do a little meditation.
What’s your favorite meditation?
I do it with my daughter—it’s a guided meditation. I say, “Imagine that you are grounded in the earth and connected to everything on the earth. You’re connected to all the water and the oceans and the volcanoes (she’s a big volcano girl) and you’re connected to everything above you, the angels and the sky and the fairies (she believes in fairies) and to God. And now I want you to connect to your heart and feel your heart beat and feel that with your heart you can be of love and service today. And check in with your heart and see if your heart needs anything today.” And when I’m not with her, I pretty much do that silently with myself.
If you ever decide to change careers you could be a meditation instructor!
[laughs] Before I made a living as an actress, I was a meditation and yoga instructor in New York.
Okay moving on from yoga to everyone’s favorite subject: spas. Where is your favorite eco spa?
I love Parrot Cay—that’s one of my favorites. Soon I’m going to Las Ventanas—I’m so excited. It’s actually a semi-surprise from David so I don’t know that much about it yet.
How about at home? How do you bring the spa to you?
I try to keep my home as spa-like as possible. No TV in the bedroom, and I try and limit screen time as much as possible. We have a very spa-like bedroom both in New York and L.A. with lots of incense and spa music—yoga chanting kind of stuff—and candles.
Over the holidays, Liv and I made our own candles. We used organic soy wax and poured it into old spaghetti and salsa sauce jars and then scented them with all sorts of essential oils that we happened to have in the house. It was so fun!
And I love organic spa and beauty products. It’s fun to DIY spa treatments—I use everything from avocado to oats and [I’m] making my own salt scrub. There are so many fun and easy things you can do, especially with kids. Liv loves to take things that we eat—like organic sugar or coconut oil—and put them on her face. A banana on the face is hilarious to a five-year-old.
I’m imagining all of this taking place in a very eco-friendly kitchen. Your green home in Harlem has even been featured on World’s Greenest Homes.
Yes, but even our home here in Los Angeles is really green. We have all organic bedding and a lot of our furniture is reclaimed or recycled.
“Joy, joy, joy! Take the laugh. If a laugh is ever offered to you, go for it.”
Why is green design so important to you?
I’ve always been a girl who loves to rescue things. When I see a piece of furniture on the street—and you see a lot of that in the city—I’d say, “I know what we can do with this!”
And we had looked at more than 106 properties all over New York. We were just looking for a two-bedroom house and they kept getting bought out from under us. Then we found this house in Harlem that had no windows, doors, roof, electricity or plumbing. It was just a shell. There was garbage everywhere, and crack pipes and needles.
The house was the ultimate recycling job. It was rescuing on a massive scale. And just like having a baby, if you knew how hard it would be you wouldn’t do it. We had no idea how hard it would be! But I’m so glad we did it because we love our home.
We have everything from radiant heat to double flush toilets—everything is energy efficient. There’s a lot of reclaimed wood, bamboo floors. Building green for me—I simply couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
You really walk the talk. When did you first become aware of the difference between eco and conventional lifestyles? What was the tipping point for you?
I think a real turning point was getting pregnant. Being a food source for a child—both when you’re pregnant and when you’re breastfeeding—and creating a home for that child. You become more aware daily. For example, you learn about food and then you’re like, “Oh, what about the products I’m using on my body?” For me, it started with food, and then my cleaning products and body products and now clothing.
You are such a huge example for so many people! Especially in the way that you use your media platform to spotlight important causes.
Thank you! I’m already talking with a fantastic nonprofit called Bent on Learning, which brings yoga and meditation to inner city schools.
Last year you filmed scenes with Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Viola Davis and Ray Liotta. What wisdom did you absorb from these legendary actors?
I find that the more someone has been around, the nicer they tend to be. Viola Davis, for example, has such deep curiosity and humility—those are things I always want to continue to grow.
I really believe in never taking anything for granted. Always have a sense of wonder. It’s so important to wonder and be willing to not know. The minute we think we know anything we’re in trouble.
Again, those words would never be spoken by Fig.
Alysia Reiner’s Insanely Yummy Whipped Coconut Body Butter Recipe
One cup organic coconut oil (solid)
One teaspoon vitamin E oil
10 drops organic Rose Geranium Essential Oil
10 drops organic Lavender Essential Oil
Recycled glass jar(s) with lid(s)
Put ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use a KitchenAid or electric hand mixer on high for five to seven minutes, until the body butter is whipped. Store at room temperature, or in the fridge if it’s warm enough that your whip will melt. If it’s cold in your house, the butter may solidify a bit, but rub it between your hands and it will return to the perfect consistency to smooth onto your skin.