“10 Years at Park Slope.”
We opened the doors to Bikram Yoga Park Slope located on Flatbush Avenue on 3/16/2003. Quickly, Bikram Yoga Park Slope became a neighborhood hot spot for a diverse and eclectic community of yogis. Bikram Yoga Park Slope makes up for it’s small size with huge personality and artistic touches. BYPS has come a long way from it’s roots when Jessica could be observed with swaddled infant and toddler in tow flyering the town preaching the benefits of hot yoga and Roody could be found teaching most of the classes. We now claim a manager, veteran yogis, the next generation, a workstudy program, and a full roster of dynamite certified Bikram Yoga instructors.
We later open Bikram Yoga South Slope in December of 2007. Housed in a former bank lobby, the practice room has abundant architectural detailing, high ceilings, and windows on two sides. We brag the same roster of certified and dynamic teachers. Students often claim the South Slope as their favorite studio in New York City.
However none of this would be possible without our amazing teachers and yogis. Big Thanks
Interview by Jessica Senecal, Illustration by Nancy Cuervo
“It’s a very good feeling….. I wish everyone would try it and see the benefits.”
What brought you to Bikram yoga?
I was walking along Flatbush Avenue looking for a restaurant. I saw the studio, and I was curious. I took a peek inside and saw Aimee. She invited me in, showed me around and talked about Bikram Yoga. This was in 2009. I came months later….I didn’t know if I could do it…
What took you so long to come back and take your first class?
105 degrees! My goodness that’s very hot!…but still..I thought, let me try it.
Then in 2010 I did a week. LOVED it! Then I did a month. Not long after I became sick, having to be hospitalized and have my gall bladder removed. After I recovered I was thinking about the yoga. I missed it. I came back in March 2011 and never stopped.
Why do you come every day?
Because I enjoy it so much, it does a lot for me. For example it lets me sleep at night, a peaceful sleep. I was experiencing pain in my back, belly, knee, joints, and of course it helps. It is all gone. My appetite, eating habits, have changed for the better. My breathing used to be out of whack. I couldn’t breathe. If I climbed six steps, I would have to stop and rest. My heart felt like it was coming to my mouth. After Bikram I find myself doing 100 steps back and forth, I walk over 2 miles, my breathing has improved a lot. I lost 80 pounds, I’m now stronger, calmer, much friendlier, and patient!…Especially when I’m driving! Those drivers that would cut you off! Before, I would speed up and let them have it, but now I say “ok go ahead, go ahead, or if I’m at the supermarket, if someone cuts in front of me again I say “go ahead.”
You said your favorite postures are both Camel and the first Half Moon Backward Bending posture, You can breathe in those postures?
Yes, my breathing is good, a teacher told me once to breathe 6 counts in and 6 counts out. My breathing has improved a lot.
Can you tell me how you think Bikram Yoga has made these changes in your life?
No, I thought about it, but I really can’t give you an answer. I do know that all the positive changes are because of Bikram. I know that for a fact. It’s a big change in my life. Remembering the first day I did yoga, I took a shower and I went home. Girl, it was like a burn came out of me, like a light. I was so happy the whole day, in and out. It was a good feeling. My body feeling light, like I won the lotto…nice.
Are people saying / noticing anything different about you?
Yes, yes people are asking if I had a facelift, stuff like that. My skin is better, I don’t wear any make- up. You can preach to them, but they will not know until they try it for themselves and see what I’m talking about. Talking gets me excited, because you don’t know the feeling to be pain free. Every day you get up and there is no pain, its normal! That’s how I feel now. I use to get up in the morning, my knees would hurt, my back would ache. I don’t take any medications. No vitamins, just Bikram. And the food that I’m eating now—more vegetables, fresh fruits, baked salmon. If I show people the brochure, they ask “can I do that?” I say “yes!” I see people doubting me. However, then they will see me on Facebook doing these poses at 65 years old! Girl, please…..! Nobody knows what it feels like! You have to truly go where I have been to understand what I am saying. It’s a nice feeling.
So you find you come to a peaceful place in the yoga class?
Oh yes, by the time I step into the studio, it’s all smiles because I’m happy to be there. It a good place to be. Always I’m smiling. People even have been drawn to me. A couple of times students have asked to practice next to me, so they can receive my energy.
How did you feel about that?
It’s a very good feeling….. I wish everyone would try it and see the benefits.
Interview by Carly Miller, Illustration by Nancy Cuervo
For Solitaire Macfoy, every day is “another wonderful day in paradise.”
What are your greatest challenges and successes in the hot room?
To get as far in every pose as possible. I have a limitation: i can’t bend the right leg because it’s fixed at the knee. Balance is an amazing thing. I can now balance on either leg, on the atrophied leg or good leg, and I have achieved the whole posture of standing head to knee.
It’s also very hard, it hurts. The hips, thighs, gluts, knees, all just hurt. It’s just the way the arthritis is deposited now. It used to hurt in all of my joints, but now it’s getting a lot better. This [Bikram Yoga] has made the pain much less in my shoulders, wrists, elbows, I can almost ignore them now. My hip joint still bothers me, but I’m walking.
How did you find Bikram Yoga?
Someone in my squad at the Park Slope Food Coop recommended Bikram Yoga, even though I had been doing Vinyasa yoga 5-6 times a week before. When I came to the studio I was greeted by Michelle A who said, ‘whatever causes you to walk on your crutches, come to Bikram Yoga and it will help.’
On my first day I saw Natalie, who is my good friend now, doing Ardachandrasana, her body at a right angle and thought, “you expect me to do that?” I couldn’t even get my arms to go straight.
It’s great that you had a sense of humor about it…
It was plainly obvious I wasn’t doing that right then and there, but it didn’t stop me going for it. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. Robbin, you know, she would be very encouraging, telling stories and talking to people, she generally had the room. She is phenomenal.
What role does your Bikram Yoga practice play in your daily life?
Awareness, mindfulness, consciousness, are all aspects of making the community that you’re in, people that you’re with. Making mindful choices, being present, it’s all yoga.
You certainly contribute to making this place a community!
The real deal is what’s in the Vedic scriptures by Pantanjali: the essence of anybody is everybody else. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about the community. That’s who we are, and to expand that: the more you embrace community, the more of you is in everyone else. Serve other people, and they will be more in you.
What drives you back to the hot room, day after day?
I come every day because it’s the best thing I can do any day. If this improvement continues it will come to a point where i can get a connection with my body, in every muscle and every pore, then there must be a way to levitate. And that is a pain free state. So that’s my goal – to get my body right, to get my body light, to take flight. It’s clear to me that it’s mind over matter. If I get my mind right, and practice with focus, concentration, and meditation…I mean, the things I do now, two years ago, were not happening!
I got into the habit of counting when 1,000 days will be – and by then I should levitate. Just take it 500 days at a time.
Congratulations for showing up to class, the hard part is already over. Or is it? It takes incredible patience, determination, and courage to show up in the hot Bikram yoga room day after day, pushing through mental and physical resistance, schedule conflicts, and self-inflicted limitations.
Meet Malkia Stampley: actress, mother of three, and conqueror of the 30-Day Challenge.
Malkia practiced at Bikram Yoga Park Slope for two months before diving in to the 30-Day Challenge. After taking four classes in one week she thought, “I can do this!” and made the commitment to 30 consecutive days of practice.
Driven by her 30th birthday, Malkia wanted something to heal body: an old knee injury, and spirit: re-focus her priorities on what’s really important in life.
1. No excuses allowed, create a warrior spirit
Working as a freelance actor and mother of three kids, fitting class into her schedule was a major challenge. Doing what seemed impossible, Malkia created the time in the morning by attending 6:30am at South Slope with Robbin. Consistency was part of her momentum for creating a positive routine, but once she got into the hot room it was anything but routine.
2. Find a teacher that challenges and inspires you
Robbin guided Malkia to the spiritual and personal side of Bikram yoga practice. Robbin focuses on the mind-body connection, and infuses spirituality into her dialogue. Malkia also thrived on physical adjustments Robbin made in class, nuanced changes that opened up the entire posture. Malkia has incredible respect for all her teachers, admiring their ability to be simultaneously loving and firm.
3. Meet your smiling happy face in the mirror, every day
Malkia remembers to celebrate her accomplishments in the postures, and enjoy the practice in the present moment, without taking herself too seriously. Even though every class is the same sequence of 26 postures, every class is entirely different. Malkia would eek out a smiling happy face, even when she was struggling, and that’s when the change would begin.
It wasn’t always easy to wake up early or to deal with things coming up during the class. Sometimes you just don’t want to be there. Some mornings Malkia would look for a way out, asking her husband “are you sure this is okay with you?” but he’d provide his unwavering support and care for the kids, making the decision to continue all her own.
4. See the bigger picture: 30-days builds your mental power on the mat and off
For Malkia, keeping it real meant finding emotional balance. Sometimes taking class would instill a resolute, inner calm that she carried into her life. Sometimes she would leave class feeling angry, emotional, ready to burst. Taking it day by day, Malkia challenged herself to be present with what’s real at every moment, and through consistent practice she found her power to control these emotional reactions. For example, Malkia’s practice positively affected her parenting, calming her temper when reacting to her kids or her husband.
5. Expect the unexpected: change your practice, change your life
Whether it’s your newly toned, lean muscles; glowing skin; restful nights; creative energy, or mental prowess, the 30-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge is designed to change your life from the inside out.
For Malkia, her physical form improved throughout the challenge, but the real challenge is mental, and she now knows it’s only just beginning.
Interview by Carly Miller, Illustration by Desiree Stavracos.
Why Do You Practice Bikram Yoga?
I started practicing Bikram for the physical benefits, but I was drawn in immediately to other challenges. Bikram’s Guru was the brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) that’s some serious lineage it’s coming from. I have faith in that. I like the simplicity, the repetition, I like that it works.
How did you build and maintain such a strong practice?
Practicing consistently is so important. You can take the pressure off yourself and just show up everyday, without taking any day too seriously. You can take risks, fall, it doesn’t matter cause you’re going to do it again tomorrow. And even if you can’t see it, you are getting better. I like to be challenged, so the thing that changed my practice the most was the championship.
What helped you place 3rd in the Bishnu Charan Ghosh NY Yoga Asana Championship this year?
Having the right intention. The first year I competed I wanted to do it because it scared me to death. The second year, I was just out of training and wanted to prove myself. And I wasn’t even able to do standing bow pulling, my focus was all over the place. I entered again the next year, but with a better intention: just to share the yoga, without my ego or any attachment to how well I did, and no matter how I did just be cool with it, be proud of myself. My coach Georgia reminded me “it’s not you doing the postures, it’s god doing the postures.” I’m just a normal person – not a dancer, not a gymnast. I developed the flexibility and strength from doing Bikram yoga. Within this practice, if you put your mind to it you can really accomplish a lot, you’d be surprised, flexibility, strength, and mental focus.
What are your goals as a Bikram teacher?
I’m teaching this yoga because it works for me. I’d like to share what I’ve learned and help other people help themselves. Part of teaching is about finding the balance between how much you focus on the individual and how much you focus on the group… The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
How do you find that balance?
Try again. Take class every day. You don’t want to dumb it down, people are intelligent, and when you get in front of a mirror, sweaty, uncomfortable, and hot, it pretty much brings everyone to the same level. So in class it doesn’t matter if a person is successful, rich or poor or this or that, I try not to talk to that part of who they are, I try to just talk to their body, really.
I don’t like people to be too serious in the room. Focus is great, but there’s a difference between taking your practice seriously, and taking yourself too seriously. Bikram always says, “With your happy smiling face,” this takes the tension out of your body so you can connect with your breath and access your strength.
What’s unique about Bikram Yoga Park Slope?
Every studio has a different feeling, attracts a different crowd, which creates a different energy. Bikram Yoga Park Slope is a community, a neighborhood. There are varied ages and ethnicities, which is what I like about it. It feels like home to me.
How do you help students overcome their ‘limitations’ (injuries, etc.)?
I have type-1 diabetes, and my practice is integral to regulating my blood sugar levels. It’s hard being diabetic but at the same time, I’m way healthier now than I was before I was diagnosed (almost 5 years ago). Living with type-1 diabetes has forced me to bring better awareness to my daily choices with food and exercise. Through my consistent yoga practice and diet I’ve been able to maintain a better balance every day.
In class I try to encourage, instead of force. Always focusing on what we can’t do is a very classic mental syndrome. I try to help people start to change their thinking, focusing on what they can do, so they can start to try new things. The dialogue is great for that, it’s action-based, which gets us out of our analytical heads. If you hear “lock your knee, kick your heel out, pull your toes back,” the simple commands put you into action and cuts through all of the questioning: “Am I ready for this? Am I strong enough? Do I feel like it?” And now you’re locking your knee, kicking your heel out and pulling your toes back! The goal is to get you to be present for 90 minutes, just with your body and to simply try your best that day.
Aside from your exceptional positive energy, there is another exceptional element to your class: singing in Savasana. What inspired you to incorporate music into your teaching?
People have told me that it helps them relax. I try to remind myself right before I sing in Savasana that this is something I’m offering as healing, it’s not about impressing anyone, just keep it simple, sing from your heart.
Bikram sings when he teaches and at the most magical moments he’ll sing beautiful old Hindi songs to us, when he does I just melt open. I’m planning to put together a CD of meditations. more »
Interviewed by Dara Cole
How did you come to Bikram yoga?
I was 45 years old and facing getting older. My physical state was so bad at that time. I would keep eating bad things, being lazy, not doing exercise, not doing anything good for myself. Then my weight reached the heaviest in my entire life except when I was pregnant. I got so scared. I thought to myself, ‘My 50s and 60s are going to be very miserable.’ My husband suggested I do Bikram yoga. He did it a couple years ago in the city and believed it would help me. That’s the reason I decided to give myself a 45-year old birthday present.
How long ago was that?
3 and a half years ago. Summer of ’06.
Do you remember your first class?
Yeah, oh yeah! (laughs) That was just like yesterday, my memory is so clear. I couldn’t keep standing even for 5 minutes straight. I couldn’t believe myself. My arm is that heavy?? I never realized it. I couldn’t even keep my arm straight up for 10 seconds. And while I’m struggling in the back of the class, I was watching the people in front of me. It was so shocking because I just realized that the human body is so beautiful and so strong and… (starts tearing up) And for myself, I wasn’t taking care of it at all. I can’t believe it – I have the same human body?? And the reason I’m struggling so bad in the class for my first day… was only because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know [my body’s] wisdom. I wasn’t taking care of it. I felt so sorry about myself. I was so sorry to my body. I remember it so well. (cries)
Now it’s interesting because when people see you and you’re so strong and you’re so fit… You have become this source of inspiration to so many people, in the way you talk to people and also in your practice. You’re now in that front row… sometimes people fight to put mats next to you. Has that been interesting to witness that shift and how you perceive yourself as well?
The impact on my first day was so so strong. Of course, it was eye-opening and changed my life, such a strong and deep impact on me. I tried to do something better for myself. Every single word from every single instructor was like wisdom about how to live my life. I appreciate every single word. Just to be there and receiving that key about how to live happily and in a healthy way. I just love it. I fell in love so much. It’s been an incredible experience.
From the beginning you’ve come regularly – 5-7 times a week?
It wasn’t true at the beginning. Once in a while I had to come up with a reason not to go, ’Oh, I’m too tired to go… Oh, I ate just before the class time, so I can’t make it.’ So maybe every once in a while, 1-2 days a week I would come up with some kind of excuse. But since the beginning of this year, so far I’m coming every day. Yeah, I try to do what I can do.
<3>At the beginning your mom was here visiting from Japan. What did you tell her? It was a big jump for you to make it into that room, but she came from somewhere where it must’ve seemed so strange.
Since I love her so much and also it’s said, ‘Never too late, never too sick, never too old,’ I was very sure that this experience could bring her something very, very good. Only good. At that time, she was suffering from a knee problem and in the hips, and had all kinds of old people’s problems. At the same time, she’s a very old-fashioned Japanese woman. The way they live is always suffering for other people. She never experienced doing something good only for her and enjoying time only for her. So I wanted her to experience some happy things for herself and so I drive her to class. She experienced something remarkable. She told me after the class. Actually I was laying mat-to-mat next to her and in the last minute of sivasana time, my mother was weeping. I noticed that there was something going on. She took Robin’s class. During the last sivasana, Robin was chanting. Of course, the language she didn’t understand. She only understands Japanese so she didn’t even understand the English instructions. She was so touched, she was so opened up. She realized some warm thing coming out from her eyes. She was feeling so happy and deep and relaxed, she realized she was crying. The tears were coming out so much. She said she never cried like this. In her entire life, she never experienced anything like this. That happened so naturally and then she felt so good. She told me that. And then I noticed that a big tear is coming down from her eye. But she was so calm and so happy.
Beautiful! And your daughter for a while, she came as well.
She was what, twelve? She was still a girl and then she went on to live her teenage life!
Yes! (laughs) This yoga, it changed me so much. Becoming healthier physically, it’s just a side benefit for me. I appreciate it a lot. I can’t appreciate it enough, knowing how wonderful our life, human life is. And meeting such inspiring, beautiful strong people. Knowing them, talking to them, sharing the wonderful experience, the wisdom. Money cannot buy this. I realize that I try to start thinking of how I should live and what’s the meaning of being here. And then the purpose of yoga that the book that Bikram teaches everybody says, ‘Search in yourself.’ I still don’t know myself, but I always have a reason to come and practice my yoga and I’m still searching myself. Someday I can feel whole myself and give back something to others just like I receive it. I keep receiving from everyone.
You’ve given so much, you’ve brought so many people… I don’t know if anybody’s brought as many different people from their community as you. And the people you bring, bring people. You’ve got quite a crew here at this point.
I’m sure that’s because this studio is a welcoming atmosphere. All the teachers, Dara, Rudy, everyone is so friendly, so nice, so warm. I never expected a middle aged woman in bad shape, not even standing in the class 5 minutes, alone there and doing yoga with other people, they just are patient and… I just can’t thank enough.
You weren’t in that bad shape…
You were heavier, but you worked out, you did karate all the time…
But it was totally different. Some, especially inspiring long-practicing yogi/yogini, I happened to become very good friends and my yoga buddies… those people were very generous and shared their experience and their deep knowledge about yoga. At the beginning, I was doing yoga, one guy I really love, I was mat to mat next to him. And I realized his breath never became out of control. I never hear his breath go like (pants), no matter how hot it is, how much he sweats, his breath is never, ever out of control. And then I asked him, ‘I’m having trouble breathing.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you’re in a posture at the maximum point and at that point, if you cannot keep calm, deep breathing, you’re not doing yoga.’ And then I realized, ‘Oh my god! All those days, I was just doing hard stretching exercise in a hot room, I wasn’t doing yoga at all!’ And that was the first day that I realized, ‘Oh! If you’re not meditating in that maximum point of the posture with calm, deep breathing, it’s not yoga.’
Possibly one of the reasons your growth and your trajectory has been so quick – it’s been three years but it’s been very, it seems to me, it’s been very fast that you’ve gone from beginning to a very strong yogi, to someone who inspires very quickly – it’s because you take in every teacher, every student, every opportunity for learning and soak it in and apply it immediately to the best of your ability. Don’t you think?
You’re too modest to agree?
(laughs) I guess. I’m lucky enough to have good friends.
You surrounded yourself with good yogis.
(laughs) I can tell I’m not the same person anymore from three years ago. I’m not regretting what I was doing because everything is cause and effect, everything you chose, now you’re here because everything is based on your choices and what you went through in the past. So I happened to know yoga when I was already 45 years old, kind of like the middle of my life, kind of late. But I guess that was the right time for me to come to know yoga and fall in love and enjoy the change, observing the change in myself, the change in the way I think and the change in my relationship with others. I think now, because I was that age and I experienced bad things and good things, and now I can appreciate fully what I got from this, now I give thanks and one day in the future I really want to give it back if I can…
As a teacher?
(laughs) I don’t know… I started loving my life, myself. So I don’t know how yet, but I’m willing to give all I have to others.
You’re very commanding in terms of how you take care of yourself, how you love yourself in the room, how you glow, your passion and attention on your yoga has this huge impact on the studio.
Yes! I’m telling you. Everybody says, ‘Oh how long has she been doing it?’ and if I tell them, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t have recognized her when she started this.’ They say, ‘No way! No, she must have always been like this. Was she an athlete? Was she a runner? Nobody can believe that you’re able to have such a strong body, and such a strong practice and such incredible control of your breathing and such discipline. They take it for granted, the same way that you would think when you first come in that that’s just your nature and I say, ‘No, she learned like you’ll learn it when you come in.’ but of all the people, they say, ‘Wow, I just watched her the whole time!’
Yes! I didn’t make it up!
Well, that’s an incredible thing if that’s really true. It’s a great honor. It’s an unbelievable thing because this yoga changed me. I think I got a new life, or a second chance. I feel like I started peeking at the whole world a little bit out from my hard shell. Just before I turned almost 50 years old, I started looking around my world, and all around myself. And life as a human being is such an incredible journey. It’s like a miraculous thing and I don’t want to waste any moment. If there’s any hardship and challenge, just willingly take it and see what’s going to happen and let’s enjoy it. That’s the way I started thinking. Peeking outside out from my shell, I never imagined that such a world exists so I cannot thank you enough. (laughs)
Questions by Dara
When did you start Bikram?
Almost 4 years ago.
How did you find out about Bikram?
I’ve lived in neighborhood forever and passed it. And I’m like hot whatever. Years and years and years ago a friend who suffers from lupus told me she’d been doing it. I looked at her and I was like, ‘That is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. Why would anybody want to do yoga in a hot room. 105 degrees. What?’ I went to …lunch… with other St. Ann’s parents. They were all talking about Bikram Yoga. So I’m sitting there sipping on champagne thinking hmm, ‘What’s this Bikram Yoga?’ The next week I just went down and took a class … I did the first class, I didn’t sit out anything. I was hot and I wanted to drink water, but other than that I had no issues. I remember … bouncing out of the class thinking that I’d found nirvana. It was that instantaneous for me. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I remember later that summer you said, ‘Belinda I feel like you’ve been here forever.’ Because it was so where I was supposed to be. I’ve been addicted ever since. I can’t stand how much I love it.
How often do you come?
Have you done the 30-day challenge?
I just did one for my birthday.
So that’s your birthday present to yourself?
Yes, and I’m going to try to do that every year. It’s challenging to do it during my birthday because it’s December 29th, but you know, I did it. So why can’t I do it again? Unless it doesn’t happen. It is what it is.
Do you remember what you hoped to get out of it when you began?
Nothing more than peace of mind because you know my life is insane. I mean, it’s not complicated, I mean, it was insane. It was something to do that really got my attention. I don’t remember having any grandiose feelings about what it was going to do or what it should do or anything like that. It was just something that made me happy.
And what have you gotten out of it?
My life. You know, it’s no secret that I had this massive stroke and they can’t tell me why I came out of it other than the doctors said it was a miracle because I really should’ve either been dead or paralyzed. And the only thing anyone has ever told me about how yoga could have benefited me that because of all the inversions, or sort of inversions that Bikram has, blood vessels, little blood vessels perhaps opened and allowed my brain to get the blood which is why I’m not paralyzed. That’s the only thing a neurologist told me it could possibly be, but you can’t know that. So it’s my faith that makes me know that that’s why I’m still here. I mean, I firmly believe I would not be here… if I hadn’t been doing Bikram. Because I started it that year and I did it almost every day, and ?? doubles. You know how I was. Crazy.
What does it take for you to come to class? What are the things you have to do in your life just to get here?
The hardest thing is finding parking. That’s the hardest thing to get to yoga right now.
So what’s unique about the Park Slope/South Slope community?
There’s a strong feeling of community that I feel we give to anybody who comes into the room. Not saying that other studios don’t have a community. … I’ve practiced in Chicago, Miami, Philly, Los Vegas… none of those studios in my opinion made me feel totally at home. They were more serious. Not that we’re not serious here, but they took it seriously. ‘Cause it’s just yoga. And again, that’s probably because it’s not my home studio, but it just didn’t feel like home. Here it feels like home.
Beyond your remarkable recovery from your stroke, how else has Bikram yoga affected your life? On a day to day level, what do you get out of it?
No, now quite frankly I’m here… it’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane. I don’t know why my particular journey in life has to be so hard, but I’ve got so much shit going on, I have no idea why I’m standing here talking to you. I don’t understand. ‘cause it’s really stupid right now, it’s really stupid. It just provides me the attempt to have 90 minutes of peace. You know, maybe I get 2. If I get 2, that’s a good day. I figure one day it’ll be three and ONE day, it’ll be 90. But you know, for now, I take what I can get and be happy.
How has your practice changed? How’s it physically affected you?
Just in the last few weeks it’s been an interesting journey. Physically I feel like I’m approaching the poses differently than I was before. Like before, there were some poses I felt I could do. And now that I know the right way they’re supposed to be, now I can’t do them at all. Or I get in them, in my opinion, I get in them as properly as I’m supposed to be, but it restricts me from going all the way. Like the one where you’re sitting on your knees and going back. There was a time when my head would hit the floor. Now it just doesn’t. I don’t even know what that is. I really don’t. And I’m conscious and I’m breathing… It’s almost as if my body has shifted in such a way that it’s only allowing itself to do what it needs to do in that moment. Because the next day I might be able to do it.
So you’ve developed some sort of mind-body connection that you might’ve not previously had?
I’m certain of it. Because you have to understand, I’ve been doing yoga, in August it’ll be 10 years. And me and Rich, we had a… woman who came to our home for two years [to teach yoga]. So it’s not like I haven’t really been with yoga in different facets over those last 10 years. But it’s only been Bikram that’s given me that mind-body. Even having a one-on-one session has not given me what a full class, full of people has, which is fascinating to me.
So the burning question is how did you get your husband into the hot room?
(Laughs.) I started in March. He started in October of that year. And I had been trying to get him to come, trying to get him to come… One thing about me and Rich is whatever either one of us does, the other one will eventually try it at least. And the funny thing was, he did it on a day I had planned a dinner party for my younger son’s birthday. I’m like, ‘Rich why don’t you it on Sunday, not today, we’ve got people coming over?’ ‘Oh, Belinda, I’m ready to do it today.’ And I’d been trying to get him to do it for months. So I was like, ‘Okay, fine, do it. Can you bring me some juice on the way back?’ So this class is over and I’m like, ‘Where’s Rich?’ So I’m calling his cell. He answers the phone, ‘Hello, can you come get me?’ (Laughs.) I was like, ‘See, Rich, why couldn’t you wait ‘til tomorrow? I got people coming over!’ So he finally gets home. No juice, of course. I had to go out and get the juice myself. He goes, ‘Belinda, I gotta go to bed.’ ‘I’m like, people are coming over!’ He goes, ‘I can’t.’ So people come over. I’m like, ‘Rich will join us whenever but we’re just gonna eat dinner.’
It took longer for him to get into a regular practice. He started in October, and I had my stroke at the end of that month. And then I don’t think he got back in the room until the following year. And then somewhere in that following year, he started coming sporadically. Lately he’s been coming on average twice a week. What’s wonderful is watching his practice grow, seeing how he’s changing through it too. He’s going through the same stages I went through maybe three years ago.
Which are what? How would you describe them?
Oh, you know, when he realizes that it’s not about how hot the room is, it’s about how you really feel inside and how he would make up things about why he couldn’t do a pose. I mean, he’s really good about sitting on his ass. I don’t practice next to him anymore because he distracts me, because he’s got all these sounds… ‘Phew…I hurt, Belinda, I can’t do this.’ And you know, I remember doing that too. Now he’s realizing that he doesn’t need to do that anymore. He’s also realizing that even if you aren’t in the mood, you’ll get something out of the class, even if all you’re doing is sitting in sivasana the whole time. So he’s accepting wherever he’s at. Like most men, he pushes through. He’s not pushing through as much anymore. And what’s happening is his practice is coming along. He actually did a standing series the whole time and didn’t sit down. I was like, this is MY husband? I was like, ‘Woah, when did this happen?’ So you know, I’m seeing his changing. And now my son is doing it.
How old is your son who’s doing it?
What do your kids think about what their parents’ yoga?
Well, RJ has asked me when I was going to take teacher training. They both think that yoga is what I’m supposed to do. Both of them. Ryan actually told his pre-k teacher one day that his mother taught yoga. Because he knows his mother teaches and he knows his mother goes to yoga all the time. So he just put it together and said that I teach yoga. I’m like, ‘I wish I taught yoga, but I don’t teach yoga.’ The other day when I dropped him off at school, I said ‘Everybody has school today except for me. I don’t teach until Thursdays.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but Mommy, you have yoga school.’ He sees this as my school.
Pretty much true.
It is. And I can’t wait for him to get in it. It was so sad that day when the 3 of us left and he was sitting on the couch looking all woebegone like we were leaving him all alone and we were doing this cool thing that he can’t do yet. He does yoga with me, but he’s only 7. Robin says they have to be at least 9 or 10. I think he’d be fine, but he’s still 7. I can’t wait. I can’t imagine the day when you see all four of us in your class. Can you stand it? How hot would that be?
I can’t stand it.
That’s just hot.
It seems like everyone else sees you in the teacher track. Do you see yourself in the teacher training?
I’ve already put it out in the universe that I’m going to do some type of yoga teacher training before the end of 2010.
And you imagine that might be Bikram certification or that might be later?
Bikram can’t happen until Ryan says, ‘Okay, Mom, I’m cool about you being away for 9 weeks.’ But he’s not going to say that anytime soon.
When you get that feeling when you’re talking to someone that could really benefit from taking some Bikram classes, what’s your sales pitch?
I tell people that I had a massive stroke, not a little baby stroke but a massive stroke that should have taken me out and I believe that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been doing Bikram all summer. That kind of gets them over themselves. Another one I use is, ‘If my twelve-year old can do it, you can do it.’ And if someone has a specific issue, I’m like, ‘All I know is, it’s helped me with my back issues, it’s helped me with my headaches, it’s helped me manage potentially losing my mom and my grandmother and my continuing grief over losing my son… all those things.’ I have never left a class and not felt different. Not necessarily better, just different. ‘Cause better is relative. But different every time. You know, it’s a journey.
Questions by Dara Cole
How did you find Bikram yoga?
Actually, my cleaning lady friend told me to come in because I was under a lot of stress.
Do you remember your first class?
What was your first impression?
(Laughs) I got so dizzy I had to run out of the room!
Did you come back?
I came back after 5 minutes. I left and they asked me to come back and since then I haven’t had a problem.
What you can do now versus when you started, it’s pretty amazing, huh?
Yes! I never before bought shoes with laces because I couldn’t tie them. I couldn’t reach my shoes to tie them for about the last ten years. (We both look down at his laced up sneakers.)
Now you have sneakers!
(He goes to tie them.) Now I can do this! It takes time but still it’s working.
How often do you come?
Six days a week now for a year and a half almost.
Did you think that you’d take to it in the way that you did?
No. When I first started, I just started and then it just happened that every day I come here. No struggle. When the time comes, I get up and come here with no thoughts – it’s like automatic.
What do you tell yourself to get going?
It just happens. I don’t think about it. I’m just doing it. It’s just like, I come, I lay down.
Are you always this consistent in the things that you do?
Whenever I find a good thing for me, I just do it. I mean, I feel like my body realized this is the place for it and it never ever happened that I feel a little bit lazy, like ‘I’m not coming today,’ or I’m late. I think only once I missed a class because there was no parking. There’s no resistance. I just come here.
What do your family and friends think about you doing this yoga?
The ones that understand it, they see a big difference in me. They just don’t understand why I need to come again and again for so long.
What do you see as the difference? What do they see?
They say they see it on my face. I see it in my skin. It’s like 20 years younger, the color of my skin. Like it gets yellowish as you get older but whatever I had of that has disappeared already.
We don’t see that many people from religious communities, though more now. Why is that?
Why? Because they are afraid of it. Yoga is about meditation, breathing and stretching. Most of my friends are religious. They know that yoga is good but it’s a different world completely, so they won’t go.
They’re suspect of it?
Yeah. The religious communities will get there. There just needs to be a cultural adjustment. If someone starts it, and has women’s only classes, men’s only classes, they’ll start to go.
So they won’t go, but they can’t convince you to not go?
No, they cannot stop me. I am mostly laughing at them a lot of the time.
And you’re comfortable living in those two different worlds?
I’m comfortable for the meantime. Something has to change, but I don’t know which way. (Laughs)
Have you always been into alternative, esoteric things?
Yes, starting 20 years ago with Dr. Sarno with the back pain. It disappeared and since then I have been reading a lot of books about self-improvement.
This was your first physical practice?
How has Bikram yoga affected your life outside of the room?
Physically and emotionally I feel much more relaxed. (He stutters and blushes)
I never saw you shy before.
I mean, it changed everything for me. I had a lot of stress. I never used to do exercise. I used to have back pains.
Is the back pain gone?
Actually, it’s coming back because when I start to work through the stiffness, it comes out. It’s hurting, but it’s coming out. So every time I feel the pain, it’s on the way out. I can feel it. It’s not the same as if you think the back pain means physically something is wrong with you. It’s a different kind of feeling and the pain is just disappearing. And actually every time I feel pain, I am happy because I know it is coming out.
This sounds like when Bikram says the pain kills the pain.
It’s like the pain is getting into survival mode and it’s trying to grab back because it was laying in the body for years. So when it starts to come out, you feel it. Actually I think you can see it with a lot of people when they are coming for a while. Sometimes they don’t know and they think they hurt themselves because of yoga, but actually the yoga is taking the pain out of the body and while it’s on the way out, they feel it.
How has practicing Bikram Yoga changed you?
First thing, I’m working a lot of the stiffness out of my body. I never looked into my body. I was always out of the body, everything outside. The toxins in the body are causing all the problems. So that’s why I’m doing it every day.
What kind of problems?
Emotional. Because the toxins go back to the brain and make you crazy.
I saw Bikram last night and one of the things he was really emphasizing is that the reason Bikram Yoga is so successful is because it works. It very quickly heals the body. What does that mean to you?
I mean, it’s true. I see it in myself. I’m getting better and better though I still have a lot of stiffness. I mean it’s loosening up. I saw a lot of people who, even if they have a problem like the first two to three times, after 10 times they are doing excellent, which means that it’s working.
How would you describe the community here?
Very relaxed people. The yoga is doing something for them and most of them don’t even know the good things that are coming out of it.
Have you practiced at other studios?
Once I practiced Ashtanga yoga with my son in Florida. But I like Bikram much better because of the heat. And secondly, over there, they say some kind of spiritual stuff. I just don’t like it.
Why do you like the heat?
The heat makes the body more flexible. And most probably the circulation of the blood is much higher in a hot room. It’s warming up the body and you are sweating out the toxins.
If you were talking to someone who was experiencing a lot of emotional and physical stress and wanted to point them to this class, what would you tell them about it?
First, I would tell them about the breathing. Deep breathing during the day as much as they can – even just one or two breaths as long as they can – and then they are starting the process towards relaxing because they are stepping away from the mind by doing the breathing.
What do you do for work?
I cut diamonds. Actually at work I do meditation all day.
Yes! I do meditation.
What kind of meditation?
I am witnessing my stomach going up and down. Not doing it. Just witnessing how the body is doing it. It’s deeper. When you’re doing it, breathing in and out, your stomach goes up and down but it’s a deeper meditation when you are witnessing how it’s happening because then it’s coming from the solar plexus.
One of the goals of Bikram Yoga is to reach all people, not just people who are physically fit, but to reach the people who need it. You represent someone outside of what people consider the typical yoga student. How do we reach people who are in the most pain and discomfort and convince them to come into the hot room and get this benefit?
You have to change their mind about yoga. It’s a lot of education. A lot of people in their 40s and 50s go to the gym and think yoga is for someone else. Most probably they don’t understand what yoga is. Before I started yoga, I went to a gym. Here it’s more relaxing so it’s like going in the opposite direction. You come in here to do yoga, to relax and the rest just happens. Maybe it takes a little bit longer, but it’s much deeper.
What are your tips to someone on their first class?
Yoga should happen from the inner body, so don’t push it. That’s the secret of yoga and most people are missing it. Like, when I’m laying on the floor, I’m just breathing in and out and then I just lift up. It’s happening from the inner body. I’m trying to do it with everything. That’s the real yoga.
What is yoga?
It’s physically stretching to loosen the stiffness in the body. And to be present, not to think.
What are some of the lessons you learn from your practice?
It’s the relaxation and getting out of the mind. Separating yourself from the mind. That’s the main thing. So doing yoga, you’re practicing that. Non-thinking – staying out of the mind.
How do you get yourself out of the mind?
You just listen to the mind. By listening to what the mind is saying, you become the observer of the mind and you separate yourself. I mean, that’s Eckhart Tolle.
In a practical way, how do you do that when you’re in the room and it’s hot and the teacher is talking the whole time?
You put your attention on listening. Even if it’s the same thing. Just put your whole attention on it and what you’re doing takes you away from the mind.
Did you have any insights after your class this morning?
I realized something. A lot of the time, stuff from the mind keeps coming out and I was wondering to myself, I mean, why is it always when I come into the room, a lot of thoughts come out? And somehow I realized today that it’s the stress toxins coming out. And the subconscious asks me, ‘Why is this still coming out?’ I was wondering because the minute I come out of room, it stops.
Some people describe that as resistance.
In the beginning it’s resistance, yes. But after awhile it turns out to be the body cleansing it out. Do you understand?
I think so… So you’re saying, when you first started to come here, your mind would wander because of resistance, but now that’s become part of your process.
Yes, because once you notice it as resistance in your subconscious, it is no longer resistance. That’s how it works. The minute you are aware of something, it disappears. But this still keeps coming up, the same thing all the time. So I’m wondering, ‘If I know, it has to disappear and stop.’ Then I realize it’s possible that the emotion is coming out and it’s coming out with the stories the way it came in. Like the reason I was angry, it’s coming out but you have to learn to throw it out after it’s coming out. Like out, bye-bye. Not start all over again. Actually, I’m not sure but I think the body is always throwing it out and it can drive you crazy.
Bikram calls this the human toilet and says you have to flush. The yoga is the flush.
It’s flushing it out. The yoga helps you get it out of the body. And if you have it for many years in the body, like 30-40 years, it probably takes longer.
Why don’t you get bored?
Every day your body’s changing. Sometimes one thing’s hurting you, sometimes something else, so it’s never boring. (Laughs) Actually the body is trying to help you every day but we don’t listen to it.
Interviewed by the artist, Nancy Cuervo
Colleen LaSota, Bikram Yoga Teacher
Why did you move here?
We were living in Argentina. I traveled in South America studying Spanish there and then stayed and taught English In the house that we lived in, I made a little studio upstairs in the small room. I was working from home in Argentina too since my boss was awesome and allowed me to do that. So, after training, Christian came to Argentina too until we figured out where we wanted to move. In the meantime we had little classes with me and 2 other friends in this little tiny room. We had this big terrace outside of it. It was awesome because it was summertime and we had this mini-pool we’d go jump in after class. It was super fun. But after a few months we were ready to move on. Christian contacted Dara and she said if you move to Brooklyn you can teach as much as you want. And so we thought, hey let’s go there for a little while and see if we like it and we temporarily moved here then and now we still live here.
So you were both practicing Bikram in Argentina?
We had the first studio in Buenos Aires that could fit 3 people and a teacher in the corner!
So who started practicing Bikram?
I did. Eight years ago, we ran into a friend at the coffee shop. I was like ‘Oh my God! You look amazing! What are you doing?’ And she was like ‘I’m doing this hot yoga. It’s amazing you’ve got to try it.’ The studio was six blocks away from us. It was perfect. So I went down the next morning or a couple days later and – I don’t know why because this is so unlike me – I went to a 6am class. But it was summer so at least it was bright out.
I wasn’t too nervous about it because I love saunas and I like heat so I wasn’t one of the people that’s scared to do it. I was like ‘Oooh, yeah, this is gonna be great.’ I immediately just loved it because of that. So I just bought a month unlimited card and the teacher was like ‘Why don’t you just try the class and then decide what you’re going to get, a single class or something else after?’ So after class I was like ‘Sign me up. This is it.’ Then after I practiced for about a week, I was like ‘Christian, you gotta go, you gotta go, you gotta go.’ I remember in his first class we were doing triangle pose and he’s walking out of the room and he’s green and he just lies down on the floor outside. (cracking up) The teacher had never said just stay in the room. So he was killing himself until he was like ‘Wait, I’m gonna pass out and throw up and die.’ It was pretty funny. But he did the same thing and just bought a month card when he got there.
What were you guys doing before insofar as exercise?
Before we did Bikram yoga, I would go the gym and run and lift some weights. You know, just stuff to get some kind of workout.
So there was no other yoga?
I did yoga once, sometimes twice a week. I did ashtanga yoga and I liked it but it wasn’t like I had a practice. It didn’t really resonate with me but I would go because I was like ‘hey, this is good for my lungs and my breathing and I was like hopefully over some time I’ll get some kind of meditation going on over here.’ Supposedly, that’s supposed to happen. But my mind had the hardest time concentrating and staying focused and I would wait for the class to be over. Like when I was practicing I wasn’t super into it even though I knew it was good for me. So I’d do it but I wasn’t really into it. That’s why I was so excited with my first Bikram class because I didn’t think about a thing for the 90 minutes because I was trying to stay standing. I was like YES! I can meditate and concentrate. I don’t have a chance to think about other things. That was one of the things that resonated with me right away. I was like I can do this, this is cool.
So after all these years of practice, what has made you stick with it?
The mental benefits! It helps me stay concentrated, stay very grounded, think clearly. I feel like it helps circulate the chi in my body so I stay out of a stagnant place. Which is interesting because we’re not moving in the class so much but it still moves energy in my body in a way that keeps me from being anxious and keeps my anxiety down for sure. I can really tell if I haven’t practiced for a couple weeks. I start to feel anxiety returning. I get more frustrated easily. I start to get impatient with people. That’s what really keeps me going. Because I can stay in shape doing other things and stay feeling physically feeling okay in different ways, but I feel very dependent on the meditation we have in the class for sure.
When did you decide to become a teacher?
I had thought it would be fun to do the training, but I didn’t really care if I taught or not. I just thought going for 9 weeks and the challenge of it would be really fun. But Christian was looking forward to teaching much more so I was like, ‘Go, you do it.’ When he was there and I talked to him, he would be like ‘Oh, you HAVE to do this right away, you’re going to love it so much.’ Then when he started teaching he was like ‘Oh, now you really have to go right away because you’re going to love teaching. It’s so fun.’ So he encouraged me to do it sooner than I might have. I was ready for a new job at that point too, so it was perfect.
So what would you say to someone who is interested in starting Bikram but is like intimidated?
It’s worth it to try it because if you like it you will be sooo happy you have this practice in your life. Give it a couple of weeks to see if you like it because there’s so many different aspects to the practice that you want to get a chance to experience and it’s important to experience those. If you like it, you’ll be so happy you have it. If you don’t, worst case scenario, you got a good detox and did something good for your body. You won’t get nothing out of it. It will be worth it on some level.
Christian Doten, Bikram Yoga Teacher
Colleen told me she started practicing first?
(He chuckles) She started like maybe 3 months before me and was like you should really do this. I was thinking okay, it’s hot, I wrestled in high school that rooms hot but it wasn’t the same.
What was your first day like? Do you remember?
Oh, I remember, exactly. I just killed myself and did whatever they told me and I started to get really, really dizzy. I was like I’m not about to pass out so I left. I was just sitting out there and I thought this is crazy. A girl came out and she said “Are you okay?” and I was like “Yeah, I don’t know if this is for me. I was passing out.” She said “That’s normal, you can sit down.” And I said, “You can?” I didn’t know. So I came back the next day and just did the best I could. I still got dizzy but when I got dizzy I’d sit down.
So, besides almost passing out, what appealed to you?
I didn’t really know anything about yoga at all. I knew there was yoga that wasn’t hot yoga. I just thought, ‘This must be the one for me ‘cause I definitely felt something.’ Every time I’d go in there I’d be like, ‘Why did I come here? This sucks.’ And by the end of class I’d go, ‘Oh, that’s why.’ By the end of that first year, I was looking forward to going to class and I was like wow, dude, this is working.
Do you think it would have been the same if Colleen hadn’t been going regularly too?
I probably would have never gone.
Because you had such different reactions to your first day.
Yeah, she was loving it and I was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure it’s great.’ There were a couple of teachers I’d like and so I’d go two times a week. Then I started going three times and then I’d feel guilty if I didn’t go just ‘cause I was paying for it.
I bought a book by Paramhansa Yogananda called To Be Victorious in Life. (laughing) He said the problem when you tell yourself you can’t do something is that you’re never able to try and then you never ever do it because you’re always saying you can’t. But if you tell yourself you can then every time you try a certain pose or a goal, sometimes you may feel like you’re not really doing anything, but you’re getting closer.
I had an opportunity to be a work-study at the studio and that made me do it more. It made me want to apply those philosophies to it. Then I started thinking that I wanted to go to training some day because I’ve always wanted to have some kind of initiation, some kind of rite of passage, some kind of Luke Skywalker-Lord of the Rings experience. I’d always see the movies and be like ‘DUDE! Don’t give up. Do it! You’re so close.’
Then Craig Villani came and did a seminar at the studio. That guy for sure made me want to do it because he was a normal dude, not like some guy trying to be an Indian.
Yeah, Craig Villani, regular dude.
He’s a regular dude. A teacher. He surfed. So I took that class and I was like. ‘I’m gonna do this training now!’ I was going to the next one. That was it. I was going to training.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about starting Bikram but was intimidated?
I’d tell them, ‘Don’t focus on how much you’re doing, focus on how you’re doing it and know that there’s going to be things that feel uncomfortable and that’s okay. This is not product-oriented. It’s progress-oriented. Know that if you keep practicing, you will make progress.’ You know we live in such a product-oriented society, especially here. They’re not going to lose any points and no one’s going to judge them for what they do. ‘Just come and DO IT and it will work for you and even if you don’t 100 % resonate with the practice and you feel like ‘It’s not for me,’ well, you’re going to learn something about yourself anyway. That’s what I think is powerful about yoga in general.
It’s like you learn more about yourself than other exercise?
Yeah. I do other exercise but I apply the yogic philosophy to that and it ends up being very powerful. I can do more than I think I can or it’s form over depth and things like that. So if it’s weightlifting, I’m not going to worry about how much I’m lifting. I’m probably going to access certain energy systems in my body and I’m going to make sure I’m doing the right amount.
I feel like your experience is closer to mine from the beginning so it’s interesting to hear about how you struggled with it for so long and then became a teacher.
Yeah, it’s interesting – I thought about it. If you’d have told me 5 years ago I would be teaching yoga, I’d be like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ But life changes like that and it really just brings to the forefront who you really are. I guess I’m just at a point with my practice where I never have any expectation with myself other than doing the very best I can. If I have to sit down, great I’ll sit down and then I’ll just focus on my stillness and my breathing. I’m still in the practice then.
I think your class is one of the most challenging ones. You really push past most people’s comfort zones.
The key is, you do it with compassion. It’s a commanding tone but I’ll tell you, I’m not mad at you. Like I’ve had students come and say, ‘I’m sorry I had to sit down.’ And I’ll be like ‘Why are you sorry?’ Why would you ever think I would be mad at you? Who cares? Like who am I to your life? If you’re doing something wrong where you’re going to hurt yourself, I’ll say something to you.’ Everyday is going to be different. I’ve had students say, ‘I practice 6 days a week and that class was so hard.’ I’m like ‘Well, maybe you should do less classes because maybe you need to rest.’
We don’t need to be mean to people. I just say the words and you do it or you don’t. Someone said to me the other day ‘Are you gonna kill us today?’ And I was like ‘I’m not gonna kill you, I’m just gonna tell you how to kill yourselves. So you have a choice in there, honey. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.’ I hope that people feel that from me. I hope they feel that guy cares enough. I feel that because that’s the response I get from most people. Craig told me that you just have to set up your class so people know it’s their responsibility. Because people like to point fingers at people when things are difficult.
Your classes are good because there’s a way you point out exactly how one can do it more deeply than they are already doing it. And it always feels like you’re talking to me and I’m sure everyone feels that way. You’re doing it but you could do it a little more. With compassion, but still it’s a little much but in a good way.
When you give commands and you present it in that way, people respond. If I’m passive, people feel like they don’t have to do anything in there. People point to different things like they’ll blame it on the heat and say you didn’t open the doors and I think, ‘Hey you sure had a lot of time to look around and think about those things.’ But that’s just part of it.