Michele’s Speech at BYSJ’s 14th anniversary party.
How Michele Vennard, the Yogi, was Born
I started this yoga almost 18 years ago because I couldn’t handle the grief of losing my mother. I felt such sadness. I felt abandoned, I was confused, I was angry, I needed to sort through feelings, I didn’t know how to be, life was much more precious and I felt like I had to do something very different in my life now before I die too… I knew death was teaching me a lesson (greatest teacher of all) and didn’t want to lose the message.
Everything I was doing at the time once made sense but with my mom passing all of a sudden nothing made sense. It scared me!
Initially, I did what all people do when they face fear: I dove in deeper to the life I had, hoping the fear would go away. But when your back hurts more, or your anger gets worse, or the boss demands more, something has to change. In my case, I became obsessed working countless hours, and was physically and emotionally drained. And then as the universe would have it, the very dear friend that had helped me through the loss of my mother, passed away suddenly from an aneurysm at age 32. My guess, like all good teachers, was that death had something to say for me to hear and I wasn’t hearing it!
At the time, I worked for Il Fornaio, a great restaurant company. They had a strong message of authenticity. Italian chefs in the kitchens, served with age-old recipes, products direct from Italy. Even the restaurants were designed with Italian marble, fixtures, and atmosphere. If you’ve been to an Il Fornaio restaurant then you know what I mean, because you’ve tasted it and felt it there too – crazy passion in the air for food, conversation, joy with each other – simple things. They taught me about strong work ethic, that the right way is the hard way. But the right way IS the right way.
But like any great company succeeding, you start to be influenced by what’s trending around you. Our culture is seduced by the “next best thing.” Il Fornaio was no different, and was being challenged by other restaurant companies to come up with gimmicks that get people in the door, market with sexy ads, make the chef the next big personality, to open new restaurants faster.
They gave in to that pressure and even went public. In doing so, they lost who they were. It showed, you felt it, and it failed. Miserably. So much so, they went back private, and lost money, so many restaurants, employees, customers and worst of all, they lost integrity. Here’s the irony in integrity: it can take so long to build (years and years of unscripted experience) and yet just a one simple snap of an incident (even a justifiable one) and you can lose it entirely.
If there is one single thing death teaches you, it’s how to see and live from a much larger perspective. The everyday situations you are caught up in become a much smaller story now to the larger questions: does my life matter, am I doing something that can effect a larger good, am I being who I know myself to really be? All those BIG topics that are pushed in the corner for a later day come out and stand first in priorities and decision-making.
So, finding yoga couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. In August 1998, six months after my mother passed away and returning to my home in San Francisco from opening two restaurants in Denver, I took my friend’s advice to try yoga and see if that might help the pain I was experiencing.
You all know what happened– otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here today! It helped immediately and immensely. I could feel my pain and honor it, but I could also feel a beautiful place inside me and honor that.
I was also fascinated by what I saw as I continued to go: all types of people were in the room with all different types of bodies and getting something profound out of it. And this wide range of people got along, made connections and generally supported one another.
I didn’t understand why I didn’t know about this sooner and why no one ever told me. It satisfied a deep part of me and I could see it was doing the same for everyone else – EVERYONE. This yoga transcended boundaries of separation. It had no expiration date for anybody: if you work hard, you get the benefit, you have everything you need to succeed. It makes everything better. I filled with a hunger to know more, to do more.
The Cycle Repeats – Bikram Yoga and BYSJ in the Past Few Years
I tell you this now so many years later, because in the last few years I experienced a lot of loss again and felt myself revisiting those tougher questions again. Who am I? Does my life matter? Am I seeing things clearly? Loss can cloud your thinking without you even realizing it.
Other things have been happening, too. Sadly, the entire Bikram yoga community was breaking down more than ever with serious allegations against Bikram. Also, much like Il Fornaio, Bikram yoga was being influenced by the latest trend, and we started to see hot pilates, 60- and 75-minute express classes, and numerous hot yoga studios retooling the Bikram sequence. To top it off, mid-year our heating system broke down with no quick fix in sight, and we risked losing our integrity as now our product was compromised.
But, if you are an honest, good business, and watch good business leaders, then you know it’s important especially over the span of 10+ years to revisit who you are, what your mission is and where you are going.
That’s what we did. How? First, for me I did my yoga. Like you, my practice is a resource that I rely on. It knows. 18 years of confronting myself in the mirror, you acquire a skill so useful: to see and feel the truth versus maybe what you want to see. Yoga makes you strong enough rise above expectations. You empty out in return for something different, something better. Gratefully, I turned to my yoga and in the midst of becoming more aware of myself, with acceptance and nurturance, I took steps to address what was broken in me and what needed attention here at BYSJ.
Counting Our Blessings
Here’s what I found.
- Brad – blessing us with his expertise and insights drawn from his years of experience in owning a successful studio in Vancouver.
- Matt and Sarah – fixing and developing effective and efficient software and system to create solid front desk management.
- Jessica – pushing teachers and social media platforms to keep our brand and spirit straight up and strong.
- Amelia – her quick smarts and willingness to handle transactions and people.
I couldn’t be more grateful!
Together, each of these passionate people with their different points of view and different strengths reviewed our old ways. We developed new ways and things started to happen – we brought in Teri Almquist, Josh “Nomad” Biro, hired Yvette, Jill and now Dawn. In 2016, we became very stable at BYSJ despite questionable, shaky circumstances in the larger world of Bikram and yoga in general.
Our success this last year is in large part due to the solidarity in all the teachers. They hold the space for you to practice under the rules of a dialogue. How the teachers practice shows how they too believe in this practice. But how they teach shows how they care about each of you. It’s also our devoted staff that volunteers their time to be here, and their efforts to keep the studio clean, well-stocked but more so, in saying “Hello,” “Thanks,” “Good-bye,” and “Have a Nice Day.” How they know your name and make each of us feel comfortable! It’s Jose (our janitor) and Sohyla (our florist), Claudia (our supplier). And, honestly, it’s all of you in your resilience to stay the course and come here to practice despite the “noise” of heat fluctuations, personnel changes, price changes – this is real, we are real – it’s an example of genuine community!
I’m so grateful of all that progress we’ve made, which has enabled this larger story to blossom. It’s the point of the speech and the one thing that matters most as it addresses those BIG questions: does what we do here matter; does it really have meaning?
The larger story is YOU!
And, YOU are our reason for celebrating here tonight! How right you all have it, establishing a practice enhances your life! It’s your stories and what you’ve done to improve your life through yoga that matters most.
You matter, and that’s why BYSJ Matters! Not the other way around.
It’s the stories we can see: healing bad knees, stretching a fused spine, working with a bad back. It’s the deeper stories we can’t see: overcoming PTSD, dealing with the pain of personal loss, trying to manage your life when someone in your life is ill, exploring your new body after having a baby. It’s the remedy to reducing high blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, it’s building bone density. It’s a way to cope with a struggling relationship, rebellious kids; unsatisfying work. It’s a communion to yourself, detoxing enough to leave here with acceptance.
And the larger story includes that connection to each other we can’t get anywhere else…
We have a Russian, Korean, Chinese, and Indian community and even more make up the demographics of who we are at BYSJ.
It’s Dane, Diane, Doug, Priya, Raj, Raj – the “Fire Team” – the 5:30 am class (that doesn’t come to the party because they will be at BYSJ to practice in just a few hours for 6 AM class).
To deny this yoga denies the magic it has delivered to countless thousands that have been touched by what Bikram Yoga San Jose delivers.
To change the context of this practice in any way cuts it off the lineage, the source of its creation.
That’s why we are here: because of you and for you. That’s where we are going. Not to do other, new things, but to provide more space and opportunity for more people like you. We want everyone to discover this practice, become a part of our community, and come away with their own wonderful story of how this yoga heals!
Therein lies the narrative: this yoga heals – that’s the context of the larger story and the agenda we are going to live by. Simple.
But there is some work to do!
We can’t be deaf to the deeper trending that is growing out there:
- Stress: Did you know that 1 out of 3 adults in the Silicon Valley are on some kind of antidepressants. That’s just crazy.
- It seems like hip replacement has became the new knee replacement.
- Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are growing as is other chronic conditions that western medicine can’t address.
- Other trends you see growing: anger, conflict, and division.
You can’t deny that yoga will help in a world filled with suffering.
But here’s what else we are starting to see: the necessity to get along; the acceptance of diversity (ok to be different), the ability to speak up and be heard.
This studio was built five years ago to put more people in the classes doing THIS yoga … the intense conditions, heat, humidity, dialog, mirrors, repetition bring forth a rebirth giving everyone a chance to see themselves authentically becoming equipped to deal with anything that gets in the way of living THAT out.
The yoga heals anger, welcomes diversity, heals loss, manages and overcomes anxiety, resolves conflict. You become open to forgive, you see yourself for the first time, you accept yourself and the world around you changes. Individually and collectively, Bikram Yoga helps you rise above your situation!
Rise, and Everyday Becomes an Unrepeatable Gift
You guys know, not interested in how terrific you do the posture, that’s all well and good and fun. But more interested in your journey in how you are making progress in the posture. It’s not the awesome posture that is of interest but the person you become while perfecting the posture over the years, class after class.
So if you are here for the first time – start yoga – Show up.
If you are doing yoga, do more – Dive in.
And if you do lots of yoga – Spread it and shout it out!
2017’s message to RISE with our activities to support that vertical channel to get you to start and the eventually live with a daily practice
Karma Class: A free class open to everyone in the hopes of getting new people in that might be curious but a little intimidated – offered every 2nd Saturday of the month at 4:30 PM.
Bikram Basics: New to BYSJ, Matt and Sarah will hold a monthly clinic to help our new students get acquainted to some of the principles of this practice.
Booster Class: Capitalizing on his expertise, Brad’s workshop help you know more as a beginner and go deeper as a regular practitioner.
“Yoga in Action” Days: Dawn will organize group service projects as our way to give back to our community – take a class together and then off to paint a school.
BYSJ Presents: Informal lectures on subjects we want to know more about. Make these virtually free and hopefully use social media LIVE so you can watch them wherever you are
Events & Clinics: And more that Jessica will share with you throughout the year! Be on mailing list; Be a follower on Facebook and Instagram. It’s imperative and helps you pass the message along.
Our Mission at BYSJ: Igniting Compassion, Empowering Self-Realization
If God took a pulse on what area of the world has the strongest heartbeat, I’m certain 5289 Prospect Road would pop right up off that Google earth map!
Love: it’s the end product distilled from this place. “It’s never too late, you’re never too old, and never too sick to start from scratch and do yoga once again!”