The Olympics are over resulting in 37 medals for USA, the most ever for any country and Canada swept up 14 gold medals for their homeland including the dramatic Hockey Gold win over the US in overtime to the whirlwind games. An unfortunate fatal accident and a host of extreme falls coupled with record breaking speeds, spins and heights made this Olympics full of emotion and jaw-dropping, “see-it-to-believe-it” feats. Viewership was one of the highest in Olympic history. Not only do the athletes and all participants have memories to sustain a lifetime, but so do we who watched in amazement – what these individuals accomplished.
Similarly, the Yoga Competition is over. During Valentine’s weekend, two new champions were crowned. Congratulations to Kasper Van Den Wijngaard and Brandy Winfield. I made it to the yoga finals on Sunday and had the chance to witness the Top 10 Youth, Top 10 Men, Top 10 Women from competitions completed two days prior. This was the best of the best. One by one, each participant got up on stage to perform their seven postures in three minutes and like watching the Olympics, you were drenched in emotion as each athlete had your adrenaline rushing as each pose was executed flawlessly and with such grace. It was another “I feel so lucky to be here and watch this,” kind of a day – something pretty special.
The 60-Day-Challenge is almost over. Over 130 students participated and well over half will finish. That is our most ever. If you are not familiar with the Challenge, it is 60 consecutive days of yoga. If you miss a day, you need to make it up the next day and take two. It’s not easy. It’s taxing on the body, but also a challenge to one’s schedule (despite all the classes that we offer.) Some of you are doing this for the 3rd or 4th time – and, to my delight, many of you who were ready to quit are finishing!
Several years ago, a very good friend of mine was in a car accident that sent him through the windshield of his car. Luckily, he survived but had to have over 100 stitches across his face. He was very handsome and despite his humble character, the disfiguration was a blow to his ego. I remember how he suffered and finally took measures to seek therapy. In time, he accepted his situation and decided to write many of us who were close to him a letter of gratitude and forgiveness. I recall in that letter his profound words, “I realize now that I can choose to make my world smaller or make my world larger from this experience. I am choosing to make my world larger.” I know that today, after several years of plastic surgery, he is just as handsome as before the accident but the person he has become is far more beautiful than the one he was before.
Didn’t we hear that kind of story over and over again watching the Olympics? How about the Chinese Ice skating couple and the 18 years of training and competing together that included four Olympics and despite the injuries, setbacks and personal sacrifices, persevered for one last run at Gold and, got it!
Or our own Bode Miller. I remember the Olympics four years ago in Torino, Italy – and the huge disappointment being the American favored to win Gold in several skiing events only to come away with no medals and a reputation for partying and “just giving up.” Now, four years later, married and with a two-year old son, as well as a renewed commitment to his passion with better training, a better attitude and an appreciation for his gift on the slopes, he has become one of the most inspirational stories of the Olympics. Watching him win gold was a testimony to all of us to dig deep, and take a real look at healing those bruises – both physical and mental – that can hold you back, and make up your mind to be the best. Bode certainly took the high road and made his life larger not smaller.
The story of Apollo Ohno was also classic. His coach father saw both the potential and the lack of discipline his son had in his sport, losing heats and training with a laid back attitude. Apollo recalls his dad asking him to take time off and really think about what he wanted to do with his life. Apollo’s soul searching connected him again to his love of skating and he finally called his dad and said, “I want to skate.” The rest is history – literally.
In our yoga realm, Kasper Van Den Wijngaard, winner of the men’s 2010 Yoga Championships, came in third place last year. He made the decision to train harder and traveled here to the States sacrificing much to leave his life in the Netherlands to train and receive coaching from Bikram Yoga Senior Instructor Mary Jarvis. His performance at the Championships was breathtaking and you’d never know that he suffered from a pinched nerve in his neck.
Another of our members’ brother passed away unexpectedly just as she was beginning the 60 Day Challenge. She shared this with me as she wanted me to know that her brother was encouraging her to do this challenge. I know her schedule. She is a teacher and has kids and other responsibilities that have always kept her away from attempting this challenge. But I’ve seen her lately doing doubles to catch up and finish, just as the world watched Jeannette, the gorgeous and courageous women’s ice skater win Bronze skating with thoughts of her mom inspiring her performance as her mom too, died unexpectedly a few days prior to her Olympic run.
Our 60 Day Challenge party is coming up soon; March 21. It is one of my favorite events at BYSJ and as much like the closing ceremonies of the Olympics listening to the collection of memorable moments created in those 17 days, we too will get to hear the inspirational stories of all our members who finished the 60 Day Challenge complete with the adversity each one had to overcome to get there.
For the Americans to have beaten the Canadians in the playoff rounds of their Olympic run was an unprecedented accomplishment. Hockey royalty belongs to the Canadians; not the Americans. The Americans were complete underdogs to everyone but themselves. Congratulations to the entire team, especially goalie Ryan Miller making save after impossible save. Ryan Miller’s gift in stopping the puck failed him in the blink of an eye during overtime and Canada won. I bet if that play had a second chance, he’d stop that puck.
Emily Carpenter is one of the most beautiful yoginis you will ever see on stage. She has a presence along with her strength and flexibility. She and her terrific husband, Bel, own a well established yoga studio in the Aspen area. In that time, they had two beautiful children. Bel and Emily both compete and this year, Bel, came in third place. Emily too usually places. However, this year, she didn’t. In her final posture, both her legs are supposed to hook and stay hooked with her feet under her hips. She’s done this posture hundreds of times. In that one moment, her foot slipped. Like Ryan Miller, repeat that play one more time and I bet she sticks it.
I’ve intertwined all these stories because of how all illustrate the resilience of the human spirit. We enter into a competition or a challenge for a purpose and in that personal journey we are given lots of information to sort through. It’s the decision to focus in on a single task at hand that helps us learn and absorb valuable lessons. You can take your physical preparation to new levels and even sharpen those mental tools but where do you go when you just can’t seem to give your best in Triangle on your 47th day of the Challenge? What do you do when the skier before you takes a big wipe and your record breaking run is stopped midstream for safety reasons? What do you do when you are the first ever Korean ice skater to potentially win Gold knowing the pressure of your country is on your shoulders? These questions take more than tangible qualities. The personal quest you have put yourself on has stimulated new sources of strength far beyond the exercises you’ve done to strengthen your body and mind.
Our Hatha yoga practice is only one of the eight limbs of yoga. This physical practice bonds with another limb of yoga called Raja yoga. Raja is our mental component and that too is being exercised the more we partake in our Hatha yoga exercise, increasing our levels of patience, will-power, determination, self-control and tolerance. Physical and mental prowess alone can’t create a champion. You must optimize both to enter the real realm of champions.
Today is the 12 year Anniversary of my mother’s passing. It is a huge day for me each year and I can’t help but to reflect on the impact her life has had on me even in those four “dying” years. It’s nice to write with her in mind and in heart as I celebrate the lessons she bestowed on me at a time when I feel the influence of the Olympics, the yoga finals and the 60 Day Challenge. My mother was the ultimate champion as she “fought” dementia rising above the deterioration of her body and mind to still find life in the power of each moment. She couldn’t remember a name, but she had a feeling of knowing you and gave a smile so huge that gave you goosebumps. She was the kind of person who would stop at a toll booth and ask the operator how their day was going. She kept my friends company when I was late coming home from school and she never tired of the words, “thank you,” “please,” “you’re welcome,” “may I” and other manners of kindness. She defined “special” not because she was special or that we were all special, but really because no one was special. It’s a paradox really. I honor it today because I witnessed it everywhere this past month.
Despite not being American, how can you not root for Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway winning slalom instead of Bode Miller? Despite Americans losing in final moments of overtime in one of the all time greatest hockey games to date, how can you not feel good for the Canadians and what they’ve given to their country? Every single one of those top 10 competitors in the yoga finals got my vote. Each member who tries the 60 Day Challenge to the best of their ability deserves a trophy. Remove the color, the language, the religious beliefs, the opinions, and judgments and instead see faith in the human spirit rise to the occasion – that’s special.
Harsh, one of our treasured members at BYSJ, is just about done with his 60 Day Challenge. Recently, he came up to me and said that this last week was supposed to be his easiest but instead he has had challenges in health and in his travels to make it here. I can hear him now. “Michele, you believe in God right? Well, just when I was about to cross the finish line, he picked up the ball and moved out a bit farther for me to catch.” Like the final poses in the Bikram series, like the final run on short track, like the three minutes on stage in front of Bikram, you are fully conditioned to conquer the goal you’ve longed for. Use your patience, will power, self-control, determination and tolerance to reach that finish line and make room for spirit to fill in those gaps when adversity is still lingering. What a feeling we all share. A common bond that we can all relate to when we accomplish something that gives us more than just the goal we’ve asked for. Your world becomes larger. I’ve witnessed some miraculous moments this past month. You may have too. Don’t let it go to waste and use it to fuel your next aspiration.