Eighteen years ago, I was lucky enough to open the doors of a small space that would be the beginning of Bikram Yoga San Jose – in the back of a run-down shopping center next to a popular dive bar.

After my mom passed away in 1998, I knew life would be different because I didn’t look at it the same way anymore. Priorities shift and perspectives expand when someone so close to you passes away; my heart awakened. I didn’t want to sell Italian food anymore; I wanted to wake people up to the gift of life itself. I wanted to sell people how precious life is; that joy, satisfying Joy, comes from the choice to enjoy the life you are already in, not the life you keep waiting for.

My first yoga class was so challenging and so surreal, and yet, in that ONE class was the bridge that I knew could serve to shift all of us out of a nagging pressure to be someone and somewhere else; into one that says, “I’m cool where and as I am.” For the first time, I had a peace IN me that usurped the war in me. I wasn’t trying to keep it together, fight the grief, push for happiness – I just was: settled; free; joyous; whole; ready; connected.

Watching my peers in class one night, I was interested in pondering who they were, why they came, what they did. And then I thought, it doesn’t matter what the answers to those questions were. We all want some of this peace, and we were all coming back, class after class, to get precisely that. We came for a sense of peace within that was so addicting that we didn’t care how hard, how hot, how much – nothing else produced this feeling from within. It was the one thing that I felt matched the experience of death itself: to experience the fullness of life itself. Yoga gives you the map to do just that! I recall asking why more people don’t know about this and why it took me so long? It was then that I knew I’d do this for the rest of my life, and I’d spread this yoga for the rest of my life.

That feeling hasn’t changed because our mission hasn’t changed. One of the greatest tools I learned at the Italian restaurant company I worked for was the pledge to work toward a mission and vision, with a set of core values that you abide by in all decision-making and transactions. These statements so clearly become the cornerstone from which you carry out your dream, with a team of people who seek the same. A community starts to populate, benefiting and contributing to that same vision.

I found an old BYSJ brochure from 2004. In it, it says, “the mission of Bikram Yoga San Jose is to bring improved health and well-being to its members by providing the highest quality Bikram Yoga instruction in a comfortable, convenient, safe, and attractive location. Bikram Yoga San Jose is dedicated to serving its community of people with excellence and to fostering an environment conducive to learning, inspiration, and self-realization.” We carry out this mission with the values of Integrity, Compassion, Passion, Quality, Community, and Joy.

Over the years, we’ve tweaked our mission a little bit. However, it’s much the same, for its inception came from the heart. A place within us that “sees” a greater call for the good of all, and isn’t Bikram Yoga just that – something for the greater good of all?

I’m blessed to have seen that calling back in 1998, and the mission preserves the seed of intention from which it came so it can sprout, unstained and unscathed by the natural because it operates from something more supernatural. It was a belief that this yoga can improve humankind; therefore, it cannot fail.

When we opened in 2003, “yoga” was heard as “yogurt” – the word itself was so foreign to so many. Several students came to me in private before starting and asked if this was a cult group because they heard that we yell in this type of yoga. Once yoga competitions began, judgments ensued; how does one compete in yoga? News reporters came to our door asking these questions, looking for some good commentary. Editorials would dismiss the copyright permissions placed on something so sacred and free as yoga. The allegations against Bikram himself would serve to weaken our mission’s power, and we certainly had our in-house adversities on the subject.

Our first cute, hand-crafted studio – with a 900 square foot yoga room and one toilet each for men and women – couldn’t handle the volume of students. Moving into an elegantly-designed and oh-so-expensive 7,000 square foot studio was glorious but debt-filled to the point of almost closing. Soon after celebrating ten years, our wonderful manager, Chris Canevaro, was diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma. He went through the process of death in front of all of us who loved him so much. And then a small fire completely burned out our heating and humidifier system, with repairs taking over a year.

More recently, with our landlord’s support in 2019, we built a state-of-the-art Bikram Yoga studio to take us another ten years. We opened January 5 and closed just two months later, on March 16, due to Covid-19 and the shelter-in-place order.

Adversity makes diamonds. Resilience sharpens its point.

I’m not saying that hardship isn’t difficult; that we should gloss over struggle; that owning a studio only takes perseverance; or that change isn’t good – what I am saying, what BYSJ is saying; “the point” is:

  • Negative thoughts are nine times more powerful than positive ones, and Bikram Yoga is the antidote to negative thinking.
  • The most important thing in your life IS your life: take care of it in 90 minutes or suffer for 90 years.
  • 100% of the benefit comes from doing it 100% the right way: just 1% off course, and soon you’re in the weeds.
  • If you don’t use it: you will lose it.
  • If you don’t train your mind: your mind will train you.
  • Do the posture, and you’ll cut the drama.

Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, we may not have the gifts of heat and humidity, flooring, lights, or a fancy audio system, but we still have “Dahoo Dores.” In other words, we still have this yoga.

What gifts have ensued during this time of Covid-19 that we might not have otherwise seen! The morning of our closing, March 16, we caught wind of the news and immediately put our creative minds together. We gave birth to BYSJ Everywhere, our virtual meeting spot, with hopes that it could provide some of that same feeling you get when you walk into the studio with such glee, knowing that an amazing class is ahead and your homies are here today to do it with you. BYSJ Everywhere has tried to fulfill that, and what transpired was even more:

  • We started Pranayama deep breathing, live each day at 10:00 am that brought teachers together from around the globe, bonding for the first time in years.
  • Sarah Newman led Esak Garcia’s back-bending challenge for over 100 students, learning this great technique without ever having to leave their home.
  • Matt Newman covered all 26 postures in great depth; he studied, wrote, and illustrated them so we could learn and discuss with a comprehension that you can’t get in a 90-minute class.
  • Lineage quotes that Sarah Newman posted provided insight into the treasures of yoga beyond the mechanics.
  • Hundreds of comments and beautiful stories were posted, capturing personal insights into your yoga, showing that we are more alike than different.

Online events grew too:

  • Rajashree started to give talks and gatherings, giving us a chance to see and know her more than we had in the past.
  • With Diane Ducharme Gardner and Margie Topf, The Dialogue Works provided workshops for teachers, addressing our quest to learn more.
  • Changu Changezi gave us inspiring story after story from Humans of Bikram Yoga.
  • Balwan Post arranged worldwide yoga classes.
  • Josh Biro coached our business through this unprecedented time.

I’m remembering all this because we’ve become closer as a global community despite lack of proximity, and we haven’t lost the raison d’etre (reason for being) of why we exist. If anything, this pandemic shined a light on how much we need yoga; how important it is to act bolder to get more people into a yoga practice.

So, the mission of BYSJ is more present today: Classes are filled with cats, dogs, kids; classrooms are made in bathrooms, garages, with fireplaces: certainly a different environment, nevertheless providing the highest quality Bikram Yoga instruction in an atmosphere conducive to learning, inspiration, and self-realization.

This leads me to my final point. Missions exist only to serve a vision: the highest of dreams held reverent and eternal. BYSJ’s vision is to empower self-realization, igniting compassion.

Years ago, at Peet’s Coffee, I bumped into a longtime member, Mansur. I said hello, and surprisingly, given his silent manner, he said, “thank you for not only doing something for this community but for doing something for humanity.” Yes! There’s evidence that maybe that vision is manifesting!

BYSJ teachers and Karma Yogis, thank you for all your efforts and love for this community. Thank you to everyone who has taught, practiced, visited, and stepped into BYSJ, both in-studio and online. Your personality, vulnerability, eagerness, commitment, and passion have shaped the breathing, loving entity that is BYSJ. Together, we have created this inclusive tapestry that is spreading and realizing its mission and vision. Bikram told me years ago that “you’ll be as big as your container,” remarking on the actual size of the yoga room. He’s right – with no more walls, the world is our container.

So, congratulations BYSJ on 18 years! Thank you for holding us the way you do, individually and collectively. Thank you for providing a space that lets us toil through our minutiae, whether in a classroom or a bathroom. Thank you for the friends we’ve made and the ones we’ve yet to meet. Thank you for showing up no matter what, and no matter where, and giving us the consistency we need to do our practice – our oh-so-important practice. Without it, we are weak, and with it, we are empowered (self-realizing), loving (igniting compassion), and at ONE with each other.

God Bless BYSJ!