I discovered Bikram Yoga at a young age, attending my first class back in 2006 when I was in my 20s. I liked the physical effects of the exercise even though I was never consistent. I would practice for a month, get back in shape, and stop. I repeated this over and over. I used Bikram Yoga occasionally to lose weight but was never committed to the practice. My weight fluctuated a lot but stayed in the 125-140 lb. range, so a month of yoga was used to fix my small weight gains.

When I turned 29, I got pregnant and had my daughter. During my pregnancy, I gained 75 lbs! In my last trimester, my weight reached almost 200 lbs, and my doctor classified my case as a ‘high-risk pregnancy.’ I had mild gestational diabetes and started to have right knee and lower back problems because of the sudden weight gain. My undergraduate degree in Nutritional Science and work experiences as a nutritionist helped me to get back to 135 lbs within a year, but I wasn’t able to fix my low self-esteem and lower back pain.

I first came to BYSJ back in 2015. I purchased a pack of 20 classes from Groupon. It was the year I was turning 32, and I was getting a divorce. I got a little older, but my attitude towards yoga was the same as when I was in my 20s. I just wanted physical progress. Imagine the most self-centered person in the hot room because that person was me. I used to freeze water in a plastic bottle, drink it with all the sounds I could make, and rub it on my face during Shavasana to cool myself down. Everyone must have hated me, but I didn’t even care. I hated practicing yoga, too. I only liked the physical effects after.

I used up most of my Groupon 20 classes at Matt and Sarah’s classes. I remember them because of their accent. I hated 90 minutes of yoga practice so much so that I thought, ‘Let me just torture my body over your British accent. Soon, it will be over, and I will get what I want: a hot, sexy body.’ Soon, I used up the Groupon and got what I wanted: physical attractiveness. I had no reason to continue the practice, so I stopped.

Jo Ko in rabbit pose
Jo Ko playing the guitar
Jo Ko in Camel pose

It took me almost nine years to come back to BYSJ. It was 2023, the year that I was turning 40. I had been living an active life of tennis, swimming, and rock climbing. As a nutritionist, I knew how to eat healthy so I wouldn’t have any issues with my weight or body image. The only physical issue I had was my lower back pain – I took an MRI a couple of years ago, and my physician recommended surgery in five years. But that wasn’t the main issue that year. I was having mental and spiritual breakdowns.

It was my early mid-life crisis. My depression reached the point where a couple of therapy sessions wouldn’t help. There was a huge hole in my mind, and I couldn’t fill that up with anything. Then, I remembered that I practiced Bikram Yoga when I was getting a divorce. I bought another set of Groupon classes to get divorced from my depression and entered the door of BYSJ again.

I was surprised that many things had stayed the same with the newly renovated studio. Matt and Sarah were there; they looked the same, just a few extra gray hairs. Lots of yogis who I remembered were still there. They did not seem to remember me, though, because my attitude had changed. I started to follow the rules of the hot room, stay as quiet as possible during Shavasana, and respect others. I started making friends at the studio, starting with Sarah. One morning, I was waiting for a shower in the locker room, and someone told me that Sarah was learning Korean. I became her Korean teacher and started teaching her my Korean accent.

Soon, I used up the Groupon but was still on the way to getting what I wanted. Mental and spiritual progress came slower than physical progress, so I signed up to be a regular at the studio.

In January 2024, I signed up to join the 60 Day Challenge. It was one depressing morning, and I told Sarah I wanted to sign up, but I never expected to complete it. I had many self-doubts, but the Challenge made me come to the studio more frequently. It was really hard to complete one class a day, especially when I was having a bad day. I was about five classes behind at the beginning of February. A weak voice in my head whispered that I didn’t have to finish the Challenge. I did not have to be perfect. It was not a big deal.

Jo Ko with bike on a sunny day
Jo Ko selfie

But during each class I completed, I heard the words of my teachers. “Be strong,” Michele said. I looked in the mirror and saw a strong woman holding a posture. “Never underestimate yourself,” Sarah said. My self-doubts started to disappear. “Let it out and let it in,” Matt said. I learned the concept of acceptance as I started to let things go. “Relax your mind and open your heart,” Claire said. At one point during the Challenge, I realized I had grown spiritually and felt happy with who I was. Soon, I signed up for double classes to finish the Challenge. The first double was scary but wasn’t as hard as expected. In the last week of my Challenge, I finished five days of double classes, including three days back-to-back. I finished my first 60 Day Challenge on the 54th day (6 classes ahead).

Yoga became healing. Previously, I thought it was 90 minutes of torture, but I was wrong. Yoga healed me physically, mentally, and spiritually. My lower back pain was gone by the end of the Challenge, and I realized I did not need another MRI or the doctor-recommended surgery. My mental health improved tremendously; I started to feel happy and appreciate what I had in my life. In April 2024, I started working as a Karma Yogi at the studio. I wanted to connect to the community as I dreamed of being an instructor later in life. Whenever I have gone through hardships in my life, Bikram Yoga has been with me. Now it’s my time to pay back. Whoever comes to the front door looking for healing, I will be at the front desk, greeting them with my big smile.