It was an afternoon class at Yoga Ladera in Portola Valley, Bill Graham’s studio at the time. I was less than 6 months out of teacher training, living in Walnut Creek, and doing my best to teach as much as I could around the Bay Area while making plans to open BYSJ. After a second set of Half Moon Pose, this woman from the back row came walking up to me as everyone was waiting for instruction on the next posture, and asked me if I wouldn’t mind keeping my voice down as I was giving her a headache. I’m not kidding. It’s one of those classes, or rather one of those moments, in my life that I will never forget. I recall just saying “Thank you” and then watching her walk back to her mat. I continued without much change and she continued doing the yoga and remained in class.
Not long ago, I was teaching a fairly large class when this couple came in late and stood in the back row by the door directly in front of me. They caught up and blended in with everyone else until I began to make some Bikram comments. Nothing that members such as yourselves haven’t heard, like “mind over the matter,” “having means nothing unless you know how to use it,” or, use your “bulldog determination”, etc… As I scanned the room continuing the commentary, I was shocked to see a now angry face on the woman who arrived late, as she aggressively mouthed the words “that’s not true” to me over and over again, making sure that I was getting what she said. Oh dear. Of course, my role is to not fall into any debates, especially during a class. My role is to teach a Bikram class and hope that the yoga just might diffuse some of that defensiveness any student may be feeling and thus allow “possibility” to slip in. I sent this woman a silent prayer and carried on.
Teachers, you know what I am talking about. Are you remembering your own stories right now? With giggles, I hope. Members, you too, I bet, have been in class and witnessed some of this behavior. Who knows, maybe some of you reading this have at one point either behaved this way or at the least thought about it.
I was at an advanced seminar with Bikram a few years ago. It is an amazing time filled with yoga, yoga, and more yoga, and you get such a big dose of Bikram. It is usually a few hundred people, mostly teachers from all over the globe, that take the regular class in the morning followed by a small 30 minute break which is then followed directly by a two hour advanced class. This happens every day for about 7 days. Bikram usually teaches both classes, although he might have Rajashree or Emmy or another senior Instructor teach a few of the classes during the course of the week, as his voice can get tired. This particular day, Bikram was teaching the regular series and you could see and hear in his voice his discontent with a student not far from where he was teaching on the podium. I don’t remember what he said, but it wasn’t nice. If you’ve been around Bikram, then you know that when he starts to get upset, we all suffer. The class gets a little longer. The class gets a little harder. My mind was going “oh no.”
It got sort of quiet, and then Bikram started talking about his friend Quincy Jones. Quincy Jones is a famous musician, composer, and producer, especially in the 1980’s. He also takes Bikram Yoga. Over the years, he and Bikram developed a friendship, and Quincy introduced Bikram and the yoga to many of his musical friends. Bikram recalled a dilemma that Quincy was in. Quincy had this idea of writing a global song incorporating many musical celebrities like Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Bruce Springsteen and others. But, each time they got together, they could never agree. Each had their own idea of how the song should go and it was hard to work with all these strong and successful personalities. He asked Bikram what he should do. Bikram says, “I told him to tell them to take off their shoes when they come into his house.” Quincy at first did not understand but followed through on this gesture. As Bikram tells the story, it was this act that helped to write and produce one of the best songs of all time, “We are the World.”
Bikram’s voice got a little more intense as he wrapped up the story. He then looked straight at this student that he was upset with and said if you don’t leave your shoes at the door then you are wasting my time and your money to be here.
Some of you reading this may have been there. Do you remember? It was another moment of gratitude for me as that is the Bikram we know and love to hear. It’s those golden nuggets of wisdom (as I call them) that we can get directly from Bikram, a man with amazing lineage. It’s not necessary to believe every morsel of this story, but the message in it is the gift to take away.
Rajashree, Bikram’s wife, just recently sent out a newsletter updating teachers of her activities, her family and her life. She is as compassionate as they come and always has some insight to share. “I’m sure your studios are heating up with newcomers, new challenges, and new ideas. The best way to guide beginners is to accept them the way they are. Teach them to approach yoga without expectations. Do not guide them too much, but allow them to follow the practice. Just ask them to keep an open mind.”
There it is: Keep an open mind!
I love how many new people we get each month at BYSJ. Whether you started from the “10 for $20 Challenge”; Groupon; Living Social; or dropping in, welcome. Welcome to Bikram Yoga San Jose. Welcome to Bikram Yoga. Rajashree has a message for you. “Practicing as a beginner is just like experiencing anything new in life; everything unfolds with time and devotion. You will find a new way in your own time and everything around you will change. You will find the right way and the wrong way or maybe you will find that nothing is wrong but that everything is right. The realization that all experience is positive should be the purpose of yoga for beginners.”
For those of us that have been doing the yoga for a long time now, it’s even more important for us to catch our moments of resistance. The yoga is constantly surfacing our “stuff”. Like anything, when we do something for a while it can fall into a category; it can become habitual and our insights can become muted. We may believe in the yoga, have great discipline and etiquette, but we stand in the same spot; we sip our water at the same time each class; our final savasana is shorter and shorter with each practice. The list goes on. Having a variety of teachers (BTW – we have 27 different teachers on our schedule this month) is so helpful because each of us offers a slightly different context in delivering the same content. It’s highly likely that you will “hear” something different from each of the teachers. This helps to break up routine thinking. And routine thinking is a symptom of a closed mind.
Last weekend, I drove to San Francisco to have dinner with some friends. We were in heavy evening traffic all the way up 101 and even more so when we hit Market Street as there was a crime scene being investigated on the corner of Market and Montgomery where we had to turn. It took about two hours but we finally parked my car at The Palace garage. I put it in reverse to simply straighten out when all of a sudden my radiator burst. Yep. Right there in the parking garage in SAN FRANCISCO. The attendant at the garage walked over and said, “Oh yeah, that’s your radiator fluid. This car isn’t going anywhere.” Really? Is this happening?
I’ve never been good with “shit happens.” Those of you who know me know that I am not big on surprises, struggle with being spontaneous, and prefer the world to work according to my plan (big smiles here, please!) However, through the years with yoga as my teacher, I’ve acquired acceptance in all things due to an open mind. It turns out that we met up with our friends and had a “full of laughs” great dinner and dealt with my car the next day. In fact, I went so far as being able to feel gratitude that my car died in the garage and not on Market Street…or the highway!
Years ago an astrologer friend of mind, Angelica, told me during a reading of my chart that there was something the Universe was trying to tell me. That perhaps a plan I was contemplating going with needed revising. She compared it to a heavy snowstorm in which all the airports are closed. And now the only way to my destination is by car, over and through side roads that I would never usually take. She added, “Keep an open mind as there is something for you to see.” I often reflect on this passage as it reminds me to stop the routine thinking whenever I become aware of it and be present to something new.
Having an open mind is the first step asked of you when embarking upon a new journey, like yoga. Without it, you’ll never stop judging, you can’t live in the present moment, and you’ll sabotage your chances of feeling more joy, more happiness, and ultimately, more you.