How did you first discover Bikram yoga?
I’m a little obsessed about my health because of high blood pressure since I was 18 years old. My grandfather died from a stroke in his 30’s, and having that fear of death motivated me to exercise religiously. I was constantly looking for a high intensity workout and often needed something new. In 2007, my husband (boyfriend then) introduced me to BYSJ when his doctors recommended yoga to relieve the pain after his shoulder surgery. My husband was really impressed, so I was curious to see what this Bikram yoga was all about. I wanted to know what made him feel as if he was floating or walking on a cloud. Oh man, my first class was awkward and I hurt all over. I was confused, wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, but curiosity kept me coming back and I started to feel really good! After a few days of consistent practice, I realized Bikram yoga was something I needed in my life. BYSJ has become my haven where I can find sanity and peace.
What have you gained from your yoga practice?
Emotional stress impacted my physical health. There’s stress at work where I’m a teacher at a Title 1 school dealing with endless meetings, trainings, prepping for classes, and challenging students. Then there’s stress at home with my husband and my highly energetic toddler. I get stressed from driving, the social media, listening to NPR news, all the construction going on around me…. there’s a lot of stress everywhere. I have learned to cope through Bikram Yoga. It’s really cool that whatever I learned in the hot room I am able to apply it outside in this crazy world. Poses such as pranayama breathing, blowing in firm pose, and each savasana have taught me to be calm and to live in a more peaceful state of mind. Falling out of poses has taught me to let go of things I can’t control. I’ve learned that the mindset affects everything – from my practice, to the way I handle the people around me, to my stress levels and to my overall well-being. Life is full of challenges but yoga has taught me to look the world straight in the face. I am fearless as a result of pushing myself to do poses that I don’t want to do. I am strong and flexible despite of my disabilities. I am focused regardless of the battles I’m fighting internally. I am resilient because I’ve tackled every physical, mental, and emotional obstacles in the hot room. I’m nicer to myself and to the people around me. Yoga is my support system to keep going and to keep moving forward.
What has been your greatest struggle or accomplishment?
In August 2016 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system that disrupts the information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. I was in denial for a long time. How can I have this disease when I’ve been exercising and have been eating healthy like a freak??? I blamed everything and everyone. I was so angry. I had just fully recovered from my pregnancy and postpartum depression. It took me a few years to get back on my feet and here we go again, back to being weak and depressed. My neurologist said I would end up in a wheelchair in six months to a year. The thought of losing my legs scared the heck out of me. Every time my knee hurts or my leg is acting weird, I’d always think, is this the day I’m going to end up in a wheelchair? It just breaks my heart how I wouldn’t be able to run around and dance with my daughter. Because of my neurologist’s prognosis, I was even more determined to do the 60-Day Challenge in January 2017. Besides other personal issues I was going through at that time, I had surgery five days before the challenge and I was learning how to give myself injections. I was an emotional mess! I was frustrated as hell trying to do the poses with my physical disabilities. There were days when I couldn’t lift my arm. Often times my knees buckled painfully, or my legs were fragile and brittle, causing me to limp. Migraines were frequent, and I was extremely tired all the time. My eyes got blurrier and blurrier. These attacks – also called relapses or exacerbations – go away for a few days or weeks but they always come back. I had different issues every day, so each day was like learning the poses all over again. I cried every single day. My body was strange! I couldn’t get over the fact that it wasn’t functioning the way it used to be. In many classes Matt would say, “Don’t let pain ruin your life!” Sarah would say, “Change your mind, change your life.” It made me cry even more because I wanted to change my situation so badly but I felt like I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I was feeling hopeless. It seemed as if Matt heard the voices in my head when he said, “You can do what you tell your mind to do.” And that’s when it clicked. I changed my mindset. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I listened to the words. Each day I focused on my breathing and poses. Eventually I got better and stronger each day. WOW! The mind IS powerful. I was surprised I was able to do poses that I didn’t think I could do. Sarah would say, “Don’t underestimate yourself, “ so I pushed myself to do more and more every day. Yoga became even more fun and interesting when I followed Yi-Ting’s advice, “Never be satisfied. Be curious. Experiment. Take risks.” Every day I was competing with myself, thriving to be better than I thought I could be. Relapses would come and go, but I’ve learned to accept them after hearing Jennifer B say 100 times, “Let it go. It is what it is.” I calmly breathed in and out of my nose when my poses didn’t look like the way I wanted it to look. There’s no cure for MS, but after completing the 60-Day Challenge I’ve learned how to take what was handed to me and be able to make the best of it. My life has been totally transformed! I am grateful to all the 5:30 AM teachers. They are my superheroes. Under their guidance, I was able to save myself.
What advice would you give to new students or those struggling with their practice?
Have a purpose. It can get tough in the yoga room so you’ll need a reason to keep fighting. Many people have asked, “How do you do it everyday? And at 5:30AM???” I’ve added yoga to my routine just like brushing my teeth, taking a shower, or eating breakfast. It doesn’t matter if my baby cries all night and I only get two hours of sleep. I don’t care if I’m sick and feel like I’m dying. I will go even if I’m drained from work. Well, I did miss a couple of classes because I hit the snooze button too much. But now, I wake up before my alarm clock! Having a purpose makes it a little easier for me to get up, show up, and never give up no matter how I feel. Practice often and stick with it. It’s like reading a book or watching a movie. You have to read or watch again and again to really get the writer’s message. You have to practice again and again so that you can really understand the dialogue and let it really sink into your brain. And sometimes, you’ll notice things that you’ve never noticed before. It’s OKAY to struggle. You’re supposed to. Like I tell my 2nd graders, “If you’re not struggling, then you’re not learning.” If you want change, be stubborn and keep working at it. You’re body will thank you! Listen. Follow directions. Try your best. Those are the same rules I have in my classroom! Keep in mind that the teachers are helping you build your strength physically and mentally. There were many times that teachers have freakin’ pissed me off, but I would come back even if there were awkward moments. Some teachers would call me out so much in one class and I’ve been tempted to say out loud, “Umm. Am I the only one in this class today??? Am I the only one messing up the poses?!?!” But now I take it as a compliment when they give me extra attention. They have helped me improve and my poses have looked a lot better! Don’t get butt-hurt!! Trust the teachers, there is always something to learn from each one of them. Learning never stops. And when you practice correctly, you will gain a long list of health and wellness benefits.
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
I love to experience LIFE! I love trying new things, especially food from different cultures. Sushi, pho, pad thai, ramen, and fish tacos are a few of my favorite things! I love going to places I’ve never been to before. My family of twenty often travels together. One summer we went on a road trip to six different states! I love having adventures with my toddler even though she drives me nuts sometimes. She is my Dancing Queen. I love taking her to the farmers’ markets to sample the yummy fruits and other tasty treats. We always stop by to see Mr. Bean Pie, as she likes to call him. He makes the best bean pie ever! I love watching all kinds of movies and late night shows with my husband. Comedies are my favorite. For our first date, my husband and I cut physics class in college one night and went to see Meet the Parents with Ben stiller. He introduced me to foreign films with subtitles, but now it’s hard to watch them with our little girl. Someday, I’ll have her watch Amélie with me. I love to be engrossed in a book. I’ve enjoyed books from David Sedaris, Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts and James Patterson. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of spiritual enrichment, compassion, and enlightenment. I love being with people and meeting new ones. There’s always something interesting about a person. I’m learning about what they know, they’re learning about what I know, and every one is thriving to be a better person. But most of all, I love to be by myself, especially outdoors with the trees, the mountains, the sea, the sky.