How did you first discover Bikram yoga?
I first walked into Bikram Yoga San Jose on Michele’s opening weekend, 15 years ago. At that time, I used to get a lot of migraine headaches and I had heard that yoga could help. I was completely over dressed for my first class. I had read that it was going to be hot yoga but somehow didn’t believe it was really going to be so hot. Michele taught my first class and I remember thinking how strange it was that she didn’t do the postures with us, but just told us what to do. I really don’t know what brought me back the next day, other than the 10 for $10 deal that I had purchased. As my second class started, I quickly realized it was the same words, same postures. This brought some comfort to me as I kind of knew what to expect. It was after my third class that I felt the magic of the yoga.
What have you gained from your yoga practice?
First of all, no more headaches. I work as an elementary school teacher. Back then I was teaching second grade. I had two small boys of my own, ages three and seven. I currently teach kindergarten and those boys of mine are now 18 and 22. When I began practicing the yoga, I quickly noticed that I was more patient, had more stamina, didn’t feel as stressed and overall felt more grounded. I was developing increased flexibility and also became stronger. My feet hurt less at the end of the day and I rarely had any back pain. I felt tall and uplifted. I was sleeping better, eating healthier and drinking much more water. I was happier, smiled more and felt more focused and positive. Life just seemed better, and I have a pretty good life.
If you let it, this yoga can be like a best friend. I have used my practice to help celebrate joyous times in my life, but it has always been there for me during sad times in my life. I completed my first 60 Day Challenge eight years ago, the year that my brother passed away. That challenge got me out of bed every morning and helped me find some peace with the loss of my brother. A few years later, my practice once again helped me through the passing of my mom. Practicing this yoga is awesome to do when you feel great, and it will always make you feel better when you don’t feel so great.
What has been your greatest struggle or accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishments have been completing the 60 day challenges but most of all, that I have stuck with this practice for 15 years. I like to practice five days a week, but that doesn’t always happen. I often feel that each class is an accomplishment.
My greatest struggle came about a year ago. This is when I really noticed how this yoga makes you so in tune to yourself and your body. I normally attended the 5:30 am class, but was finding it harder to get up in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping as well and my energy was low. During class, I found the postures harder to do. I was noticing the heat more and my heart would start pounding in class like it had never done before. I was also getting sick a lot and my blood pressure was starting to go up. I remember thinking, “how could I have high blood pressure when I’ve practiced yoga for 15 years?” After seeing my doctor for my annual physical exam, it was a 3D mammogram that answered my questions. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stage 1, a very small 1 cm tumor. I was about to face surgery, chemo and radiation treatments. The news was devastating but I was so grateful for being in tune to my body, and so much of this, I know, is due to a regular yoga practice, and the connections within yourself that happen.
I am happy to say that I have completed most of my treatments and, for the most part, I was able to keep up with my yoga practice. During my chemo treatments, I was lucky if I made it once or twice a week to class. Some classes, I literally just sat the whole time listening to the teacher and visualizing myself doing the postures. I actually learned a lot from just listening and heard words I had never heard before.
When I met with my radiologists before radiation treatments began, she talked about how my skin could get red, feel burned, may blister and peel. My husband asked her, “Will she be able to do her hot yoga during radiation as that is important to her.” The radiologists’ response, “that would be the best thing she could do for herself.” She went on to explain that the heat would help keep my muscles and ligaments stretched out and flexible, as radiation can tighten everything up. It would also keep my shoulder strong as the muscles will get weakened from treatments. So, with that, I decided to make all my radiation treatments at 8:00 am in the morning then drive to the 9:15 am class. Three weeks into my treatments, one of the nurses said to me that I must have super hydrated skin as my skin was barely pink, no burns or peels. I could definitely feel my shoulder area tightening up and still have a hard time raising my arm up, so I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I didn’t keep attending classes. I have truly learned that, “you never are too sick to do yoga.”
I’ve been fortunate to have a very supportive family, great friends and plenty of time off from work to go through treatments and heal. I have missed my 5:30 am peeps but have been enjoying the 9:15 am and noon classes. The teachers, staff and fellow yogis have been so supportive and encouraging. The one thing I have always loved about BYSJ is that when you walk in you are greeted with a smile and made to feel that others are happy you are there.
What advice would you give to new students or those struggling with their practice?
Keep coming back, listen to the words of the teachers, never miss Pranayama Breathing and always do the four spine strengthening postures. Anyone can do this yoga. You don’t have to be flexible or strong because that is what you gain from practicing.
I still struggle with shoulder pain, some nerve pain, lots of joint pain and tingling in my fingers from treatments. This is what I tell myself and would also tell others:
Listen to the words of the teachers. If you need to take a little break then take it, but listen to the words of the teacher and visualize yourself doing the pose. Learn to relax into the postures versus working so hard to do the postures, and remember that it’s just yoga. Have fun with it!
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
Outside of yoga, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, walks with my dogs, going to the movies, watching tv and reading.
Thank you Michele, BYSJ and all the supportive teachers and staff that are here for the students each and every day! I am truly grateful for you.
My Angel word card this year…Gratitude!