It was fourteen years ago today that my mother Donnadae, passed away. Like many of you that have lost a loved one, you don’t forget the day – ever. Your body doesn’t either. My practice today was a heavy one. It’s as if my body had its own sorrow, too. I appreciate how you members allow me the freedom to talk about my mom. I do mention her often in speeches or articles and I am always thrilled to get the supportive responses that I do. I think it has to do with the vulnerability I expose. Despite our walks of life and whatever persona we show out there in the world, we all have a tender heart. When it’s open, our communication is more real and comes from a more authentic place. It’s in that landscape where we connect to each other. We look past differences and relate on deeper levels. I attribute this harmony to yoga.
Recently ABC Channel 7 came to the studio to film and talk about yoga competition. If you’ve been interviewed by the media before, you know that they usually approach you last minute with a sense of immediacy: “we need this now.” I was super happy to show them our new studio and welcomed the chance to spread the word about yoga by answering any and all questions they had for me. The National Yoga Asana Championships took place this weekend in New York City. It was the first time that they were held outside of Los Angeles. It’s an important step, as getting in the face of a bigger audience with much larger media attention gives the championships more of a chance to become an Olympic event, which is the ultimate goal. Rajashree Choudhury, Bikram’s wife, has been working for years on making this vision a reality. It is not an easy road, as there are many rules to follow, on top of the continued controversy that surrounds the very idea of allowing yoga to become a “competitive sport.” I had a hunch that some of the reporter’s questions were related to the competition and my thoughts on this hot topic: “Doesn’t this go against the very nature of what yoga is supposed to be? Isn’t yoga about getting away from judgment, perfection, and competition?”
I have competed five times, twice on the National stage. Not once did I think about the 200 other competitors being better than me. I was more concerned each time with giving my personal best, which had more to do with how I felt about myself, my confidence level, my emotional state that day, and how my spine felt. Each time that I got up on stage, it was a visit with my true self. I found it to be fascinating, as no other three minutes I’ve ever spent on the planet gave me that kind of information about who I am. Can I control the adrenaline rush as I place my head on my knee? Can I concentrate enough to hold my thoughts on the moment and not on what I have to do next? Do I have the determination to push through my doubts? Am I enjoying what I can express? Did I walk off the stage knowing I gave it my best and I that didn’t give up? I know from experience that each competitor walking off stage doesn’t worry so much about the judges’ marks as they do about their own thoughts of how well they performed. Those three minutes go beyond what the audience and judges see. They tell a very raw and powerful story about the mental and spiritual shape we are in as individuals. The disappointment competitors can feel coming off the stage isn’t from someone doing better, but from the doubts that may have taken over and prevented them from performing what they knew they could do.
It’s ironic really, as it is in the classroom amongst our peers each day, that we can feel pressure to do each pose right and start to judge ourselves, judge our yoga. If the media and a certain population is worried that yoga becoming an Olympic event will enhance this competitive point of view, then yes, the benefits that the yoga can bring will be lost…if this is the sole perspective. But, as with anything, if you look a bit deeper, the perspectives shift. How many of us who practice the yoga really care about how well we look in a pose? How many of us have been inspired by who we are next to and now can’t wait to come back and try again? How many of us forget who is next to us in class an hour after class is over? How many of us focus more on our breath than we used to? And how many of us pay attention to the stretch the body is receiving and less on what we look like in the mirror? How many of you now feel empowered and healthy and connected to a community of like- minded individuals? With yoga, we give up the surface points of view for something of more value contained in the richness of higher levels of awareness. The repeated yoga day after day will do that. You lessen your grip on the initial perspective and create space for the more meaningful one to emerge.
Lisa, the reporter for ABC news asked me several questions on camera. I recall trying to direct my responses toward the excitement of having yoga being received by millions in all countries of the world, and away from the controversy over yoga becoming a results oriented sport. Rajashree said it best when she was quoted in the interview as saying that the Olympic stage is the highest platform there is to enable yoga to get the respect and recognition that it deserves. The Olympics draw people in. Even things like “curling” or “ski jumping” become interesting and popular. This is the same exposure the Olympics can generate for yoga, and it is huge. Like all sports that the Olympics promote, the yoga will show off individuals with high levels of artistry and strength. But that is okay. Like gymnastics and ice skating, I am certain it will also tell stories about these competitors and their individual journeys. As viewers, we may never get to those levels, but we will be inspired to try.
60 Day Challengers, you come to mind as I think about the Olympics raising the awareness of yoga. Many of you are brand new to Bikram Yoga and new to Bikram Yoga San Jose, having heard about the yoga and the studio from some type of medium. And all of you have your own reasons to walk in and try the yoga, each of you inspired by something powerful to attempt AND complete 60 consecutive days of yoga. I’ve had a chance to hear some stories already: cancer patients feeling the best they’ve felt in years; eliminating medication for Crohn’s disease; and confidence improving with a new job. Saturday, March 31st at 6:30 pm is our 60 Day Challenge Party. It’s one of my most favorite events that we host at BYSJ as we hand out trophies to our members that worked so hard to complete 60 consecutive days of yoga. Each recipient tells a brief story about what this challenge has meant to them. It moves me every time and many who have gone to these events will tell you that you will bust up laughing and definitely shed a few tears. Be sure to join us on this night!
In my interview with ABC, I tried to emphasize what the yoga has done for countless people. It wasn’t as interesting as the comments that build controversy, but if the Olympics accept yoga as an event, then these stories will be heard and will have a more prominent place in the media. Then imagine the yoga in the mainstream of our lives, for everyone, old and young! That evening of the interview the cameraman put the spotlight on Amelia, our youngest member. She has been coming for more than a year now and has completed her first 60 Day Challenge. Amelia is so vibrant, and happily shared how much she loves the yoga. When asked why, she replied, “I feel more connected to myself.” She is 15!
I am proud of what BYSJ represents. Each day is a shining example that we come from a creative mind, not a competitive one, with a focal point of thriving and working on being the best we can be together as a large group. We understand that it’s okay to disagree, as long as long as we listen to one another with respect. The yoga has often helped us to see more connections than differences, as well as enabling us to become better thinkers as we inquire and allow ourselves to learn from one another. Many of you take serious action to articulate and cultivate these practices in the work that you do. Perhaps, by becoming part of the Olympics, the largest athletic venue in our world today, yoga can be revealed to millions as being – what you members already well know – a major contributor toward creating a more harmonious world.