Interviewed by the artist, Nancy Cuervo
Colleen LaSota, Bikram Yoga Teacher
Why did you move here?
We were living in Argentina. I traveled in South America studying Spanish there and then stayed and taught English In the house that we lived in, I made a little studio upstairs in the small room. I was working from home in Argentina too since my boss was awesome and allowed me to do that. So, after training, Christian came to Argentina too until we figured out where we wanted to move. In the meantime we had little classes with me and 2 other friends in this little tiny room. We had this big terrace outside of it. It was awesome because it was summertime and we had this mini-pool we’d go jump in after class. It was super fun. But after a few months we were ready to move on. Christian contacted Dara and she said if you move to Brooklyn you can teach as much as you want. And so we thought, hey let’s go there for a little while and see if we like it and we temporarily moved here then and now we still live here.
So you were both practicing Bikram in Argentina?
We had the first studio in Buenos Aires that could fit 3 people and a teacher in the corner!
So who started practicing Bikram?
I did. Eight years ago, we ran into a friend at the coffee shop. I was like ‘Oh my God! You look amazing! What are you doing?’ And she was like ‘I’m doing this hot yoga. It’s amazing you’ve got to try it.’ The studio was six blocks away from us. It was perfect. So I went down the next morning or a couple days later and – I don’t know why because this is so unlike me – I went to a 6am class. But it was summer so at least it was bright out.
I wasn’t too nervous about it because I love saunas and I like heat so I wasn’t one of the people that’s scared to do it. I was like ‘Oooh, yeah, this is gonna be great.’ I immediately just loved it because of that. So I just bought a month unlimited card and the teacher was like ‘Why don’t you just try the class and then decide what you’re going to get, a single class or something else after?’ So after class I was like ‘Sign me up. This is it.’ Then after I practiced for about a week, I was like ‘Christian, you gotta go, you gotta go, you gotta go.’ I remember in his first class we were doing triangle pose and he’s walking out of the room and he’s green and he just lies down on the floor outside. (cracking up) The teacher had never said just stay in the room. So he was killing himself until he was like ‘Wait, I’m gonna pass out and throw up and die.’ It was pretty funny. But he did the same thing and just bought a month card when he got there.
What were you guys doing before insofar as exercise?
Before we did Bikram yoga, I would go the gym and run and lift some weights. You know, just stuff to get some kind of workout.
So there was no other yoga?
I did yoga once, sometimes twice a week. I did ashtanga yoga and I liked it but it wasn’t like I had a practice. It didn’t really resonate with me but I would go because I was like ‘hey, this is good for my lungs and my breathing and I was like hopefully over some time I’ll get some kind of meditation going on over here.’ Supposedly, that’s supposed to happen. But my mind had the hardest time concentrating and staying focused and I would wait for the class to be over. Like when I was practicing I wasn’t super into it even though I knew it was good for me. So I’d do it but I wasn’t really into it. That’s why I was so excited with my first Bikram class because I didn’t think about a thing for the 90 minutes because I was trying to stay standing. I was like YES! I can meditate and concentrate. I don’t have a chance to think about other things. That was one of the things that resonated with me right away. I was like I can do this, this is cool.
So after all these years of practice, what has made you stick with it?
The mental benefits! It helps me stay concentrated, stay very grounded, think clearly. I feel like it helps circulate the chi in my body so I stay out of a stagnant place. Which is interesting because we’re not moving in the class so much but it still moves energy in my body in a way that keeps me from being anxious and keeps my anxiety down for sure. I can really tell if I haven’t practiced for a couple weeks. I start to feel anxiety returning. I get more frustrated easily. I start to get impatient with people. That’s what really keeps me going. Because I can stay in shape doing other things and stay feeling physically feeling okay in different ways, but I feel very dependent on the meditation we have in the class for sure.
When did you decide to become a teacher?
I had thought it would be fun to do the training, but I didn’t really care if I taught or not. I just thought going for 9 weeks and the challenge of it would be really fun. But Christian was looking forward to teaching much more so I was like, ‘Go, you do it.’ When he was there and I talked to him, he would be like ‘Oh, you HAVE to do this right away, you’re going to love it so much.’ Then when he started teaching he was like ‘Oh, now you really have to go right away because you’re going to love teaching. It’s so fun.’ So he encouraged me to do it sooner than I might have. I was ready for a new job at that point too, so it was perfect.
So what would you say to someone who is interested in starting Bikram but is like intimidated?
It’s worth it to try it because if you like it you will be sooo happy you have this practice in your life. Give it a couple of weeks to see if you like it because there’s so many different aspects to the practice that you want to get a chance to experience and it’s important to experience those. If you like it, you’ll be so happy you have it. If you don’t, worst case scenario, you got a good detox and did something good for your body. You won’t get nothing out of it. It will be worth it on some level.
Christian Doten, Bikram Yoga Teacher
Colleen told me she started practicing first?
(He chuckles) She started like maybe 3 months before me and was like you should really do this. I was thinking okay, it’s hot, I wrestled in high school that rooms hot but it wasn’t the same.
What was your first day like? Do you remember?
Oh, I remember, exactly. I just killed myself and did whatever they told me and I started to get really, really dizzy. I was like I’m not about to pass out so I left. I was just sitting out there and I thought this is crazy. A girl came out and she said “Are you okay?” and I was like “Yeah, I don’t know if this is for me. I was passing out.” She said “That’s normal, you can sit down.” And I said, “You can?” I didn’t know. So I came back the next day and just did the best I could. I still got dizzy but when I got dizzy I’d sit down.
So, besides almost passing out, what appealed to you?
I didn’t really know anything about yoga at all. I knew there was yoga that wasn’t hot yoga. I just thought, ‘This must be the one for me ‘cause I definitely felt something.’ Every time I’d go in there I’d be like, ‘Why did I come here? This sucks.’ And by the end of class I’d go, ‘Oh, that’s why.’ By the end of that first year, I was looking forward to going to class and I was like wow, dude, this is working.
Do you think it would have been the same if Colleen hadn’t been going regularly too?
I probably would have never gone.
Because you had such different reactions to your first day.
Yeah, she was loving it and I was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure it’s great.’ There were a couple of teachers I’d like and so I’d go two times a week. Then I started going three times and then I’d feel guilty if I didn’t go just ‘cause I was paying for it.
I bought a book by Paramhansa Yogananda called To Be Victorious in Life. (laughing) He said the problem when you tell yourself you can’t do something is that you’re never able to try and then you never ever do it because you’re always saying you can’t. But if you tell yourself you can then every time you try a certain pose or a goal, sometimes you may feel like you’re not really doing anything, but you’re getting closer.
I had an opportunity to be a work-study at the studio and that made me do it more. It made me want to apply those philosophies to it. Then I started thinking that I wanted to go to training some day because I’ve always wanted to have some kind of initiation, some kind of rite of passage, some kind of Luke Skywalker-Lord of the Rings experience. I’d always see the movies and be like ‘DUDE! Don’t give up. Do it! You’re so close.’
Then Craig Villani came and did a seminar at the studio. That guy for sure made me want to do it because he was a normal dude, not like some guy trying to be an Indian.
Yeah, Craig Villani, regular dude.
He’s a regular dude. A teacher. He surfed. So I took that class and I was like. ‘I’m gonna do this training now!’ I was going to the next one. That was it. I was going to training.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about starting Bikram but was intimidated?
I’d tell them, ‘Don’t focus on how much you’re doing, focus on how you’re doing it and know that there’s going to be things that feel uncomfortable and that’s okay. This is not product-oriented. It’s progress-oriented. Know that if you keep practicing, you will make progress.’ You know we live in such a product-oriented society, especially here. They’re not going to lose any points and no one’s going to judge them for what they do. ‘Just come and DO IT and it will work for you and even if you don’t 100 % resonate with the practice and you feel like ‘It’s not for me,’ well, you’re going to learn something about yourself anyway. That’s what I think is powerful about yoga in general.
It’s like you learn more about yourself than other exercise?
Yeah. I do other exercise but I apply the yogic philosophy to that and it ends up being very powerful. I can do more than I think I can or it’s form over depth and things like that. So if it’s weightlifting, I’m not going to worry about how much I’m lifting. I’m probably going to access certain energy systems in my body and I’m going to make sure I’m doing the right amount.
I feel like your experience is closer to mine from the beginning so it’s interesting to hear about how you struggled with it for so long and then became a teacher.
Yeah, it’s interesting – I thought about it. If you’d have told me 5 years ago I would be teaching yoga, I’d be like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ But life changes like that and it really just brings to the forefront who you really are. I guess I’m just at a point with my practice where I never have any expectation with myself other than doing the very best I can. If I have to sit down, great I’ll sit down and then I’ll just focus on my stillness and my breathing. I’m still in the practice then.
I think your class is one of the most challenging ones. You really push past most people’s comfort zones.
The key is, you do it with compassion. It’s a commanding tone but I’ll tell you, I’m not mad at you. Like I’ve had students come and say, ‘I’m sorry I had to sit down.’ And I’ll be like ‘Why are you sorry?’ Why would you ever think I would be mad at you? Who cares? Like who am I to your life? If you’re doing something wrong where you’re going to hurt yourself, I’ll say something to you.’ Everyday is going to be different. I’ve had students say, ‘I practice 6 days a week and that class was so hard.’ I’m like ‘Well, maybe you should do less classes because maybe you need to rest.’
We don’t need to be mean to people. I just say the words and you do it or you don’t. Someone said to me the other day ‘Are you gonna kill us today?’ And I was like ‘I’m not gonna kill you, I’m just gonna tell you how to kill yourselves. So you have a choice in there, honey. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.’ I hope that people feel that from me. I hope they feel that guy cares enough. I feel that because that’s the response I get from most people. Craig told me that you just have to set up your class so people know it’s their responsibility. Because people like to point fingers at people when things are difficult.
Your classes are good because there’s a way you point out exactly how one can do it more deeply than they are already doing it. And it always feels like you’re talking to me and I’m sure everyone feels that way. You’re doing it but you could do it a little more. With compassion, but still it’s a little much but in a good way.
When you give commands and you present it in that way, people respond. If I’m passive, people feel like they don’t have to do anything in there. People point to different things like they’ll blame it on the heat and say you didn’t open the doors and I think, ‘Hey you sure had a lot of time to look around and think about those things.’ But that’s just part of it.