Interview with Belinda Levychin

Questions by Dara

When did you start Bikram?

Almost 4 years ago.

How did you find out about Bikram?

I’ve lived in neighborhood forever and passed it. And I’m like hot whatever. Years and years and years ago a friend who suffers from lupus told me she’d been doing it. I looked at her and I was like, ‘That is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. Why would anybody want to do yoga in a hot room. 105 degrees. What?’ I went to …lunch… with other St. Ann’s parents. They were all talking about Bikram Yoga. So I’m sitting there sipping on champagne thinking hmm, ‘What’s this Bikram Yoga?’ The next week I just went down and took a class … I did the first class, I didn’t sit out anything. I was hot and I wanted to drink water, but other than that I had no issues. I remember … bouncing out of the class thinking that I’d found nirvana. It was that instantaneous for me. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I remember later that summer you said, ‘Belinda I feel like you’ve been here forever.’ Because it was so where I was supposed to be. I’ve been addicted ever since. I can’t stand how much I love it.

How often do you come?

Every day.

Have you done the 30-day challenge?

I just did one for my birthday.

So that’s your birthday present to yourself?

Yes, and I’m going to try to do that every year. It’s challenging to do it during my birthday because it’s December 29th, but you know, I did it. So why can’t I do it again? Unless it doesn’t happen. It is what it is.

Do you remember what you hoped to get out of it when you began?

Nothing more than peace of mind because you know my life is insane. I mean, it’s not complicated, I mean, it was insane. It was something to do that really got my attention. I don’t remember having any grandiose feelings about what it was going to do or what it should do or anything like that. It was just something that made me happy.

And what have you gotten out of it?

My life. You know, it’s no secret that I had this massive stroke and they can’t tell me why I came out of it other than the doctors said it was a miracle because I really should’ve either been dead or paralyzed. And the only thing anyone has ever told me about how yoga could have benefited me that because of all the inversions, or sort of inversions that Bikram has, blood vessels, little blood vessels perhaps opened and allowed my brain to get the blood which is why I’m not paralyzed. That’s the only thing a neurologist told me it could possibly be, but you can’t know that. So it’s my faith that makes me know that that’s why I’m still here. I mean, I firmly believe I would not be here… if I hadn’t been doing Bikram. Because I started it that year and I did it almost every day, and ?? doubles. You know how I was. Crazy.

What does it take for you to come to class? What are the things you have to do in your life just to get here?

The hardest thing is finding parking. That’s the hardest thing to get to yoga right now.

So what’s unique about the Park Slope/South Slope community?

There’s a strong feeling of community that I feel we give to anybody who comes into the room. Not saying that other studios don’t have a community. … I’ve practiced in Chicago, Miami, Philly, Los Vegas… none of those studios in my opinion made me feel totally at home. They were more serious. Not that we’re not serious here, but they took it seriously. ‘Cause it’s just yoga. And again, that’s probably because it’s not my home studio, but it just didn’t feel like home. Here it feels like home.

Beyond your remarkable recovery from your stroke, how else has Bikram yoga affected your life? On a day to day level, what do you get out of it?

No, now quite frankly I’m here… it’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane. I don’t know why my particular journey in life has to be so hard, but I’ve got so much shit going on, I have no idea why I’m standing here talking to you. I don’t understand. ‘cause it’s really stupid right now, it’s really stupid. It just provides me the attempt to have 90 minutes of peace. You know, maybe I get 2. If I get 2, that’s a good day. I figure one day it’ll be three and ONE day, it’ll be 90. But you know, for now, I take what I can get and be happy.

How has your practice changed? How’s it physically affected you?

Just in the last few weeks it’s been an interesting journey. Physically I feel like I’m approaching the poses differently than I was before. Like before, there were some poses I felt I could do. And now that I know the right way they’re supposed to be, now I can’t do them at all. Or I get in them, in my opinion, I get in them as properly as I’m supposed to be, but it restricts me from going all the way. Like the one where you’re sitting on your knees and going back. There was a time when my head would hit the floor. Now it just doesn’t. I don’t even know what that is. I really don’t. And I’m conscious and I’m breathing… It’s almost as if my body has shifted in such a way that it’s only allowing itself to do what it needs to do in that moment. Because the next day I might be able to do it.

So you’ve developed some sort of mind-body connection that you might’ve not previously had?

I’m certain of it. Because you have to understand, I’ve been doing yoga, in August it’ll be 10 years. And me and Rich, we had a… woman who came to our home for two years [to teach yoga]. So it’s not like I haven’t really been with yoga in different facets over those last 10 years. But it’s only been Bikram that’s given me that mind-body. Even having a one-on-one session has not given me what a full class, full of people has, which is fascinating to me.

So the burning question is how did you get your husband into the hot room?

(Laughs.) I started in March. He started in October of that year. And I had been trying to get him to come, trying to get him to come… One thing about me and Rich is whatever either one of us does, the other one will eventually try it at least. And the funny thing was, he did it on a day I had planned a dinner party for my younger son’s birthday. I’m like, ‘Rich why don’t you it on Sunday, not today, we’ve got people coming over?’ ‘Oh, Belinda, I’m ready to do it today.’ And I’d been trying to get him to do it for months. So I was like, ‘Okay, fine, do it. Can you bring me some juice on the way back?’ So this class is over and I’m like, ‘Where’s Rich?’ So I’m calling his cell. He answers the phone, ‘Hello, can you come get me?’ (Laughs.) I was like, ‘See, Rich, why couldn’t you wait ‘til tomorrow? I got people coming over!’ So he finally gets home. No juice, of course. I had to go out and get the juice myself. He goes, ‘Belinda, I gotta go to bed.’ ‘I’m like, people are coming over!’ He goes, ‘I can’t.’ So people come over. I’m like, ‘Rich will join us whenever but we’re just gonna eat dinner.’
It took longer for him to get into a regular practice. He started in October, and I had my stroke at the end of that month. And then I don’t think he got back in the room until the following year. And then somewhere in that following year, he started coming sporadically. Lately he’s been coming on average twice a week. What’s wonderful is watching his practice grow, seeing how he’s changing through it too. He’s going through the same stages I went through maybe three years ago.

Which are what? How would you describe them?

Oh, you know, when he realizes that it’s not about how hot the room is, it’s about how you really feel inside and how he would make up things about why he couldn’t do a pose. I mean, he’s really good about sitting on his ass. I don’t practice next to him anymore because he distracts me, because he’s got all these sounds… ‘Phew…I hurt, Belinda, I can’t do this.’ And you know, I remember doing that too. Now he’s realizing that he doesn’t need to do that anymore. He’s also realizing that even if you aren’t in the mood, you’ll get something out of the class, even if all you’re doing is sitting in sivasana the whole time. So he’s accepting wherever he’s at. Like most men, he pushes through. He’s not pushing through as much anymore. And what’s happening is his practice is coming along. He actually did a standing series the whole time and didn’t sit down. I was like, this is MY husband? I was like, ‘Woah, when did this happen?’ So you know, I’m seeing his changing. And now my son is doing it.

How old is your son who’s doing it?


What do your kids think about what their parents’ yoga?

Well, RJ has asked me when I was going to take teacher training. They both think that yoga is what I’m supposed to do. Both of them. Ryan actually told his pre-k teacher one day that his mother taught yoga. Because he knows his mother teaches and he knows his mother goes to yoga all the time. So he just put it together and said that I teach yoga. I’m like, ‘I wish I taught yoga, but I don’t teach yoga.’ The other day when I dropped him off at school, I said ‘Everybody has school today except for me. I don’t teach until Thursdays.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but Mommy, you have yoga school.’ He sees this as my school.

Pretty much true.

It is. And I can’t wait for him to get in it. It was so sad that day when the 3 of us left and he was sitting on the couch looking all woebegone like we were leaving him all alone and we were doing this cool thing that he can’t do yet. He does yoga with me, but he’s only 7. Robin says they have to be at least 9 or 10. I think he’d be fine, but he’s still 7. I can’t wait. I can’t imagine the day when you see all four of us in your class. Can you stand it? How hot would that be?

I can’t stand it.

That’s just hot.

It seems like everyone else sees you in the teacher track. Do you see yourself in the teacher training?

I’ve already put it out in the universe that I’m going to do some type of yoga teacher training before the end of 2010.

And you imagine that might be Bikram certification or that might be later?

Bikram can’t happen until Ryan says, ‘Okay, Mom, I’m cool about you being away for 9 weeks.’ But he’s not going to say that anytime soon.

When you get that feeling when you’re talking to someone that could really benefit from taking some Bikram classes, what’s your sales pitch?

I tell people that I had a massive stroke, not a little baby stroke but a massive stroke that should have taken me out and I believe that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been doing Bikram all summer. That kind of gets them over themselves. Another one I use is, ‘If my twelve-year old can do it, you can do it.’ And if someone has a specific issue, I’m like, ‘All I know is, it’s helped me with my back issues, it’s helped me with my headaches, it’s helped me manage potentially losing my mom and my grandmother and my continuing grief over losing my son… all those things.’ I have never left a class and not felt different. Not necessarily better, just different. ‘Cause better is relative. But different every time. You know, it’s a journey.