Questions by Dara Cole
How did you find Bikram yoga?
Actually, my cleaning lady friend told me to come in because I was under a lot of stress.
Do you remember your first class?
What was your first impression?
(Laughs) I got so dizzy I had to run out of the room!
Did you come back?
I came back after 5 minutes. I left and they asked me to come back and since then I haven’t had a problem.
What you can do now versus when you started, it’s pretty amazing, huh?
Yes! I never before bought shoes with laces because I couldn’t tie them. I couldn’t reach my shoes to tie them for about the last ten years. (We both look down at his laced up sneakers.)
Now you have sneakers!
(He goes to tie them.) Now I can do this! It takes time but still it’s working.
How often do you come?
Six days a week now for a year and a half almost.
Did you think that you’d take to it in the way that you did?
No. When I first started, I just started and then it just happened that every day I come here. No struggle. When the time comes, I get up and come here with no thoughts – it’s like automatic.
What do you tell yourself to get going?
It just happens. I don’t think about it. I’m just doing it. It’s just like, I come, I lay down.
Are you always this consistent in the things that you do?
Whenever I find a good thing for me, I just do it. I mean, I feel like my body realized this is the place for it and it never ever happened that I feel a little bit lazy, like ‘I’m not coming today,’ or I’m late. I think only once I missed a class because there was no parking. There’s no resistance. I just come here.
What do your family and friends think about you doing this yoga?
The ones that understand it, they see a big difference in me. They just don’t understand why I need to come again and again for so long.
What do you see as the difference? What do they see?
They say they see it on my face. I see it in my skin. It’s like 20 years younger, the color of my skin. Like it gets yellowish as you get older but whatever I had of that has disappeared already.
We don’t see that many people from religious communities, though more now. Why is that?
Why? Because they are afraid of it. Yoga is about meditation, breathing and stretching. Most of my friends are religious. They know that yoga is good but it’s a different world completely, so they won’t go.
They’re suspect of it?
Yeah. The religious communities will get there. There just needs to be a cultural adjustment. If someone starts it, and has women’s only classes, men’s only classes, they’ll start to go.
So they won’t go, but they can’t convince you to not go?
No, they cannot stop me. I am mostly laughing at them a lot of the time.
And you’re comfortable living in those two different worlds?
I’m comfortable for the meantime. Something has to change, but I don’t know which way. (Laughs)
Have you always been into alternative, esoteric things?
Yes, starting 20 years ago with Dr. Sarno with the back pain. It disappeared and since then I have been reading a lot of books about self-improvement.
This was your first physical practice?
How has Bikram yoga affected your life outside of the room?
Physically and emotionally I feel much more relaxed. (He stutters and blushes)
I never saw you shy before.
I mean, it changed everything for me. I had a lot of stress. I never used to do exercise. I used to have back pains.
Is the back pain gone?
Actually, it’s coming back because when I start to work through the stiffness, it comes out. It’s hurting, but it’s coming out. So every time I feel the pain, it’s on the way out. I can feel it. It’s not the same as if you think the back pain means physically something is wrong with you. It’s a different kind of feeling and the pain is just disappearing. And actually every time I feel pain, I am happy because I know it is coming out.
This sounds like when Bikram says the pain kills the pain.
It’s like the pain is getting into survival mode and it’s trying to grab back because it was laying in the body for years. So when it starts to come out, you feel it. Actually I think you can see it with a lot of people when they are coming for a while. Sometimes they don’t know and they think they hurt themselves because of yoga, but actually the yoga is taking the pain out of the body and while it’s on the way out, they feel it.
How has practicing Bikram Yoga changed you?
First thing, I’m working a lot of the stiffness out of my body. I never looked into my body. I was always out of the body, everything outside. The toxins in the body are causing all the problems. So that’s why I’m doing it every day.
What kind of problems?
Emotional. Because the toxins go back to the brain and make you crazy.
I saw Bikram last night and one of the things he was really emphasizing is that the reason Bikram Yoga is so successful is because it works. It very quickly heals the body. What does that mean to you?
I mean, it’s true. I see it in myself. I’m getting better and better though I still have a lot of stiffness. I mean it’s loosening up. I saw a lot of people who, even if they have a problem like the first two to three times, after 10 times they are doing excellent, which means that it’s working.
How would you describe the community here?
Very relaxed people. The yoga is doing something for them and most of them don’t even know the good things that are coming out of it.
Have you practiced at other studios?
Once I practiced Ashtanga yoga with my son in Florida. But I like Bikram much better because of the heat. And secondly, over there, they say some kind of spiritual stuff. I just don’t like it.
Why do you like the heat?
The heat makes the body more flexible. And most probably the circulation of the blood is much higher in a hot room. It’s warming up the body and you are sweating out the toxins.
If you were talking to someone who was experiencing a lot of emotional and physical stress and wanted to point them to this class, what would you tell them about it?
First, I would tell them about the breathing. Deep breathing during the day as much as they can – even just one or two breaths as long as they can – and then they are starting the process towards relaxing because they are stepping away from the mind by doing the breathing.
What do you do for work?
I cut diamonds. Actually at work I do meditation all day.
Yes! I do meditation.
What kind of meditation?
I am witnessing my stomach going up and down. Not doing it. Just witnessing how the body is doing it. It’s deeper. When you’re doing it, breathing in and out, your stomach goes up and down but it’s a deeper meditation when you are witnessing how it’s happening because then it’s coming from the solar plexus.
One of the goals of Bikram Yoga is to reach all people, not just people who are physically fit, but to reach the people who need it. You represent someone outside of what people consider the typical yoga student. How do we reach people who are in the most pain and discomfort and convince them to come into the hot room and get this benefit?
You have to change their mind about yoga. It’s a lot of education. A lot of people in their 40s and 50s go to the gym and think yoga is for someone else. Most probably they don’t understand what yoga is. Before I started yoga, I went to a gym. Here it’s more relaxing so it’s like going in the opposite direction. You come in here to do yoga, to relax and the rest just happens. Maybe it takes a little bit longer, but it’s much deeper.
What are your tips to someone on their first class?
Yoga should happen from the inner body, so don’t push it. That’s the secret of yoga and most people are missing it. Like, when I’m laying on the floor, I’m just breathing in and out and then I just lift up. It’s happening from the inner body. I’m trying to do it with everything. That’s the real yoga.
What is yoga?
It’s physically stretching to loosen the stiffness in the body. And to be present, not to think.
What are some of the lessons you learn from your practice?
It’s the relaxation and getting out of the mind. Separating yourself from the mind. That’s the main thing. So doing yoga, you’re practicing that. Non-thinking – staying out of the mind.
How do you get yourself out of the mind?
You just listen to the mind. By listening to what the mind is saying, you become the observer of the mind and you separate yourself. I mean, that’s Eckhart Tolle.
In a practical way, how do you do that when you’re in the room and it’s hot and the teacher is talking the whole time?
You put your attention on listening. Even if it’s the same thing. Just put your whole attention on it and what you’re doing takes you away from the mind.
Did you have any insights after your class this morning?
I realized something. A lot of the time, stuff from the mind keeps coming out and I was wondering to myself, I mean, why is it always when I come into the room, a lot of thoughts come out? And somehow I realized today that it’s the stress toxins coming out. And the subconscious asks me, ‘Why is this still coming out?’ I was wondering because the minute I come out of room, it stops.
Some people describe that as resistance.
In the beginning it’s resistance, yes. But after awhile it turns out to be the body cleansing it out. Do you understand?
I think so… So you’re saying, when you first started to come here, your mind would wander because of resistance, but now that’s become part of your process.
Yes, because once you notice it as resistance in your subconscious, it is no longer resistance. That’s how it works. The minute you are aware of something, it disappears. But this still keeps coming up, the same thing all the time. So I’m wondering, ‘If I know, it has to disappear and stop.’ Then I realize it’s possible that the emotion is coming out and it’s coming out with the stories the way it came in. Like the reason I was angry, it’s coming out but you have to learn to throw it out after it’s coming out. Like out, bye-bye. Not start all over again. Actually, I’m not sure but I think the body is always throwing it out and it can drive you crazy.
Bikram calls this the human toilet and says you have to flush. The yoga is the flush.
It’s flushing it out. The yoga helps you get it out of the body. And if you have it for many years in the body, like 30-40 years, it probably takes longer.
Why don’t you get bored?
Every day your body’s changing. Sometimes one thing’s hurting you, sometimes something else, so it’s never boring. (Laughs) Actually the body is trying to help you every day but we don’t listen to it.