Interviewed by Dara Cole
How did you come to Bikram yoga?
I was 45 years old and facing getting older. My physical state was so bad at that time. I would keep eating bad things, being lazy, not doing exercise, not doing anything good for myself. Then my weight reached the heaviest in my entire life except when I was pregnant. I got so scared. I thought to myself, ‘My 50s and 60s are going to be very miserable.’ My husband suggested I do Bikram yoga. He did it a couple years ago in the city and believed it would help me. That’s the reason I decided to give myself a 45-year old birthday present.
How long ago was that?
3 and a half years ago. Summer of ’06.
Do you remember your first class?
Yeah, oh yeah! (laughs) That was just like yesterday, my memory is so clear. I couldn’t keep standing even for 5 minutes straight. I couldn’t believe myself. My arm is that heavy?? I never realized it. I couldn’t even keep my arm straight up for 10 seconds. And while I’m struggling in the back of the class, I was watching the people in front of me. It was so shocking because I just realized that the human body is so beautiful and so strong and… (starts tearing up) And for myself, I wasn’t taking care of it at all. I can’t believe it – I have the same human body?? And the reason I’m struggling so bad in the class for my first day… was only because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know [my body’s] wisdom. I wasn’t taking care of it. I felt so sorry about myself. I was so sorry to my body. I remember it so well. (cries)
Now it’s interesting because when people see you and you’re so strong and you’re so fit… You have become this source of inspiration to so many people, in the way you talk to people and also in your practice. You’re now in that front row… sometimes people fight to put mats next to you. Has that been interesting to witness that shift and how you perceive yourself as well?
The impact on my first day was so so strong. Of course, it was eye-opening and changed my life, such a strong and deep impact on me. I tried to do something better for myself. Every single word from every single instructor was like wisdom about how to live my life. I appreciate every single word. Just to be there and receiving that key about how to live happily and in a healthy way. I just love it. I fell in love so much. It’s been an incredible experience.
From the beginning you’ve come regularly – 5-7 times a week?
It wasn’t true at the beginning. Once in a while I had to come up with a reason not to go, ’Oh, I’m too tired to go… Oh, I ate just before the class time, so I can’t make it.’ So maybe every once in a while, 1-2 days a week I would come up with some kind of excuse. But since the beginning of this year, so far I’m coming every day. Yeah, I try to do what I can do.
<3>At the beginning your mom was here visiting from Japan. What did you tell her? It was a big jump for you to make it into that room, but she came from somewhere where it must’ve seemed so strange.
Since I love her so much and also it’s said, ‘Never too late, never too sick, never too old,’ I was very sure that this experience could bring her something very, very good. Only good. At that time, she was suffering from a knee problem and in the hips, and had all kinds of old people’s problems. At the same time, she’s a very old-fashioned Japanese woman. The way they live is always suffering for other people. She never experienced doing something good only for her and enjoying time only for her. So I wanted her to experience some happy things for herself and so I drive her to class. She experienced something remarkable. She told me after the class. Actually I was laying mat-to-mat next to her and in the last minute of sivasana time, my mother was weeping. I noticed that there was something going on. She took Robin’s class. During the last sivasana, Robin was chanting. Of course, the language she didn’t understand. She only understands Japanese so she didn’t even understand the English instructions. She was so touched, she was so opened up. She realized some warm thing coming out from her eyes. She was feeling so happy and deep and relaxed, she realized she was crying. The tears were coming out so much. She said she never cried like this. In her entire life, she never experienced anything like this. That happened so naturally and then she felt so good. She told me that. And then I noticed that a big tear is coming down from her eye. But she was so calm and so happy.
Beautiful! And your daughter for a while, she came as well.
She was what, twelve? She was still a girl and then she went on to live her teenage life!
Yes! (laughs) This yoga, it changed me so much. Becoming healthier physically, it’s just a side benefit for me. I appreciate it a lot. I can’t appreciate it enough, knowing how wonderful our life, human life is. And meeting such inspiring, beautiful strong people. Knowing them, talking to them, sharing the wonderful experience, the wisdom. Money cannot buy this. I realize that I try to start thinking of how I should live and what’s the meaning of being here. And then the purpose of yoga that the book that Bikram teaches everybody says, ‘Search in yourself.’ I still don’t know myself, but I always have a reason to come and practice my yoga and I’m still searching myself. Someday I can feel whole myself and give back something to others just like I receive it. I keep receiving from everyone.
You’ve given so much, you’ve brought so many people… I don’t know if anybody’s brought as many different people from their community as you. And the people you bring, bring people. You’ve got quite a crew here at this point.
I’m sure that’s because this studio is a welcoming atmosphere. All the teachers, Dara, Rudy, everyone is so friendly, so nice, so warm. I never expected a middle aged woman in bad shape, not even standing in the class 5 minutes, alone there and doing yoga with other people, they just are patient and… I just can’t thank enough.
You weren’t in that bad shape…
You were heavier, but you worked out, you did karate all the time…
But it was totally different. Some, especially inspiring long-practicing yogi/yogini, I happened to become very good friends and my yoga buddies… those people were very generous and shared their experience and their deep knowledge about yoga. At the beginning, I was doing yoga, one guy I really love, I was mat to mat next to him. And I realized his breath never became out of control. I never hear his breath go like (pants), no matter how hot it is, how much he sweats, his breath is never, ever out of control. And then I asked him, ‘I’m having trouble breathing.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you’re in a posture at the maximum point and at that point, if you cannot keep calm, deep breathing, you’re not doing yoga.’ And then I realized, ‘Oh my god! All those days, I was just doing hard stretching exercise in a hot room, I wasn’t doing yoga at all!’ And that was the first day that I realized, ‘Oh! If you’re not meditating in that maximum point of the posture with calm, deep breathing, it’s not yoga.’
Possibly one of the reasons your growth and your trajectory has been so quick – it’s been three years but it’s been very, it seems to me, it’s been very fast that you’ve gone from beginning to a very strong yogi, to someone who inspires very quickly – it’s because you take in every teacher, every student, every opportunity for learning and soak it in and apply it immediately to the best of your ability. Don’t you think?
You’re too modest to agree?
(laughs) I guess. I’m lucky enough to have good friends.
You surrounded yourself with good yogis.
(laughs) I can tell I’m not the same person anymore from three years ago. I’m not regretting what I was doing because everything is cause and effect, everything you chose, now you’re here because everything is based on your choices and what you went through in the past. So I happened to know yoga when I was already 45 years old, kind of like the middle of my life, kind of late. But I guess that was the right time for me to come to know yoga and fall in love and enjoy the change, observing the change in myself, the change in the way I think and the change in my relationship with others. I think now, because I was that age and I experienced bad things and good things, and now I can appreciate fully what I got from this, now I give thanks and one day in the future I really want to give it back if I can…
As a teacher?
(laughs) I don’t know… I started loving my life, myself. So I don’t know how yet, but I’m willing to give all I have to others.
You’re very commanding in terms of how you take care of yourself, how you love yourself in the room, how you glow, your passion and attention on your yoga has this huge impact on the studio.
Yes! I’m telling you. Everybody says, ‘Oh how long has she been doing it?’ and if I tell them, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t have recognized her when she started this.’ They say, ‘No way! No, she must have always been like this. Was she an athlete? Was she a runner? Nobody can believe that you’re able to have such a strong body, and such a strong practice and such incredible control of your breathing and such discipline. They take it for granted, the same way that you would think when you first come in that that’s just your nature and I say, ‘No, she learned like you’ll learn it when you come in.’ but of all the people, they say, ‘Wow, I just watched her the whole time!’
Yes! I didn’t make it up!
Well, that’s an incredible thing if that’s really true. It’s a great honor. It’s an unbelievable thing because this yoga changed me. I think I got a new life, or a second chance. I feel like I started peeking at the whole world a little bit out from my hard shell. Just before I turned almost 50 years old, I started looking around my world, and all around myself. And life as a human being is such an incredible journey. It’s like a miraculous thing and I don’t want to waste any moment. If there’s any hardship and challenge, just willingly take it and see what’s going to happen and let’s enjoy it. That’s the way I started thinking. Peeking outside out from my shell, I never imagined that such a world exists so I cannot thank you enough. (laughs)