Interview by Carly Miller, Illustration by Desiree Stavracos.
Why Do You Practice Bikram Yoga?
I started practicing Bikram for the physical benefits, but I was drawn in immediately to other challenges. Bikram’s Guru was the brother of Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) that’s some serious lineage it’s coming from. I have faith in that. I like the simplicity, the repetition, I like that it works.
How did you build and maintain such a strong practice?
Practicing consistently is so important. You can take the pressure off yourself and just show up everyday, without taking any day too seriously. You can take risks, fall, it doesn’t matter cause you’re going to do it again tomorrow. And even if you can’t see it, you are getting better. I like to be challenged, so the thing that changed my practice the most was the championship.
What helped you place 3rd in the Bishnu Charan Ghosh NY Yoga Asana Championship this year?
Having the right intention. The first year I competed I wanted to do it because it scared me to death. The second year, I was just out of training and wanted to prove myself. And I wasn’t even able to do standing bow pulling, my focus was all over the place. I entered again the next year, but with a better intention: just to share the yoga, without my ego or any attachment to how well I did, and no matter how I did just be cool with it, be proud of myself. My coach Georgia reminded me “it’s not you doing the postures, it’s god doing the postures.” I’m just a normal person – not a dancer, not a gymnast. I developed the flexibility and strength from doing Bikram yoga. Within this practice, if you put your mind to it you can really accomplish a lot, you’d be surprised, flexibility, strength, and mental focus.
What are your goals as a Bikram teacher?
I’m teaching this yoga because it works for me. I’d like to share what I’ve learned and help other people help themselves. Part of teaching is about finding the balance between how much you focus on the individual and how much you focus on the group… The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
How do you find that balance?
Try again. Take class every day. You don’t want to dumb it down, people are intelligent, and when you get in front of a mirror, sweaty, uncomfortable, and hot, it pretty much brings everyone to the same level. So in class it doesn’t matter if a person is successful, rich or poor or this or that, I try not to talk to that part of who they are, I try to just talk to their body, really.
I don’t like people to be too serious in the room. Focus is great, but there’s a difference between taking your practice seriously, and taking yourself too seriously. Bikram always says, “With your happy smiling face,” this takes the tension out of your body so you can connect with your breath and access your strength.
What’s unique about Bikram Yoga Park Slope?
Every studio has a different feeling, attracts a different crowd, which creates a different energy. Bikram Yoga Park Slope is a community, a neighborhood. There are varied ages and ethnicities, which is what I like about it. It feels like home to me.
How do you help students overcome their ‘limitations’ (injuries, etc.)?
I have type-1 diabetes, and my practice is integral to regulating my blood sugar levels. It’s hard being diabetic but at the same time, I’m way healthier now than I was before I was diagnosed (almost 5 years ago). Living with type-1 diabetes has forced me to bring better awareness to my daily choices with food and exercise. Through my consistent yoga practice and diet I’ve been able to maintain a better balance every day.
In class I try to encourage, instead of force. Always focusing on what we can’t do is a very classic mental syndrome. I try to help people start to change their thinking, focusing on what they can do, so they can start to try new things. The dialogue is great for that, it’s action-based, which gets us out of our analytical heads. If you hear “lock your knee, kick your heel out, pull your toes back,” the simple commands put you into action and cuts through all of the questioning: “Am I ready for this? Am I strong enough? Do I feel like it?” And now you’re locking your knee, kicking your heel out and pulling your toes back! The goal is to get you to be present for 90 minutes, just with your body and to simply try your best that day.
Aside from your exceptional positive energy, there is another exceptional element to your class: singing in Savasana. What inspired you to incorporate music into your teaching?
People have told me that it helps them relax. I try to remind myself right before I sing in Savasana that this is something I’m offering as healing, it’s not about impressing anyone, just keep it simple, sing from your heart.
Bikram sings when he teaches and at the most magical moments he’ll sing beautiful old Hindi songs to us, when he does I just melt open. I’m planning to put together a CD of meditations.