From former ballerinas to high-school ballers, the best hot yoga teachers on Earth all have at least one thing in common: a deep love for Bikram Yoga and a passion for passing it on! Read their stories, and tell us about your all-time favourite instructor in the comments!
Ashley Hooper (Kennewick, Washington)
With a ballet and gymnastics background, Ashley attended Bikram Yoga teacher training in 2002 after meeting Bikram Choudhury and Rajashree Choudhury in Vancouver. She taught in L.A. for four years and continued her Bikram Yoga education at headquarters before winning the International Yoga Asana Championship in 2006. She now owns a studio, Bikram Yoga Tri-Cities, with her sister, and feels lucky to be doing what she loves: spreading the healing benefits of Bikram Yoga.
[Photo: Eleanor Lonardo]
Brandy Lyn Winfield (Salt Lake City, Utah)
After completing teacher training in 2006, Brandy Lyn managed Bikram’s Bombay studio in India before winning the 2010 International Yoga Asana Championship. As a yoga ambassador, she currently performs at public demonstrations and attends advanced seminars. With a strong belief that continuing education is essential, Brandy Lyn has motivated many hot yoga students and coached yoga competitors around the world.
Craig Villani (Los Angeles, California)
When Craig became director of teacher training for Bikram Yoga Worldwide, it represented the first time Bikram Choudhury was willing to trust another yogi to disseminate his vision and wisdom. Today Craig teaches hot yoga seminars and comprehensive Bikram Yoga classes around the world and offers a Bikram Yoga retreat called LuxYoga in the south of France. Believing that efficiency and precision go hand in hand, he guides students toward transformation in and out of the hot room. Oh, and before yoga happened, he was gonna be a rock star.
Cynthia Wehr (Mountain View, California)
Cynthia has been practising yoga for 15 years, becoming a teacher in 2003 and winning the International Yoga Asana Championship in 2007. She sits on the board of the USA Yoga Federation, working with Rajashree Choudhury to introduce yoga as an Olympic sport, and runs her own studio, Bikram Yoga Mountain View. Her ultimate goal: to create a more peaceful, honest planet by bringing yoga to children and children to yoga.
[Photo: USA Yoga]
Diane Ducharme (West Roxbury, Massachusetts)
Diane attended Bikram Yoga teacher training in 1995, where she felt an instant connection with her guru: “In posture clinics I was taught directly by Bikram how to read bodies – when to correct, how to correct, how much the individual body is capable of doing – how to teach people with positive outcomes and how important this yoga is to the human body, mind and soul.” She opened her studio, Bikram Yoga for You, in 1995.
[Photo: Bikram Yoga Northampton]
Emmy Cleaves (Los Angeles, California)
At 35, Emmy Cleaves almost died from a brain hemorrhage; the experience spurred her to explore meditation and yoga more seriously. In 1973 she attended a demonstration by a 26-year-old Bikram Choudhury. At the end, Bikram Choudhury jumped off stage, walked across the room and stuck a card in her hand. “Tommorrow. You come to my school.” Emmy Cleaves did, immersing herself in his hot yoga teachings and the logic of his yoga series. In the 30 years she’s taught Bikram Yoga, Emmy Cleaves has witnessed many therapeutic “miracles” of hot yoga and is pleased to be able to “share a practice that has so much potential to better people’s lives and heal whatever is not working for them. That is the ultimate accomplishment of my life, and will be to the end of it.”
[Photo: Bikram Yoga Beijing]
Esak Garcia (Boulder, Colorado)
Esak became interested in yoga as a high-school athlete, hoping it would condition him to play baseball and football. In 2005 he became the first male champion of the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup, going on to conduct seminars and demonstrations around the world as well as quarterly Bikram Yoga coaching clinics, where he leads experienced yogis into deeper asanas and prepares students for competition. He’s also a founding member of the USA Yoga Federation.
[Photo: Bikram Yoga College Vienna]
Jason was listening to the radio in 1996 when Bikram Choudhury came on; he was only supposed to speak for 15 minutes but ended up talking about Bikram hot yoga for more than five hours. Intrigued, Jason signed up for Bikram Choudhury’s hot yoga seminar in New York – he’d never experienced anything more physically challenging in his life. He attended Bikram Yoga teacher training in 1997 and went on to host yoga seminars and retreats around the world, as well as run a Bikram hot yoga studio in Laguna Beach with his sister. A teacher who lead by example, Jason was wise and strong enough to give corrections objectively, encouragingly and always from the heart. A shining star in the Bikram Yoga community, Jason, sadly, passed away on May 22, 2010.
[Photo: Jason Winn]
Jim Kallett (San Diego, California)
After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the cervical spine in 1995, Jim’s doctor gave him three options: fuse his spine, take cortisone shots or live with the pain. Jim decided to try Bikram Yoga instead, and began to experience some flexibility and less pain. But it took Bikram himself to really inspire Jim. Bikram told Jim if he did yoga for 100 days, he’d change his body and his life. After three months, Jim started to feel like a normal person again; he went to teacher training in 1997 and eventually opened his own San Diego studio. Jim proudly quotes Bikram who said, “Jim may not be able to do the poses very well, but he has more heart than anyone in the room.”
[Photo: Yoga Vacations]
John Salvatore (Las Vegas, Nevada)
John took his first Bikram Yoga class after a friend told him it was the most challenging workout they’d ever done. That class changed his life. He was immediately hooked, practising hot yoga every day for two years before going to Bikram Yoga teacher training in 2001. “I honestly felt that it was a sin to keep this wonderful thing all for myself,” he says. “I had to share it and felt inspired to pass on this amazing gift I had received. It was my duty.” Since then he’s taught all over the U.S., telling students, “Don’t ever give up, don’t ever lose hope and don’t quit five seconds before the miracle.”
[Photo: Bikram Yoga Westside]
Stay tuned for Part 2, with even more of Bikram’s Best Teachers, coming soon!