What was your life like before Bikram Yoga?
I am not your typical yogi. I am Italian: I like my pasta and I like my wine. You could say I practised “bella vita” before Bikram Yoga … or you could just call me a couch potato. I never fully embraced any physical activity until Bikram Yoga. Off and on, I go to the gym or the pool, mainly to strengthen my back. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 12 and wore a brace for a year. It wasn’t easy growing up; I had a lot of pain all the time, and that only intensified with age. Two years ago it got to the point where the pain would wake me up in the morning and I could not lie in bed anymore. At only 28 years old I started spending a significant amount of money on chiropractors and massages … I was desperate.
Tell us about your first Bikram Yoga class …
I was at the mall shopping and was intrigued by what I saw through the foggy studio windows. I went home, grabbed some clothes and attended class that same day. I was out of shape, dehydrated and mentally unprepared for 90 minutes of meditation. I was dizzy, I had a headache … and then the nausea came. When I thought my heart was about to explode I got scared and left the room. I was on the ground for a while trying to understand what happened. Should someone call a doctor? A few people gathered around me and told me I was going to be OK. They were right.
What made you return to the hot room?
I went back a few times – then, I almost gave up. I was being tested. Although my body was weak, my mind was strong and I couldn’t accept that others could do it and I could not. It became a matter of principle. So, after reading about Bikram Choudhury, watching videos and talking to people who practised regularly I joined the Kitsilano Studio in the spring of 2010 with a goal: my mind was going to win over my body.
I regularly practised about three times a week; some days were harder than others. It was still a love/hate relationship between Bikram and I … I took lots of breaks during class and things didn’t get easier for me until I decided to do a 30-day challenge last October. To prevent me from dropping out, I told everybody I knew about the challenge. At work, at the studio, my friends – everybody was rooting for me. There was no way back, I could not quit. It was the best thing I’ve done for myself in a while. Since completing my challenge my practice has improved tremendously and Bikram has become part of my life. I look forward to class every day and I enjoy every sweaty moment of it!
How has Bikram Yoga benefited you?
My back pain is nearly gone and I can sleep in again on rainy Sunday mornings! My spine is supported and I feel taller and empowered. From carrying groceries to fitting into my favourite pants, life is easier when your body is strong. Coming back from a summer break reminded me how much better I feel with regular practice, so no more breaks for me!
Bikram Yoga is not only good for the body, it’s also good for the mind. Clearing your head of thoughts for 90 minutes is an incredible feeling. Also, Bikram Yoga has taught me to be vulnerable, humble and accepting of my weaknesses. As someone who is a bit of a perfectionist and likes to be in control, I felt extremely vulnerable when I shed a tear during camel posture once; it was a humbling experience. With practice I’ve also learned to accept that we’re all different and that it’s OK if it takes years to master a pose: it’s about the journey, not the destination.
How do you prepare for class these days? Do you have any tips for newer students?
Danny was right: as a beginner you need to practise every day. It sounds extreme but it’s the only way it will get easier. To new students who are struggling, I recommend taking on a 30-day challenge. All you have to do is show up; the rest will come naturally. Besides drinking lots of water during the day, I try to be in the room a few minutes early to clear my head and mentally prepare for class.
What is your “relationship” with Bikram Yoga like these days?
I have a long way to go on all of the postures … except for Savasana – I do an awesome one! But I struggle with balance and anything that gets deep into my back, especially on one side. However, I know that, especially for my back, I could not do the poses without the heat; I have tried it and it’s just too painful.
I also struggle with the apparel; I have yet to brave shorts and bra top! But I love that no matter who you are or what you do, we are all the same in the hot room. Everybody is challenged and nobody is judging you.