Aaron: A Teacher’s Story Told in “A’s”

The name Aaron has an abundance of A’s doesn’t it?  While going over what Aaron described,  both leading up to becoming a teacher and in the year that followed, there were standout words that all started with the letter “A.”

And so, meet your teacher Aaron.

aaron 1

Awareness

Aaron grew up in California, born in Los Angeles.  While still living in California, Aaron’s parents decided to divorce.  However, after some time apart, his parents unselfishly decided to reside together to raise Aaron and his brother.  They accepted teaching jobs in Sheridan, Oregon and moved the family to the Northwest.  Eventually, Aaron’s dad took a job in Vancouver and Aaron moved here to attend Hudson’s Bay High School.  In his junior year, while participating in tryouts for the basketball team, Aaron got the phone call.  The one that changes everything.  His father was gone.  A heart attack.

As time passed and the family grieved, Aaron, his mom and his brother grew closer.  He stayed in Vancouver after he graduated from high school.  Aaron was a self-described “big guy” like his father had been.  He worked hard, smoked cigarettes , and in general behaved like most his age: like he was indestructible.  After a painful breakup, he became aware of his lifestyle and began to realize he needed to change.

He started going to the gym and upon the urging of his coworkers, decided to try running.  Hooked immediately, he signed up for his first half marathon in 2010. He  then reached his goal of running it in under 2 hours.  Around this time, Aaron tried “hot yoga” for the first time.  While it was extremely demanding, Aaron found himself driven to go back.  He craved both the challenge of the class and the relaxation his body felt.  “I want this, I need this” he told himself.  In 2011, he completed the Portland marathon and again surpassed his goal, crediting both hard work and yoga to carry him through to the finish line.

Adventure

After the marathon, Aaron and a friend traveled to 8 countries in 35 days.   It was this trip that he says really changed him, instilling in him a faith that he could accomplish anything he set his mind to do.  The adventure he took and the courage to try were indicative of the desire to to continue building his mental muscle as well as his physical endurance.

Returning home, he stepped up his yoga practice.  In the process, he “fell in love” with the yoga and was in the hot room 4 or 5 days a week.  He did karma yoga to help pay for his practice,  fully investing in both time and effort.  Just before a trip to do another marathon in Australia,  Aaron noticed a “really cute girl” in the hot room whom he recognized from high school.  In addition to the many gifts he had received from the yoga, he also was fortunate to add Kelly, his girlfriend, to the list.

aaron 2

Kelly and Aaron taking their practice on the road.

Alignment

At about this time, Aaron heard about teacher training.  It sounded punishing:  9 weeks?  Classes twice a day? Bikram yelling at you?  But he thought about his own life, what yoga had taught him, his own strengths and what he wanted for his future.  He loved the yoga, he loved the format of the classes, he loved sharing his knowledge with others…it seemed the perfect next step.  The impossible now seemed possible because he wanted it.  Once he decided he was in, the pieces fell into place.  With gratitude, he took a family loan from his grandfather to attend training, he was accepted, and it was soon time to go.  What Aaron wanted for himself and what he was created for himself were now beginning to align.  He was ready.

Acceptance

Aaron went to teacher training having never completed a double before, let alone doubles for 9 weeks (in addition to long lectures, late nights, grueling dialogue memorization and the stress of the training).  He got through his first couple okay.  But on the first Friday of training,  as he lay down for the floor series, he remembers thinking “I can’t get up.”  He had absolutely nothing left.  While others left the room (Bikram said it looked like the “Tokyo train station” so many were coming and going),  Aaron told himself he would not leave the room. He accepted the fact that he wasn’t able to do the postures at that time.  That was where he was, and that was okay.  He made himself a promise at that time that he wouldn’t leave the room, no matter what.  And he didn’t.  The entire training.

Aaron stayed focused on Bikram’s words and found this the best way for him to sustain the energy to get through and eventually, trust the process.  In particular, Aaron focused on and embraced these Bikramisms:  the right way is the hard way, try 100%, my words-your brain and eventually in the future.  He learned to trust himself and be open to all the different styles of teachers.  He met new people, (37 countries represented at his training) and reminded himself to accept corrections from Bikram without it feeling like venom, but instead like a blessing.  Training was the “hardest, best” thing he had ever done for himself.

During his training, Kelly committed doing a class every day to support him.  She recorded an amazing 150 classes in a row.

Adaptation

Coming home from training, Aaron began to teach right away.  It had been life changing for him, but he had to adapt to his new role as teacher in addition to student.  Along the way, he relied heavily on the dialogue.  As Aaron explains it, you have to do this initially in order to calm your nerves and allow yourself to teach with love and passion.  If you as a teacher have been up all night, are nervous, don’t feel well, whatever…you can always count on the dialogue.  It is the foundation of the yoga.  It is what the students count on, too.  As a new teacher, you are encouraged to focus only on the dialogue for up to the first 6 months or so after training.  Not on corrections or health benefits.  Gradually, day after day, you learn to have faith in yourself.  You can expand beyond the dialogue to see the entirety of the class.

Bikram and the proud graduate.

Bikram and Aaron at the end of training.

As the year has gone on, Aaron has begun to find his own voice in addition to adhering to the dialogue.  As his students will remember, when he first got out of training, Aaron taught the class very much by the book.   Now, he has added his own style.  He is developing his teacher’s eye to correct postures, give positive feedback and make it fun.  (Many students have enjoyed how he calls us “my friends”).  For Aaron, and for most teachers, what makes sense for them is what they share in the hopes that it will also make sense for you.  He has a way of explaining asana in a no-nonsense manner.  His classes are infused with use of breath and guidance to embrace the stillness.

Ananda

Ananda in the Buddhist tradition means the ultimate happiness, which is every being’s goal.  Each of us choose a different course to achieve that goal and become who we want to be.  In Aaron’s life and practice, he has been teaching frequently, up to 14 classes a week!  He strives to balance teaching with practicing as he doesn’t feel you can be a good teacher unless you also practice, preferably alongside your students.  He hopes to give his ailing knee a little TLC in order to speed his healing and get back to his love of running.  After two years together, his relationship with Kelly is “stronger than ever.”  They can easily geek out on talking about yoga and enjoy spending as much time as possible together.  He knows that the three most important aspects of doing the yoga are also the most important for doing what you love:  precision, intensity and frequency.  Aaron, having been bitten by the travel bug and also a social butterfly, also plans on traveling and visiting studios across the country for an “east coast tour.”  He plans on starting in Minneapolis and making his way to New York City.

Aaron adds that Bikram asks a trick question during training.  The question is, “Who is the most important person in your life?’  The answer is one that Aaron invokes in both how he lives his life and how he guides his students.  The answer is simple.  The answer is…

You.

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Bring it On

Sometimes life takes you on an unexpected path.

Sometimes life takes you on an unexpected path.

Just like the rest of us, Brandy’s life was going along just fine.  She was in a high stress job.  She was parenting her two daughters and stepson.  She and her husband were pursuing a healthy lifestyle.  Then a friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer.  When Brandy asked her what she could do to help, her friend said, “Go to the doctor.  Get yourself checked.”  And so, after going to a new doctor, Brandy was surprised to learn that a family history of cancer on her dad’s side warranted a trip to a genetic counselor.  And then an oncologist.  And then a surgeon.  Through each step of the process, Brandy had one abiding thought that she repeated over and over:  Bring it on.

At first, the news came slowly.  Luckily, Brandy’s insurance covered the test for the BRCA gene.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can cause breast and ovarian cancers in women (and men) who have inherited a certain mutation in them.  Brandy tested positive for the gene (there are different types and different risk factors depending on the results) and found herself making some pretty heavy decisions in a very brief period of time.  Within 24 hours, Brandy made the choice to have a double mastectomy.  Even her naturopaths, a field which is often as odds with Western medicine, counseled her to have the surgery.  Brandy was scared, but she also felt empowered.  Unlike others before her, she had the information.  She had options.  And, of course, the one thing she was fiercely determined to keep.  She had her life.

Brandy and hubby enjoy a beautiful day together.

Brandy and hubby enjoy a beautiful day together.

The prep work was daunting.  Because Brandy’s gene carried a 96% chance of breast cancer, she had to get moving.  There were doctor’s appointments and tests after tests:  mammogram, MRI, plastic surgeon, general surgeon and even a psychologist to make sure she was mentally ready for what she was about to undertake.  And then, an ultrasound showed found a mass which kicked the whole process in high gear.  Her surgery was scheduled for April 19th, 2012.

In March, her mother in law brought Brandy a flier from the Vancouver Bikram hot yoga studio.  She knew Brandy wanted to be strong, healthy and ready for her surgery.  So Brandy went to her first class.  To her, it was “harder than childbirth!” She kept going. And going.  She felt “amazing.” She did the yoga every day leading up to her surgery, 30 days.  It prepared her in ways that she didn’t expect.  Exercise really is just the beginning, she says.  During her practice, she would visualize herself coming out of the surgery healthy and well.  With the yoga, she was able to manage her breath, take control of her mind, work through pain and learn how to calm herself.  When you get into it, she says, It can take you wherever you want to go.

After surgery, Brandy was focused on her next step:  reconstruction.  After mastectomy, this process can take years depending on how your body heals and reacts.  At a follow up appointment with her general surgeon, she found out that there had been 2 other masses on her chest wall.  The surgeon recommended radiation and chemotherapy.  Brandy felt blindsided.  She wanted to move on, not go back and expose herself to more toxins and invasive procedures.  Subsequent to many specialist consultations on what to do, the answers remained painfully elusive.  At the 11th hour, she made the brave decision to forego further treatment, to live as cleanly and presently as she could. Yoga, mindful living and breath, Brandy reasoned , will  keep me cancer-free.

June and July came with follow up surgeries for the reconstruction process.  The whole undertaking was painful and slow with an average 6 week wait until she could go back to yoga.  The surgeries and scar tissue also prevent full range of motion initially, so half moon pose with arms raised up over her head, was particularly difficult.  Instructors took the time to show her the pregnancy series which she used post surgery to help her avoid pain and ease her way back.  At about this time, Brandy began preparing for her next big surgery in October.  Her gene gives her about a 75% chance of ovarian cancer, so she took the tough step of removing those as well.  When ovaries are removed, the body plunges into menopause and estrogen ceases to flow at it’s usual rate, affecting bone density, mood, temperature, stamina among other things.

On October 31st, after dressing in costumes of doctors, nurses and patients, Brandy’s family escorted her to surgery.  She wasn’t allowed to go back to yoga until January 1st as her doctors feared the heat would exacerbate inflammation in her body.  Because her gene is estrogen receptor positive, the goal is to keep the estrogen in her body as low as possible.  This means she can’t take hormone replacement.   She relies on good nutrition, yoga and running to keep her weight down.  She takes supplements to help with other side effects of estrogen loss.  She limits caffeine and sugar. But, she says, she’s not perfect.  In this phase of her life, even while she has been through incredible trauma, she has given herself the gift of perspective.  Not so easy.

Brandy and her daughters.

Brandy and her daughters.

When asked if she was a spiritual person, Brandy pauses.  Of course, she says.  But this experience has changed how she sees the world.  She has become more open to other people, ideas and ways to be.  It has set her on a new spiritual path toward healing herself and those around her.  While she doesn’t see life the way she used to, she is eager to share her knowledge with others to help make a difference.  She and her daughters volunteer for Pink Lemonade, an organization set up by her plastic surgeon, Dr. Allen Gabriel.  She quit her high stress job and works in a place where she can feel less like she is on the “gerbil wheel.” She is training now for a half marathon.  She recently was featured in an article in the Columbian telling her story. Yearning for more in-depth yoga study, she attended teacher training this past year.

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In the end, Brandy describes the hot room as the pillar of her recovery.  It is the place she can go to slow herself down and get grounded.  It is the place where community embraces her.  It makes her feel more connected to the universe and is her gateway for healing and being present.  Most days, she says, she doesn’t give her experience much thought.  You can find her, just like you, sweating on her mat.  Everyone in the room has a story, she says, and hers is just one of many.  But if Brandy is near you, you can feel the energy of life flowing through her.  You can see it in her twinkling eyes and gorgeous smile.  You can hear it in the resolve of her words.  Maybe next time you see her in class, you can move next to her and get some.  Trust me, it’s good stuff.  Bring it on.

Life is precious.

Life is precious.  Just ask Brandy.

Photos of Brandy and family provided by the lovely Brandy herself.

Top and bottom photos by talented local photographer Barbara Paulsen.

Pregnant, Poised and Powerful

A beautiful standing bow, made even more so by the beautiful baby in her belly!

A beautiful standing bow, made even more so by the beautiful baby in her belly!

When you meet Christina, you are first struck by her perfect complexion, her beautiful dark eyes and her sparkly smile.  But after you talk to her awhile, you see an inner determination that is not immediately apparent.  Walking away from our interview, only one thought came to mind.  That girl is fierce.

Christina first came to Bikram yoga after serving in the Peace Corps.  She returned in 2010, and after hearing about Bikram often in Seattle, decided to give it a try here in Vancouver.  She moved here to be with her then boyfriend, now husband, who also practices at the studio.  Christina had tried yoga at her gym, and while she liked it, she found it lacking.  Plus it was cold in there.  As luck would have it, Groupon provided the pathway to the studio.  In the beginning, Christina found Bikram yoga to be, well, noisy.  There was so much talking.  And the poses were the same every time.  But after a while she learned, it’s not the poses that need to change.  It’s you.

After practicing for over a year, and soon after she got married, Christina found out she was expecting.  This came as a surprise, so she and her husband decided to keep it quiet.  She went to class as usual and remembers feeling absolutely awful.  Actually, she said class sucked.  She felt heavy, like every movement required more effort than it should have.  She also felt metaphorically heavy because of this secret she had.  Her own family didn’t even know.  But eventually she knew she had to tell the instructor.  After calling her over, Christina was told by the instructor that she shouldn’t be practicing in her first trimester.  Christina emailed Rajashree, who assured her it was okay to practice.  However, nausea and fatigue kept her out of the hot room until her second trimester.  (Please refer to Rajashree’s pregnancy recommendations on the Bikram yoga website for more specifics).  

Christina, true to form throughout her pregnancy, listened to her body.  When she didn’t feel well during her first three months, she “laid on the couch.”  Knowing she’d eventually go back, she discussed Bikram yoga with her midwife.  While the midwife “wasn’t a fan,” she told Christina to stay hydrated, keep cool and keep her heart rate as low as possible.  (Christina emphasizes how important it is to drink more than you may want to, hydration is crucial).   Other instructors at the studio reminded Christina that it wasn’t about the temperature in the room, it was about her core temperature, which was regulated by sweating it out anyway.  Studio owner Erika (who had delivered a healthy baby after doing Bikram yoga throughout her pregnancy)  provided pose modifications and support.  In her typically assured manner, she says that if her midwife told her it wasn’t okay, she would have found somebody else.

Second trimester:  hooray!  As Christina started feeling better, she went back to the hot room.  And this time…she felt like Wonder Woman.  She felt flexible and amazing.  Her family, however, didn’t feel so great about it.  They saw the photos and worried that she could be hurting the baby.  Some friends were shocked, one even commented that she was cooking her baby.  To this friend, she replied, “then she’ll come out perfect.”  This kind of poise is present whenever she is questioned; remarkably rare among the nervous first-time-moms set.  When asked how she maintained the courage of her convictions, Christina shrugs and says she just knew she could do it.  Even when she got frustrated, she didn’t give up. She remembers one class where she slept the whole class.  She says, “the hot room gives you what you need.  I guess I needed a nap.”

Feeling like Wonder Woman in her second trimester.

Feeling like Wonder Woman in her second trimester.

In the uphill struggle that marks the third trimester, Christina says the poses began to get harder and harder, and she remembers when she wasn’t able to do eagle anymore.  The wide legged stretch on the floor felt great, but weird when her belly began touching the floor.  Her husband reminded her:  All you need to get out of yoga right now is breathing.  Concentrate on that.  So she did.  And finally, the day after she did reflexology, went out to dinner, had wine and went for a walk with her husband, she went into labor.  Her doula came, and was thrilled with how well Christina was doing using prayanama to get her through the contractions.  She used anything and everything to get herself through in her typically resourceful manner:  hot compresses, therapy ball and soaking in the tub.  At last it was time to go to the hospital.  Feeling aggravated by the wait to check in and fill the pool (she was doing a waterbirth), she kept breathing.  As the pain worsened, it became more challenging.  It felt like she wasn’t getting any breaks in the contractions.  Thoughts were swirling but she couldn’t communicate.  She found herself yelling in a high pitch. Ultimately, her midwife reminded her to “get out of her head and into her body.”  A lower pitch and open throat, she told herself.  And then her daughter was born.

A backbend most can only dream of, and in her third trimester no less!

A backbend most can only dream of, and in her third trimester no less!

Post-partum, Christina went back to class 4 weeks after her daughter was born.  This class was miserable for her, but she told herself to be patient.  Her advice to new moms is to not have high expectations.  It takes awhile.  And you might cry though the whole class because you are flooded with hormones.  And above all, don’t forget to pump before class.

When you are around Christina, you feel like she has her act together.  A sharp sense of humor rounds out her self reliant manner.  When asked how Bikram yoga helped her get through pregnancy, childbirth and being a new mom, she doesn’t hesitate.  It helps you be in the moment.  You focus on what is at hand, not the future.  You quiet your mind.  You don’t have to overthink.  Your body stays strong, but you give your mind a rest.

Knowing Christina, you would do well to listen.

The happy family.

The happy family.

Thanks to Christina for providing the beautiful photos, and the inspiration.

Ode From Your Water Bottle

OXOXOXOXOXOXOXO, Insulated Hydro-Flask!!

I am your Insulated Hydro-Flask.  I know you love me.

 

Ode From Your Water Bottle

*

I am right here waiting

For you when you’re ready

Take a sip, it’s okay

You’re a little unsteady…

*

You work hard, you sweat

You struggle and fight!

Just hold on, after Eagle

I’ll make it all feel alright.

*

I admire you, really

You are giving your all

But I won’t leak, I promise!

When you kick me and I fall…

*

I’ll surprise you tomorrow

When you have to look twice

Did you empty me? No!

And I’m still full of ice!!

*

Stretch, breathe and flex

And last twist around

90 minutes?  You’ll do it

Then chug me right down.

*

I’m your constant companion

Your cool-contents friend

I’ll be your reward

At a tough class’ end.

*

The yogi’s all want me

Such is my fame

So go grab a Sharpee

Write on me your name.

*

With yoga, you’re stronger

You’re calmer, you look hot too, you know

Most Sincerely,

Your Water Bottle

of Cool H20

It Takes Two to…Yoga

When you see two yoga mats lined up in front, it's a good bet it's Tara and Jonathan.

When you see two yoga mats lined up together in front, it’s a good bet it’s Tara and Jonathon.

The yoga studio is home to many practicing couples.  Often they set up their mats in their own spots separately in the hot room.  Often they come to different classes because one has to stay home with the kids.  The rest of us look on enviously, saying “I wish I could get my (husband, wife, etc.) to come to class with me.”  Not Tara and Jonathon.  They practice with their mats right next to each other in friendly competition and because, as Jonathon says,  “We’re a good team.”  Obviously.

Tara and Jonathon, in addition to being Bikram devotees, are chiropractic physicians.  Their practice is Atlas Spinal Care, just a stone’s throw from the Eastside studio.  They met in undergrad at Auburn University.  (Just a hint of southern twang is detectable when you listen hard enough).  Beginning as running buddies, eventually theirs was a relationship borne of a mutual competitive spirit, desire to help others, a deep friendship and belief in hard work.   Also, Tara says, they have a matching “obsessive” streak in their personalities.  Having graduated from chiropractic school here in the Northwest, they decided to stay.  For the past 9 years, they have built a thriving practice specializing in headaches.  Their office is busy, clean and professional which clearly reflects their inspiring commitment and work ethic.

A friend initially brought Tara to the hot room.  During the class, Tara remembers thinking:  a.)  I’m going to die and b.) Jonathon will love this!  Apparently, Jonathon loves the heat, nostalgic for the sweltering southern temperatures he grew up with.  A day or two later, Jonathon too tried the yoga.  Both of them found themselves wanting to go back, despite the toughness of the class.  That was a year ago.  Today, you can find Tara and Jonathon joining studio challenges, finding alternate studios when out of town and vigorously recommending Bikram yoga to their patients.   These two are hard core, going to 3 to 5 classes a week!  What is it about the yoga that has made this couple so committed?  Many reasons, as it turns out.  Tara has gained a new love of drinking water.  Each is better able to do the mental transition from work to home with the benefit of the class.  Jonathon enjoys seeing himself improve.  Most of all is the friendly rivalry between the two.  Tara says, “sometimes I look at what he’s doing in class and think WOW.”  Jonathon counters, “Sometimes I look at Tara and think, she just raised the bar!”  Being around them, you can sense the respect they have for each other.  But you can also tell they gear themselves up for a smackdown.  Stay out of their way, trust me.

Each of them has their own personal reasons for their dedication.  Jonathon states that when he sees other people do postures that he can’t do, he thinks, “I’ve got to be able to do this pose.”  He loves the structure of the classes and the accountability provided by the instructors.  He is completely motivated to push himself each and every time.  For Tara, she feels similarly and is particularly buoyed by some neck issues which have improved with Bikram yoga.  As a chiropractor, with access to physical therapy, massage and acupuncture, it came as a pleasant surprise that the yoga what was finally helped resolve some nagging problems.  “I’m stubborn, I keep at it,” she says.  Hmm.  Sounds like someone else we know.

By far the most compelling reason for going to yoga for both Jonathon and Tara is optimum health.  Telling me about a patient who had come in with an 8 liter a day Mountain Dew habit, Jonathon emphatically states that people need to take charge of their health.  He is frustrated when his patients can’t find the wherewithal to take care of themselves.  To Tara and Jonathon, their goal is to have their patients need them less.  To that end, they encourage hydration (with water, not pop, by the way), regular exercise and most of all, personal responsibility.  “People hold their adjustments better when they are active and strong.”  Seeing them fully engaged in a life of health, it’s tough not to feed off their enthusiasm.  Really.  Just talk to them for 5  minutes sometime.

As far as the studio itself, Tara and Jonathon love walking in and seeing people they recognize from other classes.  It’s a feeling of community and family that is the gift of a regular yoga practice.  They have always felt warm and welcomed, a far cry from some studios they have visited where the feeling was stuffy or unstructured.  Having a clean and professional studio goes a long way to staying motivated to keep coming back.  Of course, there are always off-days. But this is one couple who doesn’t let each other off the hook.  When one is feeling sluggish, the other is there to encourage.  Jonathon’s one complaint?  Mat etiquette.  When they are all up and down and out of order, this is troubling to him.  Anyone wanting a lesson in mat placement?  Jonathon is your guy.

There are some days when the pair walk into the room and can’t find two spots next to each other.  Both Tara and Jonathan say that it doesn’t feel strange to be alone in class, but that it doesn’t feel quite right when they have to be separated for class.  So, next time this happens, move over so they can be together.  You will be rewarded with tons of positive energy.  Times two.

Yoga saved her. Literally.

cervical_spine (1)

In case you didn’t know, the cervical spine is not a spot you want to injure.

Fellow yogini Cindy has always been a self described daredevil.  A sampling of her adventures includes rugby, skiing, snowboarding and diving to name a few.  She thrives on trying new things and being social, such as doing a mini-talk shows, production, promoting ski-wear and now helping students design yearbooks.  If you were a friend of Cindy’s, you would know her as positive, energetic, fun to be around and up for anything.  Cindy had been doing Bikram yoga for about a year when, on an outing with girlfriends, her adventurous spirit lead her to a life-altering moment.  Look out, Cindy.  Karma is coming.

A beautiful day on a boat with friends.  Laughter, water and time away from the grind of work.  A couple of her friends’ kids decide they want to jump off a 5 story precipice into the beckoning water.  Wanting to add cliff jumping to her resume, Cindy said “Let’s do it!” in her usual enthusiastic way.  Her 20’s something co-jumper showed her how to negotiate, feet first, into the water below.  However, when Cindy jumped, she took a little pre-jump up and subsequently ended up trying to right herself the entire way down.  She hit the water hard, and from such a height, water becomes less and less like water and more and more like ground.  By lucky coincidence, a firefighter was in a boat near her and saw her land.  Swiftly and expertly, he and a friend removed her from the water, stabilized her spine with a towel and called for assistance.  That assistance wound up being first an ambulance, then a helicopter when they realized the extent of her injuries.  When Cindy asked questions, being reasonably cognitively aware of what was happening, the answer was almost always the same.  “Because,” they responded, “this is serious.”

About the time the helicopter arrived, Cindy knew this was more than what she thought initially was whiplash.  Her arms and neck were tingly and she was breathing in a rapid and shallow way.  She thought to herself that she was in shock as she was transported to the nearest hospital.  In pain and confused, she was urged to go to Portland for emergency surgery.  Then everything went black.  She woke up after her first surgery at OHSU where they place a plate in through her neck, pulling aside her vocal cords in the process.  Three days later, another surgery from the rear of her neck to place the screws.  In a drug induced fog, Cindy remembers wondering, “Am I dead?   Am I dreaming?”  Neither.  Long hours of recovery at the hands of her loving husband and 15 year old son allowed Cindy, having broken her neck in August, back to the hot room in January.  Pretty amazing.

Cindy speaks appreciatively toward studio owner Erika, who put her membership on hold until she could return.  Cindy’s doctor asked her what she did to keep fit, and when she answered Bikram yoga, he said the strength she had developed in her spine may very well have saved her from being a quadriplegic.  Her return to yoga, however, felt far from triumphant.  Tears flowed, disguised in sweat, out of sheer frustration.  In an extraordinary show of resilience, Cindy continues to battle back, talking herself through postures she could once do with ease.  She has learned how to alternately push herself and back off when needed.  Her favorite postures have changed since the accident, as she understands her new body.  As she attempts patience with her healing, she forgoes deep back bends and breathes through the frustration.  Her favorite pose is standing bow:  both it’s beauty and it’s promise.  “Someday,” she tells herself as she gently works her way into the posture.  Always the competitor, though, she challenges herself, “Cindy, you are going to figure this out!”

Bikram yoga initially drew Cindy in as a way to support an aging (eek!) body.  Having played team sports all her life, she was compelled by the group mentality.  Spiritually, Cindy uses savasana as a sacred space to cultivate thanks.  For what? For being healthy, for having people who love her, for the universe and for all the good things in life.  For a firefighter ironically named “Cliff” who pulled her from the water.  Bikram yoga also serves her competitive nature, with it’s mirrors and it’s teachers (she sees them as coaches) always encouraging her to do more, go farther and be better.  She has seen others and herself do things she didn’t think were possible.  You can do it.  You can do it…

Sometimes, despite a remarkable road to recovery, Cindy still plays some “head games.”  She asks herself why she put herself at risk.  Was I stressed?  Did I have something to prove?  Regretful of the pain she caused herself and the people she loves, she questions.  She wonders.  Just like a true yogi.  But when she finds herself in that place, she goes back to her breathing.  Her positive nature shines through.  She remembers the biggest lesson that yoga has taught her:  You are more than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can do.  The confidence she has gained continues to grow.  She resolves to live life fully, if not as a daredevil, as the person next to you on her mat.  Living the big life.

Thanks Cindy!

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Energetic Enthusiastic Entertaining Elio!

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Mama Mia, that’s a stretch!

Here at Vancouver Bikram Yoga, we all know and love the Italian Stallion, Elio.  He will lead your class with a thick Northern Italian accent (despite having been in this country for well over 20 years).  You can take the man out of Italy, and well, you know the rest.  For the uninitiated, Elio is a rock star.  He will keep you smiling, sweating, maybe even cursing through a boisterous and high energy class.  He is all about the moment, the experience, the thrill of Bikram.  Strap on your seat belts, and get into your Ferrari.  It’s going to be hard work.   Da scherzo.  But playful.

Elio first came to the states by way of the cruise ship industry.  Having sailed the seas from Alaska to Puerto Rico, he made a fateful stop in LA where he says, “I stayed one month.  Then another month.  Then another one after that.”  He married his traveling companion and soon came the apple of his eye, his daughter, now 21 years old (and an accomplished musician).  Although the marriage did not last, Elio found his way to Oregon and as a devoted parent to his daughter.  For 20 years, Elio worked hard in a restaurant where he basked in his love of fine food and good people.  When his beloved place of employment shut its doors and simultaneously his daughter left for Liverpool to study music, he found himself at a crossroads.  He was feeling lost and unsure.  Tempo al tempo.  All in good time.  Things were about to change.

A very insightful friend told Elio he should try Bikram.  Elio thought, “Why not?’ and went to his first class.  It was a community class, an introductory class for many, so he was not alone in the ill-fated attire he chose.  Long pants.  Long shirt.  Prima volta!  The first time!  He made it through!  Something inside him clicked.  Although he didn’t know it at the time, looking back, he thinks he tricked himself into sticking with it.  He told himself, if I can do this for 6 months every day, I am going to teacher training.  Every day, he felt stronger.  Every day, he gained the sense of community.  Every day he felt better.  Six months passed.  He was 51.  And he was going to meet Bikram.  Meglio tardi che mai.  Better late than never.

While stereotypical, Italians are known for their work ethic and courage in the face of adversity.  Both of these traits served Elio well during the long weeks of teacher training.  Sometimes it was grueling, but other times exhilarating.  He often got very little sleep, staying up late for lectures or trying to learn the dialogue.  But Elio says this experience teaches you that no matter how you feel, how tired you are or how much you struggle, non fa caso.  It is of no importance.  You must be there for your class, for your students.  Of course, for Elio, he gets a charge out of the energy of the class.  He loves to move around class because he knows that as he approaches, you work harder to get yourself into the pose.  Your effort and enthusiasm fuel him.

Once Elio made the decision to go to teacher training in 2010, everything fell into place.  It is the same for all teachers, he says.  In 1980, his mother put aside 500 lira and sent it to his sister.  When his sister discovered the account years later, it was worth 9000 euro.  Just enough to get Elio to teacher training.  Dio volendo lo faro.  If God wills, I shall do this.  And he did.  Elio sees Bikram not by who he is, but by what he created.  Inside Bikram, he sees a little kid from India whose loves and dreams made a revolution.  In the yoga, there is something more than the postures, more than the breathing.  The more you do it, the more you see.  It’s what goes on inside of you, that transformative power that turned a man who had never done yoga at 49 to a yoga teacher at 51.  This, Elio says, is the real vision of Bikram.  It’s not so much for the super-flexible, the athletes, the dancers as it is for the ones who come in and can’t touch their toes.  The ones who really need it.

When asked, Elio says he loves head to knee pose as pictured above.  What does he love about it?  That people can always go further than they think.  (It’s true, he propelled me to go about 3 inches further than I have been doing in this pose this morning).  His least favorite?  Probably standing bow.  “It’s hard!” he says.  It’s refreshing to have teachers who know the struggles you feel when you are doing the poses. He knows because he struggles, too.  That’s the idea.

During class, Elio often says “If you don’t get it now, there’s a class at noon, 4:30 or 6:30.”  With each class, you improve and you get closer and closer to the goal.  There’s only you in the mirror.   He is fond of saying there is no escape, you are your own captive audience.  “It’s possible!  Don’t let your mind tell you it’s not,” is another common refrain in Elio’s classes.  What is the goal?  After all, in the end, what do you get?  When you challenge yourself, he says, you keep getting more and more.  And more.

Grazie, Elio!

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