Yoga saved her. Literally.

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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!

Beth: She meets,she greets, she inspires…

Now that is a gorgeous backbend!

Now that is a gorgeous backbend.

Hello yogis and welcome to Vancouver Bikram Yoga’s blog!

In case you haven’t met her yet, we’d like to introduce you to Beth Perkins.  She mans the desk on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.  You will know her immediately by her big beautiful eyes, her indelible smile, her ceaseless charm and her huge and seriously contagious laugh.  Oh yeah, and her backbends (see above).  Studio owner Erika wanted to spotlight Beth as a committed and incredibly fun yogi as well as someone who has come a long, arduous path to the place she is today.

Beth first came to the studio in July 2010, exactly one year after the death of her beloved 20 year old son Ryan.  His death had understandably paralyzed her on many levels.  She was trying to get herself back on track after a year of mourning; going to yoga with friends, engaging in a support group (with members whom even now she says she will count on forever) but she said there was something missing.  For Beth, it was Bikram Yoga.  She says this practice is “extreme,” but her grief and suffering at the time were extreme as well.  After a tough start, it turned out to be a perfect fit.  Her first class, Beth said she was worried she might not be able to crawl out of the room.  But she did.  Again and again, Beth came back.  Why?  To her, the answer lies in the grounding and focus it brought and the sense of accomplishment she felt like nothing else she had done before.

Her biggest challenge initially was breathing.  She found herself getting a little panicked and found it eased over time when she learned to “get on top of” her breath.  To her surprise and relief, the breathing carried over into her “real” life and learned that breath is the key to surviving in the hot room and outside of it.  She sees the hot room as a place to challenge what you think is real.  As she says it, in the room and in life, “the best thing is to let go of your expectations.  Or your ego will get you.”  Now, 2 and a half years after she began coming to the studio, her challenges are different but “opportunities are everywhere” to move your practice forward.  Her favorite poses are camel and rabbit.  They are difficult of course, but as she giggles, “sometimes I just tell myself I love how it feels when really it feels awful.  And you know what?  It works!”

The practice has contributed to Beth’s well-being in many ways.  Her doctor told her she was a “walking stroke,” but she has managed to lower her cholesterol by 120 points and her blood pressure as well since she started practicing.  Beth took the advice of her fellow yogi’s and eats a mostly plant based diet now, too.  Perhaps the most remarkable change she has made is moving from taking 3 different anti-depressants to now being anti-depressant free.  She credits yoga as being the force which got her through the withdrawal-like symptoms of dizziness and fatigue.  In her cheery and upbeat way, she also gives props to her fellow yogi’s as being the “beautiful community” which helped her through.  She sees them as keeping her accountable, being spiritually like-minded and contributing to her already bubbly outlook.  When you rub elbows with people like this, she says, you can’t help but be a better person.

And for now, you can catch Beth three days a week at the studio.   Sometimes four when she has time between her full time job in health care, playing with her two dogs and creating an outdoor space at the home she shares with her husband of 15 years.  Of course, the grief remains and becomes more acute when her son’s friends begin getting married and having children.  But Beth reminds herself, in her own genuine and sparkly way, that healing is a gift you give yourself. And along with time with friends and loved ones, yoga puts you on a path to accept and surrender.  Until then, Beth herself is a gift to anyone who meets her.  With her big beautiful laugh, her generous smiles and her dedicated practice to health, you can’t feel anything but be inspired.

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