My trip to see Bikram in Dallas

Yoga and Life

Bikram Choudhury. What an amazing man. I met him for the first time eight years ago on September 30th, 2001. It was the first day of Bikram Yoga Teacher Training, the shock and tragedy of 9/11 was fresh and raw and I was about to immerse myself in his world for 9 weeks straight. I really had no idea what I was getting into, all I knew was that his teacher training (often called a boot camp) was the format I’d been asking for for years on my quest to get back to the health and sense of personal power I’d enjoyed in my youth. Had I known what all was entailed in his teacher training, I never would have gone. I’m thankful that I didn’t.

Since then, I have faithfully attended all of his advanced seminars, traveled with him in India and attended some of his other lectures and weekend seminars. I greatly appreciate both the simplicity and depth of his teachings and know that there are nuances and details that I pick up for the first time every time I see him. I don’t see him as perfect or as the “end-all, be-all”, but I have great love for him and immense appreciation for the power of what he has created and shared with the world. I find both him and his life a fascinating study.

On September 26th, 2009, I climbed on the bus filled with others from Austin who do and teach Bikram Yoga and chose a seat for the day long journey to Dallas and back for yet another of his lectures. I had memories of being up until the wee hours in the morning at teacher training and during “hot cocoa hours” at his seminars and was thankful that this time he would be limited to only 3 hours. I knew he would stay on task and not wander astray on tangents. To me, the day was a little adventure and I was looking forward to whatever was in store.

I sat next to one of our students, Sunit Sikri, who, as he soon told me, like Bikram is from Calcutta, India. He described to me the traits or characteristics of the Bengali (people from the Bengal part of India) and told me he was very curious to see Bikram and what he was like. He told me also of his aunt who, now in her mid-sixties, has been a member of the Bihar School of Yoga in Bihar, India for over 40 years and is one who introduces the newcomers, who come from all over the world to this well-known school, to the way of life in the ashram. She clearly embodied what you would imagine the ideal yogi to be and I could not help but to think to myself, “oh boy, are you in for a big surprise.” He said to me, “I don’t know if you know this, but Bikram is not well liked amongst the other yogis in India. In fact, they hate him.” I nodded my head in complete awareness as I’ve experienced the same thing from yogis in the United States who practice different types of yoga. He said, “Don’t get me wrong. I truly appreciate his yoga, it has helped me in many ways. I’m just curious what he’s about.”

Our fearless leader on the bus suggested that it might make time flow a little faster if we all had an opportunity to share something about ourselves and why we were there. We teachers were called upon first to share some insights we thought might be helpful for others who’d never met Bikram.

Clearly moved by my chat with Sunit, I spoke about how Bikram had created a yoga class that could appeal to and work for the masses—every person in the world could do his yoga and heal themselves. It’s not done in a dim setting with incense and candles and chanting that average folks or so called red-necks would find cult-like. It’s not designed specifically for athletic, gymnast boys, or specifically for the sickly or the elderly. It is for everyone. We teachers are taught to teach to the lowest common denominator so that everyone can do it and be transformed. Bikram Yoga is every man’s yoga and as teachers it is our responsibility to make it available to everyone. In order to do this we have to learn how to and be willing to let go of our judgments about people. For me and many others, Bikram himself was, and at times continues to be, the biggest challenge in that respect. I’d never met a more chauvinistic man and his flamboyant dress and outrageous comments often left me shocked.

He teaches us to focus on what we want and nothing else, to pick out the positives and ignore the negatives. If someone ever does something that upsets you or makes you angry and you allow that person to steal your peace, you’re the one who loses as you’re the one who suffers. We have no control over what anyone or anything else does. The only things in life that we have any control over are our thoughts, our beliefs, our actions and our reactions. Because of that, it’s up to us what and how we feel at any given moment.

Everyone took turns introducing themselves and sharing something about their experience with the yoga. We heard appreciation for how the yoga has helped in little ways and, in some cases, created very dramatic healings. Some people shared their story about the first class they ever took—it wasn’t always a pretty picture—and one of watching Bikram live on the Johnny Carson show. Several people told me later that this time on the bus and the sharing of stories and getting to know more of each other, was a definite highlight of the day.

As we arrived at the auditorium for Bikram’s lecture I found myself surrounded by many other teachers and studio owners from all around Texas. I look forward to these gatherings as a sort of family reunion with all my Texas Bikram friends. I’d said my greetings and caught up with many of them and as we were all waiting for the doors to open so we could go choose our seats, a woman introduced herself and we started talking. She was from outside of Grapevine and her daughter was about to head off to Teacher Training. Before I knew it she was ushering me down the aisle and we were discussing where we should sit.

Over the years I have come to appreciate traveling alone and allowing myself to be open to whatever adventure might present itself and I knew this was clearly another one. In the half hour or so before Bikram began his lecture, she told me stories of raising her daughter and of her career as a nurse and her reluctance to take drugs including vaccinations which the hospital she works at insisted she take—a topic I knew she’d be in agreement with Bikram about. Overall I noticed a theme of the stories that centered around how she held to her vision and kept faith that the difficulties would work themselves out. She was here to be supportive of her daughter on her new path. At one point in the lecture, she asked about the notebook I had in which I’d made notes and tried to keep track of what Bikram was saying. I told her I wrote the article for the studio newsletter and was looking for inspiration for the next one. All in all, the lecture was just as I’d expected, he stayed on track and very mindful of the time. He was in a good mood and all went well.

As we were packing up to leave, she handed me a business card with only three words on it: EXPECT A MIRACLE. As I looked at the card, she pointed to the word EXPECT and said, “You must expect. If you don’t believe, it will not happen.”

Then she handed me another business card. It said,

Peace before us
Peace behind us
Peace under our feet
Peace within us
Peace over us
Let all around us be peace

Then she turned the card over and the back side said,

Peace I leave with you,
My peace I give unto you:
Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
Let not your heart be troubled,
Neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

This I did not expect and it took me directly to the words from Bikram that so moved me during my training: “You are all healers. Teach my yoga and help me heal the world, bringing peace and well-being one person at a time through the practice of Bikram Yoga.”