Inspiring a Yoga Practice
Most people who have a passion about their yoga practice, have a story how practicing yoga changed their life. Bikram yoga changed my life at the age of 27, and became the catalyst that changed the trajectory of my life from pain and depression to vibrant health and pain management through yoga. Along the way, I have learned many lessons, and for me, they all come down to my personal matra, searching for the balance between effort and ease.
The story of my yoga journey begins when I was 13. My mother was an incredible athlete, but she did not know what to do with a child who liked to do headstands and cartwheel up and down the stairs, so she sent me to dance and gymnastics class. She was very supportive of my dance activities until my teacher moved away in late elementary school. I think leaving dance was a huge mistake, but at the time, I decided I needed a break and chose to play soccer in middle school instead of finding a new dance teacher.
Middle school in suburban upper-middle class northern California was a terrible time in my life. I really struggled trying to find my way with friends. It seemed that every other week there was some new rumor about me I had to contend with. I did not seem to get how rumors, that were not even true, could be so painful, and leave you feeling so isolated. There was a lot of emotional bullying and I found it hard to feel confident and stand up for myself. I also feel this time in my life taught me many lessons that I draw from to this day.
Inspiring a Preteen Yoga Series
The YogiVal Preteen Yoga for Girls class is a passion project for me. I found the preteen years to be an incredibly challenging time. Since becoming a yoga teacher 18 years ago, I wanted to create a class especially geared toward a preteen audience. I wanted to make sure it was both challenging but accessible to all girls. I also wanted to make sure I incorporated a social/emotional component to the class to remind girls the importance of self care, confidence and self esteem. I think this non heated class accomplishes all of my goals and I look forward to spreading it to schools, organizations and events. Watch Videos
Things changed in an instant
At the end of my 8th grade soccer season, I started limping, and I couldn’t stop. My mother took me to an Orthopedic, and upon xraying my hip, he did not see anything and told my mother that I needed a psychologist, assuming I wanted attention since there was nothing medically wrong with me.
During the next 3 months, I felt like I was going crazy as I could not stop limping. My mother was convinced I was just “used” to limping and should practice walking normal, and all my teachers thought I was faking. The few friends I had disappeared, and I was completely alone at school.
During these 3 months, there were return visits to the doctor, each one (he never x-rayed my hip again thinking it was nothing) brought a new diagnosis; arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis. He even gave me a cortisone shot thinking I just had some inflammation. (This issue, of misdiagnosis would also resonate with me many years later while practicing yoga with Bikram)
At the end of the 3 months, I was in so much pain, I borrowed some crutches from a friend. I didn’t know how to use them and the first day I went up some stairs and fell, in shock and unable to move. After the ambulance took me to the hospital in agony, my Orthopedic showed up and leaned over me and said, “Well, there is definitely something wrong with that hip!” he had missed that it had been slipping for 3 months, and had now broken. This should have been caught and dealt with months before. But his arrogance had lead me to this point.
My parents got rid of him immediately and got a new surgeon who operated a few days later. He explained to me I had something called a slipped Capital femoral epiphysis. Basically I broke my hip at the growth plate, and my previous orthopedic had missed it. My life would have gone much differently had the original guy caught it and operated on it before it broke. By missing it, he set me up for some serious arthritis and a hip replacement when I was 42. But let me not get so ahead of myself.
I should make a brief note that this issue is very rare and usually happens in boys who are short and obese. They missed it on the tall, skinny girl. But while I was growing up, people had a blind faith in doctors and their opinions. No one ever thought to question his opinion or second guess him. I knew there was something wrong with me, but I was still too young to be my own medical advocate, and my mother was from a generation that had a blind trust and faith in western medicine and your doctor.
I was very lucky that my surgery went very well, and the doctor put 3 pins to hold my hip together. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks where I learned some other lessons. Drugs constipate the hell out of you and they didn’t do anything about that until it was too late, and I could tell you that story, but it would be TMI! I was home for another 2 months recovering and on crutches for 4 months while my hip joint strengthened.
To be honest, breaking my hip was very satisfying emotionally in the sense that I wanted to say to everyone, “I TOLD YOU THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG!!” Even though all of my “friends” came to visit, I also realized that none of those girls were my friends. I learned a lot about the meaning of true friendships from that situation.
I started high school the following fall a very different person. After my ordeal, and knowing I was right that something was wrong, I was ready to I forge a very new path with friends, finding friendships that nourished and supported me. I became best friends with a girl who was also an outsider at my middle school. She had the challenge of wearing a full back brace most of 8th grade, so she had experienced many similar issues. We never even met in middle school, but on the first day of high school, we just clicked. We made “other “ fun and cool with our thrift store clothes, wacky hair and make-up and choosing dancing till all hours at clubs in San Francisco and Fremont over alcohol or drug consumption. We also got very good grades. With my deep friendship with Allyson Brown I stopped worrying what others thought of me and found the meaning to true friendship.
I had a great experience at UCSB and made wonderful friends. My other best friend from high school, Lisa Zahra (AKA Weezy), joined me our last 2 years at UCSB. My 30 year friendship with Weezy is the most important and sustaining female friendship in my life. (I hope all women have one of her in your lives.) After college, Weezy and I moved to LA to begin our adult lives and careers. She started working in commercial production, and I headed to department store retail.
I loved working in retail and spent 3 years working for my beloved Bullocks. (currently Macys.) I spent 3 years in retail, and 5 years in shoe wholesale. I loved being in the shoe business. Travelling was great and I loved helping the buyers drive their businesses. It was an education watching smart independent shoe boutique buyers choose shoes (including my favorite Jeffrey of Jeffrey in New York) I loved the whole businesses and it was an amazing learning experience for my later yoga studio life.
Everything changed out of the blue one day, while I was “working” in Hawaii visiting a Nordstrom store. I started limping. It came out of nowhere, and it did not stop. I remember that after my surgery, my doctor had told me that I would have arthritis when I was older, (translation to my 13 year old brain, that’s old, like 50 or something), so when I started having problems in 1996 at 27, I could not imagine what was going on.
I went to a very renowned orthopedic office at Cedars Sinai in LA. They took both x-rays and MRI. The doctor then said that the lack of blood flow from my hip breaking had lead to degenerative arthritis and a deformation in my hip joint. He said there was nothing I could do about it, anything physical would just make it happen faster, and that in the next 5 years I would need a hip replacement. In addition he gave me 2 or 3 prescription drugs and an anti-inflammatory for the pain and inflammation.
I sunk into a depression. I knew I was not dying and should get over myself, but I was just devastated. I did not know if anyone would ever want to be with me or if I would ever have kids. (In time of personal crisis I seem to go to drama first, until I reflect and move to another more productive emotion.)
At the same time, I started having back pain. Part of it was just being a 22 year old working in a Bullocks stock room and throwing my body around with zero respect, and a few little car accidents that did not help the situation. In Early 2008 I was referred to a Sikh chiropractor. Waheguru Khalsa was my entry into eastern philosophy, and holistic or whole body healing and integrated medicine. He was an excellent chiropractor, but was also very in tune with many other happenings in my life. He and his wife are lovely, generous and incredible people, and I wish I still lived near him now. The complementary approach to his practice opened my mind to the possibility of yoga as a healing tool.
The first yoga I practiced was actually kundalini both with Yogi Bhajan and Ghurmukh in her house. She is now an international Sikh celebrity with many celebrity clients and has yoga studio in LA that is massive called Golden Bridge. I will also say that I did yoga with Gurmukh and many celebrities back then and also got an insight into the reality that everyone has their shit they are trying to work through. I will also say that Waheguru and his wife were my education in beginning to understand the effects of nutrition on the body. (At a yoga conference Yoga Bhajan actually called me up when I raised my hand to try to heal me of my sugar addiction, but I will save the rest of that story for another time.)
After my bad news, I continued going to the gym 3 times a week like I had consistently done throughout my 20’s (step aerobics anyone??) Five months later I went to Denver, Colorado for a work trip and stayed with friends. They were lovely and the second night I was there, Eric’s mom (Beth) invited me to go with them to a Bikram Yoga class. I had no idea what I was getting into. .
I was absolutely fascinated after my first class. I told Beth about my arthritis and she went and grabbed Bikram’s book and Bikram said he could help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Even better, Bikram himself and international headquarters were 10 minutes from my home on Miracle Mile in Los Angeles.
Bikram Choudhury and Bikram Yoga, the beginning of a new life
I started practicing Bikram Yoga Labor Day 1996, 5 months after my trip to the Orthopedic, and the weekend of my 28th birthday. After a few months of taking class 2 to 3 times a week, I took Bikram’s class. Taking Bikram’s class was a different experience altogether. The other teachers were very good, but they were sweet and compassionate and very sympathetic to my arthritis pain. They even gave me some modifications they thought would help me. Bikram is a great observer of people. I think he noticed me that first day as he can see right through people and he knew that I was loving the yoga and the benefits I was receiving, but he also could see my mind fighting certain postures including locking my knee.
When we got to wind removing posture which brings your knee into your chest, I did something totally different that didn’t begin to approach the actual posture. Bikram got off his podium and stomped over to my space and yelled “What are you doing?” I explained that I had arthritis, that I had broken my hip and that I could not do the actual posture. (when you read this, pronounce the “I” very loud to connect with the appropriate drama) He was uninterested in my drama, and told me “I’ll break your hip again!” and gently put me in the posture to just the perfect place. He then went on with his class. He also talked about “pain killing pain.” For those of you about to misunderstand and criticize Bikram just stop. This is where he is brilliant. He taught me in 3 seconds, that my fear is preventing me from healing, that trying the right way even if you can’t go far will bring great benefits, and that he saw that it was exactly what I needed. In addition, the rest of class got the same lesson, to inspire their possible changes.
That was a fascinating day, and even though I had been doing the yoga for 2 months and it was helping me a bit, that day, the day Bikram did not let me skip a posture, that was the day I stopped limping. I showered and left and realized I was not limping and in no pain. For the next year, as long as I practiced consistently, I did not limp, I did not need to take any of the prescription anti-inflammatory and I went back to living my life.
About 1 year into my practice, the 5th teacher training group started in la. For 3 months I practiced with them every day and thought,” wouldn’t it be nice to quit my job and do teacher training, but some of us need to work!” I saw Bikram outside of class one day, and told him I loved the yoga and wish I could quit my job and do teacher training some day. It is hard to explain what happened next. He got within an inch of my face, his eyes lit up, and he peered right into my soul and said, “You should do my teacher training, you would be the best one.” Without another thought, that day, I made my plan to prepare getting my finances into order so I could figure out how I was going to not work for 3 months. (thought #1, stop shopping immediately!, thought #2, pay off your car, thought # 3, hope my parents don’t think I have lost my mind!)
Teaching Bikram Yoga
The following year I made the decision to quit my successful corporate job, and attend Bikram’s teacher training. It was a big step, but this yoga had totally changed my life and I was hoping I could inspire others to change theirs.
After 11 weeks, I graduated in May 1998. When I went to teacher training, I did not have a very solid post graduation plan. I thought I would teach privates and do temp work. It was one of the few times in my life I followed my gut without much of a plan. Toward the end of training, Bikram asked us where we might like to open a studio. I had not even thought about, but he was in LA, so I could not open there, and Weezy had moved to Pasadena which was still the LA area, so I mentioned it sheepishly when he asked me.
It was the second, but not the last time, that Bikram’s eyes lit up and he looked at me like he could see my soul and said in the loudest, clearest voice, “that is the best idea.” That day, without a shadow of a doubt, I knew I was moving to Pasadena to open a yoga school.
I opened Bikram Yoga Pasadena in Nov 1998 and have never turned back. I actually met my husband in Pasadena and we now have 2 little girls. I expanded and remodeled in March 2103. I still love my Bikram Yoga School and love teaching and practicing yoga. I am excited about this new journey of Yogival.com to expand on my experiences and reach a new audience.
Origins of My Mantra
I started practicing Bikram yoga in 1996 when I was 28. I came to yoga after months of pain and discomfort from arthritis in my right hip caused by a break when I was 13. At the time, I was told there was nothing I could do and that I would need a hip replacement in the next 5 years. (I know I did not have cancer, but pretty hard news for a 28-year-old right???) I refused to accept that. I loved Bikram yoga from the start, even though the heat was a bit intimidating. But after a few months of regular practice, I craved it and I started to feel better. I even stopped taking prescription anti-inflammatories, I experienced less pain and my limp went away. (I also stopped feeling so sorry for myself and starting dating again.)
After a few months, I got so excited by the healing of the practice that I started pushing the limits of my body and I tried too hard. I started forcing a range of motion that my body did not feel comfortable with. When I would force a pose I noticed I was usually holding my breath or at best I was grunting while trying to complete it. I thought that if I pushed my body to complete a hard pose it would fix my issues. Instead it usually caused inflammation in my back or hip the next day and I would feel stiff after class instead of revitalized.
I realized that I had to balance the effort of my postures with the ease of normal breathing to get the maximum out of my practice and not cause injury or inflammation. I also realized that when I kept my breath calm and continued to breathe normally I was more deeply connected to my body. Then I was able to access and find new muscles to activate during a posture and find muscles to relax. I found more depth in my practice while building more strength with less pain. (This was pretty cool to discover and expand to the fun stuff like headstands and handstands.)
Finding a balance between effort in my postures and ease in my breathing was a huge revelation. I continued to build on my theory with each posture and search for the balance where I focused my effort and where to find the ease. I took these lessons and started incorporating them into my teaching at my yoga studio. My students also found these revelations life changing. People don’t realize how their bodies work against them subconsciously, especially when they have pain and fear. Sometimes that fear is just getting into a hot room to do yoga! But usually it comes from long term pain, whether it is back, knee or in my case – hip pain.
I then took this concept of balancing effort and ease in my yoga practice and expanded it into my real life. This is the foundation of my YogiVal 5 Fundamentals and the mantra on which I live my life. I plan to blog about all my experiences of balancing effort and ease into my yoga practice and teaching, family life, friend life, mommy life and marriage life. I am a storyteller, and I hope my stories will resonate with your experience and shed light on how you can make more balanced decisions to live to your full potential.
I want to introduce The YogiVal 5 Fundamentals of foundation and connection principles as a tool for balancing effort and ease in the body. I think these principles will help anyone, whether you are new to yoga, have years of experience, or sit all day at a desk and don’t like to exercise. I think anyone who wants to live or feel better in their body will benefit from these very simple and basic, yet often missed, alignment principles. I hope you will watch the intro to The YogiVal 5 Fundamentals and start a new journey of better alignment, more strength and less pain.