It was roughly two years ago that I took my first Bikram Yoga class. For those of you not familiar with Bikram Yoga, the series consists of two breathing exercises and 26 yoga poses, all performed in a room that is 105 degrees at 40 percent humidity. The 90-minute class seemed extremely daunting the first time that I entered the room and felt the heat, but it only took one class to hook me and keep me coming back for more. I have learned a lot about myself, meditation, life, mindfulness, and the human potential in the last two years.
I have always been extremely introverted and suffered from severe social anxiety. Crowds of people have never really been my thing. When meeting new people, I am best described as awkward. It has never been that I do not want to be social and friendly, but my anxiety held me back for a long time. So, when I found myself getting ready to start my first yoga class ever, in a room of 70 people who at least seemed to have some idea of what they were doing, I was intimidated. My self-talk immediately went into anxiety overdrive trying to tell myself that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life.
"You have no idea what you're doing."
"People are laughing at you."
"The instructor probably won't be happy about you bringing the class down."
"It's too hot in here. You can't make it through the whole class."
"If you quit then everybody will know you failed."
However, what I found instead was a group of people who were in it together. Granted, everybody was at their own point on their paths, but I felt accepted. The instructor helped me get into poses the best that I could and was very encouraging. Also, it turned out there were lots of new students so I was not alone in my struggle. After the class, I felt like I had actually accomplished something great.
The following classes became easier to deal with in terms of my anxiety levels. I had a system in which I would get to class early so that I could set up in the back row, and then would stay longer after class to meditate than others after class so that the majority of people were gone by the time I got into the locker room. Again, it wasn't that I wanted to avoid people, just me being awkward with people. This plan worked beautifully for a few months until one day, while I was setting up in my usual spot, one of the instructors encouraged me to move to the front row. I did not want to look afraid so I accepted and moved to the front. I loved it. It was an entirely new perspective on the class and allowed me to push a little outside of my comfort zone.
Again, this became comfortable, and my anxiety had begun to withdraw. That's when another opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone presented itself. Up to this point, I had worn basketball clothes to classes because, having played basketball my entire life, that's what I was comfortable in. On this fateful day, I forgot my shorts. There was not time to get back to my house and still make it to class, so I had to either go home and miss class or buy a pair of the yoga shorts sold at the studio.
I need to stress that calling them shorts is really giving them a lot of credit. They are small; very small. It's basically a man wearing "booty" shorts. Not exactly something I was super excited about. Ironically, the same instructor who got me to move to the front happened to be teaching that day, and with a little encouragement, he was able to convince me to buy them. So I went into class wearing my yoga man booty shorts and set up as far in the back of the class I could. Eventually, I returned to the front row, and because the shorts actually made yoga way easier than my basketball shorts, I continued to wear the yoga shorts.
These days, I love yoga more than ever. I have become friends with instructors and fellow yogis as well. I no longer feel like I need to avoid contact with the other people there, but can instead be friends and get to know them. The point to all of this, and it's the first lesson I learned from doing Bikram Yoga, is that your anxieties can be conquered. That does not necessarily mean that you are going to wake up tomorrow and they will simply be gone; I can only imagine the negative response I would have had if somebody had said to me, "Hey come do this yoga class. Also, there will be 70 people in the room. And, you'll have to set up in the front row. Oh, and of course, I need you to wear these little shorts." Never in a million years would that have happened, but with little steps outside of my comfort zone over time, I am doing that exact thing.
You can use this to destroy your fear. You do not need to go do the absolute craziest thing you can think of right this instant, but you can definitely decide to do something that is a very small step outside of your comfort zone until it becomes part of your comfort zone, and then continue this process until your comfort zone has expanded well beyond what you could have thought was possible.
So, in short, the first lessons learned from my experience with Bikram Yoga is that you can do things you didn't think you could do, and that you should never let your fears stop you from experiencing life. The underlying emotion through all of these steps was fear, and although the fear is there, you learn to be able to do great things despite it. I promise that, in the end, life isn't as scary as your anxiety and fears want you to think it is. Everybody else is in the same boat. Do not beat yourself up too much, take little steps, and the next thing you know, you'll be living the life of your dreams.
A project manager for a busy commercial construction company, Jonathan Biesinger has plenty of stress in his life. He is also a dedicated husband and father. And, oh yes, he struggles daily with bipolar disorder too. Jonathan's life certainly isn't easy.
"I managed okay," he says. "I'd officially been diagnosed with bipolar in 2007, although looking back I realize I'd had symptoms since I was a child. I was managing on medication, but there were times when I literally felt like my insides were torn apart when I went through the manic highs and depressive lows."
Although he'd participated in sports in high school and was physically active in college, Jonathan had been a hit-and-miss athlete since, knowing he needed to find something but a bum left knee and chronic hip pain prevented him from settling into any routine exercise.
"A friend had been going to Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas for a year, and he had been pestering me to try it, but I kept putting him off," recalls Jonathan. "One day last year I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper, parking-lot traffic on I-15 on my way home from a meeting, and my right hip was killing me. I knew I needed to do something, so I decided to give in. I called my friend, and I went with him to Bikram Yoga the next morning. I never looked back; I've been going to class three times a week for the past 13 months."
Like most first-timers, Jonathan admits his first class was very challenging. The heat was intense, and he wasn't able to strike all the poses. In fact, because of a misunderstanding, he actually spent most of the class breathing incorrectly, which made the class even more difficult. "But I didn't have to leave the room," he says, with a sense of acknowledgement. "And I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to keep doing."
Jonathan has enjoyed all the normal physical benefits associated with regular Bikram Yoga practice. The pain in his hip has disappeared, and his left knee feels better than it has in years. He regained full rotation of his right shoulder, no longer wears orthotics, and sleeps like a baby.
"But without question, the most impactful and meaningful benefit for me has been that I've been able to stop taking my behavioral medications that were treating the symptoms of bipolar," Jonathan says. "I had always wanted to wean myself off of them but never felt like I could. But when I realized what Bikram Yoga was doing for me both emotionally and metaphysically, I realized that this could be a replacement for the pills. I talked to my wife about it, we planned it carefully, and it's been amazing!"
Jonathan had always believed there was an inexplicable connection between the spiritual and physical, but Bikram Yoga has created a personal awareness of this connection that he'd never understood before. "I experienced it early in my practice," he recalls. "At the end of class, we're instructed to lay flat on our backs, and one day I was just laying there, and I started to cry uncontrollably. My eyes filled with what felt like buckets and buckets of tears. I didn't understand what was going on, but it felt so cleansing. The next week, the same thing happened."
Jonathan asked Joanne if there was an explanation. "She smiled," he remembers, "and then said, 'You've definitely been packing a lot of emotional baggage.' She then explained that some of the postures are specifically designed to release emotional tension that we hold in our chests. When you hold those postures, that tension is released. It was then that I realized, on a level I had never felt before, the connection between body and spirit. I started to learn that I could posture myself in a way that provided physical, emotional, and spiritual benefit. My bipolar had been tearing my body and spirit apart, but yoga was bringing them together."
Jonathan has become a strong advocate for Bikram, sharing his story with anyone who is interested. "It's cliché to find something that's changed your life and then try to get everyone else to try it too," he says, "and I am sensitive to the reality that not everyone is interested. But I'm pretty vocal about it--I'm always telling people I can bring them in using a complimentary guess pass for their first class. A few people have taken me up on the offer, and I'll keep sharing. One thing is for sure, I have no intention whatsoever of ever quitting--Bikram Yoga is a lifestyle for me."
Mike & Dawn Deason
Nearing the big 5-0 was something that Dawn and Mike Deason took seriously. Even though they had a couple of years to go, they were feeling a few minor aches and pains, and they both wanted to get in shape so they could enjoy a healthy quality of life as they got older. "We also wanted to set a good example for our kids," adds Mike.
It was one of their kids, daughter Carrisa, who actually first suggested yoga. "Carrisa and her husband loved Bikram Yoga, and they kept asking us to go," Dawn recalls. "I told them I couldn't go because of my asthma, but they talked Mike into trying it. While he was there, he talked to Louis who said that Bikram Yoga was actually a great thing for asthma because of the humidity, so I tried it too. We've been hooked since day one."
Of course, being hooked doesn't necessarily mean they loved it from day one. "After we left that first day, my daughter asked how I felt," Dawn says. "I told her I hated it, but I knew it was the best thing I could be doing. I felt right from the beginning that this was the thing for us."
In fact, Dawn's asthma did improve. "If I don't go to yoga, I have a hard time breathing sometimes," she observes. "I no longer take any medication, and I don't have any asthma attacks. I live a normal life when I do yoga three times a week, but if I don't go, I have a hard time breathing. It scares me not to go now."
Dawn enjoyed other benefits as well. Her job as a produce manager requires her to do a lot of bending and lifting. "That doesn't hurt me at all anymore," she says. "And my energy levels are off the charts."
Mike also saw significant health improvements. As a long-haul trucker (he now does local driving), he sat for long periods of time and was starting to feel back and joint pain from the lack of activity; blood circulation was also a concern. "That disappeared," he says. "No more visits to the chiropractor! I just felt better all around, and my energy was incredible as well."
And although the Deasons cite health as a top reason for sticking with Bikram, they have other reasons that are just as compelling. "We love the community that Joanne has created," Dawn explains. "It starts with the energy and inspiration that she gives to each of us, every student knows she cares about them. And she's such a strong example; it feels so good to be part of a community that is so positive and upbeat--it's our home away from home."
The Deasons are the kind of students who make it easy to create that kind of community, says Joanne. "Mike and Dawn radiate quiet determination, humble growth, and gratitude. They are a strong, beautiful couple who are living the philosophy of Namaste. We are blessed to have them in our studio."
That feeling of community is reinforced by the incredible setting--Brick Canvas almost feels like a resort, say the Deasons. "Thanksgiving Point is so beautiful," Dawn says. "Just walking to the building helps you escape your daily stress, like you're elevated to another place. We go three times a week. Who else gets to go on a date three times a week at such an amazing place?"
And for at least the new few weeks, Mike and Dawn will be dating even more often. Mike just started a 30-Day Challenge, which he plans on then continuing to earn his 60-Day Challenge recognition; Dawn is planning on joining him every day in October as she earns her own 30-Day Challenge.
"I can't imagine a better way to stay in shape as we get older," says Mike, who turned 50 this year; Dawn celebrates the milestone birthday next year. "We're not dealing with back or knee pain, no arthritis, none of those things that seem so common as you age. And our core strength and flexibility is amazing. Bikram Yoga constantly challenges us, and we see the rewards every day."
Libby Hancock attended her first Bikram Yoga class on August 3, 2014--three days after her 15-year-old daughter's funeral. Although that timing may seem strange, to Libby it made perfect sense.
"Katie had started doing Bikram Yoga in June when a church leader invited her to go to classes with her," Libby explains. "And even though it was summer vacation, Katie got up every morning at 6 AM to do yoga. She invited me to come with them, but I was like, 'No way!' Then Katie was killed in a car accident one day before completing her 30-Day Challenge. I remember thinking, 'I have to go to yoga for Katie.' I didn't understand what it was or much about it, but I knew that Katie had discovered her passion and I needed to find out why."
It didn't take Libby long to figure it out. The immediate love and concern that Joanne and the instructors and other students showed her as she started going to classes was almost tangible, and Libby felt her daughter near as she struggled--not just with the yoga but with adjusting to life without Katie. "I knew that Katie loved this place, and I knew they loved her," said Libby. "There were times I couldn't make it through the entire class, times when I curled up on the mat and cried, and other times when I had to leave entirely."
But Libby kept coming back. In fact, she attended almost every morning until school started, and then, after her job as a middle school teacher began, she continued to practice in the evening at least three times a week. She finished the Slow and Steady Challenge in February and completed the 30-Day Challenge in June.
Libby appreciates the physical benefits of her consistent commitment to Bikram. She learned years ago the value of physical exercise and has always worked out regularly. However, she was born with a congenital hip malfunction, and while it hadn't hindered her much throughout her life (after wearing leg braces until she was six), the year before the accident she had experienced hip pain almost every day. She was also dealing with nagging upper back pain. "Thanks to yoga, the hip pain has decreased significantly," notes Libby, "and the back pain has completely disappeared. I'm more toned and flexible too."
However, it's the mental and emotional benefits that Libby values the most as she works her way through the grieving process. July 24th marked the one-year anniversary of Katie's death, and the safety she has found at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas is as important now as it's ever been.
"I've been told that it can take a long time to work through the grief process, and I know I'm not done," she says. "But I'm making progress, and this is a safe place to continue to work on healing. When you do Bikram, they teach you not to look around at others, not to worry about where you are compared to others, but to focus on you and just work at doing the best you can. That's what I'm doing."
Note: Click here to read about how Katie's friends completed the challenge for her the day after her death.
Twelve years ago, David Miller was lying in a hospital bed listening to his doctor tell him he needed quadruple bypass surgery and, if they could keep him alive until morning, he would likely survive the surgery. "That got my attention," David says, "and I knew I needed to do something."
That something was Bikram Yoga, which his daughter Joanne (our own Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas studio owner!) persuaded him to try "under duress," says David. "I didn't really want to go, but Joanne was an avid student at the time, and she promised me it would change my life. It did!"
Initially, however, it was just hard. "I actually felt worse in some ways," he recalls. "I was sore, I collapsed on the floor, I had a number of issues. But she kept encouraging me and promising me that it would help. I've trusted her for a lot of years, and I took her at her word. Eventually, I became addicted to the hot room and the way I felt after a class. Joanne was right--it changed my life."
When he started practicing years ago, David (a dentist) was overweight, had back problems from constantly bending over patients, was on heart and blood pressure medications, and was contemplating early retirement because he was in so much pain. "Today, I'm in great health," he says. "I don't have any issues whatsoever! I'm not on any meds, my heart and blood pressure are great, my back and neck are fine. I've lost 30 pounds, am rock hard, and am in better shape now than I was 30 years ago." And although David is semi-retired (at age 69, he still works two days a week), he retired because he chose to and not because he physically had to.
"My dad exemplifies the concept of slow and steady, and also the idea of consistent effort coupled with time," Joanne notes. "Dentistry is a tough profession on the back and neck, and yoga undid that damage. I am so proud of Dad, and it's an honor to have him working here at the studio with me!"
David has completed a couple 30-day challenges and is now earning the Slow and Steady Challenge, consistently practicing at least three times a week. He is a regular at the 6 a.m. class and gets emotional when he talks about the special bond he feels with his fellow early-morning yogis. "The people are definitely part of it," he says. "These are my friends, and I've grown to love so many of them. At Joanne's studio, there is nothing but acceptance and encouragement and support. I love coming here."
Like his daughter, David has become a Bikram Yoga missionary, preaching that anyone and everyone can benefit. "Bikram is great for the extreme athlete, who needs to regularly take a day off intense exercise to stretch out, get rid of the muscle tension in the back and hamstrings and glutes, and sweat out the toxins. And it's just as beneficial for the person who is just trying to get into shape. Bikram gets people moving without damaging muscles, and it strengthens bit by bit. I experienced that in my life. Even now I can't do all the poses to perfection, but I do my best and enjoy full benefit. Bikram Yoga is part of my life. . . like getting up and breathing. I just do it."
Steve Crump has worked as a massage therapist for 18 years, giving massages at least eight hours a day, five or six days a week. No wonder he was starting to feel lower back pain! "I spent a lot of time bending over," he says, "and I was paying the price."
And if that wasn't enough, his own mother started teasing him about gaining a little weight. "At a family party, she rubbed my stomach and asked me if I was pregnant," he says. "I knew she was kidding, but I got the message. I started looking for something."
He'd worked out at the gym before but wasn't feeling motivated to do that this time. He'd also heard about Bikram Yoga before and was interested but hadn't tried it. "It's all about convenience," he observed, ""and when I first heard about it, it wasn't convenient. This time, one of my massage clients told me about a studio right by my house in Lehi. That was convenient, so I thought I'd check it out."
Steve walked into Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas and signed up. "I didn't even do a class first," he recalls. "I decided to do it, and I did." That first week he attended class twice, and then started going almost every day. In the past year he's completed a 30-Day Challenge, a 60-Day Challenge, a Slow and Steady Challenge, and most recently, the 5x5 PLUS Challenge.
"I was doing yoga anyway," he says. "I figured I might as well do all the challenges while I was at it."
Steve acknowledges that Bikram Yoga is intense. "It's hot in there," he says. "The first class I had to leave the studio once, but I didn't really ever question doing it. It's crazy, but the more you do it, the more you understand the difference it can make in your life. It's changed my whole body, my whole life. I can't imagine my life without it now."
Steve's lower back pain is gone. He's lost weight. (He doesn't know how much because he never weighed himself to begin with, but his mom has stopped rubbing his stomach!) And he simply feels better. "I can feel the difference," he says. "I've strengthened my core and eliminated the pain."
Steve points to a picture he took when he first started Bikram Yoga and compares it to a picture he took at his one-year mark. "We took the picture in the same spot, and there's a night-and-day difference," he observes. "I've lost weight in my face, my hair is longer, I feel better, and you can see it in my face."
In addition to the physical changes, Steve says the community of support and encouragement he's discovered at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas has been a life-changer as well. "I've met some amazing people and found some good friends at Brick Canvas," he says. "Some I know very well, others I don't know personally, but you see everyone's faces every morning and look forward to seeing them. There's an energy that we get from each other, and when people don't come, we miss that energy. It's like a family. I can't imagine not going to Bikram Yoga; I can't imagine not seeing these people."
A stolen base and two ruptured discs led Ted Cowan to the "Palace," his nickname for Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas. Eight years ago, Ted was playing softball and slid into third. Ultimately he ended up scoring when the batter hit a ground ball, but he also ended up with two ruptured discs and intense back pain.
"My doctor told me the discs should heal by themselves but that I needed to do physical therapy," Ted recalls. "However, insurance only covered 12 visits, and my therapist told me I needed more than that. She suggested I try Bikram Yoga, so I did."
The first time he walked into a studio, Ted was intimidated; he was born and raised in Alaska, so the heat was daunting. But he was also committed. "Remember, my back was hurting," he points out, "and I was looking for help for my back. I was willing to endure anything if it would help my pain."
And it did! Thanks to Bikram Yoga, Ted's back pain is gone, he can touch his palms to the floor, and he is a "lifer."
"Bikram Yoga calms the mind and engages the body," explains Ted. "It's sort of like a moving meditation. You start off with breathing exercises that calm the mind and then do poses that engage the body. You have to concentrate, and concentrating is not easy to do when you're moving from one pose to another. But I look at my buddies who are my age, in their fifties, and they're dying on the vine. I feel strong and alive and healthy, and I know that's the result of Bikram."
Ted had practiced at other studios before visiting Bikram Yoga at Thanksgiving Point. He signed up for a 30 Day Challenge his first day at the studio, and then finished the challenge in 23 days. "I had to do eight doubles, " he explains. "My brother was ill and I ended up leaving town to visit him before my 30 days was up, so I had to do those doubles to finish the challenge."
Ted has also signed up for-and completed-the 60 Day Challenge and the recent 5X5 PLUS Challenge. He's eyeing the Slow and Steady Wins the Race Challenge next, although he says he'll do much more than that. "I practice six days a week, Monday through Saturday," he says. "I'm committed to do that--Bikram gives me a well-being I've never had before."
And Ted is as committed to Joanne and the studio as he is to the practice. "I've been to all the studios along the Wasatch Front, as well as studios in several cities around the country," he says. "The Palace is different-and not just because of the physical appearance. No other Bikram studio has anything like Joanne."
A computer science instructor at Weber University, Ted notes that he knows a few things about teaching, and Joanne is an amazing teacher. "She learns who her students are, she knows things about them, she welcomes them every time, and makes a big deal about their accomplishments. Joanne embodies what Namaste is all about."
Ironically, Joanne feels the same way about Ted! "He's the brightest light that comes into our studio," she says. "He truly lives the idea of Namaste, honoring and serving everyone in the studio. We couldn't be more happy to have him here!"
Never too late, never too old, never too sick, to begin again and start from scratch.
Eighteen months ago, Roger Dixon was recovering from back surgery to correct scoliosis; he had two rods and more than 20 screws put in his back. At 75 years of age, recovery was slow-slower than Roger wanted. "I did the usual rehab and physical therapy," Roger says, "but I needed more. I wanted more flexibility, more strength, and more stability."
Watching his father struggle to recover was difficult for Eric Dixon. "My dad is a very active man, who loves to get out in the yard and work. The surgery really set him back, and it was hard to see that happening."
Eric and his wife, Liz, are Bikram Yoga enthusiasts, and Eric felt like yoga might benefit his dad. After checking with Louis to make sure the necessary accommodations could be made, he talked to his dad about trying yoga. Roger was game. "I was willing to do anything that might help," he says.
Eric and Liz arranged for Louis to work one-on-one with Roger during the first class he attended. Louis had created a program specifically for him (called Roger's Reality Method), and Roger did his best. "I remember it was hot and I struggled to get through it," Roger recalls. "I couldn't have done it without Louis. But I kept going back, because I was willing to do anything to get better."
And he did. Within a week, Louis was updating the modified program to reflect Roger's improvement, and he has continued to update the program throughout the past six months. Roger recently completed the Slow and Steady Challenge; "I figured I needed the motivation of the challenge to keep going," he observes. "I'm not one who loves physical exercise. I love to play ball, but to just exercise...I've never loved that.
"I improved quickly early on," explains Roger. "My walk is much smoother, and my ability to bend down and pick things up is better. The improvement is more gradual now, but I am strengthening my back and legs."
Eric and Liz see a significant difference as well, and Eric loves that his dad has regained his mobility and is continuing to see improvements in strength, balance, and flexibility. "I believe yoga literally saved his life," says Liz. "It's been a miracle; Bikram Yoga has added quality and quantity to his life!"
Although his challenge is complete, Roger plans on continuing his practice two or three times a week. "I feel good after the workout," he says. "And it's definitely helped. And I enjoy the studio and the people there--I can't imagine anybody being more supportive or encouraging."
Of course, Joanne can't imagine the studio without Roger--and his family. "We have three generations of the Dixon family practice regularly, and we are so blessed to have them.
"Roger is a perfect example of Bikram's famous quote: Never too late, never too old, never too sick, to begin again and start from scratch. He started out slowly, but was completely committed right from the beginning. He has come so far in such a short amount of time. Roger is possibly the most delightful man I have ever known. He is warm and friendly and radiates positivity and grace. We are blessed at the studio by his presence."
Since he was a toddler, Ryan Yakiwchuk has played sports of one kind of another. "I was always kicking a ball or running or something," he recalls. "I've been an athlete my whole life, and I even chose a career that involved sports."
But it wasn't until Ryan, a sports massage therapist, discovered Bikram Yoga that he really felt healthy. "Bikram Yoga changed my life completely," he says. "I lost 30 pounds, and it changed my body type, my balance, my fitness, my approach to being healthy. . . everything. And even more importantly, it changed me mentally and spiritually. For the first time in my life, I liked who I was."
Ryan admits that growing up, he couldn't even look in a mirror. "I struggled my whole life with worrying about what others were thinking about me, how I could please them, what they wanted me to do. Through Bikram Yoga, I've worked very hard to learn to accept and love myself."
Ryan is eager to share Bikram Yoga with others, and he frequently brings his clients (which include Olympic athletes and college football players) with him to the studio. "Even though they think they're in shape, Bikram is hard. They can't even balance on one foot!"
That's because much of sports is focused on training, Ryan notes, and training includes lifting weights and pushing the body and endurance. "Most athletes train hard and don't allow enough, or any, recovery time. The body gets so tight," Ryan observes. "Most of the injuries I see are associated with pulled muscles and painful joints. Bikram Yoga is recovery work. The hot temperatures, the sweating, the slow stretching, the focus on balance and stability and breathing add up to a workout that is much more gentle but still absolutely rewarding. And that doesn't even take into consideration the focus on the mental and spiritual work you do, which is really the most important of all."
Although Ryan recognized the benefits of Bikram Yoga when he first discovered it four years ago, it wasn't until he started practicing at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas that he discovered his "family."
"I connected with Bikram Yoga from the beginning, but the people here, especially Joanne, are so empathetic and compassionate. The studio is where I feel best, where I can tap into that zone in my mind and heart that makes everything in life so much easier. Even if I'm having a bad day, when I do a class, I feel better. Bikram Yoga has transformed everything about me."
Ryan hopes to become an instructor and keep sharing what Bikram offers to anyone who will listen. "Can you imagine how different my life would have been if I'd had Bikram when I was a kid?" he asks. "I want to make sure others get a chance to experience it, no matter where they are in life."
Enjoying physically demanding workouts is nothing new for Nancy Graney; she's competed in marathons, triathalons, and Ironwoman challenges for more than three decades. Adding Bikram Yoga classes to her workout regimen was a no-brainer.
"When I hit my 50s, I started getting a little stiff, and everyone kept saying you need to stretch," Nancy says. "I had heard about Bikram Yoga and decided to give it a try."
Her first class was invigorating, and she signed up for the newcomer's special. "I went home and told my husband, 'That's the first time I've sweated up my nose,'" she recalls. "I looked around and saw that everyone in the class was enjoying it, and I thought, 'There must be some reason they like it. I'm not there yet, but I'm going to stick it out and see what I can get from this.'"
By the end of the month, she had discovered what so many others already knew--Bikram Yoga offers a wide range of benefits, both physical and mental. Because she was already in great shape, Nancy enjoyed the mental and emotional benefits the most.
"I may never turn into Gumby, but the stretching definitely helped," she says. "And learning how to breathe correctly has definitely helped me with my long-distance running and biking. But what I love most about Bikram is the peace I feel and the opportunity to look within. You're not competing with anyone else, you're not even competing with yourself by trying to make a certain time or set a certain record. Every session is different, with a different challenge; you never 'master' yoga. Bikram Yoga is different from all these other sports because it's about being within yourself."
Nancy works part-time at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas and enjoys the opportunity to interact with other staff members as well as students. She is able to use her experience as a lifelong athlete to help newbies make the adjustment to a different kind of workout and a different kind of thinking. "Nancy is remarkable," says Joanne. "She's dedicated to fitness and a healthy lifestyle, and her commitment to keep the body moving and help others be fit is a perfect addition to our Bikram Yoga family."
A perfect example of this commitment is the International Ironwoman Invitational, a competition that Nancy organized and directed herself. "Marathons and triathalons are expensive, and I wanted to make it more affordable," explains Nancy. In the past four years, the invitation-only event has involved teams from several different states, as well as Germany ("that's why we call it international," says Nancy, laughing), who run, bike, and swim on local courses and then share their experiences through social media.
"I love running--I always have," Nancy says. "If I have my way, I'll be running, or maybe doing a fast walk--plus doing yoga--when I'm 80. I might be a little slower, but I'll still be doing it."
Tribute to Katie Hancock
The obituary of Katie Hancock tells the story of a young, vibrant teenager whose life was cut short, and for Bikram Yoga students, one line jumps out: In June 2014, Katie attended her first Bikram Yoga class and discovered a hidden passion. With the help of young women and men in her Rock Creek Ward, Katie completed her 30-day challenge on July 25, 2014. Namaste!
Fifteen-year-old Katie died instantly in a head-on collision on July 24. Susan Barksdale, Katie's young women leader and a regular at our 6 a.m. class, heard about the accident on the news. At that point, no names had been released, but Susan had a sinking feeling that she was going to know who had died.
"When I found out it was Katie, I was heartbroken," Susan said. "We'd just gone to a class earlier that day. When Katie realized she was only one class away from finishing her 30-day challenge, she got so excited! She picked out her final sticker and hid it because it was the last one of that kind, and all she talked about on the way home was how much she was looking forward to finishing that challenge."
Katie and several of her friends had been attending Bikram Yoga all summer long with Susan, who faithfully made the rounds in the wee hours of the morning to gather her young teenage friends and bring them to the studio. A junior high school teacher and regular at Bikram Yoga at Brick Canvas for the past year, Susan originally planned on taking the summer off.
"For some reason, that didn't feel right," she says now. "I found out that a few of these girls, who I'd been working with for years, were going to be moving at the end of the summer, and I wanted to do something with them this summer that had the potential to change their lives. I talked to Joanne and asked if I could take turns bringing one teenager each class, and of course, she agreed. But then the kids all wanted to come; they didn't want to take turns. I felt like I needed to bring these kids to as many classes as I could, so I usually ended up with anywhere from four to six kids each morning. Some days it was the last thing I wanted to do, but by the end of class, it always felt worthwhile."
As the news of Katie spread, Susan began hearing from her friends, with one message: We want to finish Katie's 30-day challenge for her. Can we?
So early on the morning of July 25, Susan made the rounds again. The group this time was quiet and somber as together they shed tears and remembered their friend. When they arrived in the studio, Susan briefly explained the situation to Joanne, who absolutely supported the idea. In fact, halfway through class, Joanne stopped teaching long enough to mention to everyone in attendance that she felt Katie was there, finishing her challenge along with her friends. After class, everyone posed for a picture and they printed out a list of all those in attendance. Katie's parents displayed the photo and the list of class members, along with her yoga mat and 30-day challenge sticker chart, at her funeral.
"Yoga meant that much to Katie," observes Susan, who spoke at the funeral and feels that yoga played a significant role in each of those teenagers' lives this summer. "They learned they could do hard things," she says, "and they learned to they could finish what they start." Two of the teens have finished their own 30-day challenge, and two more plan to finish their challenges this week. By the end of the summer, all but one of these teenagers will have moved away and moved on, leaving Susan with precious memories of a summer devoted to service to others and making a difference where it mattered most.
"Susan is absolutely amazing in her commitment to these young teenagers," says Joanne. "She cares about them and is devoted to doing all she can. Watching her do so much for them--and seeing them change throughout the summer--was inspiring. And to have it all come together in this experience where these friends wanted to help Katie finish her challenge is something I'll never forget."
And Susan expresses the same feelings for Joanne and those at the studio. "These kids felt so special at the studio," she says. "Brick Canvas is a beautiful place, an elegant place, and you could tell when they walked in, they were impressed. And then to be so warmly greeted by everyone. . . they felt accepted and wanted and appreciated. To be part of something like that is something they'll never forget."