I’ll never forget that time back in 2011, when in the magical land of Brooklyn, I took my first Bikram class with a teacher that will remain unnamed. Let me be clear, this wasn’t my first class. At that point, I’d been practicing Bikram yoga for about 4 years, and teaching it for about 3. No, this story is about the first time I took class with said teacher. And the wild way in which my life changed.
I don’t remember what she said. There isn’t a particular episode or quote that sticks out from that class. But I remember, for the first time since I’d begun navigating the Bikram world, finally landing in someone’s class where I was given full permission to practice my practice. I had no idea what I’d been missing out on all those years!
I’ve loved Bikram yoga from the get-go and I love how it makes me feel. Up until then, I had been practicing the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises in a hardcore, olympic-training-style kind of way. During class, I followed teachers’ instructions to a T and when they said “push more” I’d push more. Around that time, I even recall making a New Year’s resolution to “nail down” a specific posture by a specific time. I practiced daily to make this happen, with tenacity and drive. Oftentimes I’d take “doubles” (back-to-back classes), and this would be in addition to teaching as well. I’d spend anywhere from 90 minutes to 4 hours in the hot room on any given day. I attended a bootcamp-style training as well, on more than one occasion, and I even trained for a competition. Yup: I went up on stage in front of judges and performed x amount of postures, in a competition. (Sigh. Yes, it’s a thing.)
As you can imagine, the way I practiced Bikram yoga informed the way I taught it.
It was easy to be enamored by the idea of being a “hot, hard teacher.” There were so many of them in NYC. Gorgeous instructors who kept the room really hot and commanded rooms of 40-80 sweaty students, telling them what to do and how to do it. I tried to emulate the teaching style of those I admired. I tried to be one of those “hot, hard teachers”. And my ego was totally on board. Let me tell you- it takes great stamina, trust in self, a healthy dose of bitchiness, and proper projection to teach Bikram yoga in the city that never sleeps. Bikram yoga is so fucking hard, and it’s so hot, and motivating New Yorkers to do it took all of that and more. And so for those first few years, I worked really hard to be both hot and hard.
Until… until that class in Brooklyn. It singlehandedly undid all those years of hard hardcore work. And I was magnetized by it. From then on, I made it a point to begin practicing with this teacher on a regular basis. I began to dissect her class. I noticed she gave us so much space to do our thing, to breathe, and she never ever rushed us. She never told us to take the posture to where she thought we could take it, but always invited us to explore it and do it any amount. She understood that people heard what they were ready to hear when they were ready to hear it. She effortlessly balanced a class with several seasoned practitioners and first-time newbies. It was wild to be in her class, because people listened and showed up in such a different way. Little by little, I began to unlearn what I’d been doing all those years. And there was something so extraordinarily healing in all of this.
I learned to slow down. I focused less on how the postures looked, and more on how they felt. My breathing techniques, my concentration, and my set ups became my priorities. How I moved throughout the class, and in between postures, became my meditation. I stopped caring about depth. Get this- I even learned how to feel not just good, but straight up amazing while practicing Bikram yoga. My practice became my art. I made it beautiful and it felt amazing. I figured out how to make this super hard, uncomfortable and hot experience into a pleasure-soaked 90 minutes.
Crazy thing is that looking back, I clearly see how my Bikram practice was a mirror for how I lived my life.
During the first few, let’s call them “hardcore” years, I was simultaneously trying to start a career in the museum field. When I wasn’t busting my ass in the hot room, I was studying for the GREs, interning at a museum in Chelsea, then later on going full speed in grad school, and spending countless hours at the library working on my thesis. I had a clear vision of becoming a successful museum curator who got paid to travel, and in order to get there, I thought I had to live in a linear, go-go-go, masculine-driven, whatever-it-takes, goal-oriented chaotic box. I was stressed out of my mind, but the destination seemed worth it.
Luckily for me, a few months before landing in that Brooklyn class, the Goddess had already come a’knocking. The feminine, the non-linear, the mystical, the magical; all that which had been scrubbed nearly clean from my spirit not just over my life, but from the collective over lifetimes. Little by little, She began to beckon and allure me into her wild, magical world. First, it was with a Qoya class. Then, I ended up at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. At one point, I flew out to Chicago for a woman’s circle, which I had somehow found on the internet. Seeds were planted with each new experience. And the more I dove in, the less I cared about becoming a museum curator or a hot, hard teacher. By the time I took that class in Brooklyn, it became easy to walk away from the museum world, the competitive Bikram world, and begin exploring these other things that had come into my life.
Bikram yoga taught me the art of masculine linear discipline. And that in and of itself is really good medicine. But that’s only one side of the coin. Qoya taught me to trust my body, and trust the movements that feel good. The School of Womanly Arts taught me to squeeze as much pleasure out of life as I could. Women’s circles opened the door to spiritual work. Bringing feminine aspects into my Bikram practice and teaching has been a true gift.
I love being able to share with others what that Brooklyn teacher once shared with me.
A friend of mine recently shared a quote I’ve been carrying around in my heart: “The Universe rewards you for taking risks on its behalf.”
Walking away from my nascent museum career, and unable to explain to my family what I would do next, was a huge risk. All I knew was that I had to follow the yearning in my heart for the feminine, for the Goddess, for women’s work. I truly had no idea where this would lead me.
Fast-forward 6-ish years: I’m now the right-hand lady to a savvy business couple who are investing their heart, wallet + soul on a hot yoga festival. The hot yoga community has been undergoing its own transformations, its own ups and downs, and we now find ourselves creating much-needed sacred space for these folks. We get to invite amazing teachers, who also understand the yoga from a therapeutic perspective, to come share their gifts and hold space with us.
So remember that quote, about risks and rewards?
The festival is called One Fire Fest, and its new headquarters are in the Mexican Riviera. I am literally getting paid to travel and go hang out with amazing people, and I’m applying my museum-curator skills to my marketing practices. So in the end, I still end up doing what I wanted to do, it just looks way different than what I thought it would look like.
It gets better.
Right off the coast where One Fire will take place is Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women), which happens to be where the goddess Ixchel was worshipped once upon a time. During my journey into women’s circles and the feminine, I was guided to this Goddess and have since taken her name as my last name. I’d been trying to plan a trip to this island for years. And it’s finally happening this November. I’m heading down a few days before the festival, so I can spend my birthday on the island.
I convinced my Brooklyn teacher to come teach at One Fire. And (wink), I will also be leading Qoya during the festival.
So, one thing led to another and next thing I know, all the things I love, my aspirations for my career and for travel, all of it and then some, is mushed up into one big thing I call my life.
Cheers- To taking risks. And to one thing leading to another!