Day 112 of Thanks!

Arbitrary moment of celebration!  Woo hoo, being grateful rocks.  Berkeley and Harvard weren’t kidding around . . .

And since I missed yesterday, this blog features two sources of thankspiration:

1. Fortune cookies that tell me to spoil myself!

fortuneme

2. Bikram Mo’ Fo’ Yoga!

Sure, the man who started Bikram yoga is a bit of a ponce for copyrighting his sequence, trademarking his name, and raising a ruckus up in the yoga world.  BUT, his offering to the community is a fabulous antidote to this cold devil winter up in here.  I’ve been dipping into a few random Bikram studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, thanks to the Yoga Passbook – 400-something yoga classes for a mere $80.  Livin’ la vida Brokelyn.

A few old Bikramy posts from Kathmandu and Dublin on Yoga Lovin’

bikramyoga

Bikram in Kathmandu

(written April, 2009)

For some reason, since teaching in Thailand, I’ve had a really hard time getting back into my daily practice without the help of a video or scheduled class. This is a bit worrying as the most important aspect of yoga is of course … practice! You can wax lyrical about the physical and psychological benefits, you can ponder for lifetimes the spiritual implications, but if you’re not doing the breath-work, the postures, the meditation, it’s all in vain.

Kathmandu is not a “yoga destination” per se, but I know I can always count on a Bikram class to spark a fire under my ass. My first Bikram experience was in a smelly East End studio in London. I’d had a big break up, my PR career was looking to come to a close, and the grey weather seemed to be slowly closing in on me with every waking day. And then … serendipity! I found a “30 days for 30 pounds” deal and in just a few classes, I was hooked.

I woke up at 5:30 am every morning to get my fix. My depression lifted, my spirits rose, my body looked fab-u-lous! I was lucky enough to have amazing teachers – they were all psychologist-yogis or masseuse-yogis, and for the first time in my practice I started to see analogies between the mat and my “real” life. “Joanne, you’re very flexible but you need to watch your alignment and control.” True enough!

In cold weather, there’s nothing better than a Bikram class to brighten your heart and mind, so I decided to hit up Bikram in Kathmandu tonight and kick some booty in the sweatbox of bliss. Its health benefits have been a real blessing. My first few days in Kathmandu I felt so congested from the dust and pollution, I thought I might be getting an official crud. After one class, I was golden. I woke the next day in a bright cheery mood, and my sinuses were no longer the L.A. traffic jam of mornings past. I even felt my body temperature had healthily adjusted to the cold climate here (cold, relative to Thailand)!

So, I’m back. And today I’m wearing hot pants and a sports bra, nothing outlandish, just the normal garb for these kindsa classes. Normally, I’m all good in my little Bikram outfit. Unfortunately, today, the exposure of my Buddha belly brings up all kinds of body-conscious junk from the nether regions of my brain.


Looks like I’m not the only one with a Buddha Belly.

Argh! Why am I wasting energy thinking about my body? This mirror thing is far too distracting and the pre-class warning from the girl next to me rings in my ears like a eye-to-my-soul-style-curse: “Yeah, I don’t like that spot. Too many mirrors, it must be some kinda psychological effect.” Shoulda taken the hint!

The way I see it, this is just an intense experience of mental cleansing. For me, the most interesting aspects of yoga are those tools we can take off the mat and onto the streets. The chakras are fascinating, of course, Sanskrit and mantras truly moving, and the feeling after a good asana class is just heavenly. But unless you’re prepared to enter the life of a Sanyasin (those who give up material goods, don the robes and do nothing but philosophy studies and meditation) – you’re likely in the realm of what yogis call the “householder.” You have a family (nuclear or not!), a home of sorts, responsibilities, reputation & hopefully abundance (give it up, Lakshmi!).

So the tools we learn in the studio, we take with us on our daily adventures. When faced with self-criticism, breathe into the tension and tell that ego to take it easy. Become the eye of the storm (or, the madman on the back of one of your students —>)

But let’s get back to Bikram. The practice has a bad rep, especially since its founder, Bikram Choudhry, took action to copyright the particular sequence of asanas offered under the name “Bikram Yoga.” As far as I’m concerned, fair enough.

Granted, calling a sequence your own and making millions off yoga isn’t exactly how the holy men of the past envisioned the practice evolving. But the fact is, most of the way Americans practice yoga is so far from the original mark, you have to start asking yourself the question: Like all spiritual sciences, wasn’t yoga bound to change with the times? Afterall, hundreds of studios were copying exactly what Bikram spent years perfecting, putting their own name on top of it and making their own easy buck. That’s hardly fair.

Actually, Bikram Yoga has a pretty interesting history. Bikram Choudhry was a champion yoga competitor in India for many years. When he experienced a debilitating injury due to a weightlifting accident, Bikram consulted with his teacher Bishnu Gosh, brother of Pramahansa Yogananda, author of “Autobiography of a Yogi” and world-renowned Kriya master. Bikram worked closely with Bishnu Gosh to repair his serious injury, even when doctors predicted he would never walk again. After some serious effort and dedication, through yoga, Bikram healed himself. He was then instructed by his master to go to the West and spread the word of yoga. Bikram took quite a modern scientific approach to the practice and spent years in Japan studying the physiological effects of many asanas. The result of his efforts: 26 key postures, sequenced with great care to ensure all systems of the body experience the extreme transformational effects of yoga asana practice.

Although Bikram classes are usually pretty expensive ($30 in Bangkok – what?!), with the cost of overhead and the reliable quality, it’s my own opinion you’re getting your money’s worth.

The teachers at the studio here in Kathmandu are really friendly and know their stuff (the owner is Mohan, a Nepali man who lived in the States for several years. At the time of writing, Ryan is the other teacher, a lovely Canadian with 10 years practice under his belt). The class is clean and free from the common toe-jam odors in most other studios I’ve visited! And as an added cherry atop an already delicious Sunday, you can refill your water bottle at no extra charge. My only suggestion would be bigger shower rooms for the ladies, though the wait’s always a nice way to get to know your fellow sweat-soaked classmates!

Bikram Yoga is located in Kathmandu at the Sagarmartha Bazar in Thamel above Cafe Kaldi (on Mandala Street). Classes are at 7am and 6:30pm Monday through Friday, 4pm Saturdays and 6pm Sundays. The cost ranges from $8-$12/class, depending on the package and towels and showers are provided.

Enjoy, I definitely did!

The Lo-Down on Bikram Yoga Kathmandu (scores out of 10)
Reception 10 A tiny space full of warm smiles, all the info a new student needs, and best of all: free water refills. Sweet!
Décor/Atmosphere 7.5 Very basic. What they lack in aesthetic they make up for in friendliness!
Cleanliness 8 The pile of towels in the bathroom was pretty nasty, but it’s all relative. A) It’s Bikram and B) We’re in bloody Nepal
Changing Rooms 7 Super small, not easy to shower or change, which is a very special consideration for Bikram classes
Teaching – Personality 9 Created an open atmosphere, smiled often, made jokes, but not too often :o)
Teaching – Knowledge 9 Great asana instruction with attention to alignment and breath, didn’t just go through the script as many Bikram teachers do
Location 10 Poifect! Right in the heart of the city.
Class Selection 8 Bikram is Bikram but would have liked more choices in times
Store N/A
Overall Vibe 9 Great people, sweet location, excellent instruction. The size of the studio is *tiny* but seemed to be the right size for the number of students.

Yogi Convert Brings Bikram to Dublin City

As any studio-owner will testify, offering yoga may be a fulfilling endeavor, but it sure ain’t easy! Every day, more and more studios are popping up in every environment from urban sprawls to country barnyards. As the head honcho, days are quickly consumed by mat cleaning, tax forms, plumbing issues, marketing strategies, a looming recession and managing those rather free-spirited (read: “flaky”) teachers.

On October 17th I decided to celebrate my birthday with a Bikram yoga sesh. After 3 months of seeing friends and family, bringing in the New Year with a hot dose of serious asana was exactly what this naughty yogi needed!

The 26 sweatiest postures you’ll ever get yourself into!

Back in my consultancy days, yoga studio clientele were the best and worst customers. They were incredibly passionate about what they were doing, and often showed the most ingenuity when it came to making ends meet. But rarely did these brave purveyors of the yoga space have the tools or man-power at their disposal to take their project to the next level.

Luckily for Jenny Delvin, a former lawyer turned Bikram studio owner, the days are challenging, but the mission is grooving forward. One month into Bikram Yoga Dublin City’s debut on the local yoga scene, things are looking sweet.

“We have a fantastic location and a supportive community,” and with her life savings behind the investment, Jenny is well focused. “It has to make money, but for now, we’re making rent!”

Bikram Yoga Dublin City – in the middle of the goodness!

There were about twelve students in the class I attended last week, a typical Bikram program taught by a young and confident instructor. She exuded the ideal balance of Bikram’s trademark militant directions and a deep soothing voice (add to that mix a handful of “darlings” and “loves,” and you’ve got yourself a rather endearing teacher!).

Overall, it was a solid Bikram class. I’d experienced more of a standup comedy act in Tucson, and in London a distinctly psychological twist. I often indulge myself with Bikram classes to jump start a temporarily waning asana practice or sometimes as a tourist attraction. It makes a damn satisfying birthday present as well!

Bikram studio in Kathmandu (the photos in my old Indialoha blog aren’t working for some reason!)

Classes are not cheap at most Bikram studios, mainly due to high overhead costs (and a phenomenally large sum of mula for official teacher training), so expect to pay 18 euros as a drop-in student, and a few extra for towels and a mat. Thankfully, Bikram Yoga Dublin City, like most other Bikram joints, offers a great deal for first time students to the studio – 49 euros for 30 days, unlimited classes. Get on it, especially as the weather gets colder! You’ll find this addiction is worth keeping on board.

Bikram is a brilliantly challenging practice and though it has come under fire for not being suitable for beginners, with a caring teacher and a few precautions, Bikram can be enjoyed at any level. There are thousands of articles out there praising the practice for its quick results in terms of weight loss, strength, flexibility, improved skin, and even mood. But, like with any personal endeavor, it’s all about how the practice works with you as an individual.

On her way out the door, I caught up with Alison McMahon, a regular student at the studio, and asked her about her experience at BYDC.

“Bikram really changes your outlook on your body and exercise, and Jenny’s been very welcoming. She notices our individual progression and all the other teachers have been fantastic.”

Most of the teachers Jenny hired were friends from her own Bikram training so there’s a lot of cooperation, encouragement and laid back chatter in the shower room. A shower room which, by the way, boasts four individual showers with water-conserving faucets – kudos! We like a good dose of green consciousness when putting together a yoga space.

“The most stressful part was actually building the studio. Getting it absolutely right is vital: making sure the actual studio properly insulated and ventilated at the same time, dealing with regulations and compliance, lots of little hurdles!”

Though it’s no easy task to open a studio, Jenny’s labor of love has really added meaning and fulfillment to her already rich life. As a mother of three and a dedicated wife, Jenny has more than a few balls to juggle.

Jenny Delvin and her fabulous view of Dublin from BYDC

According to James Kelly, PhD Psychotherapist based in Dublin, “It’s really important to ease into starting a business slowly, and work into your plan a way to de-stress. Your feelings and your body will tell you when you have to do something to deal with your stressors, so they won’t become so overwhelming.”

Thankfully, Jenny’s very business is one of the best proven methods to reduce stress in modern times. Yogis train long and hard to develop internal awareness, while asana and pranayam are proven techniques in balancing the nervous system and reducing anxiety. According to Dr. Kelly, it’s absolutely vital to set aside times to address stress issues, especially for entrepreneurs, no matter the field.

Here are a few more tips if you’re thinking of starting your own yoga-venture.

1. Have intimate knowledge of your target audience. You may be passionate about something that not many people have an interest in, no matter how good you know it’ll be for them in the end. So be sure to research who you’re speaking to – and then find the right language with which to communicate your offering. There’ll be thousands of people looking for yoga in an urban space, but if you’re out in a suburb or somewhere rural, you may have to get creative to lure your yogis-to-be in the door!

2. Choose your location wisely. Jenny is smack dab in the middle of Dublin so she’ll receive substantial attention just from the sign on the door and word of mouth. If you’re looking at a less visible space, your marketing approach will have to excel in other ways.

3. Remember, this is a business. In the yoga world, we come across many a lost soul, and even a few chancers. Know when to be flexible and when to draw the line.

4. Create a solid communications strategy as a part of your business plan. Branding, fliers, press releases, online presence, advertisements, special offers, loyalty cards, the works! If you’re not a whiz at Photoshop, Dreamweaver and InDesign (or some non-Adobe equivalents), be prepared to hire designers and consultants with the experience and passion to get your yoga business out there.

5. Maintain positive mental health by having ample tools and outlets when stress comes your way. Just like the doctor ordered, don’t forget about your own practice when setting up your business. The health benefits, balance and bliss are probably some of the very reasons why you decided to share it with the world in the first place – you’ll need it now more than ever! While practicing at BYDC, I noticed Jenny joined in with us, and though she did need to leave the studio a few times to take care of business, she was still able to give herself a solid dose of yoga to get her through the day.

I highly recommend BYDC. It’s a no-frills urban space with a great view of some of downtown Dublin’s most classic architecture. The snug shower rooms are available to all practitioners, but be prepared for shelves rather than lockers when lugging your stuff with you to the studio. Expect a range of knowledgeable approachable teachers. And above all else, enjoy your practice!

Best of luck to Jenny and all the crew at Bikram Yoga Dublin City!

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