The Story of My First Bikram Class
I first heard about Bikram Choudhury and his Yoga College of India in the heart of Beverly Hills and also of his famous clientele through an actress friend. We met at the class one afternoon. I really went “to be seen" or, embarrassingly enough, to be, "discovered" maybe…. and yes, this Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class was chock full of celebrities and show biz moguls. I spotted familiar TV personalities, a famous director, and two superstars right away... "Yippee, I am going to be seen and make some contacts in the show biz world I thought, almost out loud..." I placed my 106 lb youthful body smack dab, front row center.
I walk confidently into the classroom with all the hubris of youth and beauty, my big 70’s hair and makeup, bracelets up my arm; an attitude of superiority. I was young and full of ambition and (false) confidence. I stood upfront-center wearing simply a Danskin leotard --no tights; (the rule in the studio then: bare legs.) I spotted movie stars Raquel Welch and Shirley McLain, and became instantly star-struck and distracted, staring at them in the mirror. Suddenly a young Indian guy with a Speedo bounces into the 105-degree heated and windowless room rattling off commands in an accent so thick it was impossible to follow sometimes and he couldn't care less. We began with this crazy breathing exercise moving our arms up and down like birds, while Bikram made exhaust-like sounds from deep in his throat to demonstrate: not too lady-like either. Remember, yoga was not known by the general public at that time, and pranayama breathing was even more obscure. Within 10 minutes I was sweating profusely, face paint melting down onto my chest, my mascara blinding me, moaning, dizzy and falling, humiliated beyond belief as Bikram yelled and screamed about my “junk body” and lack of concentration; carrying on about "my spoiled American life." “Why are you making these disgusting sounds?” He quipped at me as I let out little whimpers, then yelled, “Quiet in my class. Concentrate!” I was grabbing this and that, balancing and stretching and pushing my spine into flexion and extension and flexion and extension ....All of a sudden the class was over after blowing out air for 120 counts on our knees, looking like fish our of water.... I wondered outside, soaked and reddened and was experiencing a dreamy, expansive, and weirdly euphoric feeling. The dusk air was fragrant with aromas of blooming gardenias and warm winds that spring night as I glided with what felt like the juiciest hips ever! The crunch under my feet of sawdust on the floor of a restaurant I entered emitted a woody odor I never noticed previously. All of my senses were heightened. I felt pure bliss. I was hooked. Little did I imagine what a long amazing journey I had begun that day!
There were no sticky mats (not invented yet) or water bottles (water fountain was upstairs…if you dare leave the room,) so we stand there with a small white towel, and nearly naked bodies, seeing ourselves in the front mirrors under the glare of fluorescent lights; very vulnerable; not too glamorous; and oh, the odor…"Can this really be Beverly Hills? Is that really the glamorous Raquel Welch without makeup and all sweaty already?"
I fell in and out of love with Bikram Yoga many times. I'd go-go-go, push-push-push, and then run away and try other forms. I always came back though, looking for the heat and intensity of the Bikram series. I was "discovered" that fateful day alright-- ! Bikram watched me twist and turn, boiling in a caldron of illusion during those early years in Hollywood. During many a late-night call, I’d share with Bikram (who was more accessible in those early years) my tears, rage, men problems, my insecurities- fears. He’d simply say, “Dali, (my name in his broken English) you come do yoga every day for 10 days ... Maybe two classes a day ... I promise you will forget all this stupid bullshit (he is blunt). In the end when dates with movie stars are over, and parties get little boring, phone stops ringing …, when you are older and husband gone, only one thing remains: This Yoga. That is my gift to you. Best gift anyone ever give you…”
Also in the archive...
A Love Letter/Eulogy