“When you set out for Ithaka, hope that your journey is a long one.”
Yoga took me completely by surprise nearly ten years ago. Shortly after the opening of the Windermere building, I took a quick walk around to see what new businesses had opened in it. There was the lovely Sellwood-Moreland Bikram yoga studio. Lots of very sweaty but very happy looking people were spilling out into the chilly February air.
I thought myself to be fit and worked out nearly daily at a gym. I had vaguely heard of “hot yoga” and had dismissed it with very little further thought. A few yoga classes here and there in my past hadn’t particularly inspired me. That day, however, I went into the studio, talked with Douglas, the owner, and returned for a 5 PM class. It was packed and hot. To say that the experience was challenging would minimize how difficult it was for me, but I knew as I left that room that I had to come back and that something big had just happened in my life.
I was working at that time as a physician and was chief in a large oncology (cancer medicine) practice. Much of the experience I shared with my patients had to do with finding strength and not letting disease become the defining condition of existence. In this yoga practice, I was amazed to find the very same intentions. I couldn’t muscle my way to balance, to functional strength or to flexibility. But I could keep coming back, listen to my teachers’ words and know that the reality of balance, strength and flexibility was already within me and would emerge in time as part of the state of being that is yoga. While those conditions first appeared as steadier and more satisfying postures, the presence of balance, strength and flexibility as conditions of existence began to shape my life off the mat as well.
Yoga ignited a passion and excitement from that first class. I couldn’t stop practicing yoga, thinking about yoga, reading about yoga. I encouraged my patients to begin a yoga practice when possible. I love to share what excites me with others, so it wasn’t long before I knew that one day I would have to teach this yoga.
Teacher training for Bikram yoga is a 9 week course, and taking that much time from my practice would have been impossible. I made the decision to retire from medicine earlier than had been my initial intention and to go to teacher training. The move from medicine to teaching yoga hasn’t been as dramatic a change as you might imagine. In both situations, I have the honor of helping people to find what is strong within them and defining themselves in terms of that strength.
The journey to yoga will be a long one, a journey that both lasts the rest of my life and one that will continue to shape my life as long as it lasts.