Story Misses the Mark

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Regarding the recent Gazette article title: “Bikram Yoga Puts Sweat Over Spirituality in a Heated Workout:”

Wikipedia defines Spirituality as: “Matters of the Spirit.” The definition of Spirit is cited as: “Spirit, like soul, forms a natural part of a being: such people may identify spirit with mind, or with consciousness.”

Often misused and completely misunderstood, the word spirituality is commonly used among definitions within different styles of yoga. Every individual has her own definition of what spirituality is and some use the word without being able to define it. It is my belief that spirituality is a feeling of connectedness to all which is, as well as God, if you may believe in such. It is something that one can feel at any given moment at any given time. It can be cultivated through martial arts, dance, meditation, laughter, any style of yoga or for no particular reason at all. Since it is a feeling, and feelings are experienced in the body, any form of bodily movement could possibly increase one’s sense of spirit. One does not have to study a religion or talk of different gods or goddesses to experience their own spirituality. Spirituality is very personal as it is sensed in the mind and felt in the body. It is something many belief systems talk about, however you must experience and interpret spirituality on your own.

I have been practicing and teaching Bikram hot yoga for eight years and often hear it explained as a physical practice which does not address spirituality. When an instructor asks a student to look at their own eyes in the mirror, what part of that is not spiritual? When one is told to focus the mind on relaxed breathing, what better way to experience spirit? When the mind is brought into the body for 90 minutes, how does a mind-body connection not lead to spirit? Morals, codes of conduct and the worshipping of gods is considered a religion. Hatha yoga is not a religion and it is only as spiritual as you make it. If you continuously search for the negative aspects throughout class you will not find spirit. If you compare it to something else you feel is better, then it is lost. Hatha yoga is a practice, not a discussion. The only way for you to experience it is through regular practice, three times a week. If you do not continue with a regular practice you have no authority to make uneducated judgments about something you don’t quite understand.

The author states, “For those not shopping for a new lifestyle but simply want to improve their physical health, one option is Bikram.” I challenge anyone to practice Bikram yoga three times a week for one year and tell me it only changed their physical health. If that is so, I will give you a full refund for the entire year. I encourage you to speak with someone who has practiced regularly for a year and tell them it is only physical practice, that it does not change their lifestyle. Also, I see no relevance addressing gender, as this article did, as it is of no importance. All people in our class are practicing human students. Bikram hot yoga studios are not required to be kept at 105 degrees or hotter. This is simply a mistake by the author. Studios should be between 90 and 105 degrees. Anything hotter is set forth by each particular studio owner’s beliefs. The class is designed to take the spine in all ranges of motion to improve the health of your body. Bikram does not “drain both emotionally and physically‚“ as the story reports. In fact, most students report a considerable feeling of wellness and happiness as well as giving them energy for their workday and taking care of their families. The author’s invitation to look around the room and judge the physical characteristics of students (cited in the fifth paragraph) is insulting and I am astonished that it was allowed to be published.

Bikram Chouldhury has taken great care to keep his yoga the way he came to learn it at the young age of seven. No one can possibly question his intentions on trademarks unless they studied with his Guru Bishnu Gosh at that early age. He never claimed to own yoga. He only developed the Bikram yoga series to preserve his lineage from Calcutta, India. This was done so Americans would not change it into something generic and ruin something very special. Which, unfortunately, you see happening all over the United States. The focus on the negative is only a result of the success of the style. Bikram is the most widely practiced style in the world; no one can deny this. More people practice Bikram than any other style of yoga, which apparently makes Internet bloggers unhappy. Bikram owns an antique automobile repair and restoration shop. He loves old vehicles, so of course he owns them. This love extends back to being a poor child in India and having a fascination with cars of that time. Now he can afford to collect them. If you owned a furniture shop I’m sure you would have a beautifully decorated home. Why focus on the irrelevant, unimportant attributes of a man who has worked so hard to provide our country with health and to educate the western world to the true roots of yoga.

The author did not practice 100 classes at Vineyard Yoga and obviously missed the true sense of the practice. The only thing monotonous is the author’s regurgitation of opinions of something she does not understand. I really hope that if a story is done in the future an actual instructor is interviewed. I also hope that the Gazette takes more consideration in the repercussion of negative statements toward Island-owned businesses. I was born and raised on this Island and every publication has supported me with great editorials up until now. The students who practice regularly at Vineyard Yoga do not support this article and we all hope to see a correction as soon as possible.

Andy Estrella

West Tisbury

Andy Estrella owns Vineyard Yoga and is a certified Bikram yoga instructor.

More Than a Workout

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I am the hot yoga instructor at Vineyard Yoga and I am writing in response to the comments made in reference of this style of yoga.

First, the room is, most certainly, heated to the same temperature as Bikram yoga.

Second, we don’t judge our classes “by intensity,” so this statement is completely irrelevant to us here at the studio.

Lastly, I have practiced Bikram yoga and hot yoga faithfully for the last three years and it is so much more than a workout. It has brought so much clarity to both my professional and personal life. The benefits that are achieved physically are merely a bonus . . . I would really hope that if you write a story again about this topic, you interview teachers and students who practice Bikram and hot yoga regularly.

Kristin Hall

West Tisbury

Inspiration, Not Sweat

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I do believe the Gazette article on Bikram yoga would have been helped immensely by interviewing, not only the trained instructor, but those who practice it. Bringing body and mind together, focusing on one’s own body, learning its strengths, its weaknesses and establishing goals in line with your own abilities in this hot room, exercises both muscle and soul, often producing a sense of well-being and oneness, not to mention emotional release. These sensibilities, physical and mental, extend far beyond the classroom, and serve as guideposts in the larger context of life. Those of us who come to this room compete only with ourselves and, when we do look to others in that mirror, it is for inspiration. If all the author saw was the sweat, I would say she totally missed the Bikram boat.

Rosemary Stimola

West Tisbury