Ten years ago my life looked a lot different.
I was 25-years-old and living solo in San Francisco as a Bikram Yoga teacher. I hopped around from class to class, studio to studio, rocking my yoga hot pants and competing for my time on the Bikram stage.
When I taught, I stood on a podium in front of sometimes 50 people in a class, with mirrors behind me at every angle and a microphone tucked behind my ears and snugging my lips. I loved this scene—the heat, the sexiness, the power of playing with my voice and watching bodies move with each word that tumbled from my mouth.
I learned a lot about myself on that stage. I learned confidence. I learned to speak in front of a large group of people and to feel comfortable doing so. I learned the power of my voice, and how I could manipulate it so it was both strong and soft. I learned how to compose myself physically and how to hold space energetically so that people of all ages, stages, and body types felt comfortable in my class.
In a way, at 25-years-old on that Bikram Yoga stage, I found my sense of power.
With that newfound sense of power I started to unravel—unravel as myself. I started to do something out of character for a Bikram teacher: I began to share stories from my past—personal stories that I knew my students could relate to, stories of my journeys and struggles and how I was finding strength through yoga. I could see that my way of teaching resonated with people. Not only did they listen; they started to open up and share their own stories.
I realized I was touching people in a new way, not just through the 26 yoga postures, but through being personal and vulnerable. I began to build deep trust with my students, and it was healing to them. After class they would thank me for sharing, and they would come back for more. I felt like I was becoming the teacher I was meant to be.
But right as that magic was unfolding—right as I was finding myself and my voice as a yoga teacher—I was fired. I was kicked off that stage because I broke the rules.
You see, Bikram provides a 90-minute written dialogue, in Bikram’s own words, which teachers study
intently and are supposed to repeat verbatim in each class. We were taught to recite this dialogue to its perfection. On top of that, we were taught how to “be” in our classes. We were taught to speak a certain way, and to teach with a certain tone. We were, in other words, taught to fit the mold that Bikram created.
The problem arose when I started to unleash myself within Bikram’s structure. Within the rigor of his 26 postures, I learned to let out my own voice, instead of Bikram’s dialogue. I began to do what yoga naturally led me to do, which was to become more of who I am.
The person who fired me told me it was because I wasn’t following the rules. He said my voice “sounded like a song.” He didn’t like the way I taught. I was connecting with people authentically and compassionately, but it did not match the Bikram way.
While I give Bikram Yoga a lot of credit for helping me find my sense of power and my voice, and for helping me fall in love with yoga, teaching Bikram Yoga was not where my journey would end. I had to spread my wings and be in a place where I could teach and connect with my students in my own way—where my voice could be a song. For me this is the magic of yoga.
I have since created a method of teaching yoga where I lead through story. I continue to share my personal heartaches and struggles in order to give my students permission to open up and unravel themselves as they need to. I help my students feel seen and held. I help them open up and trust again.
Now, after teaching yoga to thousands of people over the past 12 years, I see that we all have one thing in common: we all want permission to unravel and become more of who we are. To me, supporting people on this journey is the true essence of yoga.
Author: Michelle Long
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Author’s own