After throwing up my hands saying "I don't know what to write!," I took a walk to the grocery store and realized exactly what I want to write. (Walking always helps me think!)
One of the very best things about Bikram yoga is the people who do it. I don't know what it is, exactly - a camaraderie, a bond, an understanding, a common desire, a shared experience, a mass psychosis (?) - but there's really something that holds us together. I've been a part of many different groups in my time - a church, a ballet company, a marching band, a high school, a sorority, a college, a summer math camp, a research group - and I never quite felt like I had found my People. But when I started really spending time in the Bikram yoga community, I had just one thought. "Holy crap. I think I've actually found my People."
And we're not quite normal people. To be perfectly honest, we're kind of a bunch of freaks. But in a brilliant way!
I hated high school. I don't know if I'll ever go to a high school reunion. But at these championship weekends, when all the generations of Bikram yoga teachers and students come together for a few days, I always think, "Wow, this is what a high school reunion would be like if you had really loved high school!" It's great. All the teachers get to catch up with friends from their teacher training classes. My friends from Fall Spring 2005 kept bragging about how they have the best TT class, because so many of them were there, including almost ALL of group one! They took a class picture with Bikram that had about 30 of them in it. Three or four of the women from that class had tiny babies in strollers this year. (Sarah Baughn's baby kept on stealing the show - I think she had about 15 babysitters, including Bikram, who adored her. He is GREAT with babies!!) It's actually more like a family reunion, except that the family has hundreds of people in it and none of them are related by blood. (Blood is thicker than water, but maybe sweat is thicker than blood!)
The whole thing is kind of a circus. You've got all the competitors in their leotards and nice hairstyles, running around in sweatpants looking focused. You've got the volunteers in red t-shirts (including me), running around trying to keep people from going OUT the "no exit" door or IN the "no entrance" door. You've got coaches giving last minute advice, judges working hard up at the front table, video guys trying to fix the live feed, and Bikram hanging out in his white disco suit having a great time. In the ballroom, when the competitors go on stage, you could hear a pin drop. Outside in the hallway, you've got all the different vendors. There were 3 or 4 different yoga wear companies, which put on amateur (but good!) fashion shows during the "commercial breaks." There was a guy selling "yoga swings" who looked like a refuge from a 1980's David Bowie movie and claimed to only sleep 1-3 hours a night because he spends so much time hanging upside-down. (No one's really sure who invited him.) There were some people selling an "oxygenated" yoga mat which, by Emmy's sardonic description, "is supposed to do all the work for you so that you don't have to work." Hilariously, Bikram bought one; he practiced with it during advanced class on Monday. Things that are supposed to start at 10am start at 10:30, and things that are supposed to start at 2pm start at 5:30, and the thank-you speeches last for an hour, and everyone has flashbacks to their teacher trainings.
And then there's the party. Every year, Bikram celebrates his birthday on an evening during the championships. (For the record, the actual date is Feb 10th.) The party includes a buffet of Indian food and some mind-boggling yoga demonstrations from the reigning yoga champions. And then Bikram gets ups and talks, and I can't remember half of it, but I laughed until I nearly cried. Because he knows how he is. He gets up there, already laughing, and says "You guys really want to hear my speech again?" Everyone thinks of their 5-hour teacher training lectures, laughs, and says "Yes!" Then he breaks out all his favorite lines and all his favorite stories. He says, "Having doesn't mean anything if you don't know how to...?" Two-hundred people call back "USE IT!" and he cracks up, legitimately delighted that we've been listening to him all these years, and then we crack up, because there's something honest and infectious about his laugh. I overheard a guy walking past me, talking to himself, saying "Thank God, he never changes."
And then there's the disco. It's everything that your awkward middle school dance never was! Bikram says, "I invented disco, I just took off the -theque." That man turned 60-something this year, and he still knows how to shamelessly get down. It's such pure, ridiculous, glorious silliness. I spent half the time just watching the dance floor, totally entertained by the craziness that is Bikram, but finally I grabbed a friend and jumped in. The DJ played "Celebration" - "Celebrate good times, come on!" - and we all sang the "Woo hoo!"s. At one point I was dancing next to Bikram. He started doing this little cross-over side-step, and Libby and I fell into step with him on his right while another girl fell into step on his left. It was too funny. This is our Boss. Who else can say that, besides a bunch of Bikram yogis?!
I love us...
EDITED TO ADD:
I met Cira on Sunday, and she's written some great stuff about her experience here. It was great to meet her, and a couple of other readers, too! Hi, guys! Thanks for making me feel slightly famous!! It was surprising and fun. :)
Also, when I say "Part 1," that means there is plenty more to come, so keep sending suggestions for things you'd like to hear about!