I craned my neck looking anxiously for the right shuttle at Los Angeles International Airport. Forty-five minutes of waiting caused my neck and back to hurt. Never mind that a 50-pound backpack strapped to my 5’2” frame and an equally heavy suitcase stood next to me. Where was the damn hotel shuttle?! I had only one hour left to register, settle into my hotel room, meet my roommate, and buy groceries for the week!
When the shuttle arrived, the driver helped with my bags and half jokingly said his back broke due to the heavy weight. With embarrassment, I found a seat and started picking up the conversations around me.
I‘ve been practicing for 2 years.
I live in Vancouver. How about you; where are you from?
My husband has been very supportive of my decision.
It was the chatter of Bikram yogis arriving to attend 9 weeks of full-time teacher certification. Many were smiling. Some already seemed to be best friends as they talked about the family and pets they left behind, the homes they wouldn’t see, and how they got to this point. Some kept to themselves. I decided to do the same.
The main lobby of the Radisson LAX Hotel resembled an ant colony. Four hundred yogis descended upon the hotel simultaneously, all seemingly moving with purpose. Some pulled large suitcases, others hauled bags of groceries and boxes of coconut water and bottled water. We looked like refugees, carrying the few possessions we had and stocking up on food to last for weeks.
This frenzy brought me back to moving day on my first day at college. What the hell did I get myself into? I am too old for this. But then I saw the welcome sign with Bikram Choudhury in the spine twist posture. The words “teacher training” beneath his contorted image reassured me that I was in the right place. I chose to be here…and paid an exorbitant amount of money to do so.
In the sea of yogis, I looked around for Lala, my roommate. We had never met in person, only on Twitter. Online, we would passionately exchange tweets about food, Filipino culture, and Bikram yoga. She seemed like my perfect match but would our online harmony translate into good roommate material? Maybe she had a weird crazy habit. Maybe she would drive me up the wall. I thought I had written off temporary roommates after deciding to have a permanent one by getting married. It’s funny how life turns out sometimes. My phone vibrated. It was Lala. She texted saying she was returning from the Filipino grocery store and would see me soon.
Knowing nobody, I gathered my courage to explore the second floor of the hotel, which was solely dedicated to our group. The registration line snaked around the 250-square foot room. The chatter of yogis created a loud, indistinguishable noise. Zico representatives were giving away free coconut water. A Trader Joes’ rep gave away free reusable shopping bags. Interested in weekly bottled water delivery? Laundry service? Sign ups were available! This feels like a convention.
When Lala arrived with the groceries, we also snuck in our most precious contraband: a microwave. The hotel did not allow us to cook in the room but we did not care. We borrowed the microwave to save our sanities. Otherwise, we would be forced to share TWO microwaves with 400+ other yogis all eating at the same time in a designated common room. Oh, hell no.
Lala and I arranged our hotel room to accommodate our needs for the next 9 weeks. The writing table became the prep area for food. The desk lamp and telephone shared space with the rice cooker, mini grill, and electric water kettle. Two dresser drawers held our clothes but a third dresser held dried and canned food, ramen noodles, seaweed packs, condiments, and teas. We hid the microwave under a wooden luggage rack whose surface held the dish rack and coffee maker. The surface of our mini-fridge served as our hydration center where our Brita pitcher sat along with our towers of shame (more on that later). We pinned two ends of a clothesline to the window curtains to hang the two sets of yoga clothes we would both use daily.
Knowing that we had a lot of unpacking still left to do, we begrudgingly headed back to the second floor for orientation. Seats in the conference room were arranged theater style and faced a stage in the center. Three 2×3 framed portraits flanked the stage, each depicting an Indian man. Two of them had a fake lei of flowers draped over the top.
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship is on the left and on the right is Bishnu Gosh, younger brother of Paramhansa Yogananada and Bikram’s guru.
The third portrait portrayed Bikram sitting shirtless in lotus position atop a tiger rug, both of them staring at you with a steady gaze. I met Bikram once in May 2010 and during that first meeting, I thanked him for creating this yoga series that healed my knee. I told him it was my goal to one day become a teacher. Two years later, that dream became a reality. I looked around for the man who would be my guru but Bikram and his wife, Rajashree, were out of town. Instead, we were greeted by their daughter and other senior teachers.
After the usual logistical housekeeping items, they prepared us for the intense physical, emotional, and mental journey ahead. Regardless of what lay ahead, we were advised to “trust the process.”
Little did I know that this phrase would be my daily mantra for the next 9 weeks.
Photo of Paramahansa Yogananda is courtesy of Eladio Garrido. All photos of the hotel room are courtesy of Lala P.