Before becoming a yoga instructor, Harlemite Stephanie Pope Caffey was a dancer in New York City and Los Angeles. In this article, she tells us how she started practicing Bikram yoga.
Q: How and when did you discover Bikram yoga?
A: I discovered Bikram yoga over 20 years ago. I was a dancer on Broadway for a long time, but decided to move to Los Angeles to see what I could do with my career there. While there, my colleagues suggested that I try this "wacky" yoga class-Bikram yoga. It was at a time when there weren't a lot of Bikram yoga studios so the class was at the Bikram yoga headquarters. It was also sort of exclusive and you had to be invited to come in because the founder (Bikram Choudhury) didn't advertise the classes. On any given day when you walked in, you might see celebrities like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Quincy Jones, or Raquel Welch. I realized why they looked so good-because they were doing Bikram yoga! So, I was invited, tried it, and fell in love with the class. It worked for me because I came from a dance background and liked the discipline of Bikram yoga-I practiced almost every day for several years.
At that point, Bikram Choudhury didn't even train others to be teachers, but he was starting to think about it because he suggested that I become a teacher. I was working on my dance career then and didn't know anything about yoga so I didn't want to be a teacher. I kept it in the back of my head though. When I moved back to New York, there weren't a lot of Bikram yoga studios in New York City so I would practice Bikram yoga on my own whenever I could-if I was dancing in a show, it would be my warm-up. If someone knew Bikram yoga, we would do it together. But it wasn't until 1999 or 2000 that a studio opened up downtown. I started practicing consistently and was inspired by it again. At that point, I knew I wanted to teach it and went to training as soon as I could. Soon, I realized I wanted to bring it to my hometown so I opened up Bikram Yoga East Harlem and the rest is history.
Q: What is your favorite part of being a yoga instructor?
A: It's the enjoyment I get as people coming to my classes change over time. Sometimes, people walk through the door and I'm barely able to see their faces because whatever life has dealt them, they wear it as a mask. As they come in and practice yoga, whatever they're hiding behind peels away. All of a sudden, I see a face, I see eyes, I see a smile, I see a body, and I see a glow. I see this whole new person emerge out of a cocoon, and I love it. I did theatre for a long time and loved it, but you're on a stage looking into a dark audience so you don't see how you're affecting people. At my yoga studio, the lights are on, I'm there every day, and I see how this yoga, not me, is affecting these people in a very positive way and changing their lives. It's the most amazing thing in the world.
Bikram Yoga East Harlem is located at 4 E. 116th Street between 5th and Madison Avenues (on the 2nd and 3rd floors). Visit the studio's website for class schedules and more information about Bikram yoga!