When Joanne Dehlin first tried Bikram Yoga, she didn’t love it—but she knew she needed it in her life. Now she is a certified instructor and director of her own yoga studio. She sees the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga, as well as the sense of community it fosters. “If you are in that place where you can love others and have the light of Christ,” Joanne says, “you are connected. You honor other people.”
How did you initially become interested in yoga?
I’ve always been worried about my weight. For years I tried everything, like running and working out with trainers. Almost eight years ago I did my first half marathon. When it was over I said, “I am never doing that again.” It was awful. My whole body hurt from my ankles to my hips to my knees and my heart. My sister asked me, “So, why do you run?” And I said, “Because I want to look good in shorts and I want to get the runner’s high.” But I never actually got the runner’s high. I worked with trainers and one of my trainers would always tell me that I needed yoga, because I am really inflexible. So I always had that in the back of my mind.
One day my sister-in-law told me about Bikram Yoga, which is hot yoga, and how it’s really good if you are inflexible because the heat helps that. So I thought, “This is it. I know I’m supposed to go do this.” So I go to my first class and it was the biggest joke. I laid on the floor probably half the time just thinking, “I’m going to die. Any minute I’m going to die.” I thought I wouldn’t sweat that much, but I was sweating like crazy and it was just this unbelievable experience. I definitely didn’t love it, but I knew I needed it. So I just stuck to it and did it every day for thirty days. My first teacher really inspired me and encouraged me to keep going.
It’s now the only exercise I do. It’s very complete, in my opinion. It’s good for weight loss and for detoxification of your soul and body. It’s cardiovascular. It gets your heart beating like crazy. It utilizes your own body weight for resistance. An hour and a half is a big chunk of time, but to me it’s just so complete. It’s like getting a facial and going to the chiropractor all at once, and I’m very into one-stop shopping.
What led to you becoming a yoga teacher and the director of your own yoga studio?
As I started getting into yoga more, people started asking, “When you are going to go to teacher training?” So I really started thinking about it. And my husband said, “You would be so great at owning your own studio.” So I decided that when I turned fifty, I was going to go to teacher training and open a studio.
The longer you live, you realize that coincidences really don’t happen; everything happens for a reason. Almost three years ago this summer, I was sitting on a bench in the Bikram Yoga studio in Sandy, Utah, after a yoga class one day, and this woman named Shelli Gardner started talking to me. She’s an amazing woman that owns an international scrapbooking company. We started chatting about yoga, and I told her about my goal to go to teacher training and own my own studio. So she said, “Well, how about if I build the studio and you go do all the training to become a teacher?” This was July of 2010. The world was falling apart economically. I was prepared to go to training in every way—spiritually, physically, mentally—but not financially. We had recently lost a business building custom homes, so I wasn’t ready that way. But she was. And she made up that difference. She is like my fairy godmother. Within two weeks, everything was set. She sponsored me and sent me to training and I was leaving my family to go on this journey.
You have to teach for six months and get 100 classes under your belt and become a certified teacher in order to be an owner of a studio. You can be privately financed, but Shelli couldn’t be my official partner, but rather just a financier, which is what she was willing to do. When I got back from training, I just started teaching a lot and Shelli built this 37,000-square-foot building centered around Bikram Yoga. The building also includes a day spa, a juice bar, and a salon. Everything in this building is dedicated to making you a better person and to help you feel better on the inside and outside. People have said that there is a spirit about this building that is just really unique. Sometimes you don’t want to throw around the word spirit—you can say an energy or a feeling, but that’s because we are all united in trying to create a certain environment that is very encouraging, positive, and uplifting. It’s just been the most amazing experience. People are inspired—they feel good when they are here.
How is Bikram Yoga different from other yoga philosophies?
Bikram Yoga is a form of hatha yoga. The word hatha stands for sun (ha) and moon (tha), so the sun and moon come together. Yoga is considered a union of the body, the spirit, and the mind. In India, where yoga first started, this is their religion. Their scriptures are full of yoga postures and the whole point of yoga postures was so that the priests could get themselves into the lotus pose, which is a very difficult position to sit in for long periods of time. That’s how the priests would meditate and that’s how they would ascend to that higher spiritual level. The postures of yoga would help them get to a point where they could stay in that position for many, many hours while maintaining control of the mind.
A man named Bikram Choudhury created a sequence of twenty-six yoga postures. The sequence is very structured and works through the entire body on a very physical level. It is always the same ninety-minute sequence. It seems like it would get boring after a while, but there is something very powerful about the sequence. We are creatures of habit, and we like to improve upon what we are doing. Eventually you can turn off your brain and just let the teacher’s words move your body. The heat is an important part of the sequence. The room is heated to 105 degrees, with forty percent humidity. The yoga room in my studio is as high-tech as it gets. The floor is heated to your body temperature. The heat has a lot of benefits—it makes you sweat, it makes your heart beat faster, and it makes you more limber. It’s such a great detox for your whole body. There are about 1,800 Bikram Yoga studios around the world.
How does yoga help women to feel more in tune with their bodies?
I think that when you look in the mirror, you face truth. During yoga class, you stand there looking at yourself in the mirror with minimal clothing, dripping with sweat, and for those ninety minutes the facade is gone. If you can look at yourself and be okay with who is looking back at you for an hour and a half—that is huge. For some women, they are looking everywhere but at themselves during class. They look at the ceiling, the floor, the people around them, but they don’t want to look at themselves. More disciplined and experienced students focus on themselves and don’t let anything distract them. They have learned to be okay with who they are. That’s a very difficult thing to do. We are always comparing ourselves to this person and that person. There is a lot of judgment that goes on in our own soul that has nothing to do with what everyone else thinks.
Yoga helps with weight loss, but it also helps with image. One student I have is this adorable girl that e-mailed me recently to thank me for encouraging her during class. She told me that she started coming to yoga to help her self-esteem. This girl is gorgeous. I would have never imagined in a million years that she would have a self-esteem problem. But she told me how much yoga is helping her to feel better about herself. I realized from that experience that you just can’t judge. You don’t know what people are going through.
What do you love most about teaching?
Teaching is an honor and a responsibility. I received a really great compliment from a woman who is also a Bikram Yoga instructor. I consider her a mentor. She said, “I have learned so much from you because you connect with your students, and you are so kind to them that they would do anything for you.” Every teacher has a different personality and a different style. But as a teacher, even if you are trying to correct something, you still encourage your students at the same time.
What I realize now as a teacher is that people have emotional releases while doing yoga. Some of the postures are a little vulnerable and people will sometimes start to cry in class. It’s very healthy to detox on an emotional level as well as a physical level. You never know why people are in that room or what it is that they are dealing with. No matter who they are you have to support them and lift them up. You have to honor who they are. And sometimes those spirits are very vulnerable and protected, and yoga helps them to let that go.
You are clearly a very busy woman. You have two children, you work as a dental hygienist, and you are the director of a yoga studio. How do you balance everything?
You have to surround yourself with great people and you have to know how to delegate. You can’t micromanage. You have to teach them correct principles and let them handle it. My employees know what they would get in trouble for, which is usually not treating someone kindly. It’s all about being surrounded by great people. I also have an incredible husband who is very supportive, and I have amazing children. I feel very blessed. None of this would have happened without my basis in the gospel.
Do you ever meditate when you are doing yoga?
Sure. It’s a time to pray and to think. We always keep the room quiet, both before and after class. I’m sure that many students are saying their own prayers or mantras or whatever helps them to calm down.
For you personally, is practicing yoga a spiritual experience?
Yes, because for me it’s that moment when I finally take a break. Doing the savasana (the dead body pose) is that point where you can hear yourself think. There is no music. There are no cell phones. There are no little kids. Yes, the teacher is talking, but that almost just becomes a rhythm that you get used to. It’s just a time that is truly for you that is so rare and so precious. My best ideas and inspiration happen while I’m practicing yoga. It’s just like you are open and it’s quiet. It’s almost like going to the temple where you can just escape from the world. For me it’s a safe place where I can go. If you go to other gyms or fitness classes, you hear people joking, often about themselves, sometimes demeaning their own bodies. But here, nobody talks. It’s calm and quiet, and it’s all very internal. I love that part of it. It’s very conducive to spirituality—whatever that may be for any individual. It’s not selfish. It makes you a better mom, a better wife, a better everything. I truly believe that. Obviously it’s different than going to the temple, but it’s a quiet time that you carve out for yourself to honor yourself.
Yoga is a physical practice, but it has emotional, spiritual, and mental side effects. It is personal for people. Nothing spiritual is rammed down your throat. There is nothing overtly religious about it. You could have any religion and any belief system and be accepted in that room, which is so great to be in Utah and to bring people together of all different religions in a place where they can love and support each other.
With yoga, there is a strong sense of community. People really encourage each other here. There is no ego. You would think there would be a lot of intimidation, but there is no ego in the hot room. You find that out very quickly as you melt away and you have makeup all over your face. You just find yourself. And everybody respects everybody else because it is so hard. There is just a mutual respect that happens there.
At the end of each class, the instructor says “Namaste,” and the students repeat back, “Namaste,” which means: “I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells—a place of light, a place of love, a place of truth and integrity. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, together, we are one.”
Our spirits are connected. If you are in that place where you can love others and have the light of Christ, you are connected. You honor other people. It doesn’t matter how dark another person may be or how deep you have to go to find that light in them. I think that’s the gospel of Christ, without all the rules, without Sunday school or the three-hour block. The gospel is all about how you connect with people and how you love them. That’s what the Lord is going to ask us about one day, and for me, yoga is an avenue to do that in a very unique setting.
At A Glance
Location: Draper, UT
Marital status: Married 23 years
Children: Two – 20 year old boy and 17 year old girl
Occupation: Dental hygienist for 23 years, Yoga Teacher for 2.5 years
Schools Attended: BYU, U of U, Graduate of Weber State University-dental hygiene
Favorite Hymn: “Because I Have Been Given Much”
On The Web: www.bikramyogabrickcanvas.com
Interview by Julie Rodriguez. Photos used with permission.
At A Glance