“You cannot attract true friends without removing from your own character the stains of selfishness and other unlovely qualities. The greatest art of making friends is to behave divinely yourself—to be spiritual, to be pure, to be unselfish. The more your human shortcomings drop away and divine qualities come into your life, the more friends you will have.”
A gathering storm of smiling yogis collect in the lobby of the Bikram Yoga Fremont Street Studio in Portland, Oregon, a few minutes before the 11am class. The studio has the signature blue carpet, a rack of t-shirts, yoga costumes, and water bottles with the studio logo for sale. Nearby, on the wall, colorized posters of Paramahansa Yogananda and his younger brother Bishnu Gosh represent the lineage that inspired Bikram Choudhury. Bikram famously transported hot asana consciousness to the West in the 1970s.
At the front desk, Sean Lee, a teacher who swears by the 26 asanas (postures) and 2 pranayama (breathing exercises) known as Bikram’s beginning yoga series, keeps it simple: “This yoga place has that.” He says, “I can practice that here and I can teach that here.”
The Bikram Yoga Fremont Studio is communal. It promotes the kind of respectful intimacy that facilitates an environment where perfect strangers can sweat freely wearing next to nothing, just inches apart on yoga mats. It is a safe space for everybody and everybody is welcome.
Each student and teacher has a personal story of transformation through the practice. For example, Jeff lost 100 pounds over the last couple years. Yanming has healed a job-threatening shoulder injury. Rebecca is in her sixth month of her first pregnancy. Rodolfo, a native Spanish speaker who views yoga as a second language brought his family to the practice here. This studio and this practice are a central part of all of their lives.
People filter into the hot room to find a spot as studio owners Gretchen Olsen and Danelle Denstone tend to the last minute details for the class. Gretchen takes one last look at the mirrors to make sure they’re clean, while Danelle goes over the class roster at the front desk. They have a natural synergy that has become more refined with time.
Gretchen and Danelle have more than a lot in common. They’re both Michigan natives who have worked for the same airlines. The two are single mothers of young children and yoginis who became teachers and took on the challenge of becoming studio owners. All of their hard work has paid off. The studio is thriving.
Community and Hot Yoga at Bikram Yoga Fremont Street
The Spiritual Side of Yoga
“We wanted to bring a more spiritual side that isn’t always present in every studio,” Gretchen says. “We want to bring that back to people.” And they’ve done it by creating a community of people who have aligned to practice and support others. “There’s a lot of listening that goes on here,” Rebecca says. It’s not surprising. This studio is run by women. There’s not a lot of over-talking and interrupting at the Fremont Street Yoga Studio.
A Focus on Practice
As Bikram’s public drama plays out somewhere in Mexico, the focus here is on the ever-expanding practice and its lineage. Ahead of the curve, Bikram brought hot yoga to the US at a time when many Americans were focused on The Brady Bunch, disco and pet rocks. Bikram’s teacher, Bishnu Gosh, was the younger brother of spiritual master Paramahansa Yogananda. Bishnu Gosh was the creator of Gosh Yoga, whose 84 postures were later distilled into the 26 and 2.
The future of the 26 and 2 is certain at the Fremont Studio in Portland. The path they’ve cleaved is true. Their intention is pure. The plan is simple: to continue to grow the business and hold space for yoginis and yogis in their Portland studio.
People begin to filter in for the 4:30 class as Gretchen and Danelle reflect in the lobby. A small, framed picture of Ganesha behind the front desk is the only elephant in the room. “I don’t know what’s going on with Bikram in his personal life. He gave me this and I am forever grateful,” Danelle says. “I hope he sees this video and is proud of our work,” then adds “I just think about what Paramahansa Yogananda says, it is our duty to behave divinely ourselves, to be spiritual, to be pure, and to be unselfish.”
Award-winning journalist, documentary director and long-term LA Yoga contributor Sam Slovick is the director, writer and producer of the Radicalized documentary, currently working on the Kirtan Road Dogs documentary.