Diary of a Yogini: Mary Jarvis on the early days of Bikram Yoga


by Mary Jarvis

Senior Bikram Yoga Teacher and owner of Global Yoga San Fransisco joins OMB with a story of practicing with Bikram in the early days of Bikram Yoga. Find out more about Mary by clicking here

I started practicing what is now called “Bikram Yoga” over 24 years ago. It was not “BIKRAM YOGA” back then. It WAS yoga. When asked about it by friends and acquaintances, I would say, “yoga is 26 postures,practiced twice in a 90 minute class,in a heated room …There is no exercise in the world that makes me feel as great as I do when I practice this yoga…Yoga kicks running and weightlifting’s ass…”

“Bikram?!??…what’s a Bikram?!??”
Bikram is my teacher from Calcutta,India. His guru told him to come to America to ‘Heal the bodies and lives of the people of The West’ with his yoga. He has a school in San Francisco and Beverly Hills”.

Mary Jarvis in Standing Bow-Pulling Pose

“WHAT!!!….the room is heated??!!?”….yep…that freak out statement has been going on for a long time.


When I first started practicing, there were no Hand Towels in the room. There were no water bottles in the room. The Yoga Mat companies didn’t even exist.

We used to cut open large black garbage bags and put them under our towels to try and keep the sweat off the rug….which was a failure, by the way. When you stepped out into a triangle you would slide or surf on the carpet. We did use baby crib liner mats for awhile….still not very long but no surfing.

I bought yoga mats for my school in 1996 and it was a big deal . We could choose dark ugly blue or dark ugly green for colors. They were NOT to be used for a prop. It was only to keep the sweat off the carpet. I still hold true to that even today.

When taking class….YOU DID NOT MOVE !
Hold still in the posture….
Hold still NOT in the posture.
If you moved around in class, Bikram would kick you out. He wouldn’t even tell you why.

It happened to me once.

“Get out!”
“What??..”
“GET OUT!!!”

So I left in shock, not knowing what I did and bummed because that yoga made me feel so good.
After a few days I went back afraid…Had to go though…
Bikram looked at me and said,”WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
…”uhhh…you kicked me out??”

“Only for THAT DAY!” “Don’t ever leave again”

So I kept my eyes way wide open when I took class after that …I was looking for anything that would indicate getting kicked out.
And then it happened….a girl in front of me wiped her face after a Triangle Set.
Bikram saw it and faster than I can type, “GET OUT!!!”, she moved.
AH HAHH! SHE MOVED!…..you cannot move in class!…that must have been what I did.

Don’t move in class….Good to know.

I was standing still after a posture one time and bug flew up my nose. I did not go after it. I was not going to move. He was dead by that time anyway and All Bugs are Edible! Pure protein…number one survival rule (besides pee on a cut or gash).

The discipline in the Yoga Room was amazing. The energy was so high. The concentration and focus of the students…I do not even have a good English word to describe it.

I sometimes get nostalgic for those years. I miss those yoga classes…

Hand towels, yoga gloves, “yoga paws”, five bottles of frozen water surrounding all the yoga mats….the running in and out of the class, laying down….pink drinks,orange drinks,green drinks…”neutronium” blue drinks!……
If you come to my school,you will see very few water bottles in the room. Most of the time, the people who have them are Drop-In students from other schools or new students who read somewhere that they should bring water.
I admit that I have a couple of regular practicing students that drink in class. It is a little embarassing to me that they do. I am NOT going to yell at them or anyone for that matter…I just take note of who does and who doesn’t. I do not like it, though!

None of my teachers are ever allowed to drink water while taking or teaching class. Somebody has to hold the high vision! I love it when visiting teachers come to my school…it’s our Yoga Family. They can come for free but they may not drink water or use hand towels in class and they have to stand in the last back row of the yoga room and learn humility.

Three of my students just practiced 8 yoga classes in one day! They never sat down in any of the classes and they never drank water in any of them either. They looked fantastic. They glowed for 15 and 1/2 hours of yoga! To Rebecca Rankin, J-Wong, and Frossie ‘the Aussie’, I say CONGRATULATIONS.

They know how to breathe through their nose and slow their breathing down in Asana and in relaxation after Asana.

They feel neither heat nor cold in the yoga room. They are out of emotional prison in their minds, hearts and energy souls.

This is yoga.

I know that my students and I have the best life in the orange room.

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16 Comments

Filed under Diary of a Yogi, Mary Jarivs

16 responses to “Diary of a Yogini: Mary Jarvis on the early days of Bikram Yoga

  1. Ruth

    Loved hearing about the old days, and what you wrote was inspiring to me. Thanks, Mary.

  2. Roseann

    Lovely post, her words sound so true.
    I took a class in the orange room last September, and to fit in didnt drink H2O. While I do drink a lil water on most days, there are still some classes I take where I go without and end up just fine 🙂

  3. Thank you Mary for sharing your story; it is amazingly inspiring every word I read. We all need to raise the bar in our practice and our teaching. It is good to hear it and to be reminded what yoga is. I love the humility lesson for the visiting teachers. Hope to meet you one day, or maybe even have you visit Toronto.
    Bikram Yoga Toronto East

  4. Mary inspirers all of us in the orange room, even when she is not there. I have practiced at Mary’s studio for 3 years. My very first Bikram class was taught by Mary. I had no idea who she was, what her story was or anything about yoga for that matter. I didn’t know about not drinking water during class and of course I had a water bottle with me in my first class however after Mary mentioned drinking water start digestion and makes your class harder, I never brought water to class again. Please this yoga is hard enough without us making it harder with water. My water after class is the best tasting water of my day!
    I have had Multiple Sclerosis for the last 6 years. I have to say, illness woke me up to life, brought me awareness of my body and what I put in my mouth. My doctors had me on 12 prescription pills a day and daily injections, of a very strong drug for 3 years. The first year I was labeled with MS the second year it spread to my brain and the third year the spot on my brain disappeared. I was practicing, the art of Jin Shin Jytsu ,for 3 years and had a therapist work on me once a week, This is a form of Japanese hand healing that.works with 26 energy points, in our body. http://www.jsjinc.com
    When I got my results of a clean MRI 3 years ago, I stopped taking all my medication and started Bikram yoga. While all this struggle in my life with my health was happening, I was also dealing being a new mom at age 40 and running my own fashion business. I learned that stress was the main cause for my illness, so took stress off my plate and starting a new life of Bikram and motherhood. Yes it took me 3 years to get back on track and what an interesting journey it has been. I have slowly changed my diet and within the last 6 years I have eliminated alcohol, dairy, caffeine, eggs, Gluten, refined sugar and dinning out most of the time. It’s been 3 years now, I feel and look better at 49 than I ever did when I was younger. I have made Bikram part of my everyday lifestyle and making better food choices. This has all been a work in progress and takes time. We are all different when it comes to what will work for you health wise. I learned that small changes eventually create big ones in your life. You have to stay positive, take stress off your plate and enjoy the new things life has to offer. If you don’t live in the present moment, life will pass you by. One last note, there is always Beauty in struggle, you just have to see it! Like I said illness woke me up. Thank you Mary Jarvis for all you inspiration and support. You are |–\o__ xox Yvette Pasco

  5. I need to be better about my water intake in class. NEED to be more disciplined!

  6. Oh I love this post! I hope to meet Mary one day in person. I figure I have a pretty good shot right now with teacher training being here in Las Vegas! No way in hell will I bring a water bottle in if she’s teaching! 🙂 (I’ve only gone waterless once, I didn’t die and perhaps she has a good point. It’s distracting)

  7. lz

    Thank you for sharing this post. Mary’s discipline and passion for this yoga are absolutely inspiring!

  8. Yoga j

    It is hazardous to one’s health not to take in liquids over a 90 minute Bikram class. It amazes me that anyone adhere’s to this ancient thought process. The body needs liquid to operate, and furthermore it needs more than just water. I love Bikram Yoga, but hopefully all Bikramites can get into the 21st century and realize that fluids are essential.

    • Well of COURSE your body need fluids and electrolytes But 90 minutes isn’t that long if you hydrate before and hydrate after. If the conditions in the room are good (not too hot and dry) and you’re fully hydrated before class, there is no danger in doing class without water. It’s actually really easy. I’ve done it many times and never felt dehydrated at all. I just drink lots of water during the day and replace my electrolytes after class.

      Anyway, it’s not like students are ever FORBIDDEN to drink water. They’re just encouraged to ask whether they really NEED it, or whether it’s just there as a security blanket.

      • And P.S. If ANYONE knows how essential fluids are, it’s a Bikram yogi. You should hear the shop talk… it sounds like a fricking electrolyte convention sometimes!! EVERYONE has a system. Hehehe.

    • Dear Yogij,

      No offense …but you are wrong…..
      There is nothing hazardous about not drinking water in this class.

      There are five reasons why people drink water in class…..

      1) They do not know any better……someone just said….”bring water to class”….

      2) Lack of discipline and concentration and focus “in great relaxation at the same time” while practicing.

      3)Boredom……they cannot maintain stillness “IN the posture” and “NOT in the posture”

      4) It is EMOTIONAL….. They think they are going to DIE if they do not “Hydrate in Class”. You were probably already “dehydrated” before you came to class anyway…..beer,wine,liquor,processed food,etc. It all is already stealing fluids from your body!
      Let me tell you that,depending on what science book you read, if you drink 4-6 ounces of water in class,it will take 15 to 50 minutes for the body to absorb it. It sits in your stomach like a pastrami sandwich and you body must go into digestion to deal with it. Digestion takes a lot of energy that should be used for the yoga!It took Lance Armstrong 2 days to recover from dehydration in the Alps in one of the Tour De Frances that he rode….and they had him hooked up to an IV of Fluids!
      Don’t you notice how many people tank around triangle or cobra? Their energy dropped right after the water guzzling!…Ha Ha Ha and then they will blame it on the HEAT in Class! So Silly!

      5) which is the biggest reason of all…..
      ….they do NOT know how to BREATHE! Yet…..

      Yes everyone breathes…thank God it is the Automatic Nervous System that keeps us breathing! Can you imagine if we had to consciously tell ourselves to breathe EVERY moment of our lives? Ha Ha Ha! I know I would be dead by now.
      But,with our yoga,we have the opportunity to live in the present moment EVERY moment in class. We have the opportunity to “Go Beyond Nature”, every posture,every side,every set,every time,every class. And if we get really good at it,we can start to be and live that way outside in the real world!

      When I take class, I breathe once in a posture. One slowwwwwwww inhale and one slowwwww exhale. I am not holding my breath. I am in great relaxation “IN the posture, “NOT in the posture”,”going into the posture”,
      “coming out of the posture”. I am not trying to do the posture. I AM the posture!

      I do not emotionally struggle with ANYTHING in class when I practice. Even now at the time of this post,I am carrying extra weight on my body after suffering through a couple of difficult personal years. Let me tell you when I practice I am NOT suffering in my extra heavy body because of my great discipline of breath. I feel neither heat nor cold in the yoga room. I do not have to “deal” with them. I do not know they exist when I practice. I am beyond the temperature of the room.I am suspended animation. I am the Present Moment.
      I do not have to throw an emotional Hissy Fit about the room temperature because it does not exist to me.It is NOT yoga.
      If you want to race getting Oxygen and Hydrogen and Nitrogen into the body,I am game. You with your water….me with my breath. OOOOOPS I already won! I just took a big inhale while you were reaching for your water.You have a Middle Man of digestion and I have Pure Prana. Oxygen carries Prana,Chi,Life Force,call it what you want. It is all I am looking for.
      Please discern the difference between ‘House Rules” and “Yoga Rules”. House Rules keep new people in check,but do not think that it is fundamental to practicing yoga. Any kind of yoga for that matter! I just happen to be grateful for Bikram and this Yoga that I practice so I am talking about it.

      Yessssss… a pregnant girl should have water nearby,an insulin diabetic,etc….I know the extreme exceptional cases.

      I am almost 26 years practicing this yoga and no offense to anyone ,seriously, but I know what I am talking about with this water thing. This is not a debate. I know I am right.If you disagree with me you probably fall into one of the five categories I have listed. I have high hopes for you and your practice in the future. You are on your way!
      Stopping to drink water stops people from Living in the Present Moment in Yoga Classes.
      I do not think you are a worse student because you might drink water…You just might be the only one moving around in a class at my school ! Ha Ha Ha!
      Yoga j, Yes….for sure this is an ancient practice…..as ancient as the Earth. I am okay with that.

  9. Paola Bahamondes

    I knew my don´t wipe, don´t scratch, don´t adjust your clothes, don´t move, don´t even blink and put that water bottle on the floor was comming from somewhere…… That´s true yoga, not getting obsessed by little things. Just breathe in and brathe out by your nose. Everything that is bothering you will go away soon. Be patient and you´ll know why I.m asking you to do it this way!
    Thanks Mary!

  10. Pingback: Hot Yoga, Hot Talk: Mary Jarvis on why you DONT need water in class «

  11. B Lieve

    If you’re not supposed to drink water, why does Bikram say you can?

    • mmm

      Mary also says you can. But both Bikram and Mary know that you don’t need to and you’ll be more focused if you don’t. Bikram tells beginners to drink water so they don’t freak out, and people in TT to drink water because they are doing doubles everyday and not sleeping a lot. Still, a lot of us don’t drink water anyway.

      It’s not about being allowed or not allowed to drink water, it’s about getting to a space where you don’t even think about the water. And if you think the water is required, then you never get to the place where you don’t think about it. I see Mary as just giving you permission to try it class without the water, see what happens.

  12. adriana Baltus

    love to read about Bikram Yoga, we have no Bikram in Cancun so it is difficult to stay focussed because I have to do it through Bikram Itunes. Thanks for all contributions…

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