Dustin Valenta

I am always learning more and deeper reasons why I love this practice. At the very base level, it is like a multivitamin for my entire being (body, mind, soul). I practice every day to keep things running smoothly, efficiently, and effectively.

But in a very literal way, I have this practice to thank for being alive.

In February of 2013, I was riding my bike in Chicago, when a woman opened her car door into the bike lane. I slammed into the door, was thrown from my bike into traffic, and was run over by a truck. The accident broke 23 (of 24) ribs, both sides of my pelvis, both collarbones, my left hip, left shoulder, fractured a vertebra, punctured a lung, and cracked my skull.

Doctors didn’t think I would survive, let alone walk again.

But after two and half weeks in the ICU, I left under my own power, albeit with many braces and a long road of recovery, but it was a truly miraculous turnaround.

I know for a fact that if I had not been practicing Bikram Yoga regularly before the accident (I was, in fact, on my way home from class when it happened), I would not be alive today. Doctors have credited my survival, in large part, to the flexibility and resilience in my spine. And I know also, that had I not returned to regular practice as soon as possible afterwards (probably much sooner than the same doctors would have liked), I would not have recovered any where close to the place I am at present.

Bikram yoga is medicine. It is a practice of deep deep healing, inside out, bones to skin, fingertips to toes, body and soul.

I have always been very active, and moving by body was a big part of my life, as an athlete, an actor, and general lover of the outdoors. So when I had to start from zero, and literally learn how to walk again, I gained a huge sense of gratitude for all of the amazing things my body does that I had taken for granted.

There was a day in the hospital, about a week and half after the accident, when my nurse made me walk to the nurses’ station from my bed, about 15 feet. I was held by her on one arm, my dad on the other, and it was, without question, the hardest thing I have ever done. I returned to my bed, exhausted, and cried for a long time. Something that had been so mindlessly effortless only days earlier, now took every ounce of my strength, concentration, and determination. It was very tempting to give up.

I am, however, luckily blessed with an amazing network of friends and family who wrapped me in support. And those 15 feet became laps around the hospital halls, which became daily stair workouts, and long walks outside, which eventually led me back into the hot room. After my first class back, I remember sitting in the locker room, once again overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of doing with any sort of ease, this practice which had come so naturally two months earlier, but also incredibly grateful for the simple fact of being there, being alive, and having the opportunity to face the challenge.

I became a teacher in the Spring of 2015, and I feel so lucky to be able to make a living sharing this practice, this incredible gift, with others all over the world. I love teaching! But I am a student, first and always, because I know that I can only be an effective teacher if I am a committed student.

The deeper I go, the more I learn, the more I discover how little I actually know.

As time from the accident has passed, I’ve gradually begun again to take for granted things that in those first days, weeks, months, were intensely difficult. And I focus instead on my present inadequacies and self-defined imperfections, all of the things I can’t yet do. But Bikram Yoga helps me maintain better awareness of this silliness. It teaches me to stay in the moment, with the present breath. And it reminds me, every time I come to my mat to practice, every time I take the podium to teach, to take a moment to remember those first steps in the hospital, to thank my body for all it does and can do, and to move from a place of humility and incredible gratitude for this life, and the miracle contained within the ninety minutes ahead.