All of us remember our first Bikram yoga class. For Chris Durand, it was Aug. 7, 2008:
"It must have been about 70 minutes into the class—with sweat dripping into my nose, ears and eyes, and Altin yelling, ‘lock your knees!’ or ‘grab your toes!’ or something else I couldn’t do, such as, ‘breathe through your nose!’ (Yo, dude, I am just trying to breathe!)—I started thinking about the Bataan Death March.”
Many of us also remember Chris’s first instructor, Albanian-born Altin Duka, for whom deprivation was a kind of badge of honor— “You had bicycles,” he liked to say. “We had donkeys!” (Wherever you are, if you’re reading this, Altin, we miss you)!
Fortunately, Chris persevered: “My second, third and fourth classes all made me realize that most of the teachers were absolute sweethearts. And I was also getting used to the heat.”
Chris’s path to Bikram yoga began over Christmas, 2006: “I was playing a simple pickup game of soccer with some friends and our kids, and I slipped and fell. The following morning I woke up with a lower back pain I had not felt before.”
Several months went by with visits to the spine doctor and cortisone shots. Finally, an MRI confirmed that Chris had a herniated disc in his lumbar spine. Months of physical therapy, anti-inflammatory and pain medications ensued, but nothing seemed to be working. Chris’s family has a history of back problems, so he was afraid it was something he was just going to have to live with.
“I asked my doctor what options we had. She said short of surgery and some ‘injection-based’ therapy, the only other thing she has heard works is yoga. In fact, she mentioned hot yoga.”
Fast-forward to 2009. Chris attended a three-day, company-sponsored executive physical at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla.
“On the final day, we had the option to see specialists, so I chose to see the spine specialist. I brought a copy of the MRI showing the herniated disc, and the doctor ran me through some tests.
“Afterward the doctor said to me, ‘You certainly did have a herniated L5 disc, because I can see it in that MRI. However you seemed to have cured it. What is it again you have been doing?’
“I said, ‘Bikram yoga, three to five days a week.’ He said, ‘I have heard of yoga healing people’s backs, but you are the first case I have seen."
“Six-and-a-half years later, I have not had to see my spine doctor, I have not taken an ibuprofen, not even for a headache, and I have not had another debilitating event.”
Chris was born in 1966 in Hartford, Conn., where he lived until ninth grade, when his family to a small town in upstate New York. Despite the culture shock, Chris enjoyed his time there. From jobs on dairy farms he learned to appreciate hard work. He also realized that he definitely had to get to college.
“I always had a sense of service,” Chris says. “I thank my mother for that. She is one of the most selfless people I know. She taught me that giving is the real gift in life.”
So Chris made up his mind to go into the military. After applying to several colleges and ROTC scholarships, Chris says, “I was honored, and am still humbled to this day, to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.” He graduated as a second lieutenant in U.S. Army Infantry and went on to complete training in Jungle Operations and the Airborne and Ranger schools.
In the Army, Chris found more than just a career. One day in 1990, after a grueling “certification” road march—12 miles in less than four hours, in full battle fatigues, combat boots and helmet, carrying an M16 rifle and 40 pounds in a rucksack–he went to the Officer’s Club with some friends to have a few beers.
“It was that night that I fell in love with my wife of 25 years, who was a U.S. Army nurse at the time.” Chris and Jill left the military in 1991 and for several years lived in California, where their son, Nico, was born in 1995. They moved to Richmond in 1997, and a year later daughter Sophia was born.
Since leaving the military Chris has worked in industrial and manufacturing sales, engineering and operations, specifically in semiconductor and biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Jill is a self-employed medical trainer for child development and day-care facilities.
Outside the yoga room, Chris enjoys running and working in his yard. He loves to cook for friends and family. And he continues his dedication to service as a board member for nonprofit organizations. Most recently he has been involved with Sportable (www.sportable.org), which provides adaptive sports training and event programming for athletes with physical and visual handicaps.
Chris says, “There is no doubt that we share something special by doing Bikram yoga together, but I have found that it extends well beyond the walls of the Bikram studio to a larger community that really care about their own health and the welfare of others.”