I Don't Believe In The Idea Of A Guru.

Those who know me well know that I a very, incredibly, deeply, cynical person.  So much so that even while in college my dad once commented on it.

"How'd you get to be so cynical already?"

My parents have always accepted me as I was. But this one of the few times where he was confused as to where I picked up my cynicism for someone so young and who'd had a pretty good life.

I have no idea where I picked it up, but I've had it since early in my adulthood. And it's here to stay. I'm a positive person overall... But I question EVERYTHING from EVERYONE. I'm super nice on the surface, but ALWAYS hearing my internal dialogue attempt to figure out what the real story is.

This is why, I believe, I was prepared better than most for Bikram Yoga Teacher Training.

I went to training three years ago. I blogged and vlogged about the experience. And while I haven't commented much about the experience in detail... I feel it is my duty now to provide people with a sense of what I experienced at training, in the event they are considering going at some point.

Overall, my training experience was very positive. 

I was prepared for what to expect though:

  • "Expect Bikram to call you guys nasty names in class. Like "dumb fucks." It's just like basic training in the military. He's trying to break your ego."
  • "Expect late nights where he lectures a long time. And you have to attend. You can't leave."
  • "Expect late nights where you have to watch loud Bollywood movies till 4am. It's like hazing."
  • "Expect there to be people there who automatically fawn over him and think the world begins and ends with his words."
  • "Expect to have no time for anything other than yoga, studying postures and anatomy, lectures and whatever sleep you can sneak in between everything."
  • "Know that when you come out of training, you'll be ready to lead a class and be a good teacher."

All of this was true. And while at training, I was grateful to have been told all of this. And now, I am very grateful I was prepared this way before going to training. However, I am saddened, because not everyone was given this same insight. And not everyone operated with the same sort of skepticism that I operate from every day.

The most shocking thing to me, even more than the crass language (which we all know I can take and give myself) and the sexist/homophobic comments (which I do not share, but was prepared to expect to hear from him) was the over-enthusiastic fandom some of my fellow trainees had for Bikram.

While I knew to internally call "bullshit" on the diatribe he would randomly dish out, others did not. They were looking to be enlightened and taught by "the guru."

But I did not go to training to be "enlightened." I don't even practice Bikram yoga for enlightenment.

I went to training to be certified to teach this yoga because after practicing for six years (at the time) I knew it was the next step in my own practice journey. I wanted to know as much as possible about each posture, what it helps heal or protect in your body, and how to potentially articulate that to students.  I knew it would be a lot of information crammed into nine weeks of training. And I was prepared for the craziness.

But clearly, many were not.

Right away, there were girls volunteering to brush his hair and hang on his every word as though it were gold. I hung on his every word for the first little while, mostly in the hopes of something that would help me understand a posture better. But after the first few days, it was very clear that the only thing I was going to get from his lectures was the occasional one-liner that was either so hilarious that I had to write it down... Or so offensive that I had to write it down.

We had privately started to refer to them (the fans) as the "Bik Chicks." Those so devoted to giving him the attention he clearly craved. I was in awe of the energy and positivity they must have to spend so much time directly with him... Which the rumors amongst the trainees included the hair brushing, foot massages for him, and hanging out in his room eating and watching movies late at night.

I remember when one of the senior staff members came into our posture clinic class one night...

"Anyone in here a certified massage therapist?" he asked. "Boss (Bikram) wants a massage. Either someone massages him or you all have to stay up late for a lecture."

One sweet woman in my group came forward and volunteered. We were grateful to her, as it meant the rest of us could go to bed early. But the next morning, a few of us were dying to know what happens at those parties Bikram has in his room with the "Bik Chicks."

"It was actually quite funny," she said. "I massaged him while he and the rest of them watched a movie. But they fawn over him even more in the room than they do in the training tent."

So nothing out of the ordinary.

Before I get to the real point of this post, I want to note: I made great friends at training. And it was a great experience for me overall, even with the late nights and the crazy man calling us "weak" and "big babies" when we preferred to go to sleep than stay up and watch a movie with him. I valued every second. And wouldn't change a thing about it, except for the fact that I continued to work for my boss at my agency job, even though I was technically on leave and not being paid. (I am easily guilted. And still bitter about that.)

Okay... Here goes...

I don't, nor have I ever believed Bikram to be my guru.

Training pretty much solidified that for me. All that I have learned in order to be a Bikram yoga teacher has come from the incredible teachers I have had at the studios I have practiced at throughout the world. Other than being forced to learn the dialogue for teaching the class and the timing for teaching a class (which came from the senior teachers at training), I learned nothing else. I made great friends and had a great experience overall... Yes. But did I learn anything from Bikram himself? No.

Training was a means to being able to teach, in the end. I came out of there knowing that I could tough it out with everyone else. But my expectations going in for what to get out of the whole experience were in line with what I walked out with at graduation. I felt badly for people who went into training expecting to share their time with an enlightened, compassionate and stern man... And came out with those expectations destroyed.

And in light of recent news, I feel incredibly guilty that I had a foundation of skepticism and sense of what to really expect when others were very much not prepared. They felt that they had to take every single thing said at training as Gospel. That they felt they had to exhaust themselves in the classes to the point that they fainted or passed out, all just to become a teacher. The reality is, you don't. You show up to classes and lectures on time. You study and recite your dialogue. That is it.

The training program has no other control over you and your time while you are there.

I believe it to be absolutely necessary for studio owners (who have to write a recommendation for a student to even attend training) to prep their trainees the way my studio prepped me. I think otherwise, they are doing a major disservice.

I should point out... I actually don't teach (much) anymore. I did for the first year out of training. I worked full time at my corporate job and did about 2-3 classes a week teaching. I was very good at it. I am a very compassionate and encouraging teacher. I'm not a bitch. And I don't make assumptions that I know what's best for my students' bodies. But ultimately, I chose my career over teaching. And I haven't been back on the podium much since that first year.

Every three years, teachers are expected to go back to training and get re-certified over a few days with Bikram. In light of all that is happening, I don't really want to give another dime to the man. So I am considering not being re-certified under that program.

I'll continue to practice, of course. I started doing this yoga because it wasn't the hippy "spiritual" yoga I had seen done elsewhere. Each posture has a purpose for the body's health. And the order of each posture preps your body for the next one... With the deepest back bend, forward bend, compression, stretching and twisting of the spine coming at the very end. IT'S SCIENCE!

"But you won't get to practice for free!" you may be thinking.

Well, I haven't been practicing for free in the past year and a half, except when I am in Toronto. In both NYC and Boston, because I don't teach at their studios, I did buy annual passes. And I had no issue doing so.

And to be clear: When you practice Bikram yoga at a certified studio, you are not paying any money that goes to Bikram himself. Other than a franchise fee to open their studio, owners do not (to my understanding) pay anything to him. He makes his money from teacher training, seminars, his products, a few studios he owns (like the one in L.A.) and books.

I had a few former students emailing me privately this week, panicked about even practicing. They didn't want to be financially supporting him. I let them know they can still practice. They are not paying any money to him by attending classes.

I wrote this post because many people have asked me over the past few months what my take on the sexual harassment charges was... While I never personally saw Bikram ever touch anyone inappropriately, I did witness first hand his sexist and homophobic comments. I did witness the screaming and the yelling. And I did witness his staff (not all, but some) be incredible dicks to trainees. My only hope is that anyone who goes to training now and in the future feels safe and knows that they have choices. And that there is no one who can provide them "enlightenment".

Enlightenment and peace comes from within. Standing on your own. And knowing you are truly in control of everything you are feeling. Accept what you see and feel. Analyze it. And then let it go. Never be in awe of anyone or anything, except for what you see in the mirror.