I love questions. I never shy away from them. Any form or topic… I love listening to what people ask, and I try to provide efficient responses.
But let’s face it… I “dilly dally” when I speak sometimes. It’s a quirk I have. Because I often have so many thoughts running through my head and think far too fast for my speed of speech.
However, a recent question (from just a few days ago) made me realize I hadn’t truly publicly given my thoughts on something very relevant in my Universe.
Question for you as my resident expert: what is the current state of Bikram Yoga and the whole sordid mess associated with it? I really love the yoga and how healing it was for me when I did it regularly. I recently listened to the 30for30 podcast on Bikram and the scandal and am glad to hear he’s not at the helm anymore or receiving money from it. I see you still go and occasionally teach- what are your thoughts on the current state or future of it? are all studios independent now? i’d love to get back into it, but don’t want to be supporting an organization that could ultimately be supporting him (...i’d like to be able to separate the yoga from the man...if that’s possible...) I know this is a loaded and complex question, but any insight or thoughts you have as someone who has been doing it for so long and who has gone trough TT and likely witnessed or know all the problems would be greatly appreciated!
Let me be clear from the beginning… I’ve never liked Bikram Choudhury.
But let me also be clear… I have always loved the 26 yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises sequence. And I still do.
But I don’t call it “Bikram yoga.” And I no longer attend studios that call it that.
I call it “hot yoga.”
I’d had many teachers early on - as I mentioned to them that I was considering going to teacher training - tell me that I would not like Bikram.
“He says things that are funny. But he is a jerk and picks on students. Those are two things I know you can handle easily. But he also says things that are sexist, which I know you will have a problem with. So if you go, just know that and figure out how to deal with it.”
That is a summary of what a male teacher told me.
I wasn’t intimidated or put off by it. The teachers and studios that I had practiced in were all spaces with positive and encouraging energy. Teachers who even slightly seemed to pick on students were usually gone within weeks. Consistently, around the world - as I traveled and visited other studios, Bikram studios were just lovely places to be.
And so I went to training. Nine weeks in a shitty hotel in San Diego almost nine years ago. I practiced three hours of hot yoga a day (one morning class, one evening class) five days a week (we also had one class on Saturday mornings, and Sundays off), attended all day posture clinics, late-into-the-night lectures, existed on about five hours of sleep most nights, and had an appetite that was either non-existent or all-encompassing. I learned to chug water and how to eat right before class (two things I would typically stop doing three hours before a class in order to not have a full belly during my practice).
And I learned to mostly ignore the bullshit comments that were coming from Bikram’s mouth to other students.
"I called you an 'idiot.' But that's a compliment. You know why? Because I used to call you 'dumb fuck.'"
"Push your hips, stomach, balls boobs, dick... EVERYTHING forward toward the mirror!"
And let’s be real… These kind of comments would get a laugh from me. Even if they had been said to me, I would have laughed at them.
Ones I did not laugh at or think were appropriate when said…
“Hey Miss Boobs… Why are you so dumb? Why are you not listening?”
“Know why there is so much divorce in America? Because American women don’t know how to grip!”
These are just two. There were more that were worse. One comment in particular - that I will never write - that was a bit of a final straw for some of us in what we were willing to tolerate. It was said during Week 7 of training, and after he said it in class… I stopped my postures and booed with a few people who were practicing near me.
After class, one of the women who had been on a mat nearby confronted him directly. She was gentle in her tone, but firm in her questions…
“Why would you say that? You don’t really believe that?”
He walked off, as he wasn’t receiving the praise and adoring words he was used to after class from students.
I walked to my room and showered the class off my body, contemplating whether or not to leave.
Was I surprised by what he had said? No. Was I offended? Yes. But I knew to expect this from him.
From that moment on, I no longer laughed at his vulgar jokes or comments. I decided to finish the training, because the studio I practiced at in Toronto was nothing like Bikram’s energy.
“Just get through these next two weeks,” I said to myself.
And I did. And I went home and for a year I taught three to four classes a week, on top of my full-time corporate job. I enjoyed it. I was exhausted. But I enjoyed it.
But then I moved back state side, where I had an even more aggressive corporate job. And I barely had time to practice - let alone teach. So I didn’t. Just occasionally, as a substitute.
And less than three years after I finished my training, the sexual assault scandal broke. And I never doubted for a second the truth these women were sharing.
I may have stated for the record a few times that while at training, I never personally experienced or saw any physical assaults by Bikram.
Did I see things that I thought were creepy? Hell yes.
Women would brush his hair during the late-night movies we were forced to stay up for as part of our training. Women would also massage his feet.
But that was it.
There would be the occasional comment from some of us who sat at the back of the lecture hall of, “Why are they volunteering to do those things? Why are people so keen to win his favor?”
I didn’t get it. But I figured they were enthusiastic fans that idolized him, and who was I to preach to them that I thought they were were dumb to care about winning his approval?
But Back To My Friend’s Question…
I kept practicing the Bikram sequence - and still do - because I’ve found it to be a very healing sequence. I’ve been practicing it for almost 15 years now, and have been a certified teacher of it for 9 of those years. It’s a challenging practice mentally, which often extends to challenging you physically. But it’s a perfect series for people who are new to yoga and those who are advanced.
For about a year now, I have not practiced at studios that call it “Bikram.” Mostly because there are no good studios in SoCal that will call it that. And they don’t teach just the “hot yoga” series, as I call it now. They teach other classes too. And I love that they do. I love the evolution.
And the truth is, people, Bikram Choudhury did not invent this sequence. The sequence pre-dates him. And I encourage everyone who practices the series to listen to the podcast. Bikram did, however, popularize it. But it’s not his yoga. It’s not his sequence.
“Fuck you” to those of you who disagree with me.
So I do think the “26 & 2” series will continue to be a healthy option for people to practice. There will continue to be studios that teach it, and they should. I do not think they should call it “Bikram.” But most studios that do still have the name in their title are almost always nothing like the man himself. So don’t let that persuade you from going in and trying a class.
Just know that these studios are most likely NOT giving any kind of money to him. I don’t know of any studios that actually ever agreed to his “franchise” arrangement years ago. All have been independent - from what I understand. And most of them do NOT require their teachers to go to his trainings (for which the enrollment numbers, to my understanding, have dwindled greatly since I attended). Most studios accept other 26 & 2 trainings that have been established.
I don’t regret my time at training - I met so many amazing people to which I still hold dear in my heart and would do anything for. I do very occasionally teach a class here and there.
My practice lately, however, has been an evolution of the 26 & 2 series. Because of time and location, I have been practicing lately at a studios that offers a more “flowing” version of the series. And it is only 60 minutes - which is the amount of time I have to squeeze in a class.