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Meeting Bikram

When Bikram Chodhury visited Copenhagen for the first time last month, I of course had to attend the lecture to see the man who separates the yoga community and is considered 'the Starbucks of yoga'. Being relatively new to Biram yoga I didn’t really know what to expect other than an Indian guy who would talk about the benefits of yoga.

When entering the room I was impressed by the setup; the stage was decorated with pictures of Bikram and his teachers, and there was a chair for the yogi to sit in.

Bikram was nothing like you’d imagine an Indian yogi to be. He looked as if he’d mistaken the word 'yogi' for the words 'rock star'. Despite the heat he was dressed in a suit that looked liked something a mafia boss would wear in the 80s, but, I guess he’s used to the heat. To top it all off he wore a gangster hat over his long hair and a red scarf in his front pocket. No orange robes in sight.

Like a real rock star, Bikram has groupies. The Bikram Yoga teachers, who were sitting on the front row, would cheer, laugh at his jokes and answer his old American slogans like ‘It’s my way or the highway’ with hysterical giggles like teenage groupies meeting their biggest idol. And Bikram is an idol. American celebrities like Michal Jackson, Shirley McLaine and Schwarzenegger have been his students.

During the lecture, the two world champions (don’t get me started on how I feel about yoga championships but you can read a bit about that here) were there to demonstrate the 26 asana. The same two attended my yoga class that same morning at Bikram Yoga Copenhagen and I must admit; they’re pretty impressive to watch.

I was expecting a guru to be humble, and not take credit for a thousand year old yoga tradition - but not Bikram. He patented his yoga system, despite the fact that Hatha yoga - which Bikram Yoga basically is - is several thousands years old, and turned his teachings into a very lucrative business. When a journalist asked him critical questions about this he refused to answer 'because the journalist thinks he's smarter than me'. And he brags: His car collection includes over 40 Rolls Royces and Bentleys, including cars owned by the Queen Mother and the Beatles. His collection of watches numbers in the 100s, valued in the millions. 'I'm making millions of dollars a day, $10 million a month' he said.

Although Bikram isn’t the abstract, mystical guru you might expect, his messages resemble the ones you’d expect from a yogi; improve your physical and mental health through yoga, and improve your whole life. The message is clear, and most of all it’s an easy concept for Westerners to grasp. Maybe this is why Bikram has become so popular in the west - he behaves like we do. He brags, tells crude jokes and laughs at himself, instead of sitting cross legged, unapproachable and mystical, talking about complicated, Hindu philosophy. He has adapted the American culture to get his eastern message across, to be understood by the west. And it has worked; millions of people all over the world do his yoga.

I do realise that if Bikram had been more humble and hadn’t been such a good business man it wouldn’t have spread to most of the western world, and I wouldn’t have had access to Bikram yoga in Copenhagen. But I must admit that I would have preferred to listen to a nice, old, Indian chap who would live yoga, instead of the American dream.

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