Entries in Bikram Copenhagen (3)


Bikram’s Lawsuits: When is it time to stop separating the practice from the guru?

After being accused for sexual harassment back in March, Bikram Choudury has now been accused of rape in two new lawsuits. According to Yogadork.com and yogajournal.com two women have filed separate lawsuits earlier this week claiming they were raped by Bikram Choudhury and that Bikram’s inside circle actively recruits women for him - knowing abuse is a possibility.

'“In one of lawsuits filed this week a Jane Doe alleges sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment, and other counts in addition to the rape allegation. It describes a cult-like atmosphere where Bikram’s followers help him find young women to assault. “Other persons in defendant Bikram inner circle, were aware of defendant Bikram Choudhury’s pattern and practice of causing, inducing or persuading young women to enroll in teacher training classes to become yoga instructors only so he can sexually assault and/or rape them,” the lawsuit claims.'

Until proven otherwise the man is innocent – of course, but I just wonder when enough is enough?

I used to love Bikram Yoga. You can read about that here and here. But after meeting Mr. Choudhury at his talk at The Black Diamond here in Copenhagen I got enough and had to leave. As said in the blog post about the event (here) the man is more of a mafia boss than an Indian guru. I went back to my Ashtanga practice (I’d rather have a dead Guru than a crazy one) and started doing hot yoga. I wasn’t the only who had enough of Bikram’s Bentleys and his patents, but wherever I turned I heard: you have to separate the practice form the man. I agree to a large extent. Bikram Yoga is a beautiful practice. It has helped thousands of people around the globe. But it has also made Bikram a very powerful and rich man. And do we really want to support that?

If there’s any truth in the rape accusations – and without knowing ANYTHING about it - I am not going to support Bikram by going to his studios. I think it’s about time we stop separating the practice from the man and see Bikram for what he really is: a very good business man who apparently can’t keep it in his speedos.


Bikram and the Definition of Yoga

As my third month of doing Bikram yoga every other day is coming to an end, and as I'm considering whether or not I should pay for yet another expensive (it costs at least twice as much as any other yoga studio I ve been to) month pass, I've come to realise that what was supposed to be a fling with a new type of yoga has become a full on relationship. Within the last three months I've gone from the back of the hot room to the front row, staring all my abilities and inabilities right in the face in the mirror and accepted each and every one of them. Starting Bikram yoga almost felt like starting from scratch despite my fairly strong yoga experience, and I have no doubt that that it is healthy to be kicked out of ones habits and thrown into new territory once in a while.

I have come to love the practice for its challenging physical aspects. I love being able to push myself further than I thought I could, even though I never considered this to be yoga and still don t know what to think of it. I ve come to realise that maybe I shouldn t be so stuck in my or other s definition of what yoga is and just appreciate that I think of nothing but the yoga for 90 minutes, that my body feels incredible after 90 minutes of sweating, and that my mind feels calm. According to Patanjali yoga is a way to unite body, mind and soul. He sais, that yoga is the ability to stop the constant movements of the mind. And this is exactly what Bikram yoga does to me.

 I do think it's a shame that the philosophical aspects of yoga aren't introduced or encouraged in the Bikram dialogue, but after listening closer to some of the teacher's words I have notised encouragements to meditate, let go, focus on the breath and calm down the mind. When thinking about it I wonder f the guy doing his practice next to me is meditating while he is in his asana or only considers his practice a physical one. But what does it matter anyway? Isn't it quite liberating that nobody dictates what kind of spiritual experience you should be having while doing your practice?

I've heard from lots of people that the talk of chakras puts them off as they only acknowledge the physical benefits of yoga. I do think they re missing out on the great potential that yoga holds but isn't their practice as valuable as mine? And don't all the other benefits sneak up on you whether you're open to them or not? I'd love to hear your thoughts.




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.