Bikram Yoga: What I Learned From Bikram

by cdutson on December 3, 2012

bikram yoga bikram choudhury

Bikram challenges the yoga community with his outspoken personality

Today I was reading an article by Barney Calman on Daily Mail about Bikram yoga.  This wonderful article starts with an interview of the amazing Joseph Encinia, the 2011 International Yoga Asana Champion, and ends with the author’s visit to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in L.A., where she chronicles some of the amazing testimonies of the teacher trainees.  Stories like:

  • Alison, who avoided hip replacement surgery by doing Bikram yoga
  • Sam, who was able to go off of antidepressants because of Bikram yoga
  • Carrie, who overcame paralysis on her right side from 3 slipped discs

Calman also discusses how Bikram profits off of franchising his yoga system, which is looked down upon by many in the yoga community.  Calman describes some of Bikram’s brash comments to the media regarding this:

“In response, he has told journalists of his fleet of Roll-Royces and that he has ‘the biggest pool in Beverly Hills’. He says he is Jesus and Elvis, rolled into one. Incorrigible is one way of putting it, and this grandstanding has diverted attention from the remarkable health story.”

bikram yoga bikram choudhury 2It reminded me of how many people are rather turned off by Bikram, who can be quite outspoken and I’d venture to say even enjoys shocking people with his comments.  I recalled how at Teacher Training, several people were shocked to learn how Bikram really was.  I suppose they had envisioned a quiet, humble yogi master… something more like the Buddha or Dalai Lama.  Some were appalled by his frequent cursing, loud, crazy mannerisms, and flashy wardrobe choices.  Personally, I was intrigued.

For me, I knew enough about Bikram before experiencing him at Teacher Training that I already considered him a genius.  I wasn’t really deterred by his outspoken personality.  Like every other person on the Earth, he is just a man with his own flaws, but there is no question in my mind that he is a genius when it comes to the mechanics of the body and yoga therapy.

Like many brilliant people, there’s a fine line between genius and lunacy.  Bikram is who he is.  He makes no attempt to hide that or be someone he’s not.  I respect that about him.  He does not fit conveniently into most people’s idea of what a guru should be.  In that way, he makes you do your yoga.  He challenges you not to lose your peace over his behavior.  When you come to him looking for a savior or for a way to enlightenment, he jumps around, yelling obscenities and making jokes, forcing you to learn that you will not find your answers in another human outside of yourself.  He is not what you want him to be, so you must look inward for your salvation.  Bikram tells us at Teacher Training that we are all gods and goddesses, and we are already born with everything we need, we just have to learn how to use it.

Bikram says that many master yogis prefer the quiet life, meditating their days away in the Himalayas (see video below), but Bikram is not like that.  He enjoys life in America, which is rather lavish compared to his home country of India.  Bikram came to the USA in the sixties and over the decades, has been changed by his exposure to Western lifestyle.  He often kids “I never used to curse… you guys made me this way!!”  Similarly, he was affected by the materialistic quest that existed all around him in his new home of southern California.  He thoroughly enjoys the material success his yoga brilliance has brought him, and he makes no apologies about it.

I ask, what is wrong with that?  Must a master yogi renounce material possessions to be considered worthy?  To me, this is yoga.  I must look inward and ask why someone enjoying material things should bother me, in my life.  The answer is, it shouldn’t.  If a yogi chooses poverty or if he chooses lavishness, he is no better or no worse.  It is only our judgements that make one way better and one way worse, nothing else.  Bikram challenges the yoga community to go beyond these kind of worldly judgements in the way a quiet, humble yogi could not.  What does it matter either way if the perfect state of meditative connectedness does not even exist in the same realm as material possessions and worldly behaviors?  The perfect “union” we seek in yoga, the union of mind / body / soul, the union of the self with others and all that exists in the universe, certainly does not exist anywhere near the same plane as our judgements about people’s lifestyle choices.

Continue to enjoy your fancy wrist watches and Rolls Royces, Mr. Choudhury.  Thank you for challenging us and causing us to grow.

What do YOU think about yoga’s wild man Bikram Choudhury?

Contrastingly, this yogi does not eat or drink but meditates his days away…


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