Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

I don’t mind stretches and poses but I’ve never bought into yoga culture. I don’t like the body shaming or the forced spirituality or the merchandising juggernaut it has become. Some yogic schools of thought actually believe that yoga should be a gift to the people; teaching yoga is a seva, a blessed service, so teachers shouldn’t charge. And yet yoga studios pop up in every gentrified corner of the world ready to take hundreds of dollars from their affluent customers, with a LuluLemon around the corner ready to charge exorbitant rates for a see-through pair of pants.

Bikram Choudhury arrived in Beverly Hills (where else?) and immediately set the yoga world on fire – and some would say, created the yoga world, at least in America. He claims clients in Elvis, Nixon, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and more. He built an empire, franchising some 600 studios and embracing the nickname McYoga as some kind of distinction of honour.

Bikram was a celebrity and loved his Hollywood lifestyle. Sure his acolytes saw “red flags” and signs of “megalomania” and acknowledge that humiliation was part of the training. People were fat-shamed routinely. “The best food is no food” was a popular mantra. All part of the fun. Yoga was a cult and his followers were clearly brain-washed – some of them still today, scrambling over all kinds of logical fallacies to excuse away his transgressions, one lady basically saying they won’t say anything negative about him because thanks to him, her back bends were deeper. The man referred to himself as a blood sucker and literally told women “put a cork in your pussy, you’re not allowed to pee” and still people cover for him, “he has his own truth.” Yes, he certainly does.

This documentary covers all manner of sin in the Bikram Yoga Studio. “Separate the man from the teacher,” they said, but you’ll notice nobody says “separate Jim Jones from Peoples Temples”; I’m pretty sure we’ve agreed that everything that comes from an evil cult leader is also evil.

Were you surprised to learn that Bikram Choudhury is a sexual predator? That his yoga studios were basically an excuse to have a constant rotation of sweaty women in bikinis parade their flexibility in front of him so he could pick who to rape next. Bikram yoga was a conveyor belt feeding a hungry rapist.

And let e tell you: if anyone refers to themselves as your family who is not actually your family? Run. RUN. Normally this happens at work, and it’s almost always done to cover up some kind of abuse. They’re about to make you work weekends. Or not pay you for overtime. Do it because “we’re family” though it never EVER works both ways.

And another little hint from your friendly neighbourhood Jay: a man who shows up dressed only in a Speedo and a Rolex? Not a good guy.

It breaks my heart to see so many of his followers turn a blind eye to some really awful stuff. Bikram the man is a monster, but how many of his followers are complicit? Hundreds. Thousands. More? He has fled the country but he’s still doing teacher training and studios are still sending girls to him in Spain and Mexico. Shame on them. The only effective inoculation is information, and this documentary is a powerful dose.

11 thoughts on “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

  1. Orca Flotta

    “Some yogic schools of thought actually believe that yoga should be a gift to the people”
    Yes, absolutely. Yoga classes in our local Ashrama are free as it should be. Unfortunately it’s on the other side of town and it takes very long to get there. At Virgin Active I pay my monthly fee, if I do anything or not, or just use the showers and sauna, or lift some weights or swim some lanes in the pool. In so far one could almost say their yoga classes are also for free. 😉

    I’ve never trusted Bikram, the man, but his hot yoga regime is quite cool. So I spoil myself once or twice a year with a little sweaty yoga. The 26 asanas of Bikram have a nice flow from baby easy to oy vey. 😉 It’s a cool alternative to my usual very technical static Iyengar yoga.

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  2. Judy Kim

    Netflix has a good documentary about Bikram. He professed to create the technique but it was already created but he stole the knowledge and repackaged it as his own. His teacher was the true guru, Bikram is the “Dartb Vader” (I dislike Star Wars but couldn’t resist the comparison) of Yoga. I also find it very strange how ancient teachings from non-white cultures (meditation, martial arts and yoga) are taken over as rebranded trends by white student/teachers who then become the “experts”. They say that when Buddhism reaches the west, it’s no longer Buddhism.

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  3. ninvoid99

    I first heard about this guy on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and man, he came across like a real self-centered piece of shit. I hope he gets busted and becomes someone’s bitch in prison.

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  4. Orca Flotta

    @Judy Kim: Yes, all the 26 asanas in Bikram are well-known since thousands of years. He just puts his practitioners in a hot studio for questionable medical advantages, and put the asanaas in a special order. While it’s true that sweaty well lubed joints in high humidity are a bit more flexible than those in a dry body, I don’t wanna know how many first-time practitioners almost died of a heart attack. I know I almost did … or at least it felt like I was gonna die … at the tender age of only 39 back then. 😦

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  5. Orca Flotta

    @ninvoid: I never heard of that Bryant Gumbel (not an American and not in possession of a TV, sorry) but I know that yoga ain’t a sport. Neither is it gymnastics. Yoga is one of the 7 forms of meditation. That’s why you can do it – for fuxn free – in about each and every ashram … and there you won’t find any of Bikram’s hot sweaty lifestyle yoga bs.

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  6. Liz A.

    Eeek. I had no idea. Of course, I don’t do yoga (have always meant to as it would help my flexibility). My father does. From a book. At home. Glad I’ve never run into that guy, though.

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