The Bikram Choudhury Shitshow

This blog originally appeared on xojane.com

I attended Bikram’s Yoga School sometime in the late 90s. It was very far from my home at the time, just beneath the Hollywood sign, and I would sweat and bake in the car, panicking that I would be late for their 4:30 pm class — but, ultimately, I would arrive just in time, to sweat and bake further in the heat of the classroom. The school was much larger than the Bikram studios I had attended previously, as many in attendance were student teachers, eager to be certified so they might one day open schools on their own –- small, hot, smelly rooms that have now popped up all over the world.

Bikram Yoga is rather different from other yoga forms I have attempted. I am only saying I have attempted yoga, but I’ve been attempting it for about 35 years, beginning with watching Lillias on PBS as a child to once even actually filling out a form for a teaching workshop in India (To be a teacher! Seriously! I shit you not!) — and then attempting to not fidget in child’s pose with a serious sadhu at dawn on the rooftop of the Vajra Hotel in Kathmandu.

Usually before big shows, I will hire a yoga teacher to come and work with me on the stage before soundcheck. My touring party and I lay out on borrowed mats and we try to undo the damage of airline seats and hotel beds. Bikram Yoga, with its intense heat and brilliantly curated sequence of poses, is one of my favorite and least favorite forms of the art of yoga.

Bikram Yoga is hard. It can make you sick at first. Then it’s so addictive you’d think there should be a 12-step program for it. The room is heated up to 105 degrees and, boy, do you feel it — and then you smell it. It can make your eyes water and shit. Like it’s every human smell multiplied by pi, and that’s not good, as often the practice rooms are carpeted, soaking up all the human juice for, uh, later. You use a mat and a towel on top, but that doesn’t really begin to absorb all the fluid that comes out of your body. It’s a bummer when the smell of all humanity being wrung out like a towel surrounds you, and you are adding to it, bringing your unique scent to the human stew that is Bikram Yoga.

I took a number of classes with the master himself, Bikram Choudhury, and I found him charming in small doses, but then usually, after 26 poses –- I’d had enough. He was rather prickly — he wanted poses done perfectly, held as long as they should be — and these are qualities we want from a teacher of course. Watch us, tell us what we are doing wrong. Be here with us in class. Don’t play the fucking harmonium, you new age douchebag. If you are a yoga teacher, teach that yoga. He wasn’t like an “OM” dude. He didn’t give a shit about that. He wore a tiny bikini bottom, more of a thong maybe, and lots of gold jewelry, which I wondered how it didn’t heat up to the melting point in class. He sweated along with us. I admired him for that, and for the 26 poses, and for the cult of him.

There seemed to be a huge cult of him, mostly women but some men, all extremely fit and beautiful (I am not counting myself as a member of this cult). Schools were popping up everywhere. His students wanted to spread the word of his yogic genius and the smell of everyone’s sweaty holes all over the goddamned world.

Yeah, I love that yoga, I will even do an eagle or two from time to time, out of sequence and in a cold room, because I am gangsta like that, but after awhile, the master Bikram Choudhury really started to get on my nerves. He made numerous comments on the women’s bodies in class. He got really shitty once all up in my brother Bruce Daniel’s face, because Bruce came to class with me, couldn’t handle the heat or the smell, left and actually vomited outside. Bikram Choudhury loves a dirty joke, as I do, but sometimes his jokes were quite cutting, and inappropriate – which for me is saying a lot. I am the most inappropriate bitch and if I am saying something is inappropriate — you know that shit must be illegal. Sorry, I am saying “shit” too much, but in a way, that is kind of how Bikram Choudhury made me feel: like shit.

The yoga itself — no — not shitty. Bikram Choudhury the man — shitty. There’s some sexual harassment allegations against him right now, and there have been rumors about his behavior towards his female students for years, and I have to say, as a former student and actual fan of his popular form of yoga, I know that all that seems just like the guy I once knew. It doesn’t mean we have to stop doing the poses, but maybe we should just, for once, notice the Poser.

10 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Thanks for your honesty…the yoga is the practice, and it is some crazy shit! :) It is a good reminder as a teacher of this yoga to spread goodness in my classes, and to recycle good energy from the podium back to the students, I love the fact that our students feel so much better after class, not like shit. Ever in the Reno?Truckee area, we hope to have you leave smiling :)

  2. Margret, Great blog. as one of the core members of Bikram yoga for 35 years and a teacher since his first training in 1994. You have to agree that it is a great practice, the best yoga practice I’ve found and I am stickng to it. The man is funny, egnimatic, outrageous, brilliant, sweet and shitty and sexist all at the same time. He is a guy….a rock star of a guy. I ‘ve seen women fall all over him for years all the time…..the Americans are so naive when it comes to guru. Guru is teacher, thats all. They make him a God and put him on a petestal and blame him when he falls. No one is twisting anyone’s arm to come to Bikram yoga and stay and stay and stay. Just enjoy the benefits of the practice !

  3. I haven’t tried Bikram Yoga yet, and your post scares the shit out of me! I am involved in orgasmic meditation and a lot of the people in that are also practicing Bikram Yoga, I think it is recommended. I have done a lot of half-ass meditation in my life, and it is funny to read how you have your own version of a yoga practice. It take the lure of stroking a woman’s clitoris to get me into a continuous meditation practice. Much more interesting than meditating on a candle flame, reciting a mantra, or following my breath. Or sweating like a pig in a room full of egually sweaty people, for that matter. I am happy to be back commenting on your blog again! I am doing my first stand up comedy on May 3 for a fundraiser for Fillup California. I am super nervous about it!

  4. Thanks for your words. I am a Bikram Yoga instructor and love the pactice. Bikram can be a real dick, but that doesn’t take away from the yoga practice in my opinion. It is what it is. And I don’t know if he did what he’s accused of, but for the life of me, I find him to be very asexual. In no way can I even imagine him (or want to, he’s like my mean, funny, grouchy grandad) even having sex. But I guess we’ll see if he did it and gets convicted…

  5. When we start having ‘world championships for yoga’, is when I leave the room. To be sick, perhaps, but mainly out of disgust. I’ve done yoga for many years, but Bikram sounds like a joke. It goes against everything that I’ve learnt about yoga – a warm, well-ventilated room for practice, for a start. Personal hygiene is a good idea too – a far cry from the sodden 105 degree carpets. Yuk! is my immediate and probably enduring response to this fad.

  6. Margaret, you rock — not only because when I am compared to a celebrity your name comes up as my celebrity look alike ( although I am a Latina — so if you ever wanna see what the Latina version of you looks like you can see me on FACEBOOK:) …you’re awesome because you say what you want! I could write a book on this post but I am still teaching and don’t want to be fired — I know it’s sad that way — that’s why you’re my hero — you can say whatever you want. It’s not that I have a gag order, but I’ve been asked not to talk to students about him — so even anonymously I feel like I can’t say anything, because it may hurt my bottomline — just like the guy who posted here that he doesn’t want to try this style because of what he’s heard. It’s too bad, because the yoga is a really great style (especially at the studios where they clean regularly and filter in fresh air — yes, not all the studios are grunghy and gross) — also off shots have sprung up that are much more enlightened like “Yoga for the People” other Hot yoga schools that are not affiliated. And even the ones that are know that Mr. Chodhury is the messenger NOT THE MESSAGE — the message is you and your roadies doing the poses before your show — the transformation that takes place and gets us all to breath together — this is union, this is yoga… I feel it a weird way sorry for Bikram — he’s so rich, materialistic, — he has it all, and in my book he had nothing because he has lost my respect. I also want to say another thing: I’ve heard (more than from one person and source) an excuse for his behavior along the lines of: well, it’s cultural, he’s from India — gurus are massaged and their hair is combed there by their students — well this is America — and that shit (it’s catching!) don’t fly here! — all the high profile news stories of violence against woman that have come out of India lately, you would think people would go — may be that is part of their culture that lacke enlightenment — but that would not be politically correct would it…. I am a latina and have grown up with so many rotten things said about Latinos — but I guess Indian’s (from India are sacred cows) — this is such billshit…Thanks Margaret for letting me post anonymously!

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