My introduction to yoga was through Bikram Yoga, specifically Bikram Yoga Rockville just around the corner from my home here in the DC Metro Area.
If you’ve followed this blog or my other blog, you’re already aware that Bikram Yoga, in a very real and profound way, changed my life.
I didn’t start practicing in October 2011 because I thought I would grow spiritually or eventually begin to heal from past abuse and emotional pain. On the contrary, my motivation was more materialistic and vain. I joined the Bikram Yoga studio because I wanted to get physically fit and maybe heal a knee injury I had been living with for far too many years.
Within days of practicing Bikram Yoga, I was able to stop taking Advil. I could even walk up and down stairs without fearing I’d topple or lose my footing.
Within a few months of starting, I turned 40 and discovered at my annual doctor’s visit that I had lost weight and lowered my blood pressure. There was no doubt that I was gaining energy, too. Soon, the emotional and spiritual benefits of my practice would be evident to myself and to others in my life.
A little over a year into my practice, the accusations that Bikram Choudhury, creator of the Bikram Yoga series and founder of the Bikram Yoga empire, raped women (yes, plural) who had attended his yoga teacher training certification. On the heels of these revelations, past employees of the yoga guru soon came forward with disturbing allegations of their own, depicting Bikram Choudhury as a racist tyrant who ran his business “like a cult.”
Here is a list of recent stories covering the allegations:
Bikram Yoga Founder Accused of Sexual Assaults ABC News Nightline – February 26, 2014
Women Suing Hot Yoga Guru for Alleged Sexual Assault Come Forward, ABC News – February 26, 2014
Bikram yoga guru accused of rape hires former White House lawyer, The Telegraph – January 31, 2014
Bikram Feels the Heat, Vanity Fair – January 1, 2014
Women who accused Bikram yoga founder of rape speak out against the millionaire ‘guru’ after ‘he forced one victim into a yoga pose during an attack’, The Daily Mail – December 6, 2013
Bikram Yoga’s Embattled Founder: The Alleged Rapes and Sexual Harassment Claims Against Guru Bikram Choudhury, Vanity Fair – December 3, 2013
Bikram Yoga Founder Blasted For Alleged Rape, Sexual Harassment And Racism In Explosive Lawsuit, The Huffington Post – August 6, 2013
I can’t say I was completely surprised. Even before I stepped foot into the Bikram Yoga studio here in Maryland, I had perused the Bikram Yoga website. The images of Bikram Choudhury sweating and practicing and standing like a dictator before large numbers of yoga practitioners kind of repulsed me. Silly me, I shamed myself for being so judgmental and was determined to not let my unfair prejudices keep me from trying something that could possibly help me.
After I started practicing, I gradually started learning a little more about how Bikram Yoga studios are managed, how Bikram Yoga teachers are trained and how other yoga disciplines viewed Bikram Yoga.
Briefly, if you want to teach and promote yourself as a teacher of the Bikram Yoga series, you must go through the 9-week Bikram Yoga certification intensive taught twice each year. You have your choice of either going to Los Angeles or splurging and going to Thailand.
If you do not go through this specific training, you can not teach the Bikram Yoga series.
Fine. I get that. Seems fair.
But this is what bothers me a bit:
If and when you are able to open up your own Bikram Yoga studio, part of your membership revenue as a Bikram Yoga instructor and studio owner must be paid to Bikram, Inc. of which Bikram Choudhury is the “Boss” and CEO. This is the fast-food franchise model applied to yoga.
So even after you carve out 9 weeks away from your family and friends, pay between $11,400 to $15,500 for training (depending on your preferred room accommodations) and spend more time after training improving your poses and ability to teach effectively, Bikram Choudhury wants more of you if you decide to run a studio with his name “Bikram” on the sign.
You can’t teach Bikram Yoga without Bikram training and then you can’t call yourself a Bikram studio or say your class is a Bikram class without paying more money? It all seems very non-yogi-like to me.
Despite all the yucky sensations I was feeling and tasting, I kept paying my monthly dues and attending classes. I just loved my teachers and the other yogis at the studio.
But the rape allegations have stopped me in my tracks. I have only attended a handful of classes at the Bikram Yoga studio since January 1, 2014. Instead, I have been practicing yoga at home (YouTube is full of great teachers and free videos!) and at another yoga studio where I am participating in 200-hour yoga teacher training.
I’m struggling. After all, Bikram Choudhury hasn’t been found guilty. However, as an advocate who is determined to bring as much awareness to the forefront about pathological, abusive predators as I can, I MUST take a stand and believe that these women are telling the truth. Too much of what they say and the struggles they repeat about finally coming forward have me more than convinced.
As far as Bikram Choudhury’s responses and defense…his words echo classic perpetrator speak. I can’t deny what I hear and what I know about abusers. I can’t. I believe Bikram Choudhury is an abusive rapist and has hurt and harmed far more than just these few women brave enough to come forward.
Today, I am left to mourn my Bikram Yoga practice. I never revered Bikram Choudhury as my guru. However, I looked to my Bikram Yoga instructors for nearly two (2) years for spiritual guidance and support. I have zero regrets. I also know that there are predators everywhere–teachers teaching other styles of yoga throughout the world preying on the vulnerabilities of women and men. Nothing I do can stop that from happening.
But I have the power to disconnect from the negative energy in my life that simply doesn’t seem to be dissipating. If one day Bikram Choudhury releases the studios from paying the franchise fee, I may go back.
And if my information about the franchises is erroneous, please let me know. If there are Bikram Yoga-trained instructors freely teaching the 26-posture series without being obligated to pay Bikram, Inc., let me know.
© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.
Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.