If you practice yoga, or have even heard of yoga for that matter, there is a good chance you have heard of Bikram, and there is a good chance you have a strong opinion about him and his yoga. 26 poses, hot as (the opposite of heaven) dank carpeted mirrored room, 90 minutes of drill sargen commands, and buckets of sweat. I took a Bikram class once in LA over 10 years ago. I was drawn in by the huge advertisement on the side of his building “YOGA” in huge letters. I liked YOGA.
I went in to check it out. The aroma of mildewy sweat soaked carpeting mixed with new sweat and body odor greeted me at the front door. The decor was the furthest thing from a spa or gym. My senses were deprived of external beauty. I don’t know what I expected, a vase of flowers, or maybe just a clean bench to kick off shoes. A boxing gym (in my mind) would win by far in a germ and style face off by a long shot. It was stinky and ugly, but hey, I’d give it a shot.
Now I come from a ballet and contemporary dance background so “yoga poses” have never been very difficult for me. I also have the mind set that yoga is pretty much the opposite of ballet. Sure, some of the movements, grace, and focus may appear similar on the outside, but the point of yoga, in opposition to dance, is not about completing the shape with your body, it’s about connecting. The story goes deeper and less linear than dance and all the action is happening in the internal / not external world.
I went into the room with an open mind, ready to connect, be led through the class, and expand my self. It’s easy to identify the obvious challenge: can you stay focused and chill while in an abnormally hot environment? If you take Bikram’s routine out of the hot room, the movements would be a lot less challenging, to the point of ho hum boring to many capable bodies. I couldn’t helpt to reflect after the class how elementary the routine actually is, and how the heat is really the main character. Then I began to wonder, would this routine create capability in a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual way? Possibly for some, but for me, I wasn’t interested. I wondered, why the carpet? Is it cheaper to rent a warehouse that is carpeted than one with a nice wood floor? Wood is so much nicer and much easier to clean.
We’ve all watched Bikram’s massive expansion over the years. We’ve seen Bikram studios pop up like Starbucks and “hot yoga” studios like their indie rivals. People love it or hate it. Either way, it’s gained massive popularity and lots of controversy. Injuries happen when the body is pushed and forced. Heat tricks the body to being more capable than it actually is. Bikram is known not to have the most gentlest of “mat side manner” in his teaching. He has been accused of shouting nasty, sexual, and degrading comments to women in his classes and trainings. So why the appeal? Why do so many people continue to line up and perform his 26 poses for him?
Bikram has simplified his yoga into a routine that most able bodies can do. There is no mystery to what is going to happen in his class. You are going to do the 26 poses and go home a sweaty mess. In many modern yoga classes you might not know if you are going to get a poetry reading, chanting, or someone’s venting about their day before, during or after a class. You might not know in any other class called “yoga” what the routine will be. It may vary as far as performing one pose, pointing out the person who does the pose best in class, and clapping for them (I’ve been in these classes more than I’ve liked) a flow based routine, or lying on the ground in restoration. There is more variety in today’s yoga than any other form of exercise. (let me know if you can think of any other physical form that comes close) If you try a class you don’t like, keep trying, there is something for everyone. The something for everyone factor is great in so many ways. You can hop studios and gyms until you find the perfect fit. With Bikram, it’s the same fit every time. And that’s the reason for success. Starbucks. The same latte ever time. Take it or leave it.
And now there is a blow up. The center of the blow up is around his 26 poses in a hot room. Is it fair to own that or not? The law says not. So anyone is free to do his routine in a hot room and call it something besides Bikram. To do his routine, in a hot room, call it Bikram, and not pay franchise fees is not legal. It would be like attempting to open a Starbucks, sell Starbucks coffee, and not be officially affilated with Starbucks. That wouldn’t go long unnoticed.
One question. . why do students of his who start their own studios and say they don’t align with him still want to teach his exact routine in his exact temperature? Why not vary the routine at all? if you don’t vary it, you agree it is the best and most useful practice that you’d like to expand.
We’ve seen this in yoga before. Calling the yoga (routine and philosophy) good, valuable, and even brilliant, and denouncing the choreographer and originator of the routine. In reality, the two are entangled in psychology, methodology and philosophy. The two are the same. The person and the product of the person’s idea about the world and how to be in it. You throw out one, you throw out both. You throw out one, and keep the other, you believe in both equally but are untruthful about it.
I agree it’s not right to “own” or be able to “trademark” a physical sequence, the same is with dance, but if you do the choreography, play the music, wear the costumes, the nutcracker is still the nutcracker whatever you call it.
pun intended Bikram
What do you think?