Bikram Blow Up

Hi Friends,

Hope you are having a great day so far!

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?

xo

Tara

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33 Responses to Bikram Blow Up

  • I attend a yoga class 5 or 6 days a week. I avoid the classes labeled Hot or Bikram anymore. I can’t make it through the whole class. The heat becomes overbearing.
    By the way, you are the reason I started doing yoga. Your older youtube videos got my wife and I started. I ended up losing 70 pounds. Now I go to a studio and it is great fun, and the most enjoyable part of my day. Thank you so much Tara.

  • Allyson said on 1-25-13 at 4:55 am

    I think he is full of doodoo. Still cannot believe people pay thousands of dollars to do postures he did not develop just to call it Bikram. I think great yoga teachers develop their own sequences. It comes naturally when you have a passion and love for yoga :)

  • Meron said on 1-25-13 at 5:00 am

    “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.”hahahahaha :) You ain’t neva lie!
    I loved this article, packing layers of interesting and thought-provoking explorations. Thanks!

  • David Sparks said on 1-25-13 at 8:35 am

    I agree with you. I too attended the horrible facility in LA several years ago. It was so bad the day I went, the showers for the one of the sexes was not working so we had to take turns in groups. It was very awkward and very humiliating in a way. After that experience I realized how easy it was for the Nazis to pull off their shower deception. It is amazing what people will tolerate just because it is “hot” (pun intended). Fortunately, I had had a better experience with the Bikram yoga studio in North Phoenix. The temperature did not seem so extreme when compared to the Phoenix heat of the Summer. The studio was not so crowded and they managed the sweat, body odor, showers much better. It was very clean and friendly. They were very professional. So, I was very disappointed with the LA experience. I realized also from this that there must be something wrong with Bikram himself since he frequented the LA studio a lot like it was his main studio in the US. How could anybody want his name attached to something so disgusting? I figured that there must be a big disconnect in his mind and that he would rather spend the money he earns on fancy cars etc rather than maintaining a basically clean and civil enviroment for his business. Thanks for this article, Tara.

  • Terry said on 1-25-13 at 11:14 am

    I do not know of this guy nor have I had any of his classes. I do work out in the summer heat often and think its great for the body. It seems Bikram has lost the spirituality of yoga and replaced it with capitalism.

  • Love your thoughts on this. I have so many conflicting thoughts on this whole Bikram debacle that I’m still trying to formulate my opinions but your post is super helpful.

    I did a lot of Bikram yoga last year and really enjoyed it. I felt all my ailments go away and I learnt a lot about myself – especially during the 30 day challenge. I have experienced how the simple sequence works and the benefits of it BUT my stomach turns when I see Bikram’s ego in action. The things he has been known to say about women is beyond despicable and I don’t understand how his students could stand for that.

    I do agree with you here though – if you don’t want to pay his franchising fee than don’t do the exact routine he does. If you believe in the routine that much and want to open your own studio then I do believe you should be paying his franchising fee.

    After his last interview – I really hope people do their own thing and don’t pay into his ego any longer – not that any more or less money could change that.

  • alan said on 1-25-13 at 3:51 pm

    Bikram is Unnatural, environmentally unfriendly, a lazy approach to yoga and full of cheap tricks at a high expense.

  • alan said on 1-25-13 at 4:04 pm

    In regards to the one question part, money is the answer, Starbucks is not the best coffee but their marketing formula worked out, same with Bikram

  • Yuna Shin said on 1-25-13 at 4:16 pm

    There are the 26 poses in Bikram and then there is also Ashtanga with its set sequence. Bikram wants to copyright his, Ashtanga is available to everyone. I practiced Ashtanga for many years. Even though it is the same routine, everyday my body was different. It was a good experience to see how my mind and body expanded with each practice. I can see, therefore, why some people believe that Bikram practice is the best practice for them. So I also tried Bikram once in a Bikram-sanctioned studio. I almost fainted in class, the teacher would not let me leave the room, I vomited on the way home, and I passed out when I got home. My husband was ready to sue the studio.

    That aside, I agree with the law that the sequence cannot be copyrighted. It would be like copyrighting dance moves. It stifles creativity and imagination. However, Bikram can license his name and collect fee. If you want to call yourself Bikram yogi and have “Bikram” in your studio’s name, then I am fine with Bikram Choudury collecting that fee for the use of the name. However, the poses themselves or the sequence, cannot be copyright in my opinion. Would I ever want to pay a fee if I were a studio owner? Never. I have a problem with his humongous ego and personality and I would never contribute to inflating his ego or his worldly wealth. He is not a yoga guru in the true sense of the word. He is a mere poser. Thanks, Tara, for stirring the pot.

  • Dana said on 1-25-13 at 7:17 pm

    I love this article. I have recently started doing hot yoga (bikram series with some extra spice) and I think it is a great partner to Ashtanga yoga and running. However, the more I learn about this Bikram character, them more I dislike him.

  • staley said on 1-25-13 at 11:46 pm

    I started doing yoga about 6 years ago. Mostly vinyasa. Progessed to harder classes. Found a studio and did hot vinyasa classes. Loved it. Best shape my physical body has ever been in. Then I found a different studio I wanted to try. I loved the studio. But mostly did “hot sequence” which is Bikram (although in a beautiful studio with friendly people and wonderful teachers). What I found is that the more I did this Bikram-styled yoga and didn’t do the other, the weaker my body was becoming in areas. No down-dogs. No cat/cow stretch or up-dog asanas. No tree. Not the flowing tree, anyway.

    Once I finally went back to vinyasa after practicing “hot sequence” for around 6 months, I found my body very weak. My knees were even weak. And I had worked very hard to strengthen the knees, with bridge and rabbit pose, et cetera.

    So I do vinyasa now. I do enjoy that hot sequence at that beautiful studio, but my body craves the all-around, don’t-know-what-you’re-going-to-get-in-class yoga.

    As far a Bikram himself, he does sound very pompous. And there are actually Bikram competitions. Which is completely against the grain of yoga if you ask me. Thought the ego was supposed to be left outside the door?

    Good article.

  • harsh said on 1-26-13 at 6:01 am

    It is definitely unethical to trademark any sequence of yoga. If Indian yogies would have done that, all yoga poses would have been trademarked for thousands of years. Yoga was always charitable in nature, not commercial in nature. To try change its nature is to dilute it. Any knowledge or wisdom that works towards well-being of all humans across the world is ‘godly’ in nature, a secular practice. If you are a master and you can teach and earn out if it, be thankful to that earning.
    One must also know that yoga is not an ‘exercise’ but a practice or a path to liberation (moksha), to rise above the lure of senses and desires.

  • Kate said on 1-26-13 at 1:11 pm

    This article is a little disappointing for me. I love my Bikram studio. I think it’s a nice addition to any yoga practice, especially as a recovery for tight muscles caused by endurance sports. My teachers are wonderful and the studio is clean and welcoming. I think regular practice of different kinds of yoga is most complete. I will say the mental calm you can build by withstanding such uncomfortable conditions (while your heart is racing) has added value to my life outside of the studio. Perhaps I am just lucky with the studio that has popped up in my city but I am glad to have found it.

  • sally said on 1-26-13 at 4:54 pm

    a few months ago i attended a bikram class at the studio across the street from my new house – the convenience! – i thought. i too was totally turned off by the mildew smell, old sweat and florescent lights, oh and the carpet!, but i put my repulsion aside and entered the classroom to be open, to learn. to my great surprise the teacher was rude to students, straight up. one first time student, like me, was yelled at for wearing shorts that covered her knees and told to never wear such inappropriate clothing again. i assume in order to mimic bikram himself the teacher spoke with a vaguely asian accent, though when i signed in with her in the lobby she had not. i kept looking around the room at the other students, not so much to see how their bodies looked, but to check for any kindred look of shock, confusion, disgust. nope, no one. several times during the routine i was told to press my nose down into the fetid carpet and breathe heavily. i very nearly puked and ran from the room. what a joke!

  • Lissa said on 1-26-13 at 10:31 pm

    Hi Tara,

    I attended Bikram teacher training in 2010 and remember the incident in the nightline video. I had found Bikram yoga incredibly therapeutic after a car accident and couldn’t wait to share it with others. Training was… interesting. Sometimes defensive Bikram yogis (or devout practitioners of any given “school” of yoga) will make excuses and defend everything about their yoga “guru,” even the smelly carpets. To this day, I wish I had walked out of class when Bikram began making such derogatory comments about women and gay couples. I don’t tolerate that language from others in my day-to-day life (especially in the yoga room!), and I shouldn’t have acquiesced by being part of his audience that day. I met wonderful, wonderful people at that training, but I think the drill-seargent mentality and putting up with derogatory language meant that trainees weren’t encouraged to think for themselves and develop their own intuition when it comes to listening to their bodies and shaping their own practice, or encouraging their students to do the same. And we tend to teach exactly the same way we practice!

    I taught for about 1/2 a year after training, came to NYC, started an 80-hr per week desk job, and then became too self-conscious to practice Bikram as I fell more and more out of shape – especially as a former teacher, after having been so fit and bendy before. I’m finally learning to be more forgiving and to get back into yoga without the “no pain, no gain” mentality. For a while, Bikram yoga served me very well, but now, I’ve started asking myself what it is I need right now from my yoga practice. Hopefully the Bikram community will do some soul searching and ask itself what it needs going forward too.

    P.S. – I’m getting back into yoga with a home practice. Downloaded and tried your strong yoga video the other day. Laughed while trying to hold plank for two minutes straight towards the end. Looking forward to the fun journey getting there :)

  • I love yoga but just could not get into Bikram. I just found it so repetitive and where I found other yoga classes really put me into a good frame of mind, I just left Bikram feeling hot, sweaty and just really icky.

  • Meghan said on 1-30-13 at 6:10 pm

    I had a great experience with Bikram yoga. It got me back into yoga in 2003 and in 2007 I became certified (in Vinyasa Flow, not Bikram). My arthritis and allergies bot went into remission during my regular Bikram practice. I also love the routine of the 26 poses. As a busy mother at the time I found it a grounding, meditative experience.
    I have no experience with Bikram himself personally, but I have always found his public persona to be very “larger than life” and more geared toward entertainment and publicity. Possibly a “catch me out” challenge. Maybe I am naive, but I think I see a wink in there somewhere….

  • Sara said on 2-01-13 at 5:27 am

    My issue isn’t with hot classes per se–I took a heated ashtanga class in the Bay Area last spring that kicked my butt, helped me find new places in poses, and left me feeling almost high afterward. (In a good way–the aftereffect was exhilarating, but I also knew I needed to not operate any heavy machinery for a little while after that.)

    I guess a lot of the Bikram stuff I’ve heard just chaps my hide a bit. Instructors barking orders? No modifications? F*ck that noise. I’ll probably still try it at some point when finances allow (and strive to keep an open mind, honest) but right now I’ll stick with my home studio.

  • ForgivingYogi said on 2-02-13 at 12:51 am

    Thank you Tara, for authoring this blog post and thank you to each of you who have commented. I’ve been torn with conflicting feelings on this matter for quite a while but you’ve all seemed to illuminate to me what’s truly happening before our eyes. Bikram is a man … a human being. And human beings can make mistakes. Human beings can get caught up in narcism and ego when everyone around us feeds and nourishes those vices. I didn’t realize it until I witnessed the infantile behavior of people calling him “…full of doodoo” and accusing him of being unethical and considering his yoga series to be “…a lazy approach to yoga and full of cheap tricks.” And do we honestly think that comparing the Bikram Headquarters to Nazi German is reasonable? It sounds to me as though we are all due for a little bit of self-reflection, are we not? After all, what is a yoga practice if devoid of forgiveness, awareness, and understanding?
    It wasn’t until sitting down to write this response, that it all became so clear to me. So thank you all of you for being critical and blaming and self-righteous. Without you, I may have never discovered the virtue which is needed most in this situation: forgiveness.

  • Marilyn said on 2-02-13 at 5:48 pm

    I did Bikram Yoga clear back in the early 80′s. I studied it under a teacher in Missoula,Montana. At that time, he had a book out with the poses, I think you can still get it. The only reason we used a heater of any kind was because during a Montana winter in a studio (with wood floors by the way)it got darn cold. I moved to a smaller town that didn’t have a yoga studio and continued to do the poses out of the book. I called California once to his studio to see if there was a video available and was told rather curtly that “Bikram doesn’t do videos”. It was at that point that I began to explore different types of yoga and classes. I’ve been out of it for some time now, but I’m ready to start again and I just purchased your book Tara. I appreciate that you haven’t cloked yourself in Zen mystery! Keep up the good work.

  • maru said on 2-03-13 at 7:17 pm

    How sad that any of this ´performance´is called yoga at all… the poses are not even challenging if you have ever practiced or learned with a good teacher. The challenge is the heat, go sit still in a hot room and you will sweat anyway… the best and most beautiful part of yoga, the quiet mind and meditative states are ignored. His arrogance has nothing to do with yoga… Take a class with Dharma Mittra and you will meet a reaol yogi and a pure yoga practice.

  • I did it for a few months and I did enjoy the ‘cleansing’ experience of the heat and sweat. I got along with it quite well but the instructors did tend to be quite aggressive and pushy. I also agree that after a while it could get boring and your body would only be trained in a certain way.

  • Camille Otero said on 2-05-13 at 2:31 am

    Wow that video makes me really sad for him. That is exactly what is wrong with a lot of the yoga community. There is a studio in Albuquerque that I went to a couple times a month and I took my 60 year old overweight mom to a few classes. One teacher was a little pompous but the day she came over to my mom and told her she couldn’t use the bar to help her do a pose was the last straw. I never went back.

    I am so grateful to have you on this planet and teaching us yoga the way it should be taught…with love, patience and authenticity. XOXO

  • Blair said on 2-06-13 at 1:11 am

    I spent about a year practicing Bikram Yoga at the Brooklyn Heights studio. I absolutely LOVED it. I loved the studio, the teachers and the owners (Troy Myers and Aiko Nakasone). It was just what I needed. They would walk around giving adjustments and it never once felt like a bootcamp. Then I moved to LA and tried a Bikram class. I HATED it. I could not stand how they would stand at the front of class and bark orders at you like you were in a bootcamp class not a yoga practice.

    I LOVE hot yoga but can’t stand Bikram. After watching that video and listening to Bikram speak I have an intense distant for the man. He is greedy, self-centered and oblivious to the philosophies of yoga.

    I have since found the most amazing hot yoga studio, it’s called Moksha Yoga. They are a Canadian based company with a few studios in the US (NYC, LA and KY). I know lots of Bikram yoga students in LA that are making the change to Moksha. :)

  • so what I read was..that as a teacher you shouldn’t teach the bikram way and call it bikram if your not affiliated with him. so many do this and agitates me. ha ha…

    I wanted to rant how funny Bikram is because I have met so many who take his class and say…why are you saying Vinyasa when its Bikram poses you are using in your sequence… Bikram doesn’t own these poses and if you base your knowledge by another man and call that truth rather than research and find the original originators then you will be awakened that in fact He never created these poses even his name was passed down from his father… sooo point that I am making… none except people should just do yoga and be of service rather than take responsibility for someone finding who they are…
    I have read someone stating that Bikram is a capatalist.. look we all gotta make a living… should I say students are unappreciative for preferring to pay $5 for a yoga class rather than $15 or $20? aye the backlashes

  • Heather said on 2-13-13 at 5:48 am

    I’ve attended a few Bikram classes here in Halifax, and pretty much detest them. I don’t mind the heat, I don’t mind the poses, but don’t like the shouting. I felt like I was at an auction house. And as for this Bikram guy, I’ve never seen a god-complex so obvious as his – and I feel like the irony of a dictatorship in the world of yoga is just unbearable. It makes no sense whatsoever.

    On another note, I’ve become quite passionate about hot yoga in general. More specifically, Moksha….it has all of (what I consider) the good qualities of Bikram, mixed with the variety, the flow, the community, and the peacefulness of other forms of yoga that I fell in love with. And going into a 105 degree room, while it’s -25 degrees outside (in Canada) is my version of heaven! I suggest you try it if you haven’t yet.

    PS – LOVE YA!!

  • Lauren said on 2-20-13 at 3:30 am

    I started Bikram yoga a few years back, and was told by the teacher that “if I couldn’t handle it, it was because I was in a bad mental place” and that was something I had to deal with myself because it was not his problem, however it would be good for me to do the class in order to “lose my baby fat” ….. even though I am on the lower end of the healthy bmi range…… during the class I felt very sick but was forbidden from leaving the room and then I ended up getting really sick and vomiting profusely for days after…. then the school emailed me two days later and asked why I had not returned… I told them I was still in bed and had not stopped vomiting .. they said that meant I had to come back and do another class…. when I said I could not physically get out of bed they emailed me again and told me they were disappointed in my lack of care for my body and health — go figure…..

    I love my yoga but I think I will do it outside of a hot room I am not allowed to leave even when I faint in a pool of my own vomit…..

  • Adam said on 3-09-13 at 8:28 pm

    What an absolutely vile human being. I’m just starting to learn yoga and have been interested in maybe trying Bikram one day, that has changed after watching that video. If I ever do decide to try a heated yoga class it won’t be one that is licensed to that horrible man.

  • Alexandra said on 4-08-13 at 1:24 am

    I love hot yoga classes, so decided to try out Bikram yoga. I absolutely hated it. The teacher had a very “lets get this over with” attituded, was show offy, spoke non stop, pointed me out in class and made me feel SO self conscious. I actually ended up crying once I got home. Yoga is my outlet for stress relief, and I felt extremely anxious the entire time. I still have 9 classes left in my pass at this studio, so I will try different instructors, but I am not impressed.

  • Eunice said on 4-20-13 at 6:56 pm

    I love hatha, ashtanga, and bikram. Yoga is yoga and when you’re passionate about it you don’t really care for anything else

  • Tommyloyd said on 7-19-13 at 1:01 am

    I have practiced Bikram yoga for over 7 years and probably will until I can’t any more. The poses are challenging and beneficial. I also practice vinyasa flow and will unit I can’t any more as well. The two together are magical, a complete circle!

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