After returning to Bikram Yoga after a few years: a response to a comic strip, addressing the practice, accusations toward Bikram, how Bikram yoga relates to kink and BDSM, and claiming one’s own path in the face of conflicting morals

For some strange reason I woke up at 5am this morning and my inner voice demanded that I return to Bikram Yoga, and that I spend my “emergency $20” to do so. Well, it wasn’t really for a strange reason at all: I’ve been going through some intense outer planet transits (Uranus, Saturn, and Pluto are all hard-aspecting my angles, with Uranus also hard-aspecting my natal Pluto, and Neptune is quincunx my Sun and opposite my Progressed Sun, for starters… at least I have some benefic energy in there with Jupiter creating a grand trine with a personal planet and the MC). Suffice to say that I am going through a lot of transition from pretty much every front. Old habits and playing old games with my life just isn’t cutting it anymore and I have been in self care mode pretty much 24/7. One thing is that I have been sleeping a LOT, including taking naps, which has been putting me into sort of a haphazard biphasic sleep sort of situation that doesn’t happen every day. I can’t plan much of anything these days and I don’t want to: I’m surrendering to participating in my moving forward on the plan that was set out for me by Divine Providence. Yes, we are always going through changes… right now I’m going through a few, and staying grounded and in my body, connected to nature, and giving myself what I need, not necessarily what I want, or want to want, is what it’s all about right now.

Anyway, I went to Bikram yoga again, and it was great. Afterward at some point in the day I did an image search for “bikram humor” and found this really honest and insightful comic called “Bikram Addict” about one person’s experience with the practice over time (the author’s name is Eroyn Franklin), and I was prompted to reply… and as it sometimes goes with me, my response was extremely long-winded. This was my response, which I find is a blog post in its own right. I have wanted to write about Bikram Yoga for many years. So, this coming out is a good sign, to me:

Great comic! I found it doing an image search for “bikram humor” after returning to the practice this morning after a few years. Bikram yoga also had miraculous effects on me years ago when I dove nose-first (head to knee?) into the practice, and within 3 days I was cured of a years-long bout with Amenorrhea, a condition I had suffered from for the better part of a decade. Sometimes I’d go a year without a period - it was so normal that I had given up hope I’d ever have a normal cycle. I have been basically regular ever since, even during periods where I have not practiced in years. I fell in love with it, it fueled me and propelled me into a kundalini awakening, and it’s been a long strange trip ever since, as they say. I even worked for a “non-bikram” hot yoga studio for over a year as a dedicated “karmi” about a year after I started with Bikram. 

I have tried many styles of yoga practice available and love almost all of them for various reasons. For example, I absolutely love restorative and yin, and practices like that are vital to me for balance, whether I apply them on my own or in a class. But none of them “reset” me in my stride like Bik in the hot room. I just went back today, for the first time in a couple/few years at least, after naturally waking up before 6am (unheard of for this nightowl; I’m going through some intense transitions!) and after a good few years, it was like coming home in the most positive sense of the phrase. I even was able to do Toe Stand. Muscle memory for the win!!! I love how looking in the mirror forces me to love myself: something that MANY of us have to work on, surely, in this culture.

I also have heard about the accusations, and as someone who has been victimized in the past, for a while it justified my veering away, but like you, inevitably, my body screamed for the practice that is truly miraculous in its ability to detox, purge, and empower me more than anything else that I have tried, ever, anywhere. I do my absolute best to live a lifestyle that does the least harm possible, and steer away from involvements with anything that doesn’t feel right to my gut. But to my gut, going to the Bikram studio always feels right, if I’m in alignment and really want to do what is good for my body. It’s like a hot, sweaty, good-humor oasis. 

I sympathize with how you came to terms with and to navigate the moral dilemma that was brought up. Indeed there is hardly any mass market* purchase or small investment that anyone can make these days that isn’t somehow tied to something that isn’t morally reprehensible, somewhere down the line. That is not a defeatist attitude: it’s just reality. My mind becomes aware of how many major supermarkets destroy food rather than donate it to hungry people, and yet most people don’t bat an eye when they find out about that… or their choices are limited due to infrastructure or finances. In fact, I would say that the supermarket situation is much worse, because it violates basic human rights of people who very literally have no choice, whereas people who become involved on a personal level with a flamboyant guru who is known to be an asshole who is proud of it (KEY point here… he’s not someone who presents himself as being some moral high roller), are, on SOME level, consenting to a relationship, even if they are not consenting to violation. I feel for anyone who has felt victimized - I myself have been a victim of intimate partner violence, including rape and bodily harm, so please understand that I am not justifying or excusing these actions by any means. It’s just that there are much bigger fish to fry, than boycotting a yoga lineage due to accusations. For crying out loud, there’s even substantial evidence against Ghandi in the same vein. I’ll just take the practice, thanks, and I’ll stay away from his inner circle. I’d much rather give my money to Bikram’s lineage that helps so many people (myself included) to achieve or at least work toward true empowerment, than, for another example, a company like Starbucks that makes deals with Nestle, an even more deplorable company who steals and re-sells water, the lifeblood we depend on that should be free for all people, and poisons my body with enough caffeine and sugar to put someone in the hospital for heart palpitations or diabetes, leaving someone worse off than they were before…all while cultivating a massive propaganda image that they care so friggin much about the environment when that could not be further from the truth. People can steer clear of known sexual predators, but they can’t create clean water out of thin air. Let’s be realistic here. Shall we spite ourselves and deprive ourselves of paths that can be so beneficial, because we like to kid ourselves about our ethical purity, without taking a full and fearless inventory, as some say?

I am not justifying Bikram’s ways, flaws, or crimes (or saying he is guilty, only addressing the content re: accusations), only pointing out that the well-being and positive impact being made far surpasses the negative. Everything must be weighed. I know that for many, what was exposed about him became a deal-breaker, and everyone should always follow their own moral compass and make the decision that they feel the best about. I am not responsible for Bikram Choudhury’s karma, only my own, and I feel great about investing in my own well being when I choose to pay a studio that offers what I need. If a bit of my $20 for a class goes to his gold watch, who cares? At least he’s not trying to be something that he isn’t, and perpetuates a message of never giving up on the quest for health. I’m not so concerned with him as a person though: it is my experience before I learned about all of these “Bikram cultural stories” that sold me on it.

Not to mention that despite my “very spiritual leanings,” I can’t stand the hokeyness and falsity in a lot of yoga studios. Having been around the spiritual block a few times (and still learning, always a student, humbled every day, hope I never stop learning!!!) I get a little tired of walking into studios and being greeted by people who speak words of peace and love but whose energy is so fake or even dark that I have to feel like I have to duck and cover just to get to my class… you know who I am talking about… those people that if you don’t say “namaste” they react like you’re Beelzebub, when in actuality, if they understood the true meaning of “seeing the divine” they would not have to say it at all… the profane use of sacred words just to have something to say!!! Drives me nuts!!! The thing with Bikram is that there is no (or very little) pretense. It’s too hot to pretend like you’re some freakin’ misappropriating goddess (that said, if you say namaste and it means something to you, go for it… it’s the sort of enforced call-and-response outside of a context of true sacred space that is icky). What you see is what you get and I don’t need someone who has no idea about what I (or anyone else walking into the studio) has suffered or the war that they are fighting, that scene where if you don’t play along with the love and light jazz but are there to work through some serious shit it’s like you aren’t a part of the social group…yoga is not a social group! No-one in a Bikram studio is holding your hand or trying to play guru…even Bikram himself, who has no pretense either, putting his uncouth side right out there in the forefront, being more flamboyant and glittery than Osho, and in a way that requires us to truly compartmentalize and also forgive, he embodies that none of us are innocent, but that doesn’t mean we can’t excel and thrive and live the life that is a true manifestation of all of our parts…. lots of yoga centers and healing practices on the other hand capitalize on a very one-sided demonstration of the spiritual path, and lie lie lie through their namastes. Don’t give me no lies, please just give me the clear and messy truth so we can all live in whole integrity.

Bikram’s practice and everything surrounding it shows us that in order to become our best self, we must go through motions that are really not pretty. It truly strips you of your lies and bullshit, because again, you can’t front when you literally will have an instantaneous ego death or worse if you even think about it. That said it is not for everyone and I agree that it takes a certain kind of personality to vibe with the militant format. And, even before the accusations, it was pretty well known that his teacher training is totally brutal and that his way of dealing with students was at times really mean. I researched it intensely back in the early 2010s, reading many blogs from people who went. We all knew that submitting to it made it a possibility that he could seriously test everything about you in order to make you strong. It’s not a good idea to outsource your power to someone else, especially someone like him who has no qualms. I never went to the teacher training. But for a while I was practicing 5x/week and my practice was advanced enough that I could have gone, if I was called to, and able to afford it. These days I wouldn’t - first of all, I have an emotionally high-maintenance dog that is fully bonded to me and who I can’t be separated from for very long without causing her and my family a lot of stress, certainly not for weeks or months, and besides, unless I was guaranteed a position or part-ownership somewhere, it just wouldn’t be a wise economic decision. So it’s really besides the point.

Someone who would nuzzle up to Bikram to watch a movie instead of claiming their own power would have prior issues, certainly. He obviously would not settle for being anything except The Dom of Doms, to use kink language. I see Bikram, and his practice, both separately as “risk aware consensual kink” than “safe sane and consensual” - yes, we aren’t talking about BDSM here, but don’t the teachers remind you of a dominatrix? (Maybe it’s just because I actually was a dungeon Mistress a while back… the cultures have a lot in common at the underbelly) The difference for the unfamiliar being that SSC is considered the gentler philosophy that results in a gentler practice, not allowing for anything that would be considered risky, whereas RACK usually allows for more “extreme” applications of kink practice… like being on the rack? Point is, RACK proposes that there is no such thing as a kink practice that is without risk, whereas SSC inherently doesn’t allow for “edgeplay” aka practices that take one to their edge…and take note that Bikram dialogue inherently DOES encourage pushing to the edge: “push, push, push!” There are risks involved. And it is arguable that nothing worth doing is without risk, of course, but more importantly, only YOU are in YOUR body. As with any “extreme” athletic endeavor, you must be very aware of the subtleties in your body, your special spots that are sensitive, your own limits, etc. If you push too hard in the wrong alignment before developing a strong practice in ANYthing, whether Bikram Yoga, weightlifting, running, whatever… you may get hurt. Taking breaks and cross training is important. Be smart and respect your body, but also understand that undoing years of slow damage sometimes hurts more than the process it took to get there. Pain must be attended to. Words don’t come close to describing the internal work that must happen on a bodily level to perform any extreme practice. The dialogue comes close, because it uses very practical phrases that anyone with layperson anatomy knowledge can understand. It’s important to never let a teacher bully you into doing something you aren’t ready or able to do. Always trust your own body, always… but fly through your comfort zone if you are confident - truly confident and willing to work and learn, not trying to bypass. There is a difference. 

Bikram and his yoga are not for the faint of heart, but for people who can handle the practice and are ready to do anything to propel themselves through serious blockages and darkness, who truly want to heal their body and life inside and out, within the confines of life that our Western society places on us (and no matter how much of a free spirit you are, we still are subject to the “school of fish flow” that prevents us from deviating too much without being shut down, especially in cities and suburbs where there is no-where to hide away) I have found that Kundalini yoga also has this ability albeit in a totally different way. There are many times in my life when I would not do a Bikram practice: after years of yoga I continue to become more in tune with what my body needs at what times. Sometimes I do restorative or yin, and sometimes I do “couch potato pose” or “smirking sloth pose” for weeks, because that’s where I am at. I also said it before but knowing one’s limits is SO important with Bikram yoga. Even a smidge too far can result in injury or even nerve damage. Yet, so can just walking: I twisted my ankle worse than I ever have in my life walking into a “normal” yoga studio once because of a hole in the parking lot, and months later still experience issues: for example, today I couldn’t lift myself up after toe stand on that side, so I got up by bringing my leg back forward on the floor first. Also, my practice today re-awakened some latent issues in my lower back, bringing them to the surface and making me aware of where I have to give extra attention and healing to. Do people think that deep bodily healing is easy? Have they ever had a deep tissue massage? That shit hurts too. You have to go through it to get through it, if that’s what you want. Of course there are many paths. It is doubtful that anyone NOT interested in Bikram yoga will have even found this writeup, so it doesn’t really matter. In a contemporary world where there is so much spiritual bypassing and “kumbaya” (and I have been guilty of both of these also, but am committed to actually going through the stuff to really heal it from the root, not just paint over it with pink and hearts when in fact a worm needs to be extracted), it is so refreshing and beneficial to be able to access a practice that actually counters the deep damage that a contemporary lifestyle can do to our bodies. 

Thanks for the comic and prompt, again, fellow fiend 😉

*the term “mass market” was added as an edit after the original reply was made

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