You are (not) my guru
Once upon a time, when I was young and could tolerate heat, I loved Bikram yoga. Performing the same static 26 poses in a 90-minute class gave my mind the opportunity to focus on my body and the pose, not the stress of my 60-hour work week and long commute.
But even as I experienced physical and mental benefits of this practice, there were little pings of discomfort with a few aspects of it (and not just because the creator of the series, Bikram Choudhury, taught in nothing more than a speedo and a Rolex, ewww).
For one thing, I didn’t like the “this is the only right way” rigidity of the practice.
Bikram-trained teachers were often unaccepting of modifications for different abilities or injuries. If you needed to leave the room, or use a strap to reach your foot, you were admonished during class in front of everyone (despite the fact that leaving the room might actually be a physical necessity for some people in 100+ degree heat with 40% humidity).
I no longer practice this style of yoga. My 48-year-old hormones keep me warm enough. I don’t need any added heat in a yoga studio. And my body needs a variety of poses and practices, depending on the week, not just the same 26.
But the main reason I stopped doing Bikram yoga is because I’ve always been uncomfortable with the guru culture, way before #MeToo. Someone in power, usually a man, takes advantage and mistreats his “followers,” who unquestioningly accept whatever their leader says. In my opinion, there should always be a healthy balance of respect and questioning of our leaders, in all areas of society. The yoga world is no exception.
Brave women have spoken out, and we should hear their stories. An ESPN 30 for 30 Podcast was just released that chronicles the story of Bikram Choudhury. Producer/reporter Julia Lowrie Henderson looks at how Bikram obtained, and later abused, his guru status.
Choudhury is certainly not alone in manifesting a shadow in the yoga world. We have to stay on alert. It’s up to us in the yoga community, practitioners and teachers, to continue to engage in mutually respectful relationships. Learning and questioning, maintaining healthy boundaries, and speaking up and supporting others when those boundaries have been crossed.
Have you listened to the podcast? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.