Are we seeing the beginning of the end of Bikram?

It looks like a tough week for Bikram Choudhury.

His legal troubles — including accusations of rape — are getting a treatment familiar to the Ashtanga world: the pages of Vanity Fair. Remember that?

I wasn’t going to highlight the Vanity Fair piece — a little too beyond our scope — but then I saw a related piece in the New York Times, and it feels like maybe, just maybe (emphasis on the maybe), the pasasana is starting to tighten on Bikram. Here’s a bit from the Vanity Fair online excerpt:

Choudhury regularly makes outlandish, non-F.D.A./F.T.C.-approved claims for his yoga. Wallace reports that in a 2012 sworn-testimony video, and therefore under penalty of perjury, Choudhury claims that Harvard University is erecting a “Bikram building in their campus.” Kevin Galvin, a spokesperson for Harvard University, responds, “We checked with our capital-projects group and can confirm that no new ‘building’ in the usual sense of that term is under construction funded by Mr. Choudhury or by a donation in his name.”

A handful of studios, including Larissa Anderson’s, have dropped Bikram from their names. “It’s just really clear that there’s some serious issues going on, and I didn’t want to be part of it,” says one studio owner who says she found it distasteful to brush Choudhury’s hair when she attended teacher training, and who decided to rename her studio after the Baughn suit was filed. Then, when the three other suits were filed, she decided to phase Bikram yoga out of her curriculum altogether. “When more of the sexual allegations came out, I couldn’t teach the series anymore and so I started slowly taking the classes away. I can’t call myself a yoga teacher and then protect Bikram and put money in his pocket.”

But it was the Times piece, “Modo, a New Version of Bikram Hot Yoga, Is Growing Popular,” that really caught my attention. That despite my many protestations about the Times’ influence and import. From the piece:

Moksha is not the first Bikram breakaway, but it is perhaps the most successful. Today there are 64 studios, and another 15 are to open next year.

In the United States, where the name Moksha already has been used by multiple Indian restaurants, a Las Vegas jam band and unrelated yoga studios, the studio owners in October voted to christen themselves Modo, a made-up word that stands for “the way or the path.” Bikram, whose founder publicly has referred to teachers of all other types of yoga as “clowns,” has some 500 studios worldwide. Mr. Williams said demand is showing no signs of cooling. (He dismissed years of published reports claiming at least 1,000 studios as “exaggerated.”)

Modo’s Manhattan location — students wearing recycled-bottle-cap capri pants can chaturanga on recycled-tire floors between vine-covered recycled denim walls — opened in a former D.J. school in the West Village in 2012. The freewheeling upstart yoga quickly has become a favorite of models, performers and fashion types, who praise its ability to strengthen, reduce stress and detoxify without the boredom (or time commitment) of Bikram.

Jenni Quilter, 33, said she had been to too many New York studios where “yoga just feels masochistic, like self-purification slash punishment, where no one’s eaten for five months and everyone’s in Lululemon.” She thought Bikram was too cultish, and was wary of Modo, but promptly bought a membership after her first class.

I don’t want to jump to any too early conclusions, and it isn’t as though I’m anxious for this story to head one way or the other. The timing of this attention and the thrust of the Times story just seem … worth watching. In part, it is because Bikram might be the biggest yoga teacher at this point in the West, in terms of mainstream recognition. So … the twists and turns are noteworthy for those living in that mainstream world.

Posted by Steve

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Other-yoga news: Major new lawsuit against Bikram has folks talking ‘the end’

This is a “get it on the record” post.

We noted that Bikram Choudhury faces a few lawsuits and accusations of rape back in the Spring when the suits were filed.

Now it has gotten a lot crazier. First, Yoga Journal put up a post about the rumblings within the Bikram world on how to pull back from Bikram the man:

A quiet turmoil surrounds the Bikram Yoga community in the aftermath of several lawsuits filed this spring that accuse Bikram founder Bikram Choudhury of sexual harassment and rape. But while most of the discussion is taking place behind the scenes, there are a handful of teachers and studio owners who are publicly separating themselves from the Bikram name.

Then, the bigger piece, courtesy the site that de-Friended Anusara, Yoga Dork. It got the details on a new lawsuit against Bikram filed by his former legal advisor. It paints a pretty dramatic picture:

– Bikram Choudhury created a hyper-sexualized, offensive and degrading environment for women by, among other things, demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages. Plaintiff was often required to conduct business meetings with Bikram Choudhury while he was receiving such massages. Plaintiff was on a number of occasions required to meet Bikram Choudhury in his hotel room typically at night. During one such meeting, Bikram Choudhury climbed into bed, and patted the bedspread next to him (indicating to Plaintiff to come and sit/lie down next to him in the bed). Plaintiff moved away from Choudhury and the bed and went and sat at a desk to conduct a telephone conference.

That’s an excerpt I can run, since we seem to have established this blog as a PG-rated one. Yoga Dork has the full filing, too. (A direct link to it is here.)

I’ll admit I was surprised that the rape accusations from earlier this year didn’t get more attention. I suspect we’ll see this one land on the virtual pages of at least a few newspapers. And from there?

A reminder: We are passing this on because of the history of yoga gurus falling. We believe in the importance of surrendering oneself to a teacher, but it has to be a discriminating surrender. A person needs to keep the ability to determine when things aren’t right. After all, ultimately no one but the individual is going to push them through to samadhi. (I probably skipped a few steps there, but I hope you get the idea.)

Posted by Steve

In other yoga news: Bikram accused of rape in pair of lawsuits

OK, enough folks are picking this up that it seems legitimately out there.

According to Courthouse News Service, Bikram Choudhury has been accused of raping two students in their separate lawsuits filed this week. Both are using the same lawyer. Here’s a link to the story, which has all the salacious details you could want.

These suits follow another filed back in March in which a student claimed Bikram made unwanted sexual advances on her. That plaintiff has been named: Sarah Baughn. The two students in these new suits are unnamed as they are victims of alleged rape.

Bikram Yoga College of India also is named in the suits. The suits were filed on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

So why pass this on? Well, we do try to keep you informed of major yoga news stories as well as more minor Ashtanga ones. We think it is useful to be aware of what’s going on in the wider yoga world, even if it is just so you can be an informed yoga practitioner. (But also so you don’t get blindsided by a friend with news you ought to have known!)

In Bikram’s case, in particular, the dynamic of the guru is so front and center that it is hard to ignore when such news happens. (Not to mention there is the whole string of other yoga teachers who have had some sort of “fall.” Not to say Bikram has fallen yet. These are just accusations.)

And you may have noticed the comment made on our last post, about how people are getting fanatical about Sharath. So I don’t think the whole guru thing isn’t relevant to Ashtanga. While I’ve heard overwhelmingly positive stories about Guruji, we all know some people didn’t react well to him. Problems evolving from the guru-student relationship happen so much it feels like it’s almost enough to say, “It’s natural.” One follows someone, trusts them, and that can either grow in good or bad ways.

The reason to keep people informed of when it does go wrong is to help others not get swept up into something that doesn’t serve them. It’s part of that discriminating mind we’ve talked about. It is important to surrender, to see what that is about and what the effects are, but it is equally important to maintain a sense of right and wrong.

The history of gurus seems to suggest that sense can get lost — as it can with lots of things.

Posted by Steve