A few controversies that (mostly) don’t have anything to do with Ashtanga

Given we’ve followed the Bikram lawsuit story — because of the question around copyrighting of a yoga sequence — it seems only fair to note that ABC’s Nightline program ran a piece on the issue and another lawsuit against the guru behind the hottest yoga craze.

Can’t get the video to embed, but here’s a link. A highlight, I think, is video from a deposition by Bikram that comes fairly late in the piece. And here’s a link to the online story. A few excerpts:

To his hard-bodied disciples, Bikram Choudhury is a yoga rock star.

Bikram, who, like Madonna, tends to go by one name only, developed the original “hot yoga,” a rigorous sequence of 26 poses performed over the course of 90 minutes in a room heated to a stifling 105 degrees.


Bikram insists his form of yoga doesn’t just improve the body and invigorate people’s sex lives but that it also saves lives.

“I can make you live 100 years,” he said. “Say you have a bad knee, you want to fix your knee, come to my class… Do the same 26 postures with a woman who has a uterus problem. Same 26 poses, the uterus will be taken care of. Your knee will be taken care of.

“I’ve cured patients who have absolutely no hope, 98 percent of heart was clogged, they don’t even want surgery,” Bikram continued. “Send him to me and eight months later I send him back, brand new heart like a panther heart.”

The piece really picks up when it focuses on a different lawsuit from the one involving Yoga to the People and Bikram’s trademarking (it involves the deposition I mentioned above). Here are some of those details:

In 2010, Pandhora Williams spent about $11,000 to attend Bikram’s intensive teacher training course in San Diego. She claims she was offended by portions of what she said Bikram said in his “dialogue,” the banter that helps distract students through 90 minutes of body-bending poses. She claims that during class, Bikram made derogatory comments about women and homosexuals, saying, “Women are bitches and whores. They’re here for one thing, and that’s to make babies.”

After completing seven weeks of the nine-week course, Pandhora said she confronted Bikram.

“I walked up to him, and I said ‘Bikram, You’re breaking my heart.’ That’s what I said to him. ‘Why are you preaching hate when there’s already so much hatred in the world?'” said Williams, who claimed his response to her was, “‘We don’t sell love here, you f**king black bitch. Get out.'”

Bikram declined “Nightline” requests to talk about the case, but ABC News obtained video and transcripts of his deposition in which Bikram denied making hateful comments and claimed Williams approached him in a way that made him feel threatened for his health and safety.

“I’m the most successful man in the world,” he said. “It will keep going like this way as long as I live. If some sick crazy person think what I am it’s their problem. It’s not my problem. I’ll still continue keep doing it.”

Williams is now suing Bikram for unspecified damages. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Another controversy happening now kind of, sort of, involves two of the Confluence teachers. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve already heard about it, but here it is on “our record”: This weekend’s Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco, where Richard Freeman and David Swenson are teaching (and MC Yogi is doing his thing), is under fire for taking place in a hotel where workers are picketing. Here is a bit from the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

[J]ury’s out in this particular case: this weekend, the Yoga Journal Conference will cross a hotel workers’ union picket line for the third year in a row at the Hyatt Regency.

“Yoga Journal has ignored years of outreach from hotel workers and their union and chooses to hide behind logistical concerns in a matter of right and wrong,” says Julia Wong of UNITE HERE Local 2, whose union called for a worldwide boycott last year in light of unfair treatment of its workers. Supporters of the boycott include the NFL Players Association.

So what’s up with the yogis? “For years I’ve looked into moving the conference,” says conference director Elana Maggal. But, she told the Guardian in an email, the only other hotel that’s large enough to accomodate [sic] the 2,000 flexibles forecasted to attend the event — the Marriott — was unable at the times Yoga Journal needed. “So [the choices were] either not have an SF conference or hold it at the Hyatt,” says Maggal. “We’ve chosen the latter, fully aware that it is not a perfect choice, but hopeful that both sides will finalize the remaining issues quickly and fairly.”

I’ve seen some Facebook chatter about whether the conference should be held there and Yoga Dork has a discussion going. (While grabbing that link, I see she’s also got up the Bikram stuff. Great minds think alike?) My guess is this story, which seems on the surface to be fairly cut and dry, might be a bit more convoluted; perhaps not. That Yoga Journal is the entity behind it probably encourages people who have opinions for or against that publication to speak up more loudly than they might otherwise.

I don’t know what the workers’ issues are or whether not having a big yoga conference there would help their plight. But these are the stories of the day in our shared Maya existence.

Posted by Steve