Posted by: kerryalina | 22 March 2013

Okay, Let’s Talk About This

I wasn’t sure whether to approach this topic; I’m sure it will be controversial.  But silence implies acceptance, and that’s something I’m not willing to give to this situation.

I’ve been getting a LOT of hits lately from people searching on some variation of “Bikram Yoga” and “Sexual Harassment.”  It’s because of this (update: a non-sensationalised article with a link to the full lawsuit can be found here).  If you don’t want to click through, then here’s the short story: a 29 year old Bikram student/teacher trainee has sued Bikram Choudhury for sexual harassment (persistent and unwanted advances at teacher training) and discrimination (“sabotaging” her teaching career after she repeatedly turned him down).

It’s serious.  And it’s awful.  I’m not even slightly interested in rehashing the details – this woman has gone through enough without having the experience dissected by a blogger who’s never met any of the involved parties.  But I really, really want to say is this:

This is not okay.

I firmly believe that Bikram Yoga does nothing but good.  But Bikram Yoga is not Bikram Choudhury.  And Bikram Choudhury – however benevolent and well-intentioned his motives may have been originally – has long been a force unto himself.  An amusing and highly charismatic force, most assuredly, otherwise he never would have got this far.  But for every crass joke that you can’t help but laugh at, there’s a hint of discomfort that lingers afterwards.  And for every reassurance from Bikram Choudhury that he “loves women,” there’s the whisper that asks “Yes, but does he respect them?”

There are many who attend Teacher Training and have nothing but positive experiences.  But the rumours of uninvited and unwelcome propositions have been around for years.  While they are just that – rumours – they’ve been too long-lived and too similar to be the invention of a few malcontents.  And the fact that so much support and so many similar stories came out of the woodwork once this suit was filed, suggests that nobody felt safe enough to share their experiences at the time.  And you know what?

This is not okay.

  • If you want to cheat on your wife?  That’s your decision.  It’s a shitty decision, but it’s yours.
  • If you want to hit on your students?  That’s your decision.  It’s a morally ambiguous one, given your position of authority, but it’s yours.
  • If you single out women (and only women) to give you special attention during class?  This is not okay.
  • If you continually proposition students to the point where they’re breaking down in tears?  This is not okay.
  • If you take advantage of your position to blackmail students into agreeing to your advances, or to punish them when they don’t?  This is not okay.

This is not okay.

This is not okay.

This is not okay.

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Responses

  1. I agree that this is terrible. Are there other, more reputable, sources for this story than The New York Post? The Post is notorious for its sensationalist news. Most of what they print is crap. I don’t doubt that Choudry is a creep; he is a shameless narcissist, and I wouldn’t put this incident past him. But the Post is a joke.

  2. I think it’s important (and difficult) to separate my personal practice, from Bikram himself. There was a time, I felt like I NEEDED to go to CA and take class directly from the source. I no longer feel that way. I don’t feel like HE saved my life, or that I owe HIM anything. He did not invent yoga, or heat, or bad grammar, or strange analogies… All he did was bundle those thing together in a tidy little package and put his name on it. *I* saved my own life. *I* did the work. *I* showed up for class. I can love the yoga that he organized, without loving HIM. I’ve done a lot of reading and have many reasons, this being one of them, that I do not wish to use him as a character model, or emulate him.

    Excellent discussion topic, btw.

    • Totally agree with you. The separation is important. Then again, I’ve never been a very loyal disciple. :-)

  3. Wow, I hadn’t read about that yet. Good for her for coming forward! There is no doubt in my mind that this is real, especially since similar accusations have been floating around from so many women.

    This is the exact reason I am doubting my intention of going to TT, even though I’ve been working toward it constantly and fervently since my second class.

  4. Dear Bikram,

    Thank you for creating the series and sharing it with the world. It has had a tremendously positive impact on my spiritual and physical life and health.

    But, Bikram, you are a human like the rest of us and must be accountable for your actions, especially if they bring harm to another. If you touched a person in a way that was inappropriate, caused harm intentionally or emotionally abused another, you should be prosecuted like any other human if accused of such things.

    Bikram, if you are claiming your actions were never to impose spiritual harm on another soul, here’s the reality: they have, they do, and you must stop. It does not matter if others have tolerated it in the past or kept quiet about it or seemed okay with it. It’s not acceptable behavior.

    You may also be faced with the allegations of others coming forward now that the ice has been broken. And there will be many others. Are you prepared for this? Can you be courageous and admit you were wrong even if you believe in your heart that your intentions were opposite? You know what they say about good intentions, right?

    Namaste!
    Paula

  5. In my opinion, what is really not okay is judging when we do not have all the facts. I’m going to wait and see. But as a fellow yogi said to me today, “Whatever happens, you practice for the practice, not the guru. This has happened in so many schools, ashrams, etc., but that doesn’t change the fact that you benefit from yoga.” And for me, I benefit the most from Bikram.

    • I absolutely agree that we don’t have all the facts yet regarding this case. But that Bikram Choudhury has an intolerable attitude towards women (an attitude proved by his own words, given voluntarily in interviews and during public classes) has been abysmally evident for many years. And that the culture at Teacher Training has been unacceptable for far too long, is not under dispute. That is what I believe is thoroughly not okay.

      Thankfully I also agree wholeheartedly with your other comment – I too practice for the practice, not the guru.

      • Have you met Bikram? Practiced with him? Gone to TT? I have done the first two, and have not seen what you say is “proved”. And my female friends who are teachers would certainly dispute what you say is “not under dispute”. Until these claims, and any others, are PROVED, I will give both Bikram and his accuser the benefit of the doubt.

      • I have not. And I absolutely respect your right to your opinion – I am honestly glad that you had only good experiences. But while you and your friends may be comfortable with the insulting language and crude jokes that I have seen him use (and the attitude that implies), it doesn’t follow that everyone is. And while you may have experienced only positive interactions with him, it doesn’t mean that therefore everyone else has too.

        I, too, personally know people who have attended Teacher Training. Some of them had good experiences. Others most assuredly did not. Nobody has said that Bikram Choudhury sexually harasses all women. Nobody has said that the environment at Teacher Training is intolerable for everyone. Even in the post above, I say “There are many who attend Teacher Training and have nothing but positive experiences.” But for those few who find it a miserable ordeal, I believe that we have a responsibility to acknowledge their experience.

        I am not arguing with you in the slightest. I am not in the least saying that you’re wrong. What I am saying is that your experience is not everyone’s experience, and that ignoring the complaints that have been circulating for years is doing these women an injustice.

      • All I am saying is that I will NOT pre-judge, especially as my personal experience has been positive. If he is found guilty, then he should suffer the full ramifications of his actions. But assuming he is is not how the justice system works.

  6. I commented before but wanted to add a bit after reading later comments:

    I don’t think anyone is necessarily judging Bikram as being all good or all bad. We are judging the act he is accused of committing as all bad because it is bad. I choose to believe the woman. I believe she experienced what she claims she experienced. Only an evil or crazy person would make up such things.

    By NOT making a judgment call, we invalidate the woman and her claims.

    We’re essentially gaslighting her and saying, “Oh, you couldn’t possibly have experienced what you claim you experienced. You’re making it up.” It’s what this country and the world does every day to women rape victims. Look at the proof the courts needed to prosecute the Steubenville rapists. It’s despicable that a victim must suffer through proving she was assaulted and the perpetrator can just sit back and keep saying, “That’s not what happened. She’s imagining things.” If that’s true, we have a problem — one in three women in this country should be institutionalized for mental health issues related to their vivid imaginations.

    I say NO MORE! We need to support this woman and her claims. Or not. And you can’t blindly support Bikram and shout that he’s not guilty. You don’t know. None of us knows for sure. I don’t care if you’ve met Bikram personally or found him charming and inspirational. Lots of charming and inspirational people have committed far worse than what he’s being accused. Look at Jerry Sandusky. He had a foundation set up as his rouse and disguise. Maybe this absolute need to control Teacher Training on Bikram’s part is his disguise. Who knows.

    I choose to support her. If her claims are proven false, shame on me for falling victim to manipulations and someone’s cry for help and justice. I’m willing to chance that.

    • I guess I respect that you are admitting you are judging alleged actions, not proved actions.

      But I am not blindly supporting her or Bikram – I continue to wait until we know more before deciding who I think deserves my support. And just because I am a woman does not mean I automatically believe (or disbelieve) claims such as these. I do not engage in gender discrimination.

      And BTW, Paula, there are many instances of such claims being manufactured – that would not make her “evil” or “crazy”. I find your pre-judging of the situation, even I had NEVER any experiences of Bikram personally, to be much more crazy, and while I would never say evil, I will certainly say misguided and unjust.

  7. […] then in my email, I got this post from a blog I follow.  Go ahead and read it – you’ll notice that many of the comments […]

  8. I saw a video on the lawsuit on YT. And just like you said, Bikram Choudhury is NOT Bikram YOGA. he did not invent the poses, just the sequence- what he [allegedly] does doesn’t deviate the benefits of the practice.

  9. Thanks for this post!! So many people attach him to the yoga and hate the yoga because they don’t like him. I might not like the scientist who invented Asprin, but do I take it when I have a headache? Yes. Because it works. The separation is key and I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to explain this to my friends who love other kinds of yoga but won’t try Bikram Yoga.

  10. Reblogged this on cazbaz.

  11. I suggest all yogis read ‘Hell Bent’ by Ben Lorr. It is in this book that accusations of this manner toqards Bikram first came to my attention. I would presume the book’s popularity and content surrounding these accusations led to some of the women involved taking this brave stand against their alleged treatment.
    For myself, it is the yoga itself that I crave and return to time and time again for the numerous benefits I have gained from it over the years. You could replace Mr. Choudhury with Donald Duck as the ‘face of Bikram’ for all I care….I do not practice for him, I practice for myself.
    We need to remember Birkam proactively brought the sequence to the masses, however the asansa, the methods of heat to heal, the benefits…all existed long before Bikram attached himself to it. Many sources – including himself – give Bikram much more credit then is due to him for ‘creating this yoga’. As students practice over time, their interest grows and there is a natural inclination for them to conduct their own research into this magical event that we call yoga. It is by these means all yogis will learn the truth and adopt what aspects of the discipline work for them – and what do not.
    Namaste!

  12. Wow – sorry for the spelling, new fingers i guess :-)

    * towards
    * Bikram
    * asanas


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