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The Overheated, Oversexed Cult Of Bikram Choudhury
February 19, 2011 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Bikram yoga, popularized in the USA by Bikram Choudhury, is criticized for being overly sexual and as subverting the traditional aims of yoga. The bacchanalian atmosphere at the training clinics held by Choudhury seem to confirm this view.
posted by reenum (67 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
If the photo that accompanies the story is accurate, Bikram Choudhury either floats above his clients or he's at least 17 feet tall. Either way, how could you resist that?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:17 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is all those things and more. Sign me up.
posted by Postroad at 1:18 PM on February 19, 2011


It seems like the article is making that accusation in the OP less about Bikram Yoga and more about Bikram Choudhury.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:18 PM on February 19, 2011


Also, don't people fart a lot doing hot yoga? Erotic for some, I suppose. For me, it's ernotic.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:19 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Very interesting. I took a series of Bikram yoga once, 10 classes over a month. I definitely didn't want to continue after the series ended. It's not that it was sexualized so much as that the atmosphere was completely different from any other yoga classes I've attended - no connection to anything related to mindfulness or spirituality, a lot of jocky-emphasis on perfect performance instead of gradual growth and appearance over health, and what was for me the worst - stultifying boredom because the classes did not vary. They were just a march through the same series of poses, over and over.

It's definitely a workout, so I can't say I'm surprised that the people it attracts are young hardbody types who, not incidentally, are into looking good - but it's true that in methods and values, it's a departure from most yoga traditions.
posted by Miko at 1:20 PM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can't really tell if this is "Bikram Choudhury is a bad person," "Bikram yoga is bad," "some yoga teachers are sex fiends amirite," or "the sorts of boundaries instructors and practitioners should maintain in their practices." If it's the latter, this seems like a less-than-useful way of approaching that topic.

The NYT actually covered adjustments and how they're offered in American yoga studios the other day, albeit not really in the sort of depth you'd want. They've also done a few pieces on controversial yoga instructors and the like. More meat would really help here.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:21 PM on February 19, 2011


Text says sexy, the pictures say something else completely.
posted by GuyZero at 1:21 PM on February 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


Give me *anything* with a 'bacchanalian atmosphere' and I'll be happy. Except maybe a cult of violent women in the woods...
posted by Buckt at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2011 [19 favorites]


I found it hard to focus on anything other than not passing out from the heat, but maybe I have a lower tolerance than others folks. I really hated everything about hot yoga except for the amazing feeling I had for several hours afterwards, and after a while I just couldn't put myself through it anymore.
posted by ORthey at 1:22 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm so tired of this. Yeah, Bikram Chodhury is kind of a nut, but the yoga is sound and the teacher training is not like this. There are a ton of blogs by folks who have been through teacher training (this woman wrote EVERY DAY, which is unheard of), and the general response is that it's way too punishing to be as bacchanalian as the writer claims. 2 90-minute classes a day PLUS 4 hours of lectures PLUS watching Bollywood movies til 4 AM? Who has time for ANYTHING besides showering and eating?

I also have a regular Bikram practice. I hear what Miko's saying about "stultifying boredom because the classes did not vary" a lot, but it's just a different kind of spiritual discipline. It's never the same river twice, as it were, and it just becomes a different kind of way to measure how you change in your practice and in yourself. That one sometimes finds it boring is part of the point.
posted by liketitanic at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bikram has balls like atom bombs. Nobody fucks with him.
posted by homunculus at 1:38 PM on February 19, 2011


The whole angle of this post/article is bizarre. This notion that sexuality and spirituality are opposed, and that sexuality is shameful and inferior, and spirituality noble and superior, is a poisonous mindfuck that should have been stamped out millennia ago. The guy's sexual, makes money, teaches people how to be fit and confident - the problem is?
posted by facetious at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


I don't know if this article focuses too much on Choudhury or not, but the thesis that yoga should be asexual or that sex interferes with the spiritual aims of yoga is indeed correct, at least for Iyengar yoga. Which is an interesting contrast, given how popular the yoga movement is with young people who are otherwise portrayed as more sexually liberal (or at least permissive) than perhaps any other generation in recorded history.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


... who are otherwise portrayed as more sexually liberal (or at least permissive) than perhaps any other generation in recorded history.

What? There was this time called the 70s, which if I understand things correctly was all people doing coke and having threesomes with strangers.
posted by chunking express at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Good heavens, let's be sure there's no eroticism in our athleticism! Also, Bikram sounds like a totally funny guy: "If they say to me, 'Boss, you must fuck me or I will kill myself,' then I do it! Think if I don't! The karma!"
posted by Nelson at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2011


I'd say shouting "I am the serenest!" is a better example of subverting the traditional aims of yoga.
posted by A dead Quaker at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


For some reason this thread has me laughing aloud every few seconds. Thanks for the pick-me-up.

Metafilter is my spiritual practice.

posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah I don't really get it. Who's to say that enlightenment and orgasms are opposed? Sounds like someone is imposing puritanical christian ideals onto someone else.
If the photo that accompanies the story is accurate, Bikram Choudhury either floats above his clients or he's at least 17 feet tall. Either way, how could you resist that?
Or he's on an elevated platform.
posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on February 19, 2011


But I don't want to be exposed to the guru's Speedos.
posted by Abiezer at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was this time called the 70s, which if I understand things correctly was all people doing coke and having threesomes with strangers.

Outside of a few suburban parents doing wife-swapping on weekends, I don't remember the kids of the 70s (or its pop culture) being nearly as tolerant of GLBT sexuality as kids are now, for example. I think the kind of sexual liberation we see today is more identity-based and is a bit broader in scope than what has been seen to date.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:24 PM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


What? There was this time called the 70s, which if I understand things correctly was all people doing coke and having threesomes with strangers.
Yeah... America is clearly more puritanical then it was decades ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:24 PM on February 19, 2011


"Go do good in the world, like me. Teach them their mind has a screw loose. It hates itself, it hates its body. But the lotus can grow in the garbage! Make them fall in love with themselves! That is the secret. I tell the same thing to my good friends, and they write Chicken Soup for the Soul. They sell, what, 10 million copies? You can trust me."

I would pay twenty dollars a session just to hear this guy's patter, to be honest.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:25 PM on February 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Or he's on an elevated platform.

My god, I think you're right!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:27 PM on February 19, 2011


I wonder if Indians go to expensive "studios" to kneel in pews for exercise, totally divorced from religious meaning.
posted by indubitable at 2:53 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


if I understand things correctly was all people doing coke and having threesomes with strangers.

Does that require two strangers at all times or could you know one of the other people? Like from the PTA or something.
posted by yerfatma at 2:54 PM on February 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


My god, I think you're right!!!

No. Come on. That's crazy talk.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:05 PM on February 19, 2011


I went to bikram yoga, and then to hot yoga, for a number of sessions. Being a Northern type, the heat was generally unpleasant (and don't get me started on the smell of wet carpet drenched with strangers' sweat). I didn't like my instructors at Bikram in Vancouver. They were unkind to some of the students struggling with the poses, making fun of their effort, or putting them down because of their weight. So after my six-session pass expired I went to a hot-yoga class. Not affiliated with Bikram, wooden floors (ah so much cleaner) and a variety of poses during each session. Much better. But the heat was hard to take. I would unroll my mat near a window, which I knew was drafty. And kept a big nalgene full of ice water nearby.

I have nothing against Bikram practicioners - they enjoy what they do, derive health benefits, who am I to deny their bliss - but for me, hatha yoga suits my beat. Slower, holding poses longer, with time to build my concentration and soothe my soul. Some ohms in the beginning, a few more at the end maybe, and I leave the studio with a light mind and a light step. This works better for me.
posted by seawallrunner at 3:05 PM on February 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Everything I've heard about Bikram yoga makes it sound quite unappealing to me (weird guru, bright lights, carpet, rigid routine, getting yelled at). But I've done hot yoga classes at a Moksha studio and I've really enjoyed it - none of those things going on. I'm not very athletic, and the heat means I can't do anything but focus on each pose (I don't think the Moksha classes are heated quite as high as the Bikram, though?); it's intense and yet it just clears my head - especially after I walk out, the feeling stays with me. I did not find anything sexual about it, nor would I want to. If the teacher were making comments during a class like Choudhury does in this article, I'd walk out. Ugh.
posted by flex at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2011


"pretzel into the crow" looks awfully familiar...
posted by nathancaswell at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


A dead Quaker: "I'd say shouting "I am the serenest!" is a better example of subverting the traditional aims of yoga."

"Don't Miss the Extreme Speed-Nirvana Challenge at the Bikram MegaDome, This SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY "
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wow, only 1 person shat on the legitimacy of this post...

Other that Bikram being boring, narcissistic, and a slow way to burn fat and build muscle, I found this article rather interesting.
posted by hellslinger at 3:15 PM on February 19, 2011


Wow, only 1 person shat on the legitimacy of this post...

Tells you something.
posted by bwg at 3:20 PM on February 19, 2011


Tells you something.

Yeah?
posted by hellslinger at 3:22 PM on February 19, 2011


hellslinger: "Tells you something.

Yeah
"

He was wrong! Heh.
posted by bwg at 3:30 PM on February 19, 2011


smarter then the average bear
posted by clavdivs at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2011


From this article, I get the sense that this Bikram fellow Always! Speaks! With! Exclamation! Points!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shucks, expected wit and insight, got bored instead. :(
posted by hellslinger at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2011


Never done Bikram, but I try and do a hot hatha class when I can. As flex says, the heat forces me to concentrate and I finish the class with a lightness of being. Mrs arcticseal did Bikram's in Vancouver and came back with the same feedback as seawallrunner, moist carpets and idiot instructors don't make make for a good experience.
Like any gym, there's the yoga equivalent of the musclehead, but I've generally found it to be a low number to the normal people I've met.
posted by arcticseal at 4:02 PM on February 19, 2011


Here's a blog post with a few pros and cons. The regimented approach seems to appeal to Type-A personalities.
posted by arcticseal at 4:13 PM on February 19, 2011


Others object to Choudhury's decision in 2002 to patent his sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, which has made him very rich (all Bikram studios must pay a licensing fee to open, along with a new, much-protested monthly fee) and, in the eyes of many, an apostate. Yoga is thought to date back 5,000 years, and for Hindus, claiming it as intellectual property is akin in Christian terms to copyrighting the Lord's Prayer. "Call it exercise. Call it a good workout. Call it what you like," says Dr. Aseem Shukla, cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation. "But don't call it yoga. It's a cynical appropriation of Hinduism."

... Choudhury owns an 8,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills and a fleet of more than 40 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys.

... endorsements have helped him peddle Bikram-branded products, including books, CDs, DVDs, apparel, towels, mats, and water bottles. Besides charging for teacher training and studio licensing, he also generates revenue from fees for regional Bikram Yoga tournaments that produce a national champion each year. And he's looking for ways to expand his empire: He's in talks with several U.S. cable networks about a reality show, and Sun, an Indian company, wants to launch an all-Bikram channel. There are also plans for a satellite-radio show and a magazine. He's even campaigning to get yoga recognized as an Olympic sport.

This clown is every bit the jerk that the TV evangelists are. Maybe moreso.* I had no idea. My naivete led me to think that there was a decency underlying this 'brand' of yoga, which I did not know was a brand. Until now. In fact, in my naivete I never even questioned that there would be this sort of garbage in any type of yoga that would/could ever gain acceptance. I was wrong -- I confess it.
* Though I do prefer his way of doing it, out in the open, sortof a "Yes, I'm a scumbag and I'm going to call you names while I roll around in your money" thing...

"You Westerners are like spiritual babies," Choudhury says. "You were born in the wrong country, with the wrong skin color, in the wrong culture. You can never be spiritual! It is not your fault. I'm sorry about that. If you can even get the body right, that much is good enough for you!"

Sweet! Now I feel so much better about this guy! Now I see why people follow him! He's got an answer for them! He can show them how to get things right! Or at least as close as they can, being oh such limited scum beings, not at all approaching his greatness nor that of his skin color and part of the world....

"Woman is one-third mind, one-third body, one-third spirit," he shouts as the students go through their standing postures. "Man is one-third goat, one-third dog, one-third spirit!" Choudhury

I mean, can anyone read this and give this choad even a dime more of their money? By which I mean practicing in any shala that gives him a penny, by buying any of his garbage, buying anything that's been licensed by him. I'd like to see him say this in a room I was in, in fact I'd *really* like it.

What a bag of pus...
posted by dancestoblue at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder if Indians go to expensive "studios" to kneel in pews for exercise, totally divorced from religious meaning.

Indian (and Hindu to boot) here: Yes, we do.
posted by anniecat at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2011


Everyone must find their own path. My yoga, for instance, consists of cigarettes and bourbon.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Also, the only reason I really started doing yoga was for flexibility. I liked Bikram yoga, found it challenging, and didn't know much about Choudry (and after reading the article, I don't care), but the last time I went I got extremely dizzy (didn't drink enough water) and I thought I'd go back when I was more fit. But then we moved to the DC burbs of Virginia and I just got lazy.
posted by anniecat at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2011


I don't think the article presents much information supporting an overtly sexual atmosphere at the trainings. It seems like most of the writer's reasoning for claiming that the bikram is oversexed is that most of the students are extremely fit women in tiny clothes. Just because this gets the writer thinking about sex, doesn't mean that the students are thinking about sex (or engaging in it).
He writes things like "The entire resort throbs with the libidinal energy of Choudhury's followers" and the only evidence he presents to support this statement are a couple of guys who are not involved in the program oggling some of the women. That doesn't seem to have anything to do with any libidinal energy on the part of the bikram practitioners.
He manages to get one guy, identified by only a first name, Paul, to claim that the training is a "sexual playground." But, this seems to be a theme that certain guys tend to make exaggerations about...
Anyway, other that Choudhury being somewhat sexually suggestive himself, I don't see where in the article that author shows anything suggesting a "bacchanal" atmosphere.
I've been practicing bikram and other hot yoga (specifically corepower) for a little more than four years, and while there are plenty of sweaty, physically fit people in tiny clothes, I really haven't experienced any kind of overt sexuality in the practice or the relations between the students. I am certainly not anti-sex and don't feel the need to defend bikram against claims that it is sexual, but I just don't think that it is true.
posted by honeyx at 4:55 PM on February 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, it screws up your body. If anyone hears of a class-action suit, let me know. My particular back problems started in yoga class, and they told me the pain was good for me. I love yoga, and I loved Bikram for a good while, but I actually think their approach to injury prevention is pretty irresponsible.
posted by slidell at 4:59 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sometimes go to developer conferences. Holy shit, the libidinal energy is nuts. To call it a bacchanal is an understatement. It's almost like you took a group of adults, put them up in a hotel for a couple days, away from any responsibility , with a group of people they may never see again.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:09 PM on February 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


they told me the pain was good for me.

Oh yeah, I remember hearing that a lot in my month of Bikram. "Go to the point of pain and a little bit past it. Every moment of pain will make it that much easier next time as you get stronger."

I mean, all yoga involves uncomfortable tension, but in the other styles I've taken, the instructors take care to help you notice the difference between tension and stretching and intensity and the kind of pain that could signal you're injuring yourself. I agree that I never thought the Bikram teachers were attuned to this - they seemed to be trained to interpret all pain as good.
posted by Miko at 5:10 PM on February 19, 2011


they seemed to be trained to interpret all pain as good.

You should have punched them in the face and said "That must've been terrific."
posted by jonmc at 5:53 PM on February 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Holy shit, the libidinal energy is nuts.

Yes, but ...
posted by zippy at 6:01 PM on February 19, 2011


Yes, but ...

Fuck Bikram Cloudhuury, that's some fucking Ballmer yoga right there.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2011


Did Choudhury pay to get this article written and posted?
posted by telstar at 6:49 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, I guess this is like the American Apparel of yoga or something?
posted by spilon at 7:45 PM on February 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, I got an old and cranky body and doing bikram in the heat has an amazing loosening effect. The heat is intense, but something you grow used to and actually begin to appreciate; it is the same series in the same order, but given that I'm no spring chicken, it's nice to know what's coming and when and how to pace myself, or drop out as needed. The place I go is not at all macho about just laying there if you need to. And they make sure the newer people know where the cooler spots in the room are and that everyone has plenty of fluids. I've found it marvelously beneficial but I hadn't taken any yoga before, so I had no preconceived yogaic notions. It's almost too uncomfortable to be that sexy, frankly. Great on the creaking hinges, though.
posted by umberto at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2011


कृष्ण, what an गुदा.
posted by meehawl at 9:10 PM on February 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


facetious: “The whole angle of this post/article is bizarre. This notion that sexuality and spirituality are opposed, and that sexuality is shameful and inferior, and spirituality noble and superior, is a poisonous mindfuck that should have been stamped out millennia ago. The guy's sexual, makes money, teaches people how to be fit and confident - the problem is?”

It's interesting to me that several people have come in here claiming that the "angle" of the article is "bizarre" or wrong. The notable thing about this article is that it has no angle. It's all facts, it's not biased, it just reports cleanly without any presuppositions at all. That was actually very laudable, I think; too many people would have written a "this guy is evil!" article. But this article just quotes him, fact-checks him, talks about the business of Bikram, and gives equal time to its defenders and its detractors. What's so bizarre about that? Nobody in the article says sexuality is bad. Nobody (least of all the author) says that any of this is wrong or evil. If the author of this article has a tone, I think I could peg that tone as "bemused." His questions are clear and direct and makes sense. He lets Bikram respond to them.

I think people are put off by this article because they'd rather not know what's in it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:14 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: “From this article, I get the sense that this Bikram fellow Always! Speaks! With! Exclamation! Points!”

Me too. I especially got that sense after reading this part:

from article: “He speaks only in exclamation points.”
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 PM on February 19, 2011


Birams isn't yoga, it's bikrams.
posted by dobie at 11:00 PM on February 19, 2011


Bikram yoga, popularized in the USA by Bikram Choudhury, is criticized for being overly sexual and as subverting the traditional aims of yoga.

Surprisingly, I say the exact same thing when a caucasian yoga instructor from SoCal tells potential students to sign up for their class because it will help them lose weight and how its a great way to meet other athletic people.

Also, Bikram yoga was not "popularized" by Bikram Choudhury, it was INVENTED by him. Marketing people, marketing...not really yoga.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:02 PM on February 19, 2011


Reading this article, I kept imagining Choudhury as Chang from Community. I know, wrong race, wrong everything. But at the same time, it kinda fits, no?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:06 AM on February 20, 2011


For the women here, the "boss," as he calls himself (and everyone else), offers a path to sexual awakening.

Fire the editor.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:06 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, Bikram isn't the path to stretchable limbs and yoga fire and teleportation, either? CAPCOM WHERE IS THE TRUE DHALSIM?
posted by mkb at 8:19 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


mkb, it looks to me like like this article is

[dons sunglasses]

a yoga flame.

Hadouken!!!
posted by zippy at 11:07 AM on February 20, 2011


they seemed to be trained to interpret all pain as good.

Exactly.

Me: "I need a modification for this pose. Ever since I felt a sharp pain in my lower back while doing it last week, it now gets worse after every class. I can't fall asleep unless I ice my back first. I'm now getting numbness in my leg too."

The teacher: "Just keep coming to class every day and doing the pose. Have you ever tried doing two classes a day?"
posted by slidell at 7:27 PM on February 20, 2011


The teacher: "Just keep coming to class every day and doing the pose. Have you ever tried doing two classes a day?"

Fire the instructor, get a better studio; that's just someone who doesn't care about their students.
posted by arcticseal at 5:35 AM on February 21, 2011


Fire the instructor, get a better studio;

I did - hatha and Iyengar. Much more suited to my approach and arguably no less effective at creating fitness.
posted by Miko at 8:13 AM on February 21, 2011


Oh, and the reason I suspected it was part of the training was that I ended up taking from a few different instructors and they were all sort of...drill instructor about the poses. It might have been studio leadership, but it definitely wasn't an individual quirk.
posted by Miko at 8:21 AM on February 21, 2011


Fire the instructor, get a better studio;

I did - hatha and Iyengar.


Likewise except vinyasa or ashtanga.

The only step I'd add is: warn everyone else about Bikram.
posted by slidell at 10:58 PM on February 22, 2011


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