Posts Tagged ‘Bikram Yoga’


photo courtesy Vancouver Courier



In today’s edition of The Vancouver Courier, reporter Megan Stewart profiles the yoga competition coming to Vancouver, Canada.  Her question is one that echoes each time a yoga competition makes in American cities…”can you win at yoga?”

Competitive yoga is on the rise but still doubted and even scorned by many in Vancouver where the practice is largely associated with meditation, well-being and personal growth rather than the competitive rivalries of sport.

But for Vancouverite Brad Colwell, president of the Canadian Federation of Yoga and the director of the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, the spirit of competition is aimed at self-betterment above bettering everyone else.

Ms. Stewart identifies the root of the yoga competition in the west:

Established by the World Yoga Federation, a non-profit organization run by the founders of Bikram yoga, and supported by a growing number of national federations, those … who promote competitive yoga also want it included as an Olympic sport.

In a November interview with the New York Times, Rajashree Choudhury, the spouse of the man named for the copyrighted series of 26 Bikram postures, said the inclusion of yoga in future Summer Games “is our dream.”

But the controversial practice of yoga competition draws many critics:

For the co-owner of Semperviva Yoga, a West Broadway studio and teacher training centre, the concept of Olympic yoga is “weird.”

“It’s a bit unfortunate because I think it scares people away,” said Gloria Latham.

The most fit may stand to benefit, she said, but added that an emphasis on physicality alone can be intimidating and detracts from the primary benefit of yoga, which she said is breath work.

“If I can’t put my foot behind my head, then I don’t belong here,” is one self-conscious doubt Latham does not want to see gain traction as competition drives a sense of contest and panders to ego.

“It makes you completely physically focused,” she said. “I don’t think you can benefit from yoga by focusing on only one aspect of the practice.”

Another Vancouver yoga studio owner and teacher trainer dismissed competition altogether. When shakti mhi was invited to participate in the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, she put the letter on her blog–along with a scathing reply.

“How can ‘hatha yogis’ and ‘championship’ be beside each other in one sentence, let alone in one room? I guess the biggest winner will be the biggest fool that believes the discipline of hatha yoga is for the purpose of showing off,” wrote the founder of the Prana Yoga Teacher College.

However, one can’t ignore the history of the yoga competition.  Which makes the yoga competition much more confusing for western yogis:

Competition is popular in India, where it was formalized in the late 1980s. The Yoga Federation of India has categories that distinguish between athletic and artistic yoga, “rythemic” (sic) yoga and synchronized pair yoga with a focus on presenting various postures to “perfection and relaxation without strain.”

Ultimately, Ms. Stewart writes, the competition is a “spectator sport”. The “competitors are beautiful, their postures mesmerizing.” As one competitor adds, “We want people to feel inspired to do yoga.”

As for Bikram, YogaDork recently wrote a blog post entitled “Cult Rock Star, Yogapreneur, Magic Genie Sex Machine”, which discussed an article in Details magazine profiling the Yoga Don, Bikram Choudhury.  It is a highly entertaining read.


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courtesy of the NYTimes


Yesterday’s New York Times profiled an emerging campaign backed by the Hindu-American Foundation called the “Take Back Yoga” campaign. The group encourages that yoga practitioners learn more about the ancient Hindu traditions which they say are the root of yoga practice.  While this is a seemingly small group of people, their message, or rather the question that their message raises – who owns yoga – has sparked an intense debate and has drawn responses from some heavy hitters on both sides.

In June, it even prompted the Indian government to begin making digital copies of ancient drawings showing the provenance of more than 4,000 yoga poses, to discourage further claims by entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yoga instructor to the stars who is based in Los Angeles. Mr. Choudhury nettled Indian officials in 2007 when he copyrighted his personal style of 26 yoga poses as “Bikram Yoga.”

Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching. Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of “castes, cows and curry,” they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual “Indian wisdom.”

“In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

The “Take Yoga Back” campaign had a somewhat quiet beginning:

The effort to “take back” yoga began quietly enough, with a scholarly essay posted in January on the Web site of the Hindu American Foundation, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes human rights for Hindu minorities worldwide. The essay lamented a perceived snub in modern yoga culture, saying that yoga magazines and studios had assiduously decoupled the practice “from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity.”

Soon, Dr. Shukla made his argument in a piece for The Washington Post, in which he said that yoga had been the victim of “intellectual property theft”.  Didn’t take long for the likes of Dr. Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American writer who has made his living popularizing alternative medicine techniques as well as yoga.

For Dr. Uma V. Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the campaign represents the growing pains of the Indian-American population in the United States:

A naturalized immigrant, [Ms. Mysorekar] said Take Back Yoga represented a coming-of-age for Indians in the United States. “My generation was too busy establishing itself in business and the professions,” she said. “Now, the second and third generation is looking around and finding its voice, saying, ‘Our civilization has made contributions to the world, and these should be acknowledged.’”

It is an interesting debate that I’m sure is just beginning to rage.  Thoughts?

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It has been a weird and wild week in yoga, friendlies. We started with Halloween on Sunday, which I commemorated by begging my fellow yogis – a community riddled with conflict over various and sundry issues – to wave the white flag and throw a yoga-themed Halloween party. Some people thought my post was ridiculous, and they weren’t afraid to say it right there on The Facebooks. It was my first experience with “snark,” what the Urban Dictionary defines as a mix between “snide” and “remark”, and which I say is frequently bandied about on social media sites. But, in the words of one reader, the post was meant to be cheeky!  If you haven’t read it, check it out and start thinking about your yoga-inspired Halloween party next year.

The Halloween theme dominated other yoga sites. My friend YogaDork had an awesome contest to see who could come up with the best yoga-inspired costume. Check out the finalists…Dork will be posting the winner today!

And, despite the fact that Halloween was nearly a week ago…Lady Gaga chose to wear the following get-up to attend a Bikram yoga class two days ago:

Now, I love a good pair of heels as much as the next girl, but I can attest that I have never, ever worn heels that high. Wonder if she kept ’em on during class. Namaste, you little monsters!

In other news, Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely delayed sentencing of Steven Roger, the Aspen yoga teacher convicted of groping his students, until November 12 in hopes that he will admit to his crime and help his victims heal as well as avoid a harsher penalty. My guess is he probably won’t and that his lawyers will likely appeal the conviction. You can read more about this story at the Aspen Daily News.

Wanna go to the January 2011 Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco but struggling to afford the hefty entrance fee?  How’s about a work-study program?  The following was advertised on the San Francisco Examiner website:

Are you interested in attending this January’s Yoga Journal San Francisco Conference, but find the price tag as challenging as an afternoon ofVrschikasana? Depending on your motivation for attending, there are a few “work-study” positions available that bring down the price considerably, offering an annotated but powerful version of the dynamic weekend. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then act fast: selections for these prized packages will be made soon, and the application requires attention and thoughtfulness.

Becoming a part of the yoga community by serving at the conference can provide a deep and rewarding insight into your practice, as well as provide revelations that come from being a part of a team. The work is real, but so are the benefits. The opportunity to mingle with some of modern yoga’s experts might not come cheap, but for those with focus and a giving spirit can make the most of it for a fraction of the price.

For more information, write to Kourtney Betts at yoga@horizonconferences.com.

Finally, never read the Bhagavad Gita, and too afraid to admit it to all your yogi friends? Well, join us! November 10th begins Bob Weisenberg’s new weekly Gita Talk Discussion…You cannot miss it!  Check out Gita Talk on Elephant Journal, or on Facebook.

Have a wonderful weekend! If you’re hoping to get back into your yoga groove after being out of practice lately due to back pain (like me), a crazy schedule, or just plain laziness, enjoy your Yoga Walk of Shame/Bliss this weekend! Rrrrawrr!

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Bikram Choudhury on his throne.

I’ve been reading a lot of news involving Bikram Yoga lately.  Last week alone, there were three very popular news items relating to celebrities practicing Bikram Yoga. Prince Harry, David Beckham, even Lady Gaga was caught in her skivvies practicing Bikram on Capitol Hill.  Not to mention the news item involving some  investment company that wants to make a “rockstar” out of Bikram Choudhury, the man who “invented” this practice of yoga.

So, I feel compelled to explore this topic for a moment.  For those of you [yes, you, my adoring readers … all 3 of you] who don’t know, Bikram is both a person and a thing.  Bikram Choudhury is a man who invented a style of yoga he modestly called Bikram Yoga, a series of 26 yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises which is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees.  When you break it down, it seems pretty good in theory.  What I mean is, I love everything that makes Bikram what it is.  First, I love heat and I love a good schvitz fest.  I love it so much that I crave getting into a hot car on a brutal summer day and just sitting for, like, 5 minutes before turning on the AC.  I could sit in a sauna until my ass melts to the bench.  Second, I love yoga.  26 postures, 100 postures, 2 postures.  However many you want to give me, I’m game.   Third, I love — in theory — a kind of crazy whack funky guru guy who tells it like it is.  A guy with such audacity he copyrighted a series of ancient yoga postures.  A guy who during an interview with Mother Jones magazine proclaimed, “I have balls like atom bombs, two of them, 100 megatons each.  Nobody f*cks with me.”  I mean, how is one not fascinated by a man like this?  The first time I read this quote, I was laughing for a week.  Wouldn’t you want to sit down and have a beer with this guy? Invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner? By the way, I’m so glad he clarified that he had TWO balls.

So, shockingly, I didn’t enjoy the Bikram yoga class.  Now, let me just say, that I didn’t walk into class with my nose in the air.  You see, when I lived in Chicago I knew this guy who lost 100 plus pounds after regularly practicing Bikram yoga.  Not only that, but he reversed several medical conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult onset diabetes — as a result of his practice.  And when I went to this Bikram class near my home in L.A., I was at the point in my life where my relationship with yoga was…well, let’s just say I was sleeping on the couch.  My point is, I approached the Bikram experience with an open mind.

Twenty minutes into class, I got yelled at by the instructor.  I should mention that when I am playing the role of “student”, I don’t really mess up.  In fact, in my whole life as a student, I have been yelled at exactly 4 times . . . which is pretty good when you consider that I endured 3 years of law school.  Moreover, the yogic offense that I committed was hardly one that fit the verbal beating delivered to me.  Apparently, this is an approach used quite frequently in Bikram classes as this is not the first I have heard of students being berated or downright insulted during class.  I have read articles describing Bikram himself sauntering up and down his classes wearing nothing but a banana hammock and a headband, lampooning his students for being too flabby.

The other thing I realized was that heating the room up to 105 degrees was entirely unnecessary.  Most of the time, I sweat a good deal during a yoga practice.  And I love it when a room crowded with people practicing yoga slowly heats up as our body temperatures increase during the course of the practice.  Walking into a 105 degree room felt a little unnatural.

As soon as the class ended and before we got out the door, I announced that I would never return.  Funny thing is, attending this class was just the thing I needed to make me realize how much I missed the “other” kind of yoga.   The kind of yoga Mr. Choudhury calls a “circus”.  Ultimately, while Bikram has been quoted as saying that “my” kind of yoga reminds him of a “Santa Monica sex shop”, it is thanks to him that I realized where I belong.

I’d love to hear your take on Bikram . . . the man, the myth, or the actual practice.  I’d especially love to hear from you if you have had good experiences.

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