In every facet of our culture, an important conversation is going on. Power. Specifically the imbalance of power.
And while we want to believe yoga lives outside the bounds of unethical behavior, sadly it does not. When you put humans together en masse there are dynamics in play that we cannot understand sometimes until years later.
I began my yoga practice in the year 2000. I tried a few styles of yoga and even signed up for a yoga class in college (which funnily enough, I failed because I hated it and never went back.) This was back before social media, Facebook, Instagram, fancy cell phones, and digital cameras. I didn’t know one thing from another, but I knew I wanted to get healthier as well as work on some of my internal sadness and dis-ease. I had tried gyms but I never stuck with it because they always felt like a meat market and I always felt ogled or judged. I had some knee pain so running was not an option, besides it wasn’t my jam either. So being the stubborn type, I didn’t give up on seeking a yoga practice because I knew that it had the power to change lives.
A friend took me to my first hot yoga class at Village Yoga in Santa Cruz. I knew nothing of the “style” of yoga. I just knew it was hot and I would sweat and I absolutely LOVED this idea. So off I went… and I was HOOKED!
Fast forward 4 years and I took out a withdrawal on my credit card in the amount of $6000, more money than I could ever dream of in my account at once, and signed up for yoga teacher training. Even after signing up, I barely knew there was a name for this method. I heard it was called Bikram Yoga and training would be hard, but that was pretty much all I knew.
So I landed at teacher training in 2005 doe eyed, nervous and excited at just 25 years old. I was at the time in a relationship with my now husband, Matthew, while I committed to 9 weeks of practice. I had no idea how this experience would change my life.
It was hard. It was transformative. It was exhausting. It was brutal. It was more than I could’ve planned for. I mean, I was practicing every day for 4 years before I showed up for training, but no amount of preliminary work could set me up for the emotional and physical demands of this training.
This was my experience. I had very little interaction with Bikram Choudhury. In fact, my husband didn’t realize until training was nearly over that Bikram was this guy’s first name. He always called him “Steve”. I suppose in a way, because of this tiny detail, Bikram was very humanized to me and I never saw him as anything more than a person.
That being said, I can’t deny that he portrayed himself as rude and raw. He behaved like a rockstar who flashed his money around and treated people crudely.
So here I was, in teacher training, with massive debt and a commitment to finish what I started. It was hard, but I did it, because that’s just who I am. I don’t like to give up.
My story of training ends here. I completed the training. Since then I have taken many other great trainings and workshops. I really valued some of the other teachers who led the training. I made lifelong friends. I learned a lot about myself and my willpower and what I could overcome. I became a yoga teacher. I began teaching 10 classes per week. I continued this until I opened my own studio where I still continue to lead classes as well as hold space for my growing community.
So let’s circle around to what it’s been like owning and directing Hot Yoga Asheville.
As a female, as a relatively young businesswoman, and as a teacher, one of the most important foundations I strive to hold at HYA is a sense of belonging. All of us at HYA work very hard to ensure that everyone feels safe, free of judgement and welcome within our studio. We have students who range in age, body type, gender, ethnicity and ability. We strongly believe that in order for yoga to “work” people need to feel safe, empowered and accepted.
So you can imagine that when the first discussions came out about Bikram Choudhury’s unacceptable behavior in the news and on studio owner forums about 7 years ago I was completely disgusted and shocked. I mean, I knew he was crude, but the specifics are more than my stomach can bear. I truly had no idea anything like this was happening. Very shortly after I heard of these accusations I changed our studio name to remove any connection to Bikram.
And just to be super clear, the only money I ever gave to the Bikram organization was that training fee mentioned above and $300 to file some paperwork. We never paid him royalties or fees of any kind. We were never a franchise. We have only ever sent two people to his training and this was WAY before these accusations came to light. Since then, if anyone asks about training, we discourage his. So rest assured, every dollar you have ever spent at Hot Yoga Asheville only goes to support the teachers and our families as well as to further upkeep the growth of our community. We pay every teacher for their services above living wage and care deeply about everyone’s well being.
I have been running from Bikram’s behavior for many years and am quite honestly completely burned out by the discussion. I feel sad to the core of me that he tainted a practice that has so much power to heal.
The story goes that the series we know as Hot 26, the Original Hot Yoga, or Bikram Yoga was sent down from Bikram’s guru, Bishnu Gosh. Many studios are now referring the series as Ghosh Yoga. But to me this still has too much connection to a past that we are ready as a society to move beyond.
So why am I sharing all of this now? On November 20th there is a documentary launching on Netflix called “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator”. This will discuss the history of Bikram Yoga, the success of Bikram Yoga and the accusations and trial of Bikram Choudhury. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a raw and real portrayal of the people he abused, the awful behavior he has exhibited and I’m pretty sure we are all going to walk away from it feeling twisted up inside.
When I was growing up, I was bullied and also experienced some abuse as a young girl and teen (#metoo) so these very real stories from people I know and some I even went to training with, hit very close to home. The words – sadness, anger, disgust- barely begin to describe how all of this makes me feel. Not only as a woman but especially as a mother to two young girls.
In every facet of our society power roles need to change. I mean, didn’t we all grow up with Spiderman’s uncle’s words ringing in our ears, “With great power comes great responsibility”?
I suppose I was just naive. I was naive enough to believe that people in power have our best interests in mind. I was naive enough to think that in the 2000’s we had evolved beyond misogynistic power. Perhaps it’s a symptom of having too much white privilege for me to really see and understand what was happening in the training as well as in the world. Sadly, it’s not just Bikram who is being exposed for misbehavior in the yoga sphere. Pattabhi Jois from Ashtanga Yoga, , John Friend from Anusara yoga, other scandals under the Iyengar lineage, and this list goes on.
But I believe that we can do better. I KNOW we can.
I know that we can evolve as a society to stand up to imbalances of power and greed.
I know that the more transparent and honest we can be, the more we can support those who need help.
I know it is our duty to help people in any way we can.
I know that people need people.
We need community. We need trust.
I know that whatever kind of healing modality you choose to explore, you should be able to be vulnerable because that’s where the real power lies.
I know that a yoga studio should feel and be safe.
There are many styles of yoga out there. In fact at HYA we offer a wide variety of modalities for you to explore – Vinyasa, Warm Flow, Hot 26, Hot 26 Plus, Inferno, Yin and more.
We choose to focus on you. We choose to focus on the community. And we will continue to support all modalities that our students and teachers desire. We believe a combination of styles and freeing ourselves from dogma can help shift our current cultural reality. So we will keep providing the highest quality services to you, our students, our friends and our family.
We 💙 You.
Thank you for reading our story.
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