Monday, March 3, 2014

About Time

It was with a heavy heart that I emailed my Bikram instructor to let her know that I was going to take a hiatus from her studio.

I was conflicted for a few reasons. I'd been going to that particular studio for almost five years. It's convenient. It's clean. I have friends there, and the instructors are excellent. But ever since the sexual harassment and rape allegations hit the news last year, I have been increasingly torn about supporting the Bikram empire.

Now, I've never been a fan of Bikram himself.  I used to look upon him with bemusement, as one might a cute but useless puppy with a rug-piddling problem: "Hey! Great example of a charismatic narcissist who somehow managed to line up some yoga postures in a way that works well for many people."

When I had the opportunity to meet him during the now-infamous San Diego teacher's training and saw him strutting outside the tent, screaming obscenities into his cell phone, the bemusement turned into eye-rolling. ("Oh, okay. This guy's just a dick. Alright, well, I guess I have no reason to take a class from him again.")

I had also heard about his sexual escapades with his students. It seemed a little gross to me, considering the dude is married and the nature of the teacher/student relationship. Then, of course, there are the misogynistic and anti-gay comments. But I assumed that the sex was consensual and that the trainees could laugh off the misogyny. Hey, could the harassment that bad if three hundred and fifty people are paying to hear it?

After reading the Vanity Fair articles, I began to feel rather unsettled. I initially brushed it the feeling off, but I found myself attending class less and less frequently. At first, I told myself I was lazy and that life had gotten too comfortable since the Man-type moved in.

It took this feminist a read in the second Vanity Fair article to see that I was probably a little foolish to write this guy off as harmless for as long as I did. "I was like, You can’t teach yoga—you’ll get raped,” one of the plaintiffs said about her experience in training. “That’s what was in my head."

Wow. How did I miss that one the first time around?

There may be some truth to the lazy phase of my life conclusion I arrived at earlier, but, wouldn't you know it, when I "gave my notice" to my studio, I started feeling settled about yoga again.

I tried a "vinyasa flow" studio near home. It was fine, but not what I was looking for. Then, I went to a hot yoga studio that "defected" from the Bikram logo about four months ago. As I drove over, I found myself feeling something akin to joy. I didn't know what to expect, but I was thrilled to find out. I almost cried when class was over and I lay down in savasana. It was just a wonderful experience.

"Hey, are you new here?" a student asked me as I prepared to get up. "I am visually impaired, so I'm not sure, but welcome! This is a great community."

I can't wait to go back!

This is an interesting time for the Bikram and hot yoga community. On the one hand, I'm excited to be supporting a studio that has made a change for what they believe is the right thing. I hope more studios follow suit. I realize these studios are taking a huge risk--they are likely to lose their Bikram-trained teachers, because instructors can lose their licenses if they teach at non-Bikram studios (according to an instructor at the new studio, anyway). This makes me want to support them in their efforts to break away from The Man :-)

But I also know that the Bikram series works. I didn't attend for four years for no reason!

Only his dialog is copyrighted; the sequence isn't. So, it's possible to attend Bikram-y classes at other studios. I hope the Bikram empire makes a very public effort to distance itself from him. It's about time.


Andrea Jacobs said...

he can have his license back, it doesn't mean anything anyway haha! kind of you to be sympathetic. I've never had a boss/studio owner who cared to see the piece of paper. I'm so glad my studio dropped the name :) Onward!

Anonymous said...

I think that tarnishing the name is some type of business violation. As you can see by the long-time loyal student's defection above; Teachers and studio owners alike, after making a contractual agreement to comply with the "Bikram rules in order to use the Brand' each student and studio owner has been monetarily damaged by the actions of Bikram who has tarnished the brand and thereby dramatically affected the attraction to this brand of yoga.... No one wants to be associated with a Rapist.... -Jeff Bowler

Yolk E said...

Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I can only imagine what many teachers are going through right now! Such a shame that his actions have damaged his brand.... and negatively affected the mostly wonderful teachers who are affiliated.

Good for your studio, Andrea! :-)

Persimmon Cinnamon said...

An offense is an offense, who are we to judge the severity of the offense? The problem with this culture is we judge so heavily what is only in God's hands to judge. When we criticize and gossip, we are also making serious spiritual offenses. I am not condoning Bikram's behavior. I just want to put in my 2 cents worth that to jump ship on a wonderful yoga sequence because of one idiot's behavior is silly and extreme.

KiraMarie said...

Great decision. I must say, living in a small town where there's only the one bikram yoga studio (and no one else teaching a similar style), I struggle with this, and have struggled with this since I first went to see him "speak" at a conference. I left halfway through (uh oh! sin!), because the man is totally mentally ill (and clearly much worse than that now, too). I looked at the teachers I respected so much, who spoke with such kindness, integrity and intelligence and wondered - how can they sit through this crap? How did they ever make it through teacher training listening to this lunatic? Honestly, I had a very hard time understanding their motivations. I was asked to go to teacher training last winter, but I replied I'd rather go to another school for this, and would rather donate 10.000 to the homeless than spend it in misery for three months near that man and my teacher said he understood! So so sad how so many follow this crazy man.

Yolk E said...

Thanks for your comment, Kira. I don't blame you for walking out! Lot of style, but not much substance there. He reminds me of too many professors I had at university that way!

Persimmon, Cinnamon, I love your screen name. Anyway, I appreciate the comment. I have grown up in a society where killing is not on par with stealing a candy bar from a liquor store, so the "not judging the severity of offense" comment doesn't exactly resonate with me.