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.