When the stories first surfaced about Bikram Choudhury, I was a couple of weeks from opening our school in Edinburgh. A friend sent me a copy of the first deposition, with the note ‘Pour a whiskey, this ain’t pretty’. With both the film and what I am now sharing, I invite you to do the same. If you choose not to engage, stop reading now, you have lost nothing and good for you. If you have questions and opinions, good for you too, please read on.
That first reading was devastating. Then came stories about the women. There were two loud camps, pure hate and anger, and staunch devotees. From where I stood, I was resonating with the quiet majority somewhere in between. Focusing on Love and Yoga. I could not know the truth for certain, I knew everyone involved needed love not hate, and I knew I could not walk away from this practice.
Twenty years ago I trained with an incredible man. He was my teacher and a great one. I was on a journey to heal myself but was not looking for a guru. What I found was an incredible teacher and healer, and a brilliant group of friends who have grown in to my world family over the years. We are not and have never been part of a cult. The far greatest majority of people I have met and worked with are just regular folk brought together by this spectacular life changing practice.
Bikram Choudhury on first meeting, to me, was childlike and very funny; a friend, a foe, a father, a brother, and ultimately a kind teacher. His style of teaching and his wisdom helped open my mind and my heart.
Bikram Yoga, brought me back from the devastation of being raped. Twice. First by a rapist who was physically stronger than younger me. The second time by two rapists who spiked my drink. I was pretty messed up when I showed up for teacher training. I also had broken my spine falling off a balcony, so a lot in my body didn’t work properly. Guided there by my Beautiful Godmother Gilly, a teacher of this series and my absolute Hero. She knew.
My spine and my body came back to me relatively quickly. Within a couple of weeks of practicing twice daily I was physically pain free for the first time in years. As the training progressed other things inevitably came up, and the healing from the 1st rape was relatively straightforward. I didn’t really question this. The dreams and the flashbacks stopped and I stopped caring it had happened.
4 years later I was run down by a bus. A year after that I was raped for the second time. For many reasons, this time the devastation and the fallout was greater. With time, I began twice daily classes again. Pragmatic, as I can be sometimes, I accepted my story and detached from myself; with the intention of really studying what my body and this yoga was capable of. Along with some great teachers, I studied my fascia. The blockages created by injuries from the bus and the toxic memories from the rape held in the blockages. Through study, meditation and regression therapy, but mostly through practicing Bikram Yoga, I recovered the drugged memory and released it. The toughest of loves got me up off the floor to practice again and again. I healed, physically and emotionally. I can only imagine where my life might be without Bikram Yoga, but I am certain it would not be as wonderful as it is. This is just my story, there are hundreds of thousands more out there. Please, if you are going to listen to the voices speaking up, listen to them all, and never lose sight of this Yoga and what it can do.
Whatever Bikram the man did or did not do, Whatever the women and men involved, did or did not do, is not a battle I can fight. They ALL need our love, and Karma both good and bad, will continue to flow exactly where it is meant to be.
The fall out in our teaching community deepened the heartbreaks. The hateful words between so called Yoga teachers and practitioners. Creating the possibility that this might stop some who really need this practice, from ever trying it. The MeToo movement has shown how widespread this is. I am proud for every man and woman who finds their voice and speaks up. It is not something to ever be ashamed of. Rape happens, it happened to me, but so have many, many wonderful things. Rape, like all the other awful things that occur in our world, is not possible to stop. What is possible is healing from it, not being a victim, and moving forward. I know this. Our legal system did nothing for me, nor did a kindly appointed counsellor. Bikram Yoga got me. No other yoga has even come close. This is why I will always practice and teach it.
So that is my story of why.
I know there are more questions.
One, has already directed a sad persons hate towards myself and our school. I hope this might prevent anyone else doing and feeling as she does.
To clarify. All trainees from Scotland who attended Bikrams training were aware of the accusations, and there had been no verdicts. I talked with all of them. They chose to train with the man who devised the series they loved. Some were able to separate the man from the yoga and came back as we know them, as brilliant teachers. Some sadly did not. Bikram still at this time had his magic to teach, he brought the light out in some and the dark in others. But, the trainings were faltering and the support was not always there when needed. All of the previous senior teachers who facilitated many wonderful trainings, (and to the very best of my knowledge never facilitated the sick actions alleged in the film), stepped aside. What was left was Bikram surrounded by the sycophants, those wanting to touch his feet, with little or no real care for the trainees. Caring only for their perceived status, with many developing god like complexes of their own and strengthening and supporting Bikram’s. The trainings we knew were gone. Our more recently qualified teachers here in Edinburgh, trained with our community and dear friends from Chicago. Many of you know already, they are also brilliant teachers of this series. More trainings are emerging with pros and cons to all right now, but there is movement and it is getting stronger not weaker from this. I hope we will all come back together over time. We are a little broken but we are healing. That is what we will do and most of us will use Bikram Yoga to do so.
Finally now, many of us are feeling relief with the general release of this information, the verdicts, the compensations, the voices heard, and we hope we can now draw a line. Move forward with only love and find the best way to ensure that this practice will always be taught and always be available in its purest form.
Some of you will rightly question the use of the name. This has been the subject of much discussion with many. My choice to continue to use the name ‘Bikram Yoga’ is entirely considered and I am truly sorry to anyone it causes offence. It is what we teach. (The name changes of our school over the years, are rather more about the gypsy owner and a constant desire for change. Nothing more. Not us jumping ship or changing the name to hide complicity with wrongdoings. There is none.) Bikram Yoga Edinburgh / BE Hot Yoga / Shere Calm was never part of the franchise. We have always been an independent school teaching the series, as part of a world-wide community. Almost every school I know is the same. I personally spoke to Bikram and told him I could not buy in to the franchise, and was told he did not want me to. He just asked that I teach the series, as he had taught me.
To give credit where I believe it is due.
Bishnu Ghosh taught from his school in Calcutta using the Asanas we practice, and more. Case by case, he healed individuals with a personally tailored practice. Bishnu taught Bikram Choudhury these Asanas, and gave him the task of bringing them to the masses. Bikram devised a 26 posture and 2 breathing exercise series, that would be accessible to every body. The series we practice and teach. He started this mission in the United States. That world, our crazy world, took him on a mighty journey that came to a horrific place. We now have to move forwards.
To me and many it will always be ‘Bikram Yoga’. It connects a strong, loving community around the world and allows us to find each other as needed.
I teach Bikram Yoga. I choose to honour, with much gratitude and love, the role this practice and the man himself have played in my life. I feel comfortable that I can still respect him in this way. I do not respect him in all ways, but it is not my place to judge him and there are more than enough out there hating on him. That is not somewhere I will go, there is not one thing to be gained there.
Over the years I have found peace with the acceptance of this necessary balance, as have all your teachers, and we hope you can too. The yin the yang, the dark the light. Something so bright and so fantastical had to have a dark side. We choose to focus on the light, our energy is better spent there. We will always teach Bikram Yoga because it works, we love it and it loves us. It is a big piece of magic in an often dark world, available to anyone willing to step on to a mat in a (relative) torture chamber, with an open heart. Our school will do its part to help ensure, this will always be possible.