Practicing yoga has taught me many things. This week, I finally realized that it is acceptable to behave like an ass, as long you don’t try to deny the fact that your behavior is undesirable. This long overdue realization is probably the one and only pearl of wisdom I have taken from the teachings of Bikram Choudhury.
This yoga mogul and self-proclaimed guru has never hidden from the fact that he is rude, offensive, sexist, degrading, or excessive – all while teaching yoga. In fact, he prides himself on it. He has even claimed it makes him more American. So it is no surprise that the list of complaints against him has only gotten longer and more serious over the years, the most recent of which include charges of sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination by former student, Sarah Baughn. His outlook on life, women, and equality seems to be as narrowly focused as his yoga. What is surprising is that people continue to condone his behavior, contributing their hard-earned dollars to finance his extravagant lifestyle.
When Anusara founder, John Friend, had his tumble off the throne last year, yogis all across the country were devastated. Support groups were formed. There was much discussion about an individual’s responsibility to speak up when witnessing abuses of power. Yet, for years, Bikram has strutted his abuses of power with pride, and people have continued to throw money at him as if they have no choice. He has tried to own yoga, through trademark attempts, outrageous training and name use fees, and lawsuits. He has allegedly referred to women as “bitches” and “whores” and derided those who have complained about his mat-side manner. But Anusara was the yoga of compassion, open heartedness, and grace, so Friend was held to a higher standard. Granted, he set that higher standard for himself, but Bikram’s shenanigans should not be excused just because he has always aimed low.
They say that complacency breeds contempt; perhaps, in his heart of hearts he knows he is naked and resents those that continue to praise his royal speedo. Or maybe holding on to those 26 poses so tightly for so long has caused his heart to shrink two sizes too small. Either way, he is unabashedly disrespectful to his students and they accept it.
Or at least, they have.
It can all change with that one voice that speaks out above the crowd, that one person that believes the truth is more important than silence.
Will Sarah Baughn be the voice that starts the avalanche?