Celebrity yogi and creator of the Bikram Yoga style, Bikram Choudry, has refused a request from Pop Superstar Madonna for private lessons. Choudry offered to include Madonna in his regular classes, but would not see her on a one-to-one basis saying that if she wanted to be a student “[she would] have to leave [her] ego behind.”
Choudry, who has a number of other high profile clients (George Clooney, Jim Carrey, and Jessica Simpson) stressed that none of them have objected to his methods, and does not intend to make exceptions. Yes, the work of Yoga is to cut through the limits of the ego in order to see the truth, but is this choice an example of this teaching? Or is it an example of two very strong egos colliding?
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Though this may appear superficial on the surface, the debate brings us to the very basis of sharing this practice. Traditionally, yoga was a practice that was handed down from teacher to student directly and individually. Teachers may have had dozens or even hundreds of students, but each was given just what they were ready for on a one-on-one basis with the teacher or guru. Presently, the presentation of yoga is very different. We pack students in as tightly as possible providing a one-size-fits all approach to asana and yoga.
Is this effective? Should Madonna, who might be a very different individual than Bob Smith on the mat next to her, be given the same practices and techniques as everyone else? Bikram would say yes, Pattahbi Jois might have agreed. Both teachers having the utmost faith in the sequences of asanas and pranayama that they brought to the table, but what of their teachers? T. Krishnamacharya, Jois’s teacher, worked individually with his students, tailoring each practice to their individual needs and abilities which is precisely how three of his students went on to create and share three very individual expressions of Yoga (Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar) all as expressions of experiences with the same teacher.
This contemplation is not meant to dismiss the power of practice shared with others. Though we may all be unique, the power of Yoga is universal, and when we join in the potency of practice with others that power increases exponentially. But, is that power alone enough to move us beyond our obstacles, or do we need to develop a deeper more personalized relationship with our teacher to really move forward in this practice? My response would be that our path of practice as just as unique to our individual personalities as is our method. Some of us will need individual guidance to embark upon and explore the deepest layers of this practice, and others will ride the wave of shared experience into the horizon of understanding.
No matter our path, though, the aim is to be guided from the place of authenticity within all of us, and reach out from there. Not from ego, or fame, or even self-consciousness. When we sit down and ask ourselves, truly, what we need in our practice and in our lives, then what we need will appear as a reflection of our awareness. As the old saying says, “the teacher appears when the student is ready,” so if Madonna is seeking from that authentic place, then maybe the message is that Bikram is not the teacher.
What do you think? Should yoga be tailored to the individual or are classes just as effective?