Aspen Princess: The yoga guru wears no clothes
So it turns out my guru wears no clothes.
Or at least that’s what the slew of women who accused him of sexual assault are saying. And they’re suing him for millions of dollars.
I’m talking about Bikram Choudry, the founder of Bikram Yoga. That the guy was accused of sexual assault by several former female students is old news. But just last week, the Washington Post reported that Choudry is now on the lam. A warrant for his arrest was issued May 24 for his failure to pay a $6.8 million settlement to his former attorney, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who sued him for sexual harassment.
But let’s back up. That’s not even really what I want to write about. But who can resist the drama and gossip? Plus, leave it to me to choose an alleged criminal as my guru.
What I want to tell is it’s been 10 years since I completed my Bikram Yoga teacher training in Honolulu. Ten years! How is it even possible that a whole decade went by and I still can’t do locust pose into a shoulder stand?
I discovered hot yoga when I was living in Southern California the mid-’90s but didn’t get serious until 2005 when my desire to get skinny and fast for the boy-of-the-moment brought me back to Bikram Yoga, this time in downtown Aspen. It had nothing to do with a desire for spiritual awakening or interest in a mind-body connection or to learn what “namaste” means. At the time, I was living on a diet of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol (which, by the way, is the most effective diet I have ever been on) and trying to shrink myself into a size 2. I smoked cigs on the way to yoga. Forget the Aspen Idea of mind, body and spirit. My Aspen idea was “detox to retox.”
When I went to Bikram’s teacher training in Honolulu in April 2007, I was hardly yoga-teacher material. I knew nothing about Bikram the man, and rather than prepare myself for his training by say, doing lots of yoga and reading up on his teachings, I went on the biggest bender of my life. The night before my flight to Hawaii, I hooked up with an old college flame who was engaged at the time when his fiancee was in the next room. Yes, I know it was wrong but it was hot. I arrived in Honolulu nursing one hell of a hangover.
Plus, I almost got kicked out before the training even began for (guess what) writing a flippant column about Bikram that the folks at Bikram headquarters weren’t very amused by.
I managed to make it through the arduous nine-week training, drank the Kool-Aid and was basically indoctrinated into a cult. For those two months I was sleep deprived, pushed past the point of exhaustion, set up for failure, publicly humiliated, and subjected to two yoga classes a day in a makeshift studio with a jerry-rigged heating system where the temperature often exceeded 120 degrees. People passed out and threw up. I somehow remained standing.
People say the training was dehumanizing, but I found it to be the opposite. I found comfort in the fact that all 300 of us responded the same way when put in the same circumstances. I was astounded to learn that my classmates were jazz drummers and Broadway singers, doctors and engineers, former CEOs and world-class athletes. These highly driven and accomplished people broke down just like I did. By the end of the nine weeks, it was like we were one giant living organism, like a stand of Aspen trees, separate but together.
Plus, I got to live in Hawaii for two months. I was tan, blonde and yes, skinny. And I’d met Ambere, Kate and Amanda, who became my yoga sisters for life.
It’s not like I returned from the training transformed. If anything, I was more tweaked than ever. I hit my rock bottom maybe a year later, the partying and boy-chasing and weight-losing hitting levels of serious dysfunction.
So I guess it took a while to sink in, but I got something profound from that training and from my regular yoga practice I can’t quite quantify. It centered me and grounded me somehow. All those years and all those classes added up. Yoga became a way to check in and go deep within myself. It may have started with a mirror and my vanity, but eventually that mirror turned inward and something else altogether occurred.
Yoga brought magic into my life. It brought special people into my life. It brought teachers who did so much more than lead me through a series of postures. During my pregnancy, I got better care from my yoga teacher Emily than I ever received from any of my doctors. And as I venture into motherhood, yoga sustains my feeling of self at a time when my baby demands so much of me. I also believe that my baby is so happy and so grounded and so calm in part from all the yoga I did when he was in my belly. He truly is a yoga baby. We know each other from some other time and place, maybe because for all those months I was pregnant with him I could turn inward and be with him in a way I couldn’t have otherwise. When he was born, we already knew each other.
There are a lot of people who are angry with and ashamed of Bikram. They took his name off their door and many abandoned his form of yoga.
I never cared about Bikram the man, recognizing at some level that it’s dangerous to do so because he is, after all, just a man. But I will forever be grateful for the yoga that he brought us and for all the magic it has brought into my life.
The Princess is proud to be a size 8. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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