May 19, 2013


The Bikram Series: Some articles about Choudry's version of yoga
Bikram Choudry at work

A while back I decided to write about Bikram yoga. I felt there was something important to say about how yoga triggers improvements in life, heals physical and emotional wounds, and highlights the indivisible mindbody connection. Having a fit body is a mere by product that just happens to be desirable. So I started pestering Bikram teachers with various questions. They have mostly indulged me benignly with their answers, but it led into into discussions about the impact of this type of yoga and about Mr Choudry himself, his pimp-like posturings, and even the value of the yoga asana championships, so called 'competitive' yoga, which for some is an oxymoron. I attended the UK yoga championships for the first time this year and found it thrilling, even at times unyogic. Yet, it all contributes to the massive interest in yoga in recent years which shows no signs of fizzling out. Take a look at this video I made of one of the teachers who entered, Alessandro Mauro, and it's a lesson in the perfection of form. Coached by Ky Ha, ex US champion, he really showed how it should be done.

The Indispensible Book on the Bikram Phenomenon
When yoga first became popular, there was a lot of poo-poohing of the practice that was negatively motivated by Christians fearful that the younger generation was being subtly brain-washed by Hindus. They feared that Hinduism was poised to take over the Western hemisphere. Now that there is a science to back up the benefits of yoga, the religious prejudices have fallen by the wayside. Yoga from a western perspective, in its various forms, has gone from quaint Eastern weirdness to 'hey there's something more to this', to full-on mainstream, everywhere-you-look, in the space of a few decades. This is all fine. The more interest is sparked in the poses, the more it leads to curiosity about how they are performed and practised, which leads to a search for the spiritual aspect. The foundation and origins of yoga, are less deeply embedded in ancient Vedantic philosophy than is commonly supposed. Nevertheless, yoga is where the mind body interface is most obviously situated. Yoga is something people can experience for themselves, not just know from books. So even competitions while seeming to be a paradox of the yogic spirit, still lead people to be curious about the hows and the whys, thus leading to some kind of enlightenment.

As I began thinking and becoming more curious, various different aspects of the yoga universe cropped up for attention: the mystery of the asanas, their names, and purpose, the neatness of the sequence, plus the language used to instruct in Bikramese Choudhuryesque, and its odd abruptness, and then the insight that how being in a yoga class was similar to being in a hypnotic trance, and could have the same mental reprogramming, life-changing impact. I wanted to learn more, read more, ask more.  One of the best current books around on Bikram, apart from the asana manuals, as it is one person's experience with it, is  Benjamin Lorr's Hell Bent: Obsession, Pain and the search for something like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga (2012) and apart from Lorr's readable, page-turning style, it highlighted some of the paradoxes of a yoga cult and how no one can really agree on its value, yet all agree that Bikram is a phenomenon to be reckoned with. There were still a lot of questions, and puzzles and misconceptions, all of which needed clearing up.

With yoga, it is personal. You either want to do it and stay the course, and effect a transformation, or you just dabble in the shallow end and can't ever make out what the fuss is about out in the deeper ocean. But with Bikram, you learn patience, and tenacity, more than stamina.  This is why it appeals to athletes. You learn endurance as well, as perfecting one single pose can take years of minor self adjustments and corrections. Some teachers say 'if you can't do it yet, don't worry, it took me five years,' laughingly reducing your months of  hard-sweated effort at standing head to knee pose to nothing. But it also is a reminder that it is the process and not the end point that contains all the joys, thereby suggesting it is not really competitive. Some can go deep into side bend as their spines are naturally bendable, but they lose all sense of form. So, struggling at your edge, which may be way behind anyone else in the room, is where the real work happens, and you can be a beginner for up to ten years before you might graduate to the Advanced Bikram class.

Because there is so much to say, and this is a mere introduction, I'm going to divide up the material into sections, and who is to say where it may wind up. Some of it here, some of it elsewhere in Yoga Journals, hopefully:

1) Personal experience and general ideas of Bikram: the day to day developments of doing 90 minutes in the heat and how it transforms the bodymind, including the asanas, the debate about the heat,  its value and the influence of the leader

2) The Language used in the dialogue; this will include the metaphors used.

Esak Garcia
3) The link between Bikram (or other yoga styles) and Hypnosis, how it is similar to a trance state where reprogramming the mind is happening. This potentially is the most interesting research area to explore, and I'm in discussions, still observing and researching, so I'm not in any hurry to arrive at any conclusions, but it's quite exciting to examine these often hidden and undocumented aspects of the yoga class.

So I hope that this will all be interesting, not just for those who are curious about Bikram and thinking about trying a first class ( go for it)  but for regular Bikram practitioners too who would like to reflect on what it is they are doing.

It's important to note that I'm not saying that Bikram is the only yoga style that can have these transformational effects, but it is the one that has worked best for me.
Jospeh Encinia doing the bridge

I haven't got the ultimate bendy back yet like Esak Garcia or Joseph Encinia and I'm nowhere near as good as the teachers, dare I say 'yet'? but I'm on my way.

Watch this space. 


© Kieron Devlin, 2013
all rights reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everything is very open with a really clear description of the issues.
It was truly informative. Your website is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!