Monday, February 23, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

This afternoon I spoke to my mother in Arizona who asked, "Have you read the latest on Bikram?" And then I checked my email and there was a message from my partner titled, "You'll probably want to read this." Bikram is in the news. Again.

Since I started practicing Bikram Yoga, it's been controversial. In 1994, when there was not even an "official" Bikram studio in the city of Seattle, the controversy was about the heat. "I don't get it." "What's the point of the heat?" "That's not really Yoga." Eventually, as anyone who practices Yoga in 2015 knows, heat is now everywhere. I can only think of a handful of studios in our whole city (and there are hundreds of studios) that don't add heat. So, that's not really an issue any more.

Then there was the controversy of Bikram franchising Yoga. I've spent years telling my students that The SweatBox is an independent business, that we don't pay any money to Bikram himself, that we teach the purest form of Bikram Yoga but we don't pay for this right. We are free agents. Some people may not have known this. Now you do.

Of late, the controversy is the sexual assault allegations against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga. As a feminist and a proud owner of a business in which we strive to cultivate an empowered group of employees --mostly women and a couple of really awesome men--  I cringe at the thought of being associated with anything that reeks of abuse of power, sexism, assault, disrespect. I am a feminist. I am raising my daughter to be a feminist. I believe that Yoga is a path to self-discovery and that being a Yoga teacher is a role one must practice with the utmost care, respect, and love.

The allegations against Bikram are deeply troubling and they sadden me to my core. I remember when unfortunately similar allegations surfaced about John Friend several years ago. Seattle Yoga Arts, a studio that offered Anusara Yoga, founded by John Friend, is one of the oldest, most well-respected, highly regarded studios in our city. I felt heavy hearted for that community as the newspapers spewed about Friend's sex scandal exploits. I practiced at this studio recently and loved it. The energy, the space, the grace with which the class was delivered. It is a sacred space indeed, one that has not been broken by the actions of any one person.

Reading and rereading the news reports about Bikram's alleged actions gives me an ache in my belly. My heart breaks for every woman, and I've known many, who has been exploited, abused, disrespected, violated.  I become a raging lunatic when I imagine my daughter, my partner, my sisters exposed to the kind of treatment Bikram is being accused of.

I write this very personal blog to be clear about where I stand. For twenty years, Bikram Yoga has been a path to physical, mental and spiritual health for me. I have not personally been exposed to negative behaviors or actions from Bikram the man, but I stand behind the women who have been violated in their relationships with him. As a business owner, Yoga teacher, and human being, I do, have always, and will continue to cultivate and nurture a space where women and men are safe, respected, and free from actions that violate their sense of health, safety and wellness.

Monday, February 2, 2015

No comprendo

I know I will not be popular for this post. And I apologize in advance for posting maybe my most annoying, preachy-esque post. I know people will feel like I am a curmudgeon, and maybe I am..... but, I just don't understand football. I don't understand why it's okay to stop the world for a football game. I know I must be missing something here, so maybe you all can help me understand.

Last year I watched the Super Bowl and I kind of loved it. I loved how everyone came together and randomly ate Skittles. I loved being "sporty." I really loved the community feeling. And then about six months ago I read an article in the New York Times about a class action suit being filed by NFL players who've sustained major brain damage. And then I learned that the NFL is a non-profit and gets major tax breaks. It doesn't help that I have a kid in Seattle Public Schools and they kind of suck and could use a big infusion of tax dollars (maybe from the NFL).

My partner, unabashedly unsupportive of pro-football, happens to be an employment lawyer and makes a really good argument for how we have evolved as a culture; how we no longer support jobs that injure people; how in fact those jobs are illegal in current day, at lease in the United States. But not the NFL, not football. No comprendo.

I have tons of friends, virtually all of my friends, who are pro-football. They aren't pro-brain injury or pro NFL being a 501(c)(3), but they all watched the Super Bowl, throwing down in support of pro football. No comprendo.

I contemplated canceling our 4pm class at The SweatBox on Super Bowl Sunday. I really figured no one would come. And part of me wanted to experience the collective excitement of our city. Then I remembered a few weeks ago when, on MLK Day I wasn't able to attend the huge downtown march because I was working. I could have attended had I canceled class.... That sealed the deal. If I wasn't going to close to honor a great man who changed the world, I wouldn't close to watch football!

I covered class for the regular teacher. I guess she went out of town, maybe to the Super Bowl..... I prepared for having one or maybe two students in class. I sat behind the desk, one of the handful of people in Seattle not wearing green and blue at that moment, listening to the cheers from every direction, and waited. One person, two, five, ten, fifteen people showed up, all with stories of trying to go to their regular studio to no avail because everyone was closed. For the SUPER BOWL.

You can imagine what an amazing class it was. More than usual, everyone really wanted to be practicing Yoga. Even with our heaters blaring, Savasana was periodically interrupted by cheers or stomps from fans running through our hallways into the streets and back into the building, but we just laughed. One person lifted his arm from corpse pose and shouted in response to the noise explosions, "Go Hawks" into the otherwise silent room of bodies. It was ninety-minutes of hard work, great focus, and amazing energy and everyone was really happy and grateful to be there.

This morning at the studio, many people came in downtrodden, forlorn, so sad about the loss of our team. I read things on Facebook that surprised me-- descriptions like "heartsick", "devastated", "destroyed." I don't really have a point here. It's a question. Help me understand football because really, no comprendo......