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.

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