We didn’t write it, we are just posting about it, so don’t kill the messenger! This certainly is a very spicy article (to say the least) about the lifestyle and practice of Bikram Choudhury compliments of Details.com. Check out an excerpt of the original article below and let us know what you think!
THE OVERHEATED, OVERSEXED CULT OF BIKRAM CHOUDHURY
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AT AN ADVANCED TEACHER-TRAINING SESSION IN SAN DIEGO, THE INVENTOR OF “HOT YOGA” INSTRUCTS A NEW GENERATION OF GURUS. IS HE LEADING THEM TO ENLIGHTENMENT—OR HOSTING A GIANT HOOKUP PARTY?
[via Details.com] In a white circus tent heated to 105 degrees, 600 not-quite-naked people contort their bodies into positions you never knew were possible. The men have perfect, rippling muscles. The women (and the majority of students here are female) are long and taut, with fatless stomachs curved just enough to be erotic and breasts that perk cheerfully upward. They sit with their legs tucked behind their heads, bodies arranged like pretzels, then gracefully deploy their arms, hips, hands, and legs to open like Georgia O’Keeffe flowers into variations on the split. The mats beneath them are damp with sweat. Overhead, great white plastic ventilating tubes, 70 feet long and 5 feet wide, pump humidity into the air. The vinyl of the tent drips with condensation, and a locker-room aroma hangs in the air.
I’ve only just arrived, but this bacchanal of bare flesh has been going on for two months. These men and women have come to the sprawling Town and Country Resort Hotel on the outskirts of San Diego to become certified instructors of Bikram Yoga, the controversial American variant that is performed at extreme temperatures. Each has paid $7,000 in tuition and $3,900 in residence fees (all students must stay at the Town and Country) for nine weeks of study, six days a week. This includes two daily 90-minute yoga sessions, as many as five more hours of posture clinic (where they learn to correct their spine or shoulders in particular asanas, or postures), and evening lessons in anatomy and Hindu philosophy followed by Bollywood movies and Indian soap operas until 2:30 or 3 in the morning. When they leave, they will be certified to teach at one of the 5,000 Bikram Yoga studios worldwide.
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That’s assuming they’re able to execute the demanding series of postures that make up Bikram. Right now, the students are in head-to-knee pose, or dandayamana-janushirasana: From a standing position, lift one leg so that it’s at a right angle to your body, keeping your knee locked, then bend your upper body forward toward the lifted leg. Imagine the tableau, the kaleidoscope of slim, strong-hipped, bowed bodies, the scene multiplied by the mirrors lining three of the four walls. Now it’s camel pose, or ustrasana: On your knees, hands on your hips, bend back until you grab your heels with your hands, then thrust your chest into the air. Before the session is over, 50 or so students have rolled up their mats and left, overwhelmed. I hear what sounds like the chop-chop-chopping of helicopter blades and realize it’s my own heartbeat. The ceiling spins. I roll over, open my eyes, and watch the ballet of it in the mirrors. I see more than I bargained for. Because of the heat, everyone is wearing the smallest, tightest thing they can, and, especially with the sweat, the clothes do not cover so much as exaggerate.
Morning practice is bigger than usual today because this is “Intensive Training Week,” when many come for the recertification required to maintain their teaching credentials. Most are working through the 84-posture intensive series, the two-hour-plus advanced routine practiced by the elite. This is the portion of the program that is personally supervised by Bikram Choudhury, the 64-year-old founder of Bikram Yoga. Only the best, bravest, and most beautiful practice at the feet of the guru, who sits cross-legged on a giant inflatable leather throne against the back wall. He’s in a black Speedo, bare-chested, his hair tied in a topknot. His triceps stand out like pistons. Sometimes a woman will brush his hair or wash and massage his feet. He resembles a cartoon genie on his magic carpet. Between cell-phone calls, he barks Bengali-inflected criticisms and corrections into his headset. He speaks only in exclamation points.
“You, Miss Teeny-Weeny Bikini! Spread your legs! You, Mr. Masturbation! Until I say ‘Change,’ you do not move a muscle!”
It’s hard to tell if these directives are intended for anyone in particular or if Choudhury is just working the crowd. He keeps up a patter of bawdy, sexually suggestive, often male-bashing banter throughout the session. Students—men, especially—have been known to complain, but for most, Bikram’s commentary is part of the package. He’s built his business, which has been estimated to earn him nearly $5 million a year, in large part by applying a veneer of eroticism to this ancient spiritual practice. For the women here, the “boss,” as he calls himself (and everyone else), offers a path to sexual awakening. For the men, Bikram Yoga is a great workout, and maybe an opportunity to get close to a few kundalini-stimulated hard bodies once class lets out.
Choudhury hums “Killing Me Softly” into the mic of his headset as his pupils struggle to hold a posture, even the strongest among them trembling. At last he gives the signal to change.
“This posture called dirty old bitch! Because not even one more inch can you stretch!”
Choudhury’s method has its critics. Some medical professionals claim that it can increase the risk of cartilage tears and stress the heart. There’s also the obvious danger of heatstroke and dehydration. In San Diego, a medical tent is set up not far from the main practice area for students who vomit, suffer seizures, or pass out during sessions.
Others object to Choudhury’s decision in 2002 to patent his sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, which has made him very rich (all Bikram studios must pay a licensing fee to open, along with a new, much-protested monthly fee) and, in the eyes of many, an apostate. Yoga is thought to date back 5,000 years, and for Hindus, claiming it as intellectual property is akin in Christian terms to copyrighting the Lord’s Prayer. “Call it exercise. Call it a good workout. Call it what you like,” says Dr. Aseem Shukla, cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation. “But don’t call it yoga. It’s a cynical appropriation of Hinduism.”
But Choudhury, whose classes have attracted more than 3 million people, has his defenders. Bikram Yoga “is certainly focused on the body,” says Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. “But changes in the body can result in deeper, more spiritual changes. There’s room for all different kinds of yoga.” And from the beginning, Choudhury has been helped by friends in high places. Richard Nixon, a “good friend,” was an early pupil. “That’s how I get my visa!” Choudhury says. Soon, athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John McEnroe began approaching him. “They all say, ‘Bikram, you must give me one more year, please! Let me play for one more year!’ I give them 10 more years!” (This is not exactly correct. Choudhury has a penchant for hyperbole.)
Today, he’s Hollywood’s guru of choice, with followers like Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Lady Gaga, George Clooney, and Kobe Bryant. These endorsements have helped him peddle Bikram-branded products, including books, CDs, DVDs, apparel, towels, mats, and water bottles. Besides charging for teacher training and studio licensing, he also generates revenue from fees for regional Bikram Yoga tournaments that produce a national champion each year. And he’s looking for ways to expand his empire: He’s in talks with several U.S. cable networks about a reality show, and Sun, an Indian company, wants to launch an all-Bikram channel. There are also plans for a satellite-radio show and a magazine. He’s even campaigning to get yoga recognized as an Olympic sport.
And with the client list comes a Hollywood lifestyle that has drawn criticism from rival gurus for being insufficiently modest. Choudhury owns an 8,000-square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills and a fleet of more than 40 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. He wears a million-dollar diamond-and-ruby-encrusted Franck Muller watch. “In America we like all of our spiritual leaders to come straight from central casting,” says Robert Love, author of The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America. “We want them to be poor, to be sexually ascetic, to be perfectly pure, to be almost inhuman. But in reality, few of them are that way.”
Choudhury has other quirks too. He says he eats a single meal a day (chicken or beef, no fruit or vegetables), drinks only water and Coke, and needs only two hours of sleep a night. Then there are the stories about him having sex with his students. When I ask him about this, he doesn’t deny it—he claims they blackmail him: “Only when they give me no choice! If they say to me, ‘Boss, you must fuck me or I will kill myself,’ then I do it! Think if I don’t! The karma!” Whatever the nature of his dalliances, his appeal to women is obvious—and a common trait among spiritual leaders, as Love points out: “When Swami Vivekananda”—another key figure in the spread of yoga to the West—”toured the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, it was the same way. Mostly women showed up for his lectures.” And after Indian mysticism became popular in the West in the sixties, a new wave of gurus emerged, like Acharya Rajneesh, who evinced a radically open attitude toward sexuality.
The entire resort throbs with the libidinal energy of Choudhury’s followers. They’re everywhere: in line at the ice machine, under the thatched umbrellas at the restaurant, stretching in front of the mirrors by the elevators. The other hotel guests eye them. As one session ends, two middle-aged, beer-bellied guys in baseball caps pull up chairs to smoke cigars and watch the girls as they file out of the tent.
Female instructors laugh about the erections created by the pulmonary effects of some seated postures. “At times I can’t even look at the men,” says Mollie Glicksberg, a teacher who is getting recertified. “There’s a swollen penis, jumping out at me. I don’t know whether to laugh or run away screaming.”
That hard-core yoga would stimulate sexual appetites seems obvious. But the practice’s Tantric aspects have long been taboo, thanks to the influence of Christian missionaries in India. Officially, hookups are forbidden at teacher training. “I tell them all, ‘No touchy-touchy, no kissy-kissy, no fucky-fucky!’ ” Choudhury says. But everyone knows better…