Is Bikram Choudhury Really an Alien?

Via on Feb 1, 2012

Last month I drove a 440 km round-trip to see Bikram Choudhury speak at a fundraiser for the Christchurch Bikram Yoga Studio that was destroyed in the 2010 & 2011 earthquakes.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely.

I’m fascinated by the different reactions Bikram and his yoga inspires in people, so I was stoked to get a chance to see the man in action myself.

On this occasion in Auckland, New Zealand, Bikram took the stage for a three and a half hour lecture.

Yep that’s right – Bikram spoke with barely a pause for breath for over three hours, and if it hadn’t been for the insistence of the organizers, he would have kept on going.

And going.

And going.

Bikram regaled us with stories of losing his virginity, healing the President of the United States, and conquering the world with his style of Hatha Yoga.

In between, he gave us a philosophical lecture on the true nature of yoga.

Yoga is everything.

Yoga is a path to Self-realisation.

There are eight kinds of yoga. (Karma, Raja, Bhakti, Jnana, Hatha, Mantra, Laya, and Tantra)

And eight characteristics of yoga. (The eight limbs: yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.)

Plus a few other choice tidbits like:

Focusing on the good of what’s happening in every moment.

That there is no right and wrong, just what works and what doesn’t work.

And that Bikram doesn’t have to prove anything, because medical science hasn’t yet caught up to the power of yoga.

Fortunately for the captive audience, Bikram is an engaging, entertaining and informative speaker that knows his stuff, and he knows how to deliver it.

The focus on the spiritual nature of yoga – on Self-realization -surprised me, as Bikram Yoga has a reputation for totally ignoring the fuller aspects of Yoga. Yet Bikram the Man, that’s all he wanted to talk about.

Hmmm… so Bikram does have a solid understanding of yoga as more than asana…but I still wanted to know more.

Who is this Bikram guy really, what’s he about, what’s his truth? Is he Self-Realized?

During the lecture, I found myself swinging, somewhat wildly, from one perspective to another.

As Bikram spoke about his passion to help as many people as possible live a good life through the power of yoga, I was thinking, I love this guy!

But later, when audience members asked serious questions about whether or not Bikram Yoga could help them avoid encroaching blindness, or heal from breast cancer, I cringed at his answers.

Bikram just pulled out another story from his anecdote repository while saying:

Yes, yes, yes, yoga can cure anything.

Maybe it can, but not everything, and not at all times. And those audience members who stood to ask questions weren’t truly listened to, nor responded to.

Bikram heard their question, and answered like he was a robot, reading off the tape in his head.

Even worse, when the audience member asked about breast cancer, it reminded Bikram of a “micro-endoscopy for breast cancer detection” that he’s invented. That unleashed a ten minute spiel on what this tool is and how it will irradicate breast cancer.

This lack of presence is probably the biggest thing I noticed.

It felt like Bikram was projecting out to us as he spoke, it didn’t feel like he was connected to us or with us.

I’ve seen a few spiritual teachers and high level yoga teachers over the years, and one thing they usually have in common is presence. It’s hard to quantify this, but it’s like they go far beyond the confines of their body and almost envelop the room with their very being.

I didn’t get this sense with Bikram at all.

He seemed quite contained and mostly it felt like he was delivering a performance, one that he was so invested in that it’s not a performance to him at all.

He is who he is, and it’s working for him – and the millions of people who have been helped by Bikram Yoga. He knows his yoga, inside and out, and he cares about people.

Something else that was I noticed is that Bikram is also incredibly youthful and lithe in his body. So much so, that it almost felt like his body and his head were disconnected. (Bikram is cagey about his exact age, which is something like 64, but he often implies he’s far older.)

This disconnect between body & head made me wonder if Bikram’s disconnected – which would account for the lack of connection that I felt from him on stage. It was a strange feeling, almost like he was this alien bouncing around on stage delivering these set pieces.

However, it also felt like Bikram genuinely cares about the people he works with, and in fact, all people. He wants to help people live a good life, and doing so makes him feel really, really good. But it didn’t feel like this caring and passion for helping people came from the heart – perhaps instead from the intellect, or the ego.

There was also a nervousness I detected in the man.

A restlessness to his energy.

A deep-seated fear of just… being. Like he was running from himself. Bikram himself says in this interview that he doesn’t like to be alone.

I cannot be alone more than half an hour. I love to be with people. I communicate well with people, I know them well. I love and enjoy people. That’s my life.

The teachers who host Bikram as he travels around the world can vouch for this. Bikram is famous for not sleeping. No more than two hours a night. Neither does he eat much. And because he doesn’t like to be alone, that means the teachers who host him know they’re up for a wild ride when he’s around. Bollywood movies at 2am are not uncommon.

It’s a crazy, wild timetable Bikram sticks too, and by all accounts, it’s a lifestyle he loves.

Doing some research for this article, I came across this 2005 LA Yoga Magazine interview with Bikram. When the interviewer asks Bikram why he does this work, he answers:

My guru gave me my mantra: make them happy, you will be happy. A lot of people think that I am doing a lot of things for people, actually not. I’m a selfish person. I give up everything for my life, to teach yoga, save people’s lives, to change people’s lives. Why? Because that’s the only way I can feed my spiritual need. That’s my spiritual practice. I tried everything else, but at the end of the day, I get nothing, dry.

But when some person comes in a wheelchair to my class, after one month she walks out, smiling face, brings me a shirt, gives me a cheesecake, says “I never thought I would live to do it again in my life,” a big, smiling face, that feeds my spiritual activity, my happiness, my satisfaction of living. That keeps going, after all these years, nothing in the world can stop me. So, if I’m happy, I can make more people like you happy.

I think that’s it.

Whether he’s truly ‘present’ or not, ‘connected’ or not, Bikram feeds on making other people happy.

It certainly felt like he was feeding on the energy of the audience at the Auckland lecture I attended. He loved being up there speaking, sharing his stories and his wisdom, inspiring people to do more yoga.

Maybe that’s why he doesn’t need sleep to refuel, or food to refuel.

Presence or no presence, maybe Bikram is just some kind of alien that feeds on making people happy.

Seems to  be working, for both him, and the millions of people who’ve tried Bikram Yoga.

About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is the author of Forty Days of Yoga - Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice, and the publisher of New Zealand’s own awsome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. Now back at home, and playing solo mum to her young son, she loves to stop, drop and practice - breathing, moving and dancing.

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16 Responses to “Is Bikram Choudhury Really an Alien?”

  1. Hey Annie,

    Fantastic insight! Casts some light onto a few other things I was curious about, including the way he spoke about raising children.

    I love too this that you say:

    "He is one of the greatest hatha yoga teachers in the world. The mistake most people make is that they want him to be more than that. If you can accept Bikram "for everything he is, and everything he isn't" (Baron Baptiste) then you can get to the heart of what he has to offer, awesome yoga that heals the body."

    How rich would we all be if we were able to apply that to everybody we met?

    Thank you!

  2. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Very interesting article Kara-Leah, thank you.
    Could you tell me what it was (or how) that he spoke about raising children?

    • Hey Ben,

      Hard to remember exactly, as it was a couple of weeks ago now. What I remember is that it was something along the lines that parents don't know how to bring up their own children properly. They don't know what their children truly need, and because of this, an ashram-style system works best, where kids are sent away.

  4. Jessie says:

    Great article….. I do Bikram along with many other styles of yoga and while I don't love everything about Bikram, I think he is exposing so many more people to the benefits of yoga than normally would be exposed. No yoga teacher is going to be perfect, and often there will be a point when the student has learned the teachings and needs to move on……. That doesn't discredit the teacher, however, it just shows how vast and diverse the teachings of yoga are… everyone has their own way and own depth that they aspire to. Bikram can be as shallow or as deep as you want to make it.

  5. yogijulian says:

    sounds here like he may be bipolar.

    previous impressions from interviews is that he is highly eccentric narcissistic and grandiose.

    given some of his outfits, poses in photos and responses in interviews i have sometimes smiled at thinking of him as the michael jackson of yoga… :)

  6. Mark Drost says:

    very well observed and articulated…a little piece of needed light on the subject of the yogis self and Self

  7. I have been following you for about a year now Kara-Leah. I love the way you write. Thanks for having the courage to share your gift. Your article about Bikram was very….ah the appropriate adjective….accurate I felt! I too attended the seminar. I haven't heard Bikram speak since the 9 weeks I spent at teacher training in 2007. Before I went to teacher training I was somewhat apprehensive about this Bikram character. I got some great advice from the then Chch studio owner Jo who told me the following; "Bikram says A LOT of stuff. Just pick up the pearls because there are plenty of them and let the rest go". The most excellent advice.

    As a Bikram student for 10 years and now studio owner I have observed the conversations that go around and around about Bikram and who he is and I find it fascinating. As we the collective, from a distance try to dissect who this man is and try to ascertain if he worthy, I smile. I have felt many differing emotions and opinions over the years that range from "Is he a psycho-path maniac to oh no, he's a pussy cat". As you witness him in action it is obvious. He is both :o )

    I think we witness the duality that exists in all of us when we watch Bikram Choudhury. We love him because of the pearls he throws us that resonate strongly inside each of us. I have done plenty of cringing on the other side of the fence as well. Folk seem to forget that he was bought up in India and unless you have been as well, one has no idea what fundamental sway this puts into his adopted westernised persona. Oh, apart from the obvious ones – he loves sparkles ;o)

    He has crossed two cultures for the purpose of teaching. Do we wish him to be more Deepak Chopra like? God yes, but the truth is, if he was we would not have Bikram Yoga as it stands today. Over the last two years in Napier we have built a wonderful community of students of every age and all walks of life. Do they know anything about Bikram? Nope. When your heart is pounding, when sweat is dripping up your nose, when you get home and feel truly alive because you know what it feels like to move out of your comfort zone into a place you never thought you could go, I assure you, you are not thinking of Bikram Choudhury. Yet this is his legacy.

    Kind regards
    Kristina Anderson
    Bikram Yoga Napier

    • Hey Kristina,

      Great seminar huh? Awesome to meet more Bikram folk in NZ. Love the idea of picking up the pearls… there were plenty of those for sure!

      Bikram has created an amazing legacy. I'll make sure to come and see you when I next get to Napier to see a small part of that legacy. Would love to see how yoga is creating change in Napier!

  8. Nice unbiased piece. It is wise to refrain from deifying yogis. This writer seems to capture the wonderful qualities that Bikram brings to the world along with other qualities. One thing that is important about Bikram. He has helped millions of people break through barriers on their yoga mats. Millions. Perhaps more than any other single indvidual, Bikram's influence has changed the business of yoga around the world. Pretty amazing!

  9. Excellent writing. Bikram is indeed a fascinating person, man, Yogi, Master, kid of life, business man, etc….etc….

  10. David says:

    Yes most sensible article in a long time, and more important than that, accurate articulate responses. I studied with him before yoga was in vogue and graduated his first teacher training in 94. No one should expect to know or understand him, yes, he could be a space alien, surely a descendant of the lineage, or just a nut with the force of nature behind him. My sense is his intentions are pure,his actions meet us where we are, and he has created more health and right livelihood for his students than any other yogi before him, and since. And we disagree all the time on how it should be, from asana to business:)

  11. Hey Jenifer,

    Great inquiry… what would this person have been like as a child??? Love it… as for discernment, I guess we're all (re)learning that eh?

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