This time around he’s not drawing attention for being his normal, boastful, arrogant self; instead, he is the center of hot gossip because he’s been charged with sexual harassment and discrimination. The lawsuit, filed by a former student and protege, claims that Choudhury conducted himself in ways unfitting for any man, but particularly for a person in a position of power—an instructor, a teacher, a guru.
A friend of mine caught wind of the scandal and asked in an almost teasing tone, “so how about that Bikram?”
I quickly and easily answered, “I just don’t care.”
To be fair, I do care. I care deeply for the victims of sexual assault. If Choudhury is guilty, I hope he is found to be so and the victims can find their way to a place of healing and peace. If he is guilty, I hope he can find humility in his heart and learn, reform and grow from the experience.
What I do not care about is the rise or fall of this guru because to be plain, he is just a man. For many, I imagine the allegations hurt. People we look up to are supposed to be infallible, but reality dictates time and time again that we are all capable of misstep. We’re all weak and flawed and sometimes extremely ugly humans.
But a strange phenomenon occurs when a respected man or woman falls out of favor. Suddenly, the people who once believed in that person are made to feel embarrassed or shameful for having invested faith in a message or product. This is not limited to the yogic community; we have seen the same thing happen with spiritual leaders, religious institutions, individuals with political power as well as well respected members of smaller communities like teachers or business owners.
My friend’s comment, though made in jest, could have easily shamed me into being apologetic for Choudhury’s behaviors. I might have felt compelled to defend my practice or reevaluate whether or not this remained to be the “right” path.
As a society, we invest so much energy in generating idols. We need life models. We need celebrity. We crave heroes. We don’t want to see these people for what they really are, because that would shatter a carefully manufactured illusion.
Bikram Choudhury is just a man.
I have gratitude in my heart for what he has created, but my adoration and affection ends at a place of recognition and respect for the product he so enthusiastically sells. My life is better because of my yoga practice, and his contribution to the yoga community, in my mind, is invaluable. Through my practice I have opened and strengthened my mind, my heart and my body in ways I just didn’t know were possible.
Bikram Yoga heals. Bikram the man, does not.
Even though he’s put a patent on a series of poses, it’s my practice, not his. The studio space I walk into, the mat I step on, the sweat that pours from my body. Mine. The progress I make as a yogi. All mine.
I refuse to gauge my value as a yogi on the triumphs or shortcomings of another man.
So, how about that Bikram?
I just don’t care. My commitment will not waver in light of recent events. I will honor my practice, day after day, with a quiet, inward smile and a happy heart. I will not allow the soiled reputation of a guru tarnish my perspective on the value of the yoga community, nor will I allow it to derail my personal progress.
I commit myself to my practice, not to my guru, and I take responsibility for my work on my mat, not for his work elsewhere.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta