I Don’t Care About My Guru.

Via Sara Crolick
on Mar 25, 2013
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Bikram Choudhury is in the limelight yet again.

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.

But why?

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


About Sara Crolick

Sara Crolick is whiskey in a teacup. She loves elephants, vegetables, vintage typewriters, Audrey Hepburn and the written word, but not necessarily in that order. She raises two inspiring boys with her mister, who is a bona fide music-maker; this works out nicely, as she happens to also love music. You can connect with her via her site, Conversations with a Human Heart, her author page on Facebook and on Twitter, too.


26 Responses to “I Don’t Care About My Guru.”

  1. alf says:

    i'm really torn about this too. On one hand, i say well MLK was not respectful towards women. Bill clinton cheated on his wife and lied to the world about it and I still *like* him, but I'm also not directly contributing to Bill's ability/access to do those things with my $150+ a month. I really hope someone finally wins a lawsuit that pries the copyright out of his undeserving hands. because I still go to bikram and i'm sort of mad at myself about it.

  2. alli says:

    well put, my friend. way to keep it personal… where yoga belongs.

  3. Edie says:

    Great job great post great attitude. i applaud you.

  4. Yogi Hare says:

    "Don't get too close to the guru, or his harem." Yogi Hare~

  5. endlesswinter says:

    "every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want"

  6. Krishna Haas says:

    Admittedly, Bikram's ego seeps into some (NOT ALL) of his instructor's classes and cues, as they try emulate his hyper-intensity, speaking as if they are the voice of Bikram and are omnipotent themselves.That is NOT yoga. Yoga is the preparation for meditation. Period. Yes, true, it is up to 'WE' the practitioners to choose our instructors wisely and not get too close to the guru- It is after all, our practice, NOT Bikram's OR his instructors.

  7. allison says:

    look at the picture of that man alone.. how could anyone consider him a guru?

  8. Jennifer White says:

    I actually think that his series focuses too much on rounding the spine. I fully understand that healthy flexion of the spine is different than poor posture, but so much of our daily life is focused on slouching, that I think many people need much more spinal extension than this series offers.

  9. Christine says:

    Way to own your practice!

  10. Gina says:

    I really like this post 🙂 I am sad to say that it is partially due to my adverse feelings about the way Bikram upholds himself (as well as simply my preferences for other styles) that I do not practice Bikram yoga, but I have so much respect in that through the popularity of his style, many people have been introduced to yoga and have then gone on to find their path whether it be with Bikram or some other style. My only issue lies in that yes, I wholeheartedly agree, Bikram IS just a man, but he does not claim to be just a man, he claims to be a guru. The Bikram studio that is local to me has gigantic quotes of his plastered all over the walls and is very much dedicated to him and his 'wisdom' alone, without regard to the key philosophies of yoga. It is difficult to consider Bikram yoga a practice that is not somewhat linked to the egotistical message that he as a man represents. I hope that the devotees of the Bikram practice are able to react like you and own your practice, your dedication and your integrity during this difficult time for the Bikram community. <3

  11. Rox Murphy says:

    I've read the comments here and just to clarify, if you spend money at your studio you are supporting a local business. Owners don't have to pay Bikram and the whole 'franchise' thing is very new and its not even widespread. Basically people have been making money off his name for a while. Also Bikram never claims himself to be a guru, its the media and people who see him that way that label him. He has always said he's just like a a car mechanic except he fixes junk bodies.

    Great article though separating the man from the yoga, your yoga.

  12. Mich says:

    i personally don't agree with anythings she has said. she sounds completely defensive and she's irritating."i don't care" is simply turning a blind eye! if she wants to continue her practice. sweat. feel grounded. find another studio to support!! and she can practice ashtanga while meditating on ahimsa!

  13. Guest says:

    I too do NOT care.

    The "adult" plaintiff continued classes AFTER alleged comments like (per the article): "You have to save me" AND “I know you from a past life. We have a connection. It is amazing. Should we make this a relationship?” Baughn was “mortified” at the proposition and continued her classes.

  14. guest says:

    Yes, and this is an incredibly valuable yoga practice that has made this world a better place, because it has helped endless people become happier, healthier. Just because a man who, decades ago, formulated a practice that is clearly so inspired and comes from a place beyond him, has done things I abhore, it does not mean I will not continue to spend my money, casting my vote for a practice that is amazing. This yoga HEALS. Like she said: "Bikram yoga heals, Bikram the man does not."

  15. Lesley says:

    This post is fantastic. Bikram yoga is not an insidious evil. The man himself is just a man, a flawed, and albeit often ridiculous man. Just because you choose to practice 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises is a prescribed order, does not mean you should have to defend the person who created that order. The yoga is far, far more than the man could ever be.

  16. guest says:

    I disagree with you. I find it is your post that is emanating defensiveness. I believe you are missing the point. I have practiced Bikram Yoga for over a decade, (as well as other practices) and at the beginning, had trouble with the man. But, once I got over it and realized that the man is not the message, I no longer bothered with the drama and propaganda, and focused on the practice, MY practice. I know inherently that this practice brings me peace, balance and closer to my spirit when stay true to the practice, it stays true to me, no matter what Bikram "the man" is doing. It still heals, it still helps millions of people, and in a way I find this latest drama with Bikram to be even more proof positive that the more he thinks he can control it, (Bikram Yoga) the more it's obvious that it's completely outside of him and out of his control. (thankfully) Because it's Yoga. 🙂

  17. Replying to guest says:

    And your point is ????

  18. Jyl says:

    Thanks Rox- you are correct Bikram does not claim to be a guru. He is simply doing the job that his Guru gave him to do. He is just a man doing a job.
    Our Bikram yoga practice is our Hatha yoga practice.
    Let's not 'cut off our noses to spite our faces.'
    Great article indeed.

  19. Natalie Baginski says:

    I happen to have a "famous" meditation teacher. She taught me to transcend and it's changed my life. My health improved, my sleep improved, I handle stress better, I am smarter and find writing papers at school easier, my relationship with my family improved…I can't say enough about my positive experience. If I found out that my teacher was secretly an unbalanced person with issues, I would simply distance myself from her, but I would continue my meditation practice. When I stumbled upon site upon site of propaganda against the founder of my particular style of meditation, I had questions and did some research, not knowing what I would find, but I never stopped meditating. When I got even more involved in this particular yoga community and I realized how unenlightened some of the practitioners are, I realized I would rather practice alone at home than in a group. I'm sometimes embarrassed by the actions of people in my yoga community. But I just do my practice and mind my own business.

    The fact is, we all start our journey toward enlightenment from different places. For some of us we are quite far along on the path. For others, even a daily practice of something quite profound isn't enough to balance out the heavy karma we are living. In the end there are certain yogic principles (found in the Vedic literature) that help me navigate a yoga world where there's arguging about what yoga is, how to do it, who is the best teacher, who is a fraud, etc.

    Principle 1 – outer reflects inner
    What we see coming from our teacher is a product of his or her level of consciousness. Bikram's behavior is a reflection of where he is on his evolutionary path and it seems he's got a ways to go when it comes to his ego, his ability to have compassion for others, and his ability to embrace what is rather than denounce and degrade.
    Principle 2 – coexistence of opposites
    This entire universe is a coexistence of opposites and we are a reflection of that. Silence/Dynamism, Growth/ Death, Expansion/Contraction, Darkness/Light. In every religions god is both merciful and vengeful, loving and a bringer of justice. People are often such a contradition to themselves and what they say, it's almost mindblowing, but all of us are a functioning of of opposites. As we "unite" our individuality (small self) with our cosmic Self, our opposites are less extreme and it's easier to be peaceful and settled.
    Principle 3 – second element
    We don't fight the dark, we just turn on a light. Yoga allows us to bring in light, to settle the nervous system, to purify, to cultivate positive qualities rather than trying to kill off the bad qualities. This is also called "purification of the path". As we practice and become better, our not so great qualities naturally drop off and we reach our full potential. Bikram's practice isn't working for him. Or maybe it is but he's got so far to go on his path, his not so great qualities are dropping off very…very…very…very slowly.

    In the end, I could never do yoga in a room with people giving off bad energy. I don't want to be yelled at. I'm not at boot camp. I meditate so that I can sit in meditation longer, and that's the only reason I do asana. I'm not competitive, I don't even enjoy getting sweaty. I'd rather purify through an Ayurveda diet and long walks. But I'm a deranged Vata and the last thing I need is a hot yoga session. I live in my head and not so much in my body so asana is secondary to meditation and pranayam for me. That's just how I'm built and I respect it.

    No one can tell you if your yoga is working for you. If you are becoming better in all aspects, it's working. If you are an egomaniac, if you denounce others, if you have a temper, if you degrade people, if you get worked up and yell, if you think everyone else is stupid and you are the only who knows what yoga means…you might want to try another style because it's not working for you. Per my suggestion in another post last week, my suggestion for Bikram, with all due respect, is to go see Paul Grilley for some yin yoga workshops. He needs to calm down. Hot yoga isn't calming him down. According to Ayurveda, he's obviously suffering from a severe Pitta imbalance and he has too much fire. He needs more water and earth.

  20. endlesswinter says:

    Studios are to reflect Bikram's specifications. Studios are not allowed to teach anything but Bikram yoga within those studios. Teachers must continue to pay large sums (and often travel) to remain certified. Yes, it is a local business- but don't pretend that Bikram is letting these small business use his name for free.

  21. Casabeca says:

    I agree! He may not claim to be a guru, but he clearly acts as if he is above the law. He is a hypocrite. In spiritual and physical practices truth matters, and correctness matters. You have placed yourself in community with him. It matters.

  22. sandy says:

    Just Do The Yoga!

  23. NONE says:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/04/01/130… READ THIS AND YOU WILL UNDERSTAND MORE.

  24. Marc Linton says:

    He has not practiced his yoga for years. He stopped practicing before he had built an army of teachers. When he was teaching all of the classes. He stopped practicing out of(what he felt was) necessity to complete the task assigned him by his guru. I think this is a story about a man who did not stay grounded in his deepest self, and began believing the manifestations of his own mind. The yoga does heal. I have an amazing experience of it, and am now off of disability and again a contributing member of society. I teach and spread yoga as a result of that experience. My life is constantly expanding and amazing me. I am not alone in this. countless individuals have been healed through the practice, and they all, like me, have told him so. I have asked myself the question many times: "If I was not staying grounded in my practice, and all day long I had people telling me that I saved their life, how long would it be before I began to believe it too?'"

  25. guest says:

    also, in this instance, when you "spend money" at a Bikram Yoga studio, you support and "vote for" the locally owned and independently operated yoga studio which teachers Bikram Yoga, which does not necessarily "vote" for a person/man/guru who allegedly sexually harasses women. FYI. –bikram yoga studio owner who does not vote, nor support, a person/man/guru who allegedly sexually harasses women.