March 10, 2015

A Letter to the Bikram Community.


It’s time for the Bikram community to start talking about allegations against Bikram Choudhury and the future we want to create.

But it’s been nearly impossible to have frank conversations because any discussion or movement for change has either been censored in teacher/studio owner forums or dominated by his most loyal followers. Those of us with dissenting opinions are desperate to get our message out.

Last week I wrote a letter that went around Facebook and YogaDork in support of this petition calling for Bikram Choudhury to step down.

I once again urge members of the Bikram community to sign this petition. It’s not a perfect petition; personally, I don’t think it’s enough to ask Bikram alone to step away—as the people closest to him have been complicit in his abuse of power—but I think that any call for change should be supported. At the very least, removing Bikram from training could help prevent more women from suffering and enable honest dialogue about his leadership.

One potential reason the petition and Bikram’s ousting has met resistance is that studio owners and teachers fear they will lose their livelihoods and their life’s work if they speak out against a style of yoga they so long endorsed. While I discourage studio owners and teachers giving into these fears, I understand it.

Bikram students: you are the most powerful voice we have.

Students, please show your studio owners that it’s the yoga you love—that you are loyal to them and the yoga, not a figurehead. Please sign this petition and share it with all your fellow practitioners.

Studio owners: even if you disagree with the call for change in leadership, it is incumbent on you to reassure teachers that they will not be fired for openly discussing our yoga community’s problems. After all, if there is nothing to see or fear, why hide?

In reading some of the responses to the petition and my letter, I find it frightening how uninformed many in our community are about issues of rape and abuse. Every yoga teacher and studio owner should go here and start reading up. As the statistics indicate, women coming forward with lawsuits are only the tip of the iceberg. In an ostensibly healing community, these issues of sexual assault and general wellbeing should be of utmost concern.

As all of us with sons, brothers, fathers and husbands know, one false accusation can
ruin a reputation: but allegations of abuse from victim after victim intimate that we don’t need a court ruling to see that our community needs change.

When we fail to address this issue head on, we send the message that we don’t support victims of abuse. There are yogis who now feel they cannot step into a Bikram Yoga studio. By neglecting to take action, we aren’t just ignoring the women who have come forward; we are silencing and undervaluing the students who need this yoga (and our community) most.

When we fail to address Bikram—publicly—we are giving implicit consent to his hurtful words and behavior and sending the message that we would rather avoid confronting an alleged abuser than face an uncomfortable conversation about our future.

Taking a stance isn’t easy for me: I still practice and teach, and I risk losing my job and “safe place” by speaking up. I took my first class when I was seventeen; for nearly half my life, Bikram Yoga has been critically important to me. I’ve gone through the ups and downs of being a teenager and a young woman; it’s seen me through painful breakups, personal struggles, my first experiences with death; Bikram Yoga also been there as I met my husband, fell in love and shared this practice with him; it’s seen me through pregnancy and the birth of our child.

This is my home, and I want it—need it—to stay together and thrive. But our community will only further disintegrate if we continue neglecting the issues at its very foundation.

Change is happening. Studios are increasingly abandoning the Bikram name and moving on. Some are actively supporting the women stepping forward and working for change within and outside of the Bikram community. Others started a hot yoga collective: an independently owned and operated website that lists hot yoga studios and helps former and underground Bikram studios find refuge and support. If you have an unaffiliated studio and would like to be listed, please email [email protected].

Whatever method you choose to partake in this dialogue makes a difference: our collective ability to rise out of the muck depends on us speaking up, supporting each other and standing in the face of the truth.


Author: Emily L.

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr



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Emily L.