On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Loka Samasta Sukino Bavantu

May all living beings be happy and free. May all living beings be happy and free. I'm trying to calm myself down.

I just got back from a Bikram yoga class. Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this strict form of yoga is sometimes referred to as 'hot yoga' because they jack the heat up. Bikram himself is a very controversial figure in yoga circles. The Economist does a good job summing up his recent attempts to copyright his 26 yoga postures, and consequently sue yoga teachers who might teach them. Even more recently, he is seeking to franchise his business. The teacher section of his Web site reads like a pyramid scheme.

Many teachers feel that the 105F temperature in Bikram studios is unhealthy. Others complain that his manner (he often curses and barks at his students) runs completely against yoga philosophy. Indeed, with a line of sexy yoga clothes, and a Web site that showcases hot girls in said clothes, and the fact that he's living a life of abject luxury in Beverly Hills it seems clear that all he's out to do is make bags of cash. He appears to ignore thousands of years of yoga teachings, which advises against non-violence, non-coveting, non-greed, moderation - generally a modest lifestyle. Those are a lot of shortcomings for a guy who calls other yoga teachers "circus clowns."

The truth is, people say he's an a-hole. I know that that's not a very yogic thing to say, but I'm just relaying what I've heard. Until today I have never had any desire to attend a Bikram class. As a yoga teacher, I don't like the claim that any series of poses would be specially-formulated to bring health and well-being to everyone. Given all the differences between all the bodies in the world, it's arguable that no specific series of postures would do two people the same amount of good.

So, why did I go? I'm desperate for yoga here in The Hague. I've been to two studios so far and haven't found something that suits me. My personal practice is very much hindered by the fact that we essentially live in a studio flat. I was encouraged that the teacher is American, and I was at least banking on the class being in English.

I have never been so EVER mad or angry or even the slightest bit upset in a yoga class. I was amazed at how Bikram's legendary personality was transferred to this woman. I had a bad feeling from the very beginning when she insisted I put a bath towel on top of my yoga mat. Then she asked me if I had a real yoga mat in this condescending tone. What would it matter if I'm standing on a slippery towel anyway.

Then she singled me out in the class again and again to tell me not to do certain postures even though I told her I'd been practicing regularly for many years. At one point I finally told her that I was a trained teacher, to which she said, "I don't care how much yoga you've done before, just listen to me." I was so angry by that point that I immediately dropped into child's pose to calm myself down. I was furious and shocked that she would treat her yoga students as if it was all about her. It was a very long 30 minutes until the end of the class.

After the class she tried to justify her attitude by saying that it was the way that she teaches. To which I said that her style was completely different from my approach - that I believe that it's up to the student to know his or her own limits and abilities. She responded by insisting that if she were taking my class that she'd do what I told her to do and not go and do her own thing. Of course she couldn't know that my class is all about exploring the needs of your own body. If someone wants or needs to modify a posture or take it deeper, I'm more than delighted to help him on his journey.

She went on to point out that it was her class, to which B- rightly said ,"isn't it supposed to the students' class?" She cut him off to say, "no it's not about being creative." When B- pointed out that he wasn't referring to creativity, and that it's about knowing your own body, she complained that we weren't being patient. Bikram himself refers to his series as being "easy enough for most Westerners." How patient do you have to be to do something you've already been doing for years?

Again wearing my yoga teacher hat, I'm concerned that she has no consideration for anyone's health. At no point did she ask if anyone had any medical conditions that she should be aware of. All yoga postures have contraindications, not the least of which is pregnancy. She should at least ask if someone is pregnant because of the heat. Her rigid, 'my way' approach prevents her from being objective about the differences in all of us.

Every body is different. Every mind and heart are different. No 26 postures done in a specific way can work miracles. A selfish yoga teacher is a bad yoga teacher.



Anonymous redsnapper said...

...that I immediately dropped into child's pose to calm myself down...

Which proves exactly who has the greater mastery of the principles of yoga. You are mighty and wise, grasshopper.

Now me, I would have opened up a big old can of WhoopAss™. What are the Dutch penalties for assault with a deadly bath towel? I mean, if it's justified.

4:26 PM GMT+1

Blogger soo doh nim said...

Dropped into child pose????

Why didn't you drop into "show you my ass so you can kiss it while I walk out the door" pose? Isn't that somewhere in the Vedas?

9:35 AM GMT+2

Blogger matthew said...

it was right to sass the teacher in this case. dissent is good for yoga. but maybe get out of there after a little child posing and spend the time better by biking around and shopping some more. bikram and his posse are lost. that happens to the best of us. it's just that they insist they are not only on track but ahead of everyone else, on account of a sort of fear. i mean people are now counting on them.
anyway isn't a well-grounded leader able to brook discussion? even dissent? even the oldest discipline of some kind isn't perfect. the game of go is thousands old and things are still brewing about it.

6:03 AM GMT+2

Blogger akaijen said...

You hit it on the head, Matthew - people are counting on them. That's the problem when you present your yoga as a cure for anything that ails you. I view teaching more like 'guiding' knowing that the best path to learning is getting there on your own. Ah well. My only lingering concern is for those who's first experience with yoga is Bikram. It's a shame the impression they'll get.

7:58 AM GMT+2

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate this story. As a Bikram studio owner and someone who has taught thousands over a 10 year period I also am at odds. I actually teach the series with modifications as needed. I dont believe in excessive heat. I am present with what is.. in the class. And yet I would probably be berated by Bikky himself with "that's not my dialogue boss!"
It is a manageable series with many high value, low risk postures. Heat is nice especially since it is a rather non moving sequence. It really is best suited for the beginner who wants a work out and get an initial yoga experience. Unfortunately the clones that come out of Bks training are just that. They know nothing.. often have a power-ego based practice and rely on the brainwashing they received during their 9 week indoctrination to get them through the classes.
I am sorry for al the lousy Bikram experiences out there..

6:02 PM GMT+2

Blogger akaijen said...

I wish you had left a name to contact you, so hopefully you'll check back to see my response to your thoughtful comment. Interestingly, I just got back from an ashtanga teacher training with Manju Jois. I was looking for a good refresher course as I prepare to return to the states. What you say about "clones" may be true of all yoga 'schools.' While Manju himself did not come across as "my way or no way," I found that many of the teachers were filled with dogma. I was the only teacher without an ashtanga teaching background and that seemed to really throw some of them off. I was really put off by some of the comments made by the people attending the program, but found Manju's attitude very refreshing.

The Bikram incident was over a year ago, so I'm far removed from the feelings I had when I wrote this blog post. I've since spoken to people who appreciate that they can take a Bikram class anywhere in the world and they know what they're going to get. Since I have been blindly sampling classes for almost two years now, I totally get that feeling.

I think that there is space for everyone's needs both as teachers and as students. It just makes me really sad that there seem to be camps forming around one style over another in a confrontational manner. Reading back over this post, I can tell that I tried to be somewhat objective, but perhaps not as much as I could have been. On the other hand, I really did have a bad experience, and I wanted to talk about that too. If there is a take away from my Bikram class, it isn't that people shouldn't attend a Bikram class. Rather, I hope that students take on more responsibility for their own yoga practice regardless of the teacher. Were I to do it again, I might have just ignored her. ;)

10:58 PM GMT+2

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon this when searching for different translations of Loka Samasta Sukino Bavantu . I too live in the hague, and am also a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist. I have also had that type of experience in the hague, but then at the Iyengar studio. It really took every ounce of me to stay in the class.
I'm sorry to hear about your Bikram experience. I agree with everything you said though. I also went to the class in the hague, and thought to myself, never again! I hope you have found a studio to take classes at now.
I now teach at Sunshine yoga, and in Clingendael park. Where do you teach?
Do you still live in The Hague?

Juliana Kroese

9:40 AM GMT+2


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